We tend to be generous towards people who can’t get over someone. It sounds romantic, if a little sad. The love affair happened a year ago but still the ex’s thought remain loyal
to every detail of the story. Maybe they’ve moved to another country. Perhaps they’ve married someone else. Maybe, they’re dead.
None of it matters. The most famous fictional love affair
of the 18th century Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther is a hugely sympathetic study
of this kind of romantic fixation. The hero, Werther,
an ardent young student falls passionately in love with a charming and beautiful woman
named Charlotte. She likes him but
doesn’t love him back in part because
she’s married to someone else. There are plenty of
other nice women who single, attractive,
and interested in Werther. But, he has no time for them. The only one he cares for
is Charlotte. The one who doesn’t care
for him. Eventually, unable to have
Charlotte’s love Werther decides to kill
himself. The novel proved
hugely charming to its original audiences. Who praised it for its deep
and pure understanding of love This sort of unrequited passion so often celebrated in literature
and society more generally may sound generous,
and in that sense, loving, but, a devotion to
an unrequited situation is in truth, a clever way
of ensuring that we won’t end up in a relationship at all. That we won’t ever need to suffer
the realities of love. Fixation on an absent other allows us to be publicly
committed to love while privately sheltered
from any of its more arduous demands. The fear of love maybe
motivated by a range of factors A squeamishness around hope, a self-hatred which makes
someone else’s love feel eerie, or a fear of self revelation
which breeds a reluctance to let anyone into
the secret part of ourselves. The fears are serious
and deserve sympathy. But they are generally not the issues that the romanticly fixated person ever wants to discuss. They prefer to keep the spotlight
on the unresponsive ex, rather than on their motives for continuing to dwell on them. The way to unfixate
is not to tell ourselves that we never like the person. It’s to get very serious and specific
about what the attraction was based on. And then to come to see that
the qualities we had admired in the ex must necessarily exist
in the other people who don’t have the set of problems
that make the original relationship impossible. The careful investigation
of the character of one person, paradoxically but very liberatingly shows that we could in fact,
also love someone else. This is not an exercise in getting us
to give up on what we really want. The liberating move is to see that what we want has to exist
in places beyond the pain enducing character we originally identified it in. We should gently recognize
that being dissapointed and abandoned has its curious satisfactions. It is in an emotional sense, a very safe position to be in indeed. Yet true love isn’t to be acquitted
with pining for an absent figure. It means daring to engage
with a truely frightening prospect. A person who is available
and thinks despite our strong background
supposition to the contrary that we’re really
rather nice. That is perhaps,
the only sort of challenge that properly deserve
the lyrical and grand word ROMANTIC.