Monday, August 3, 2009

Unrequited Love

"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


  1. A very thought provoking post Addie. I would just like to say that in the book Sense and Sensibility it makes a point of saying that Willoughby did love Marianne and would have proposed to her if his earlier disgrace had not been discovered. The very fact that he did harbor true feelings for Marianne lowers him in my estimation, for he scorned the only thing in his life that was really valuable. It makes him even more selfish, he would leave Marianne in the lurch to save his own skin. Although, would it not have been easier to just do the noble thing and marry Miss Williams? I suppose his distain for Eliza Williams outweighed his love for Marianne and his love for himself outweighed both.

  2. Addie,

    I am blown away by this post because "Beauty from Pain" has been a theme constantly on my heart for the past three years, even more so after reading Sigrid Undset's amazing book "Kristin Lavransdatter." (If you have not read, it, you should. It's amazing.)

    Unrequited love... yes, it is so painful, but I have to admit that a real beauty exists in it through grace. I am finally starting to pick myself up after being in love with this guy for 4 and a half years, and having my love go completely unanswered. Through my heart was bruised and broken by disappointment, I can further praise God for allowing me to recover and move on from this situation, and hold out for someone who will return my feelings.

    (By the way, I am impressed by this blog, so lovely!)

  3. Lovely post, Addie of the many 'N's! (Lol, have no idea where THAT came from! :P)

    I think Willoughby did love Marianne.... but he had a much weaker character than her, was more selfish, and sucumbed rather easily to temptations, and lacked courage. He definitely thought more of himself and the severe troubles he fancied himself to be going through than the pain he was causing Marianne.
    he did love her in his own way, but I think it was far too selfish and cowardly to be true love. true love sacrifices, but if I remember correctly, the reason Willoughby decided against marrying Marianne was because his aunt would cut him out of her will and he would be poor.
    And money mattered more to him than love.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. (Oh, the deleted comment is mine--I accidently posted my first post twice, so I deleted the second one :P )


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