“I can’t charm him.” I waited until Persephone ran the mom through the questions before continuing. “Even accidentally. Everything he says and does is real, you know?”
“I do, actually.” Persephone said before taking the sleepy looking four year old through a modified list of our questions. “Aphrodite!” She scolded when I took a stuffed bear from the little girl.
“Baby-Jaguar!” the little girl moaned. “My Baby-Jaguar. Give him—” She fell silent under the influence of Persephone’s charm.
“You can hide things in stuffed animals,” I explained, giving the “jaguar” a cautious squeeze. “He’s clean. Here you go, kiddo.”
The little girl snatched her toy from me, giving me a look so cutting I stepped back.
“Anyway,” I said once Persephone convinced the kid to go back to sleep, “he can’t hurt me. He’s not strong enough. So we balance. And when the whole thing happened with Zeus, he saved me. He trusted me, believed in me at a time when no one else could.”
“But?” She prompted after a moment’s silence, closing the door as quietly as she could so we didn’t reawaken the sleeping dragon.
“That’s not actually him. I put him on this pedestal and made him into a symbol. He can’t live up to that, you know?”
Persephone nodded, knocking on the next door. “I get that.” Another empty room.
“Uh-huh.” I couldn’t imagine another being, least of all Persephone, “getting” something I barely understood about myself.
“No, really, I do.” Persephone looked around the base of the bed. She raked her hair back, hand stopping at the top of her skull. “I used to get a crush on literally every guy who was ever nice to me. . . and it wasn’t them, you know?” She flushed. “I always felt really out of place so I’d get really grateful when I got any attention at all. But I was too shy to act on my feelings, thank gods.”
And I wasn’t. Yup. Got that subtext loud and clear. “You. . . think I’m insecure and desperate for affection?” I wasn’t sure how to take that.
She pressed her lips together and glanced down at the carpet. “I think you’re lonely. I’m not explaining this well.” She sighed. “I’m saying I get it. I know what it’s like to feel different and alone, and I know what it’s like to seize onto that one kind gesture and to read so much into it that everything they say or do becomes…more. And you’re right, putting him on a pedestal isn’t fair to him, but it’s also not fair to you because you end up putting all this stock into someone who…maybe doesn’t deserve it.”
My throat went tight. “Yeah.”
I’ve talked about Unrequited Love on my blog before just two weeks ago. But the topic bears some expanding because two weeks ago, I mostly focused on the other person. The person who doesn’t love back. How they feel. How frustrating it is that society keeps teaching us that not loving someone back if they just try hard enough is somehow wrong.
But it also sucks to be the person with all the feelings. To be the one wondering if you just said x or just did y, would they like you back. To over-analyze that person’s every mood, to read things into their actions and not be able to tell if they’re real or if you just really want it to be real.
It sucks. And it’s a sucky part of life. And acting on those feelings in a way that’s scary or vengeful or negative to them is unforgivable because the other sucky part of life is that they don’t have to love you. But equally unforgivable is hurting yourself over it.Girls are particularly bad about this, statistically speaking, because from a societal stand point, we’re expected to change. Oh, we’re told not to, but the narrative we’re fed doesn’t match the message that’s preached. We are marketed to as a problem that can be fixed with the right make up or weight loss product. Movies and books and shows have running tropes where she joins his group, she acquires his interests, she compromises her beliefs, she changes her goals to fit his. When guys do that they’re seen as whipped, but when girls do it, it’s par for the plot.
And to be fair, some changes going to happen no matter what. Don’t change is stupid advice. You become the people you’re around. It’s part of being a human. Your interests expand with your social circle, so do your friends, and your beliefs change when challenged. That’s not a bad thing, I don’t mean change as in go away. When you think from one perspective and are introduced to another, it’s a sign of a working brain to assimilate the new information and reevaluate what you know to make it fit. But these changes should flow both ways. It’s problematic when one person is doing all the changing for another, especially if all this change is happening so the other person can be won.
But sometimes there’s something more serious at work than just disappointment that the other person doesn’t return their affection. Like in the conversation with Persephone and Aphrodite above. The intense feelings they felt toward the boys in the examples had almost nothing to do with the actual boys and everything to do with turmoil happening in their own life. But those are just minor examples. Sometimes, it’s a lot more serious.
People who hurt themselves, starve themselves, or sink into depression aren’t doing it because so and so didn’t love them back. So and so not loving them back was probably the end of a very long list of other issues impacting that person’s life. So and so just likely happened to be the most concrete one that all those feelings could be hung on. And that is why those tropes are so scary. Because all the books and all the movies and all the shows take warning signs of really serious issues that demand really serious help, and trivializes them. That rhetoric has been so normalized that their parents, their friends, and possibly even themselves may not recognize a very real call for help. So pay attention to yourself, to your friends. It’s frighteningly easy to write someone off as desperate when there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface.