Sunday, 20 December 2009

Why I Love Unrequited Love

Unrequited love.

It sounds depressing, doesn’t it? Full of yearning and hurt and everything else that causes pain into the mix.

I love it.

I really do.

Characters struck with unrequited love immediately connect with me, or should I say I connect with them? There is something gut wrenchingly relatable about being in love with another person who is either; 1) unaware or 2) uncaring. It’s something everyone has been through in their life. When we experience a character, whether charming or not, that is struck with this condition, we immediately empathise.

I do more than empathise. I get a sharp pang in my chest and then some residual heartache. I am THAT sympathetic. (Please don’t judge me.)

Unrequited love is the one thing about my teenage years, and all the stuff that went down, that I can look back with some fondness. Sure, it took up many days of longing, surname signature testing, obvious stalking and uninhibited gushing, but I still recall it with a smile on my face. That doesn’t mean that my feelings weren’t truly engaged. I truly believed that when I met Matt at a leadership camp in grade 11 that he was “the one”. I even declared to my mother that he was my future husband. It took one formal (aka Prom) of being followed around like a simpering dog to make me realise that I might have jumped the gun.

Matt was lovely but if you don’t speak for the entire evening to your date it’s bad. Especially when you know you had to return the favour and attend his formal a month later. I was well and truly over him by his formal night despite his “crew” wearing white top hats and tails. They were a fun bunch but I had more fun chastely kissing one of his mates during a game of spin the bottle at the after formal party. You see, I was in his position this time around, not knowing anyone but my date and yet I made an effort. He was delightfully shy but anyone that knows me knows that I am not. It was never going to work.

A week later I was attending a HSC (sort of like SATs) prep course and ran into one of his mates (not the kissing one). We had a week of prep classes together and I thought he was the bee’s knees. He talked heaps (like me), laughed too loud (like me) and was tall (like me)...it was perfection. I convinced myself that he was the one for me. Of course nothing happened, it was a week and despite all my chatter, I was never forward with guys so it melted away into nothingness. I never spoke to either of them again. Want to guess which one I still think about?

While the feelings (mostly) dissipated after awhile, it’s that rush of longing and anticipation that keeps you captive. I crush on people still but it’s different. I don’t recognise lust and love as the same thing. Being cute, while lovely, isn’t the end all and be all. I don’t declare myself in love with someone within a week or because he wrote me a letter (complete with atrocious handwriting and even worse spelling). There’s more to it now but the butterflies are still in the game. I miss when they would flutter with manic speed in my stomach, my teen years saw those butterflies working overtime. Now they are lucky if they get a flap every now and then. We get more guarded and cynical as we age and that rush isn’t as strong. I miss it - which is why I can look back on the time fondly and instantly connect with so many characters. Or maybe I haven’t met someone worthy of a flutter-fest?

Call me a sap but I love it when a character experiences wish fulfilment with their now –requited love. It’s not all that realistic but as I was on board from the beginning, I get to share in that success. I love following their journey towards one another. Knowingly picking up on the nuances and clues they give to one another is joyous as in the same situation we’d be similarly blind.

That being said, I enjoy seeing the realistic depiction of unrequited love too. You know what I am talking about...the soul crushing rejection or even worse, invisibility. My mother used to say that crushes were character building and I would have to agree, both in YA and in real life. Crushes twist us into shapes that we didn't know we were capable of. They torment us, give us pure adrenalin rushes and sometimes have a great pay off. Regardless, they add drama (of the good and bad kinds) into our lives.

Some examples:
  • While not entirely unrequited, both Taylor and Jonas in Melina Marchetta’s Jellicoe Road are completely oblivious to their affect on the other. It makes their journey, past and present, so much more compelling.
  • While it’s not the most inventive stories there’s something great about Jenny and her crushing on her newspaper editor, Scott, in Meg Cabot’s Teen Idol.
  • John Green showed us how girl’s can taunt a guy in Looking for Alaska. Miles longs for the tease that is Alaska and everything else. (Cheers to Steph for the suggestion.)
(There are many more but I grabbed the first I could think of. Suggest some titles in the comments section.)

While I could talk about the awesomeness that occurs when we see this on screen (ahhhh Pacey and Joey - Season 3 of Dawson’s Creek, Bright and Hannah -Season 3 of Everwood, etc), YA authors know what they are doing. Their characters connect because they’ve had these experiences too.

Unrequited Love.

Painful.

Memorable.

A darned good read.

5 comments:

Donna Gambale said...

Currently snowed in, so thanks for a lovely blog post to read! I totally giggled at "many days of longing, surname signature testing, obvious stalking and uninhibited gushing" --- Yes! Definitely!

I can't think of any books to add to your list, but I think I know why unrequited love is so rare in YA. All the authors are fulfilling their adolescent fantasies! Plus, readers would throw tomatoes if it was forever unrequited, unless the love interest is replaced by someone better or the MC changes as a person and doesn't "need" the love interest anymore.

Thao said...

Lovely post. I really really love to read about unrequited love but seems like in YA books the protagonists' feelings are always reciprocated, if not, he or she will realize that they've been in love with someone else.

... said...

nice job...........................................................

Charlotte (The Book on the Hill) said...

Ah, unrequited love... There definitely should be more of that in books, it's so classic in our lives...!

Oh, and I've been told that an award was waiting for you here !

Regina said...

Have you read Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger? It's a spectacular story of yearning and unshared love.