It’s been a long semester. Just as winter has stretched into spring, classes have become long and arduous. I have turned into a coach on the sidelines nagging, needling, cajoling my students to cross the finish line. After class one night this week, I stopped for a drink on my way back to my apartment. I sat by myself in a corner, took a long sip of scotch, and settled into my seat. Within two minutes, “J” came up.
J is from my other class, an English major studying marketing because she wants a job after graduation. She is smart, talented, and hardworking, one of the few students at ease with themselves, especially in the classroom and with professors. She apologized for the interruption and asked if she could sit with me. She had a question. When students say that, I have learned not to get too excited. What they have to say is often disappointing.
Not so with J. This was personal, she told me. She was in love with an older man, a cellist in a Baroque ensemble, and needed some advice. Usually, when people ask for advice, that’s not what they’re after. They just want a chance to tell somebody what they are going to do regardless of what you tell them. Still, this got my attention, since it wasn’t about career goals or letters of recommendation for an MBA program.
It involved letters of another sort. J had sent the cellist letters declaring, if not exactly love, then at least her infatuation with him. Some were explicit “in a poetic way,” which I took to mean that they were somewhere between Wuthering Heights and Fifty Shades of Grey. She laughed and said that she had dinner with Mr. Baroque not an hour earlier. He acted distant toward her and told her that the letters were “inappropriate.” Then he exhaled on his glasses, wiped them clean, and left.
I am not exactly the dean of appropriate, but I do know that what is considered appropriate is often dependent upon the context. The relationship was casual and social. Dinner, drinks, lunch, coffee dates, a movie, a day trip to the Botanical Garden, a comedy club, ensemble performances, and the gift of a book from her to him. The physical aspect of their relationship was limited (e.g., hand-holding, a squeeze of the shoulder), because he told her he was in a “committed relationship.”
“Then what was he doing with you?” I asked. She didn’t know. Maybe he didn’t think the relationship was serious because of the age difference. Or he was afraid. The letters scared him, she said, adding that “he’s an intellectual type, not much into his emotions.” I found that strange, considering the guy plays Baroque music, which is about as emotional as it gets.
“Maybe cellists are more metrical,” I told her, not sure of what I meant by it but trying to lighten the mood. It didn’t.
“I misjudged the situation and him,” she said. “Except I didn’t. I know what he felt for me. Other people noticed it, too.”
As she spoke, it became obvious that whatever they had was either dead or dormant. He had taken a pistol and shot it through the head. Then I told her what I knew about unrequited love, which is more than my knowledge of what is appropriate. Actually, the two are related, but that’s another blog post.
First, rejection stings. There’s no getting around it, especially when you make yourself vulnerable through poetry or music (unless you happen to be a cellist). Second, in addition to the rejection, and even more painful, is the change that occurs in the other person. Sometimes, unrequited love doesn’t start out that way. It begins with two people attracted to each other. Then, one of them turns. I believed her when she said there was something between them. The truly crushing part of their story is the cellist’s turning away from her, erasing their shared memories. It is that loss of memory that struck me so.
“It’s betrayal,” I told her, adding that I knew all about it because I had experienced it. What I did not tell her is that I have also betrayed. I wanted to avoid the scene that she should have had with monsieur.
“I hate him!” she said. “Of course, you do.” “So, what should I do?”
I cleared my throat, made a joke about Vivaldi being overrated, and ordered another scotch.
The problem is, he isn’t.