Dear Rick Moody: Should I Tell Them I Love Them?
Rick Moody, Life Coach, on the Deep Bone Sadness of Unrequited Love
For more than a year, I have yearned the presence of someone. From the moment we met, my mind has seldom been far from them. I hoped it a fleeting crush, but time has proven otherwise. I do not believe anyone else to be aware of my feelings.
In the course of the year, I watched this person plan a wedding, and wed. I attended the wedding. I pretend to wish the best for them. I’ve tried to keep my distance. I try to get as close as possible. I don’t want anyone to notice.
A dishonest person with a wasted heart—hat’s what I’ve become. Relationships of lies. I hope my spouse doesn’t see through them. I don’t want to hurt anyone, but I’m not sure how sustainable this suppression can last. I didn’t want this, but I love it.
What to do? My instinct is to work on my marriage. We are pursuing counseling. We are not happily married. We are without children, perhaps as a result.
Do I have an obligation to tell this someone how I feel? Would you want to know? I think I would, but it feels like it would be a selfish decision. She didn’t ask for this any more than I did. This person has given me no reason to believe that they are unhappy in marriage.
In isolation only I feel symptoms.
The lines of fantasy and reality have become blurred at times. I have no one who I feel comfortable confiding in, minus strangers. Strangers offer sympathy, but no direction.
Today, I feel especially affected. I heard your interview with Terry Gross and considered reaching out. I read your response to Dry Eyes and concluded that anonymous exchange may be the only medium I’m open to.
I do not wish to continue with a wasted heart. Dishonesty is out of my character. I hover along the lines of feeling good about life and feeling underwhelmed by it. These are problems that seem insignificant to me, especially when contrasted with lost tears. Asking for your service brings me some shame. I don’t know what else to do.
Gratitude for your consideration,
The first thing that needs to be said is that your letter if very poignant. Exceedingly poignant. The love that is undeclared is the most selfless of all. The most unconditional. I think it’s in The Four Loves that C. S. Lewis sketches out agape, and the way in which God’s love (you don’t need to believe in a god to follow the argument) serves as the model for the kind of love that we might, if we are particularly skillful, employ on earth as regards our fellows. Your first sentences, with the slight awkwardness of pronoun, “For more than a year, I have yearned the presence of someone. From the moment we met, my mind has seldom been far from them,” as very nearly as selfless. I think “to yearn” is generally a transitive verb, but you’re suppressing the “for” somehow makes the yearning even more universal, and then there’s the beauty of “the presence of someone.” For the purposes of this letter someone is the nickname of the object of your yearning. A nickname is the sign of love brought near.
The “them” in “my mind has seldom been far from them” is similarly graceful. As if someone is so potent as a force that she (for lack of a better word) has to been converted into a polyphony, a they, in order to reflect her multitudes. They are, as the saying goes, legion.
In fact, R. (you who use the same letter I often employ to sign letters), you have instructed me in a contemporary social justice conundrum that I have been having some trouble with. Namely, the use of “they” as a singular in sentences relating to the members of the trans community. While I in no way resist the increasingly visibility and attendant rights for my trans brothers and sisters—indeed, I am overjoyed by these developments—I have found myself less immediately supportive of the grammatical contortions involved in the employment of “they” is a third-person singular pronoun. I know that this is my fault. Would I have resisted “Ms.” in the 1970s? I like to think that I would not have. So why the difficulty with “they?” I guess in some aspects of my own approach to the English language (the mother tongue) I incline toward old things rather than new things.
But you, R., have taught me that the use of “they” implies multitudes. While it is true that we all are multitudinous (this is actually a very important and sublime thought), the love object grows and swells in us uniquely (maybe like a pregnancy, if we were to accept C. S. Lewis’s formulation that agape is the love of the parent for the child), until someone is so numerous, so overwhelming that he or she is a “they.” That’s how I take it here. Additionally, in your letter, there is initially a valence about gender, and I like and admire this valence. In a way, there is no unrequitedness quite like the unrequitedness of falling in love with someone who isn’t even attracted to your gender, but rather to your essence, which precedes gender, especially now.
The heart-rending narrative portion of the letter is thus: “I watched this person plan a wedding/and wed. I attended the wedding.” It’s one syllable long for a couplet from a love sonnet, but very nearly perfect. The alliteration (person/plan, wedding/wed) is very poetical. In particular, I am reminded of Gerard Manley Hopkins, whose alliteration and whose attentiveness to stresses in syllables is so noteworthy, but he was even better at a certain highly operatic solitude that is like unto what you express in your letter. Hopkins loved God, perhaps, because he could not effectively love on earth.
As you know, R., one danger implicit in the wedding portion of your letter, is the danger in which we, however subconsciously, prefer the unrequited longing. There’s a lot of this around. The big endless love of the romantics, the waiting-in-the-rain-under-her-window love, the moonstruck love, this is often a kind of socially-acceptable misogyny, or, if you will, a hatred of the Other, because it depends on the absence of the Other, and once the Other is brought near, often enough, we prove unable to step up fully. In this circumstance, it seems to me, we prefer the unrequited longing.
And yet some persons are so generous, so beyond the self, that they can do what you have done, gone through the wedding, supported the wedding, without ever once announcing the thing that is right there at hand. These persons are perhaps not misogynistic, nor antipathetic, but rather just selfless and insensitive to pain. I feel some of waves of that in your letter, especially in the beautiful second half:
“Do I have an obligation to tell this someone how I feel? Would you want to know? I think I would, but it feels like it would be a selfish decision. She didn’t ask for this any more than I did. This person has given me no reason to believe that they are unhappy in marriage.”
And now to the second portion of the Petrarchan sonnet of love: the question, R., is what an announcement of your love would do. And what is it that you want an announcement to do? For some reason, I very often think of George Harrison announcing at a dinner party that he loved Ringo’s wife, and it just going over horribly, and everyone thinking he was an asshole, or drunk, and him slinking off, and no doubt being horrified by his behavior. What a horrible dinner party! What an awful idea! George Harrison did this, one of my greatest musical heroes, and a true spiritual adept. It suggests to me that the announcement, and the kind of fantasy that you allude to, can sometimes lead us in a direction that is inimical to the healthy functioning of the self, and to good reality testing. When you think of the situation in this way, R., the right approach is to work on your marriage, yourself, your life. There will never be a time when that effort is morally dubious.
And yet the announcement is so deeply human. When does it ever really hurt to tell someone you love them? When does it hurt to be loved? Only when you want to apply the rigors of monogamy to that love. If the goal of an annunciation (which is, remember, the word that we use to describe the moment in which Mary was selected by the Holy Spirit to be the vessel of Jesus) is simply that love wants to be expressed, and it has no other purpose than that, what harm is there, really? It’s only if love is inevitably transitive, and wants something more after being expressed, that there is the possibility of harm. Adults, it seems to me, do not always need more. Adults are more practiced in giving more and expecting less.
If “they,” the they who is known as someone, is simply going about her business, and is perfect as such, and you think she is perfect, and you don’t need her to do otherwise than to be perfect, but just to know that you have noticed her perfection, and have appreciated it, and you are delivering this annunciation to the entirety of someone, not to her appearance, not to her vivisected body, but out of an appreciation of the whole of her, her totality, which includes her place in her marriage and how she does her job, and how she treats her friends, and how she treats her parents, and how she buys her lottery ticket, and how she reads what she reads, and how she selects her ice cream, and folds her blanket, and sighs her sigh, and flips off the construction worker, and every other thing, and you want nothing but to have noticed and to have it registered that you are at the very apex of all of those who have noticed, and if the cost of this annunciation to someone is zero, they owe you nothing for it, and they do not have to be changed by it, then, R., under those circumstances there is no reason not to tell someone of your love. In fact, your love is nearly as noble as Dante’s love was for Beatrice. He only ever laid eyes on her twice.
Once I wrote a long essay about a song I really love, a love song. Such an incredible love song that I concluded the essay by writing the words “Why doesn’t someone write a song like this about me?” It was a rhetorical gesture, really. I didn’t expect it to happen. In fact, I am perhaps impervious to certain kinds of unrestrained affection. But then a certain friend of mine, who had long been behaving in ways that I thought unusual, wrote a comment about my essay in a certain forum, something akin to “Oh Rick, you have no idea.” That was the closest this particular someone ever came to what you are describing. I was a bit shocked, but nothing was required of me, not really, especially not that I should think I deserved this attention, was especially worthy, nor a particularly decent person because of it. Then it turned out that I was able to help this someone thereafter, as way of working through our gravitational wave, and though the affection was entirely unrequited in the eros sense, for her, it was not unrequited in the agape sense, for either of us, and I love her still, now that she needs nothing more from me at all. This seems like a totally reasonable and adult exchange in, in retrospect. No one was hurt in any lasting way, and many things were learned.
What your letter really proves to this life coach, R., is that you are very sensitive about the color of your own feelings, and about the ramifications of these feelings. I cheer you on in this way, because this sensitivity is powerful and moving. It enabled you to write this letter, which is so poignant. Perhaps love on occasion causes us to see more clearly, even when it distorts, sometimes, the object under scrutiny. I urge you to use your clarity in the event that your suppression ends, your “dishonesty” ends, and your annunciation commences, because in the moments after your annunciation you may have additional significant responsibilities, like letting go, setting free, and, above all, the great responsibility of the truly evolved: acceptance.
Rick Moody, Life Coach
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Feature image: quantum entanglement, aka “spooky action at a distance”—obviously.