On Unrequited Love

Boy oh boy, this is something I deal with quite often. I rarely have problems with people in my life, because I've learned to respect boundaries and not get involved in other people's shit. But I hopelessly fail sometimes at keeping myself detached from people, and it leads to endless suffering.

I found this amazing /r/Buddhism thread this morning that was just perfect, as /r/Buddhism threads often are.

Throughout my adolescence and most of my young adulthood I never dated. I used ideas about attachment and self-reliance as an excuse for not needing to, but really I just stalled my own development and hurt myself by not finding an acceptable outlet to express love and practice intimacy.

Hah. So me. "Any relationship I get into will only lead to suffering and unskilled behaviour", and all that. The handful of times I've been with (stretching it, talking-about-being-with more like) someone, I've been weighed down by immense feelings of, for the lack of a better word, Catholic guilt.

A little over a year ago I saw a girl and was immediately amazed and intrigued by her. I had the feeling that she was a good friend from my childhood or someone I had even known from infancy that I was separated from earlier my life. I doubt this was the case, but it is just the feeling I had.

I've felt these sorts of connections too, almost sansaric. You find it hard to shake the feeling that you're meant to be with this person.

And I'm not sure if it was my imagination but I think she had a small crush on me too because of the way she made extended eye contact and smiled at me sometimes. But as that happened, I started to feel like it was too good to be true and I clammed up.

Aha, as is often the case. Be a douchebag and ignore the girls who take the time to talk to you, have no trouble perusing ones that don't give you the time of day (not really, but the clamming up happens...).

There are a few really good replies that take different approaches at looking at the problem.

Altruistic Love

When you are attached to someone, you want to be around them because of they make you feel good. You enjoy this feeling. It is pleasurable to be loved. What this person is to you is, essentially, an object of love. Attachment is about self-centered pleasure.

When you love someone, you want them to experience happiness and pleasure. There is no thought of self. If you are the one they are attached to, then you want to be near them because it makes them feel good. It is about the giving of pleasure, not the receiving.

I've never seen love and pleasure described in this way before in a Buddhist context.

Most people today believe you need a little bit of both. But, from a Buddhist perspective, you should love indiscriminately, without attachment to it. And so, when it goes away (because it WILL go away... that is the nature of any conditioned phenomena), you are not hurt. This was not about your own pleasure, and so you feel no loss. You are not torn from something that pleases you. Rather, you recognize that the pleasure that you could once give to this person, you no longer can. And that is fine. It is within the nature of a relationship for it to end, and so you move forward effortlessly, always giving love freely, never attached to it yourself.

I've often felt that most of my human relationships (about 100% of them non-romantic) are about making the other party happy. Whale.

Right View

She's an impermanent, flawed person who pees, poops, farts and belches. Seriously, take time to visualize this (it's similar to an actual meditation that the Buddha taught, in fact he went more hardcore and asks you to imagine her as a decaying corpse...yeesh). She's not a goddess, she's human just like you. She's not the answer to your problems, she is--and I think the Buddha would agree with this-- just another bundle of problems.

Totally agree on the bundle of problems bit, and the sort of work that goes into maintaining a relationship, and its downsides.

What you need to practice is a "Middle Way" of self-esteem. The Buddha taught that to physically starve and torture yourself will not bring you enlightenment, but neither will pigging out and spoiling yourself with luxury. You need to find that middle ground of self-esteem where you believe in yourself enough that you feel you do have the power to achieve your goals, but not esteem yourself so much that you inflate your sense of self and become egotistical.

The big take-away for me here is the middle path and how as a layperson I should follow it. A lot of my guilt comes from how seeking a partner is basically seeking sensual pleasure, but I've never thought about the starving aspect of it before.

Find peace and happiness within first, then see if you can relate to others from that place of strength first. Otherwise you're just like a druggie looking for a fix, not a human being looking to express compassion or true love.

Pain, and Self-Compassion

The best reply in the thread, IMO, came from someone who was "gay and grew up really devout Mormon, so I was closeted until the age of 22".

I don't think the purpose of Buddhist practice is to bring peace, per se. Peace is a biproduct of seeing clearly, and clear seeing and learning to stay with our emotions seems to me to be the purpose of Buddhist practice. One thing that helps me immensely is to see the relationships of close friends. All of them are filled with hard work, trials, and quite a bit of suffering.

Oh god, yes. My rational half hates me for desiring something that I see is causing suffering for other people. It's like wanting to try Meth knowing full-well how bad it is.

It took a long time for me to see that unrequited love lied to me. It told me that if only I could be with my roommate Adam, life would be perfect and beautiful, and I would be happy.

The ultimate lie that love tries to sell us.

But what I also learned was that running away from the pain was not the answer. The pain of unrequited love itself contained its own solution. Meditating with the fundamental energy of it, I found an incredible tenderness in my pain. I realized that it came from years and years of living in the closet and rejecting myself, and that the answer wasn't to find someone else to love me. It was to cultivate loving kindness and compassion for myself.

I haven't tried Metta meditation since I was in school, but I'll definitely give it a try after reading this.

And the deep pain still comes and goes--I'm not saying I've found a cure. The opposite. Buddhist practice has taught me that there is no cure. And that there's also no need for one :)

I'm raw right now from a bit of a painful and sudden (like, this never happens... I felt like a teenager again) episode of obsessive affection for someone who doesn't even know I like her, and this thread helped me immensely. I hope it helps you too.

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