Unrequited love is a common theme of tortured souls, those who wish for nothing more than to be loved back by their beloved. In many stories, this type of love is a kind of tragedy for we often assume that love is (and perhaps should be) realized only in particular ways. But I’ve recently been thinking differently, and I’ve found something quite poignant about a certain kind of love that is not only unreciprocated but also unknown to those who are loved.
In the past eight months I developed a new kind of love for two boys who are not my own. They live a number of hours away from me. I never met them and I likely never will. One is ten years old. The other is eight. I was dating their father.
Over the course of some months, I heard many stories about them. The result was that as I fell in love with their father, I also fell in love with them. I learned about their talents at playing soccer and swimming. Their grandparents would frequently note how brilliant, sensitive, and compassionate they were for their ages. I spent time thinking about them on their birthdays over the summer and loved hearing second-hand how much they enjoyed their new bikes. I heard about how excited they were to get accepted into specialized academic programs at their school. As part of the care packages that we sent to them for the start of a new school year I made them each little cards, although it didn’t seem appropriate for me to write in them. The months passed and I continued to wonder about how and what they were doing. At the same time, I was still fondly learning more about them through past stories from when they were little, like how the oldest, when he was quite young, asked his father, “Where does poop come from?” and how when it was explained to him that poop comes from what you eat he incredulously replied, “But I don’t eat poop!”
Without having the opportunity to meet them, let alone develop a close relationship with them (it was, as it turns out, too soon to have them meet someone new anyhow), I decided early on to begin writing to them in a journal. I would write down the stories I was told and explain how much they were loved and missed by their father. I also wrote things that I would have told them if I could, like how much I would love to hear about the things they were doing each day, what they were learning at school, what was exciting to them, what seemed challenging. When I had a dream about a day when we actually met each other, I described my nerves. I kept thinking, “Will they like me? Is this okay with them?” and I described how those thoughts were settled by them in a few words and one simple, sweet gesture. With each entry, I would end by emphasizing how special they were and how much they were loved. “Someday,” I thought, “they’ll read this, and I want for them to know that they have always been loved, even if they don’t remember these particular days later on.” Of course, it wasn’t hard for me to recognize that the journal was just as much for me as it was for them. I thought about them so much that I needed a way to express my thoughts for the time being.
When things ended between their father and me I was left with an unfamiliar feeling of discontent. It’s expected that the quick unraveling of a relationship leaves one reeling with feelings of shock, confusion, some hurt, and sadness. However, I was also left with a new kind of upset by wondering what to do with my feelings for these boys. A breakup I can get over- that relationship had its time and things didn’t work out. But what about the relationship I had been developing with these boys? These feelings of care, hope, and love for them don’t just stop. And in a way, since my relationship with them was only ever realized through my attempts to reach out to them on paper, very little was altered by the break up itself. I didn’t ever get the chance to see them, listen to them, and hold them, which just meant that such would continue to be the case. That didn’t mean, however, that I would stop caring for and about them.
On one hand, I was grateful to gain a new understanding: It’s possible for us to love others without them knowing it. Had I not gone through this set of experiences and feelings for myself, I don’t know that I would have come to this thought. Fortunately, I am on the end of doing the loving, so this much I know to be true. Nevertheless, I was still left feeling quite sad. I thought, “There are now two boys in the world who have been loved so much for the past six months and they will never know.” The sadness, I suppose, came from the assumption I had that it is best to be loved in particular ways. One of those ways is to know exactly how and that we are loved.
But with this thought came another kind of feeling. I was actually quite inspired for I came to realize that a greater insight could also be drawn from this: It’s possible for us to be loved without knowing it. This means that even if or when you feel a little low on love and care, there may be more around than is realized. In fact, it’s tempting to extrapolate and think of other ways that this insight might apply: No matter our relationships with our families, it may be the case that they love us more than they could or did ever express. With our friends, perhaps we have been loved in ways that weren’t ever fully articulated. Even with people whom we’ve never met, it may be possible that they are capable of loving us, too.
It should be noted, of course, that I am not referring to the tortured love of the silent romantic who loves her beloved from afar; this is something different. It’s something much more content and complete onto itself. It’s a love that doesn’t need to be returned by the beloved.The kind of love I’m thinking of is the type that simply loves. And when we are able to love others in this way, it allows for a terrific possibility. In short, it may always be the case that we are loved more than we know. And maybe there is some comfort in that.