Like many, I believe in the power of love. Until one finds themselves in situations where love is quite powerless: unrequited love, loving someone who is unavailable or falling for someone with a different sexual orientation.
Z, a 25-year-old client of mine is in this situation. Three times in a row now, she has fallen in love with gay men. This pattern began to emerge when Z was in college. She met the first person she fell for, M, through a common friend. They connected almost immediately, met every evening, and according to Z, he understood her better than anyone else she knew. She goes on to add that she also felt very secure and safe.
It only took five months of knowing M and spending lots of time together, for Z to fall madly in love with him. Despite warning signals from their common friend saying that M will never like her in a romantic way, she shared her feelings with him, only to be met with shock. The friend later told her that M was gay.
Z says, it’s like she didn’t get what that meant, because her reaction to this information was “so what?”. A year later, she started developing feelings for a fellow classmate. Similarly, a fellow classmate promptly informed her that he was gay. This happened the third time at work with a colleague. Thankfully before she could say anything to him, his partner joined them for a post work drink one day.
This is when Z decided that she needed to seek help before it became a pattern that would be hard to break. A large part of unearthing the “why” of it, took us back to Z’s childhood. Like with many children across the world, sexual abuse by a relative for an extended time period had left scars that she struggles to heal from. Z’s abuser lived in the same house. She grew up feeling unsafe in the space she was supposed to feel the safest.
At an age when people are in and out of crushes, Z lived in fear of her tormentor. Even when someone showed interest in her romantically, she was either unaware of it at the time or unconsciously moved away from that individual. That’s why M’s largely non-threatening attitude towards her made her feel safe and secure. Having had no sex in her adult life, Z says she does not feel the need for it either. It seems like a relationship for her is not about the sexuality or physical attraction. Considering Z’s journey, all of this is understandable. It is also obviously logical that a gay man will not be in a romantic relationship with a heterosexual individual.
There are other instances, too, where the person you fall in love with is not romantically available for you. This can most commonly be those who are already in a committed relationship, or individuals you idolise in your circle of influence like teachers, mentors or counsellors. A relationship with such individuals will, at the most, will be a dalliance. For most individuals in love with an unavailable person, expecting anything more only results in heartbreak.
Then there is unrequited love. In my experience, unrequited love is the most difficult to recover from. With Z, it is at least clear that M cannot just change his mind over his sexual orientation. But when it comes to unrequited love, many live in the hope that the person they love will one day change their mind.
This is despite the reasons—commonly, one party not feeling a romantic connection, physical attraction, or not being ready for (or wanting) a serious relationship— being extremely personal. The personal angle is why such a rejection can feel more hurtful than the other two that have a nonpersonal rationale to them.
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The fact is, regardless of the nature of its impossibility, you cannot force someone to love you; and hope, when it comes to such a situation is your real enemy. It keeps you in the ‘neither zone’—of not being in a real relationship with the person, nor being totally heart broken. It prevents you from moving on, which means that you will not be able to get into any other relationship either.
The path Z has chosen for herself— of counselling in order to heal from her trauma, and coaching to find herself a heterosexual partner— is, in my opinion, the right one. None of the situations explained above are easy to handle on your own.
As I write this column, I feel a deep sense of pain for Z and all those whose love is not reciprocated. My advice is that when you find yourself in such a situation, choose courage rather than hope. Courage to move on, heal your heart and get ready for the relationship you deserve.
Tough Love is a limited series by Simran Mangharam, a dating and relationship coach, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org