Unrequited Love as Religion

Certain conversations never leave my head. They linger in me like traces of smoke after a bonfire is doused with water. They hang onto me like memorial lanterns, constantly parading themselves in front of my weary eyes, demanding to be felt and comprehended until I finally give up the resistance and give in to remembering.

Here is a memory.

I look back to one sunny day in March: by the hall way of the sixth floor of the university, the entire view beneath us glimmered in the light of the noontime sun and the sticky breeze blew me away as in a daydream. Someone was speaking to me but her words came off as indistinct murmur as I went about staring mindlessly at the cumulus clouds over us. She nudged me twice, thrice before I managed to pull myself back to Earth once again. Her voice was intrusive when she burst out her question.

What is love to you?”

I remember not thinking, but floating instead in a hollow daze of a sudden interrogation. On its own, my tongue spilled out an answer which my mind was not prepared to swallow at the time. I told her I think of love as religion and provided her with nothing more but a vacant stare as an explanation for that premise.

I think about it now, and realize only today that when she asked me about love, I actually thought, first and foremost, of love unrequited. I think I’ve been so familiar with the experience that it is almost impossible for me to think of love in any other way than this. But then again, there is no other way than this. The crucial thing is that even if the other person expresses the same feelings towards you, it only treads the illusive cycle which is always patterned after the principle of an eternal un-returned love.

This speaks of the fact that no two person can ever stand each other for all time, the fact that people do fall out of the rhythm and out of love eventually. And even if they manage to stay together, their bond only ever manifests a corruption brought by the reality that the love they have given and shared to someone else is made to return to their miserable original starting point. And to those who are given a direct rejection of love and are made to suffer from the apparent disinterest of their object of desire, the betrayal of their love spans across the multi-layer of a myth that therefore brings a new theology.

The unconscious fabrication of an image apart from the self is what makes love a religion. The recognition of this illusory nature of love eventually frames and points the person to an absent figure that is a total separate from the present object of love. I think this is a human mechanism designed to distract unrequited love from turning against itself and destroying its own. It has to build a defense so strong to fight off the terrible reality that even after a lifetime of love cherished and shared together with someone else, or even after an incomparable degree of sacrifice for one’s object of love, one only truly realizes in the end that one is all alone in this venture after all.

And so we live—our gaze forever established on the traumatic delivery of love in which we are both the sender and the receiver, all the while carrying along inside of us still a fragile anticipation for a time when someone will actually take our load from us and finally receive this hefty baggage we call love.

In love, we are never more blind and foolish.


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