Uncover the Secret Behind Unrequited Love
The kingdom of our collective unconscious is a mystical realm, brimming with shadowy, dew-laden flora, ripe with the dichotomy of creation amid the throbbing putrefaction of death and decay. It is a fertile mother’s womb of heaving blood and coursing corpuscles, all instinct and fetish and tribal delirium ripping through currents of subterranean psychic flow. And it is in this deep, murky realm that the archetypal roots of unrequited love are found. This most harrowing of Eros’ gifts is a universal concept experienced to some extent by everyone at one time or another, and tales of it capture our collective imagination over and over again.
We recognize the general idea at first glance in the rejection of Apollo by Daphne, and in the distant unspoken adoration of Charlie Brown for his Little Red Haired Girl. Lovers who fall out of love, or choose to leave the path of consummation in the manner of Hamlet and Ophelia, do not qualify, for unrequited love is a love that is never returned, not even briefly. It is always singular. Always torturous. Always lonely. A lover thus afflicted never attains the object of their desire and generally comes to some sort of tragic end. Unrequited love is the path of Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid, and Tennyson’s Lady of Shalott with her funeral boat floating down to Camelot. It is anguish beyond reason that can only end in death and a return to the crucible of nature Herself.
In the tales and myths of unrequited love, we find themes that vibrate with the primal beauty of decay and corruption, the very essence of splendor through pain. It is a dance with the horrors of masochism. Tennyson and Andersen’s heroines are both outsiders, alien to the worlds where their beloveds reside. The Little Mermaid is a princess of the dynamically feminine water elementals, whose kingdom is symbolic of the saline depths of our unconscious and instinctive minds. As humans once crawled from the oceans, losing our scales and tails, so she strives to make her way to land—to sprout legs and achieve masculine, linear consciousness. Andersen’s oceanic creatures have no souls, returning upon death to the foam from which they are made. It is a land dweller, a princely heir to a hierarchal throne, who may by his love and acceptance grant her an immortal soul. In her desperate quest for that love the Little Mermaid sacrifices everything and is rejected. The Lady of Shalott is no less tragic. This seer with her magick mirror is locked away in a tower in a vain attempt to avoid what cannot be avoided. The moment she casts her eye on the pride of Camelot, she is lost. The curse is instantly upon her. Primeval nature attempts to conform to patriarchy and is immolated. He is beyond her… promised in his heart to another, she cannot hope to win him.
At the very root of this archetype lies the human desire to hold a sacred object. The victims of unrequited love are not experiencing the chemical drive for physical mating so much as a spiritual longing for union with the divine. They project the divinity they seek onto the objects of their desire. In an eruption of vital poetic juices, the forbidden kingdom bursts outward and finds its mark on a material beloved. It doesn’t matter that the beloved isn’t even really known at all. What matters is what that beloved represents. The Little Mermaid never knows her Prince for what he really is, a human with flaws and frailties. The Lady of Shalott sees in Lancelot the shimmering power of a phallic lord and she deifies him. When we experience an unrequited love ourselves what we are doing is projecting our deep need for that subconscious “other”—that dream lover, phantom, Goddess or God, onto some unsuspecting mortal target. We think we want the chance to love them but what we really want is the chance to love the divine within ourselves. Sadly, in our rapid-fire evolution of blazing consciousness, we have lost the keys to that particular kingdom. Tales of unrequited love serve to remind us of our own need to go back to the foam. And they so often conclude in the sorrowful beauty of untimely death because we know in our hearts that is it is only in the dissolving of ego and flesh that this ultimate union can ever take place.