"Anne felt the utter impossibility, from her knowledge of his mind, that he could be unvisited by remembrance any more than herself. There must be the same immediate association of thought, though she was very far from conceiving it to be of equal pain... there could have been no two hearts so open, no tastes so similar, no feelings so in unison, no countenances so beloved. Now they were as strangers; nay, worse than strangers, for they could never become acquainted. It was a perpetual estrangement." Jane Austen--Persuasion
Unrequited love. What does it mean? What does it feel like? And-most importantly ;)- what does Austen have to say about it?
In all Austen's stories, there are examples of unrequited love. Some of them are pivotal to the storyline-like Anne Eliot's and Capt. Wentworth's painfully awkward situation that tugs at the heartstrings (or, in Ella's case, frustrates beyond endurance. :))
Often, unrequited (or what is perceived as unrequited love) begins a relationship-like Mr. Darcy's secret attraction to Lizzie. At first, Lizzie most emphatically does not return Mr. Darcy's one-sided affection for her. However, she slowly learns of his true character, and comes to appreciate him and eventually return his love. In Darcy's case, his unrequited love has a blessedly happy ending.
"Next to being married, a girl likes to be crossed in love a little now and then."
~Pride & Prejudice
Other Austen characters are not so fortunate.
Perhaps the most painful Austenian example of unrequited love (putting aside Persuasion, which basically takes the cake for the most heart-wrenching portrayal of unrequited, and silently, secretly requited love,) is the unfortunate relationship between Marianne and Willoughby. In this case, Marianne's beautiful, strong character renders her able to form a deep and abiding attachment to Willoughby, an attachment that his weeker and shallower character cannot reciprocate. Such one-sided love ends up hurting Marianne deeply, but it teaches her a valuable lesson- she learns to temper her sweet sensibility with a little of Elinor's sense. (And, of course, she eventually finds her true love!)
I think God uses the pain of unrequited love to teach us about His love and how we should imitate that love. As St. Francis of Assisi prayed: "Oh, Lord, grant that I make never seek so much to be loved as to love." There is a certain strength and maturity you gain when you choose to truly love someone, even though your love is not returned. You gain a new appreciation for and understanding of what love means. As God loves unconditionally, so should we. Even if we turn our back on God, and withold our love from Him, He will never withold His love from us. Love is most complete, perfect, and exists as God intended when it is reciprocated; however, unrequited love is an important part of life that we all have experienced or will experience in our lives.
For some reason the phrase that keeps running through my head as I write this is "Beauty through pain." Don't know why...Maybe it's because the beauty of love trumps the pain of it not being returned? Maybe because our appreciation of love's beauty is greater when we experience heartbreak? Maybe because the things most worth our time-like love- can only be obtained if you're willing to sacrifice and experience pain? Thoughts, gentle readers?
"Friendship is certainly the finest balm for the pangs of disappointed love."
Jane Austen-- Northanger Abbey