Broken Hearts

LOVE IS SELDOM ENDLESS and never perfect. Thwarted love creates a great deal of pain, and inconsolable longing can be Hell on earth when our attention is unrequited.

The devastation felt when love fails shows how much esteem is at stake, how tightly one’s self worth is wound with the beloved’s. The dumped lover panics at relinquishing his hopes and dreams, fearing that no one will again come close to fulfilling them.

In failed courtship, one party’s decision early in the game not to pursue the relationship is different from rejection, which occurs after emotionally letting go and after love is realized. We have yielded to the thrill and feel that our longings could be fulfilled, only to be unilaterally cut off at this emotional height by the very focus of our desire.

Two strategies are common. In the first, the lover presses his case, trying anything and everything: cleaning up his own act, alternating between accommodation and nonchalance, threatening a triangle in hopes of making the other jealous, or issuing ultimatums.

The second strategy is dropping the beloved. It is hard for the rejected one to accept that hopelessness looms on the horizon. Perhaps he can relieve some tension by letting friends know what the beloved was really like, reviewing every bad point and trying to convince them, but mostly himself, that the beloved was a poor choice with multiple faults from the start.

In the final days the lover is nearly helpless to stop tracking the beloved in places he knows he will be, finding “legitimate” excuses to telephone, and having friends report on his whereabouts and who he is with. This need to know shows love’s inherent obsessiveness. Men often need a concrete answer at the end of failed affairs whereas women are more content to intuit a reason and console themselves (He was a cad, he couldn’t commit). If there is any solace, it is that the disenchanted lover who does the rejecting is hurt, too. His decision to terminate is a painful moment.

The “lover’s reel” describes the special memory of a realized love affair. It is something like an old movie reel stored away in the mind that can be replayed and edited depending on current needs. Even when love ends, its memory is preserved and continues to enrich the lover as he plays back the reel during the rest of his life.

Thoughts of the former beloved are often involuntary and have the flavor of fantasy, nearly always a favorable, sweet memory. People with whom we have had relationships enter our stream of consciousness to become part of our personality. Once imprinted on the lover’s reel they remain with us forever, reason enough to give each interlude everything we’ve got.

Even the rejected lover can experience love’s affirming power by acknowledging his expanded personality that realized love always produces. This is partly why nostalgia for lost love is a powerful and moving theme in literature and film. Great tear jerkers are based on this idea of “what might have been.” The longing for what might have been confirms our belief in what still could be, which keeps alive our hope for perfect love in the future.

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