As of late, I have been reading British comedian David Mitchell’s autobiography Back Story. The pages are lined with wit and rants about his experiences growing up and those of being one of the UK’s leading comedians, but this excerpt about unrequited love stood out – it is not often that I am reading a piece of writing and think that the author has completely hit the nail on the head of how I have felt too, but with this section, David Mitchell has done exactly that, and described the thought processes, feelings, emotions and ultimately complete inaction that I, and presumably others, have long been afraid to divulge for oneself.
“The other thing that was exciting me in my first term at Cambridge was that I had fallen in love again – with a lovely girl who was very happily going out with someone else. I hadn’t felt this sensation since the wordless understanding of eternal passion that it turned out I wasn’t sharing with Beatrice from Much Ado about Nothing four years earlier. I mean, I’d fancied girls since then, but I hadn’t had that feeling of overwhelming significance.
I had that feeling constantly at Cambridge, for several different women, none of whom I ever either got off with or – and here’s the remarkable part – in any way propositioned. No lunges, no suggested trips to the cinema, no roses, no chocolates, no Valentine’s cards, no broaching of the subject in any way whatsoever with any of them. I did occasionally get off with someone, usually when I was too drunk to spoil my chances by thinking, but never with any of the ones I thought I was in love with.
I know this seems like a terribly illogical approach, particularly coming from a heartless automaton like me. The hopeless crushes, the fallings in love – I don’t know which to call them because they definitely were the former but sincerely felt like the latter – didn’t make me happy. In general, I was very happy as a student, but the crushes got me down. And yet I did nothing about them apart from endless dissection with male friends over late-night drinks who told me, in thousands of different ways: ‘Look, you should just say something, tell her – probably nothing will come of it but you never know, and then at least you can move on.’
But I was incapable of taking that advice. There are various possible reasons for that. Perhaps I just liked the sensation of unrequited love, even though I thought I didn’t, and felt it would be spoiled by doing anything about it – probably by rejection, but maybe too, at some unconscious level, I felt I would be put off the object of my desire if she became attainable. Maybe I liked the thrill of the not-bothering-to-chase.
I would have denied that at the time. My explanation then would probably have been that rejection was more than I could bear the thought of living with. Also, as I stacked up a series of these crushes, even though I always claimed that the current one had eclipsed all previous ones, on some level I was aware that the same thing was happening over and over again – which means I knew they eventually wore off, without my having to go through the blow and embarrassment of rejection.
Still, it was the wrong approach. I went through a lot of unnecessary heartache as a result of never addressing the problem, never ripping the plaster off and enduring one excruciating moment of kindly refusal. I’m sure my recoveries from these infatuations would have been much swifter if I’d found the nerve to do that. My course of non-action also eliminated the chance that I might have got somewhere with any of these women. Had I got lucky, I doubt I would have turned out to be as in love as I thought I was – but, still, to have had a bit of a relationship with someone you’ve got a massive crush on is something I would have enjoyed. To say the fucking least.
I think the key reason for my perverse approach is that being practical about how I felt – trying to address the situation sensibly to optimise my happiness – would have seemed like a denial of the strength of my feelings. It would have been admitting that I was only in the grip of a crush, not a grand passion. It would have meant that the feelings of significance, importance, magic that unrequited love gives you were illusory, and those feelings were probably as much what drew me to the crush as the charms of its object.
Ambition can feel like that. Dreams of your future career can be exciting just like a crush, and I suspect faith can. In a way, asking the object of a crush-that-feels-like-love on a date is like trying to prove the existence of God. It’s not a rational approach if you know that what you need to get up in the morning is hope.”
Source: David Mitchell, Back Story