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The Spirituality of Unrequited Love

By John Mallon
© 1993, 2005 by John Mallon

Unrequited love feels like death. In fact, there are times when death would seem preferable to the unrelenting pain and frustration. There are those, even in the Church, who would seek to minimize or make light of this most unique agony: "Oh, don't worry about it! Women (or men) are like street cars, there's another one along any minute!" Like Hell. I don't think there is any other pain quite like that of unrequited love, especially when rejection is involved, although that might even be preferable to being strung along with hopes raised and dashed with punishing regularity. "Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a wish fulfilled is the tree of life." (Proverbs 13:12)

Even the death of a loved one has a clean finality to it, and, normally, is not a deliberate choice on the part of the other to be free of you. Advice from others all sounds cliché. Especially from those well meaning but insensitive vocational terrorists who zoom in with, "Well, maybe God wants you for himself! Have you considered that possibility?" As if you haven't. Besides, someone heartbroken from rejection, grief, and loss is in no mood to have the joys of celibacy preached at them. The subject of vocation is holy ground where we take off our shoes and tread softly, not go charging in with golf cleats and glib answers. Especially when it's someone else's vocation. Unrequited love is real valid agony. And no one has a right to rob you of it so cheaply, especially if they're stacking false guilt over "not following God's will" on top of it. It must be endured. And can be.

Unrequited love is the very pain of God. The Crucifix is a snapshot of unrequited love. God doesn't minimize this pain. Suffering it can be a profound identification with Christ's pain over the lack of appreciation He receives from His Bride. Suffering can be an expression of love and profound sanity. Without love all is demonic chaos. In A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis said he never imagined grief felt so much like fear. And so it should. Grief follows separation and echoes the ultimate calamity of separation from God. As the unity of man and woman in one flesh mirrors the image and likeness of God, so too the separation of man from woman conjures the cruelty and fragmentation of Hell. But some loves must die, if they are not from God they are not really loves anyway, but still it hurts, like Hell. All death hurts like Hell, because God did not make it. (See Wisdom 1:13-14) But He did redeem it by entering into our separations.


This article originally appeared October 14, 1993, in the Troubadour, the student Newspaper of Franciscan University of Steubenville. It also appears in the unpublished collection Common Sense Spirituality: A Catholic Guide to Avoiding Spiritual Nonsense, by John Mallon


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Unrequited love, spirituality, heartbreak, relationships, break-ups

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