On Empathy (A Story of Unrequited Love)
by Noise Pollution
I adore this song. To me, it is near-perfect; it is exactly what I wish I could write. When trying to figure out why I love the song so much, I thought that maybe it’s because it’s a song that begets empathy. It takes a situation that we are all familiar with, at least on a surface level, and expresses a perspective on that situation in a clear, clean way. It’s a song about unrequited love. Well, it’s actually a bit more specific than that. It’s a song about a very specific type of unrequited love. It’s about the type of relationship where one party only returns any affection shown when it’s convenient for them.
It’s about two people being very selfish.
Normally this type of situation is presented as very one-sided. It’s presented as a shitty guy pining after a woman who doesn’t want to get involved with him romantically. Usually it is that. It is, in fact, quite shitty to force your romantic advances onto someone who doesn’t want it. Don’t do it.
Where that narrative rubs me the wrong way, however, is when that’s where the story ends. “That guy was a dick.” Boom. Cut it, print it, send it out to the presses. But, you know, I was that guy once, years ago. Do I regret my behavior? Absolutely. But I don’t just regret my behavior because I was an asshole (which I was;) I regret it because I got hurt, too.
There are, in fact, delicate ways in which to handle this situation. Or, maybe delicate isn’t the right word. Attempting to be delicate is what ends up causing pain in the end. What I mean to say is that there is a way to handle this situation where casualties of the heart can be minimized. Be honest. Tell the person no, period. Don’t be wishy-washy. Don’t tell them it’s because you’re seeing somebody else, don’t tell them it’s because you don’t feel like being in a relationship right now. Tell them, straight-out, that you are not interested in them, and you never will be. If the problem persists after that, then it’s out of your hands. “That guy was a dick” is the narrative and you’re absolutely justified in ending that story there.
It’s just… That’s not how it happened. That’s not what happened to me. I became “Best Friend” material. Cool. I like being close to people! And clearly I liked her, or else I wouldn’t have had these confusing romantic feelings for her! So being “Best Friends” is cool! I get to be close to someone who I think is cool!
I was not “Best Friend” material when she had a boyfriend. I may as well have not been in her life. But as soon as she broke up with someone, we were really close again.
Do you know what kind of message that sends to a person? A really,really conflicting one! Top that off with the fact that rather than tell me she wasn’t interested in me, she told me she had a crush on me at one point but I just asked her too late; I asked her after she had fallen for someone else. The information I had to go on was A: She’d want to date me if she wasn’t in another relationship and B: When she’s not in a relationship, we get really, really close.
I felt like shit, all of the time throughout this. Throughout this, I bahaved rather shittilly as well. When I found myself some other girl, I cut off ties with her. Not actively, I just, you know, didn’t go out of my way to talk to her. I felt pretty justified, but me being shitty back to her was not really the right thing to do. We also got in some pretty bad fights about… about stuff, and I said some venomous things. Things you can’t take back. There was poison in my words, and I fully meant to infect her with negativity. I was not fighting to win, I was fighting so she would lose.
Some bad shit happened! I was pretty terrible. But I do remember the way that it felt to be on my end of that situation, and it was an unfathomably terrible feeling. Every day, waking up was a nightmare. I was watching someone who I thought I loved treat her relationship with me so flippantly; it was excruciating. I was obsessing over what was wrong with her; what was wrong with me. There was nothing else. It consumed me. And yes, the mature thing to do would have been to put it behind me, and eventually I did. But back then? I was fifteen. I didn’t know anything else. This was the only thing at the time. This was my reality.
My reality was that the one person I really, truly cared about saw me as an afterthought. And then… whenever it was convenient for her, I was the center of her universe. Then I’d become an afterthought again.
“Break your neck
and I will love you
like a bird that cannot fly.
You will be fine.
Break your neck
and I will love you
You will be mine.”
Jim Bogart is song that tells people how I felt at that time. I was in a situation where I was the bad guy. But… I wasn’t being the bad guy because I wanted to be. I was awful because I was hurting, and there was a person doing the hurting. There was a person telling me that if I was just a little better, if I just cared a little more… There was someone telling me to break my neck for them. They were telling me that I had to earn their affection, and I had to earn it through pain. And there wasn’t a light at the end of that tunnel. No matter how broken I was, no matter how many promises I kept, what I gave was never returned. And, in retrospect, I had no right to expect that from her. She had no responsibility to give it to me. If she didn’t feel that way about me, there was no changing that. But I felt like there was a carrot being dangled in front of me.
I was being used. She allowed me to think that a romance between us was possible because my affection was an injection of heroin for her ego. She was wanted it both ways. She wanted me shower her with all the praises of a fresh romance, and didn’t want to do any of the things that would normally entitle a person to that kind of treatment. I’d say that putting her on a pedestal was a shitty thing to do, but in this particular case, she revelled in it. I wish she had told me to stop. I wish she had told me there was no hope for us. I wish I had a reason to hit the brakes before crashing the car. I wish that I had an opportunity to step away from the situation before become attached to it.
One of the things that makes us human is empathy. In fact, I’d say it is the number one thing that separates us from animals, more so than intelligence, more so than being bipedal, more so than having thumbs, or any of that other shit. I’m a pretty firm atheist, so the way that I define my personal moral code is not through a set of arbitrary rules written thousands of years ago. I define it by examining how my actions would make another person feel. Empathy is the thing that holds society together, more than anything else, in my opinion. And I want people to examine every scenario with that in mind. I think the world would be a better place if we took moments out of our day to stop and consider other perspectives.