Have you ever been in love and felt the sting of rejection? For anyone who experiences unrequited love, the misery is usually accompanied by a great mystery. The type of love I’m talking about—the deep, true, all-encompassing kind—is only supposed to end up one way: happy. How can you feel so much for someone and then have it all amount to…nothing?
A tale of unrequited love
I remember the day I first met James in clear and vivid detail. We had been thrown together to collaborate on a three-month project, and I was nervous about working with people I’d never met before. Walking into the studio, I immediately spotted him: He was tall and wiry, with indie hair and directional eyewear, and dressed in a grey hoodie and a so-unhip-it’ship Snoopy T-shirt. Funny, smart and clever, James was the life and soul of any situation, the kind of person you want to be around. So, was it love at first sight? If feeling butterflies yet completely at ease and utterly yourself is anything to go by, then, yes, I suppose it was. The three-month project turned into an ongoing venture, and with every passing year my feelings for James deepened. Let me stress here that what I felt really was love: the romantic, pure, impossible kind, not just a made-up feeling or a crush that’s liable to dissolve. And with every look, laugh, comment and gesture that passed between us, it grew.
Well, it did for me anyway.
Did I mention that James had a long-term girlfriend? I met Anita shortly after I met James, by which time they had been together for four years. Beautiful in a way that sneaks up on you, Anita was similar to James in that she was genuinely and sincerely just lovely. She was also a no-nonsense nurse who volunteered at an orphanage in India during the holidays—basically, she was a paradigm of virtue. And while part of me felt terrible that I was in love with her boyfriend, I’m not proud to say that another part of me wanted her to fall under a bus so that James and I could live happily ever after.
Keep reading for more about Jane’s unrequited love story on the next page…
It’s purely because of Anita’s goodness that I never made a move on James. In the past, I’ve been “the other woman,” but that experience taught me that nothing solid or lasting ever rises from the ashes of stolen relationships. I knew that if James and I were ever to have a shot at something real, our story had to start in the right way. And while he and Anita were together, that was never going to happen.
Did James feel the same way?
I didn’t think my feelings for James were one-sided, though; we were incredibly close. There were the small things, like whenever I got a new haircut/pair of jeans/ lipstick/perfume, it was James who would notice and comment. When I was ill, James would be the one to drop by with cold remedies and the offer of a shoulder rub; when I was down or sad, it was always James who would text to tell me I was beautiful or call to recount a funny story. Then there were the big things, like when I had to have my cat put down and it was James who drove me to the vet, put his arms around me while the last of her life drained away and held me as I sobbed, stroking my hair, telling me that everything would be okay—and who repeated these gestures when I received the news of my father’s death a year later.
I knew what I felt was real. Whenever we saw each other, I would light up and so would he. There was always
humorous-but-flirty banter, and when we’d say our goodbyes, James would hug me for longer than he should have.
There was electricity between us, discreet but intense flirting, and we shared a level of physical intimacy that was beyond the appropriate limits of friendship. Others would often remark on the palpable chemistry between us when we were together, and when I’d show them the texts or emails he’d sent me, their comments invariably concluded that Anita would be hurt if she knew he was saying such intimate and revealing things to me. Not that she had any idea—we were never as flirty in front of her as when we were alone.
It didn’t feel like we were just friends, and, at the core of my being, I believed that somehow, some way, we would end up together without the toxic fallout that comes from being a
relationship wrecker. The intensity of my feelings was such that I couldn’t believe we weren’t destined to be a couple. I knew that he was my soulmate, and that knowledge made waiting for “our time” easier. I’m not saying I wasn’t frustrated by the waiting—there were many nights when all I longed for was to be with him. But I felt that if I crossed the line, I might lose everything.
Despite these feelings, I didn’t put my own life on hold. I dated other men and even had a lengthy but
ultimately doomed relationship with one of them. It’s just that my feelings for James were the unchanging background to everything else.
So what happened in the end? Find out the rest of Jane’s story of unrequited love on the next page…
There was one moment, after the failed relationship, when I almost crossed the line. I was staying with James and Anita (see, she’s that lovely) while renovation work was being completed on my flat. During that time, I saw a side to James that I hadn’t seen before— a side that made me realize exactly the kind of life I was missing out on. With Anita working night shifts at the hospital, James and I were spending a lot of time together; I would come home from work to a bottle of wine, dinner on the table and James running me a hot bath before bedtime. It was magical. One Saturday, after drinking wine in the park all day with friends, we returned home happy and full of summer cheer. Anita was at work; the mood between us was light and playful, and we talked about our friendship. He said that all he wanted was my happiness and that he really cared about me. He held my hand, and a jolt of electricity passed through me. It was the only time I have ever felt that we might have kissed.
The misguided confession
Then, one night after I had moved back to my flat and was feeling single, sad and emotionally vulnerable, I confessed in a moment of Prosecco-fuelled rashness during a flirty iChat with James that I’d loved him from the moment I met him. I remember a voice inside me urging me on, telling me I’d waited too long for all this to be resolved. I also remember with nauseating clarity the empty text box, flashing curser and churning sick feeling in my stomach as the minutes rolled by and James didn’t reply. Finally, he wrote, “Since we met?” “Yes,” I replied. “I’ve loved you the entire time.” “I had no idea,” he said, and I was shocked. “You’re joking. You must have known!” I wrote. “I know you love me too.” Another pause with no reply. Then finally: “I’m sorry, but I don’t feel the same way. I love you as a friend and that’s all.” And there it was—the answer I’d been dreading. The love of my life didn’t love me back.
I felt gutted—had he simply been playing games with me? Perhaps it was the alcohol or a sense of false bravado, but my feelings swung from upset to angry in seconds. Was that it? After years of flirtation, was our potential future together over just like that? Then my anger turned to worry. What if my revelation had just ruined the most important
friendship of my life?
So, how do things stand between us now? Amazingly, James is still my best friend. We still flirt, and the attraction is still there, but the confession took some of the heat out of my feelings and made me realize that I could love him without desire and longing. Still, I have no idea why he led me on for all those years. And I don’t believe he didn’t have feelings for me. I’m not an idiot—I know love can be onesided, but the energy and time we both put into our relationship was more than just friendship. But I learned this lesson: Feeling all the love in the world doesn’t mean it will be returned.
James remains the bar by which I measure all men. If they don’t match up to his loyalty, kindness and honesty, they’re not worth my time. By knowing and loving James, I’ve realized what true and rare love really is, and if I can’t have that, or better, with someone new, I don’t want it at all.
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