The Charms of Unavailable People


It’s an odd feature of love that some of
our most romantic moments include these scenarios: – being with a lover who lives a whole continent
away from us and can never move to be closer. – an infatuation with a lover who is married
to someone else and has no will to leave them. – a romance with someone dying of a disease
that will kill them within a matter of months. – a crush on someone at the library – who
we never talk to yet think of obsessively (even when it turns out they have a partner).
– the last days of a holiday romance before we have to take a gruelling 12 hour flight
back home. What unites all these situations is an external
obstacle to love which, paradoxically, serves to make our desire more intense. We might
suppose that our love would be strong in spite of the challenges – but the situation is
weirder than this: our love is strong precisely because a proper relationship is not possible
in the real world, because love is fated to be in some way unrequited or incomplete. People
stuck in these unrequited situations may garner a lot of sympathy and seem like the natural
friends of true love. But they tend to be no such things. They are timid visitors to
the land of love, who have carefully chosen situations which will prevent them from ever
taking up more permanent residence. They are self-saboteurs, who would rather be in control
of a sad situation than half out of control of a happy one. They have carefully made sure
that there is no chance to disappoint or be disappointed. It is the external obstacle that gives them
the security to surrender themselves totally to feelings that they would keep well at bay
if – miraculously – the obstacle were to be removed. To feel a lot for someone who
is available is an emotionally highly flammable requirement. The possibilities for getting
hurt are enormous. We might learn to trust a lover over years, and then promptly find
that they had decided to leave us, or died in the night. We couldn’t survive; our defences
mask too gelatinous an interior. We would have given them the keys to our self-confidence
and direction – and would struggle (after so long) to know how to carry on. Not all
of us have the psychological histories that make us robust enough to dare enter situations
where mutual trust is a risk we can endure day-to-day. We may have been too badly let
down as children (perhaps a parent left us or humiliated us), and are at some level therefore
profoundly determined never again to surrender in the true sense to another person (we may
of course be married and yet still feeling this way – if we’ve taken care to marry
a non-responsive, distracted partner). We don’t put it that way to ourselves of course.
We are most likely not even aware of the pattern we’re involved in; we just feel very in
love with someone who happens to reside far away and report that the person who has an
apartment round the corner is truly very boring and not that sexy. It sounds – for a time,
before you can see the pattern – quite plausible. The true challenge of relationships is not
to fall in love with someone who may never want to see us again: it is to accept the
far more interesting, and truly heroic challenge, of falling in love with someone who isn’t
dying, stationed in the Arctic or married to someone else – and would have no objection
to seeing us all the time. Impossible situations feel so romantic not because we have found
a soulmate, but because the absence of risk has loosened our hearts. We should – with
time – learn to dare to turn our amorous attentions to that deeply dangerous threatening
character: the person we know, who likes us a lot and who is available all the time. That
would be truly romantic. To learn more about love try our book on, “How To Find Love”, which explains why we have the types we do.

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