I’ve often wondered about the affliction known as unreturned feelings. How is it possible to feel strongly for someone who doesn’t return the emotion? In most of my experience, I’ve been able to overcome my affection –although perhaps not lust—for men who didn’t reciprocate my feelings for them. This does not count, of course, my visceral, excruciatingly painful crush on David Cassidy of Partridge Family fame during my tween years (you know, in the last century—not even that late in the last century). For him, my heart beat faster and my soul yearned. And while he had no idea I was alive (until I met him in person, backstage at a concert, when I was 35—a gift from my beloved husband), I pined for years.
We can’t help the way we feel. We have some input (depending on our level of impulse control) on how we behave in response to our emotions (see my post on this topic here), but many of us can’t even master that. Particularly when it comes to love. In one of my all-time favorite movies, Anne of the Thousand Days, Richard Burton’s King Henry VIII complains bitterly, “Even a king cannot choose where he will love.” If kings can’t do it, then it’s probably off the table for the rest of us.
We can decide—intellectually—that we will feel one way or another. For me, when I’ve lost that loving feeling, the fat lady is done singing and it’s over. Recently, one of my sons impressed the hell out of me in how he broke up with his (first serious) girlfriend. They’d been seeing each other all summer and it had been a very sweet and intense relationship, as summer lovin’ can be with teenagers. With the beginning of the school year and the advent of football season, my son quickly realized that it was too difficult to maintain his relationship at its summertime intensity. Further, he realized that he no longer felt the same way he had a mere three months before. When he spoke to her about parting, he told her, “I’m just not feeling the connection anymore.” What a wonderful (although sad) way to express himself. She was understandably devastated, but she was (emotionally) free to move on, knowing that he doesn’t care for her romantically anymore.
But my son’s now old flame may not move on. She might pine. She might whine (to her friends). She might not get over my son quickly. Or, she may have another beau next week. Who knows? Whatever she’s going to feel, she’s going to feel it regardless of what anyone says to her. And whatever he’s going to feel, he’s going to feel. We are all entitled to our feelings, and we can’t get mad at others for how they feel. Never mind that some of these feelings bear no resemblance to reality—we must honor them because feelings are exempt from the blame game — even if we think said feelings are dumb. Not that I’m ever frustrated by this occurrence, mind you. We can’t come back with a rapier-like retort because that would just be wrong, right?
So if feelings aren’t facts and how we feel is not our fault, what can we do about them? Well, naturally, we can drink heavily, which is always a good option. It’s five o’clock somewhere in the world, isn’t it? We can indulge in our favorite compulsion (chocolate, anyone?). We can make like ostriches and bury our heads in denial and self-delusion. We can act out inappropriately and we can get sick.
I don’t actually recommend any of the above options. None of those choices leads to a happy ending. Instead, we can practice processing our emotions in a healthy and constructive way. We can begin by accurately identifying our feelings, a skill that many lack. When my son was young (the one with the excellent break-up line), he used to get a lot of stomachaches. I was worried about his digestion until someone helped me figure out that what he was experiencing as stomach pain was actually unacknowledged anxiety that was manifesting as physical discomfort. When we were able to address the causes of his anxiety, the tummy troubles resolved themselves.
For those of us who aren’t five years old, you’d think that we could do a better job when we play “Name That Feeling.” Most of us know, generally, when we are happy and sad, irritated and mad. But not all the time. Sometimes, it’s hard to know how we are feeling, except that it’s bad. We may not have a clue as to what is causing the ill will within us. Emotion identification is a learned skill. I’m sure there are classes on it somewhere.
Once we’ve identified our feelings, there are a number of ways to process them. Among my favorites are journaling, yoga, walking, meditating, body work (massage, acupuncture) and energy work (Reiki, chakra balancing). All of these modalities can help us work through strong emotions and prevent them from becoming trapped, only to erupt sometime and somewhere else that is inappropriate.
Or we can just fake it ‘til we feel it. We can act our way into right feeling good while waiting for the unpleasant feelings to pass. Which they usually do. Eventually. If we allow ourselves to feel them as opposed to bury them.
Feelings are a messy business. It’s why Vulcans, those clever aliens, eschew them. So much cleaner without those pesky emotions. At the beginning of Lover Mine, it’s clear that John Matthew thinks so. He’d love to be a Vulcan instead of a vampire. But he’s stuck with his feelings, just like the rest of us.