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Frederick: A Sort of Love Story

by Sheldon Litt, Ph.D.(more info)

listed in holistic psychotherapy, originally published in issue 33 - October 1998

Today I turn to a poignant and complicated issue: my friend Frederick and his 'lovesickness'. He suffers from one of the most painful forms of love distress – unrequited love. Oscar Wilde, always reliable in wit and love, summed it up as follows: "unrequited love lasts longest".

Some men fall desperately in love with a vampish, sexy woman, who only teases and tantalises them to despair – sheer torture. On the other side of that great sexual divide are flocks of women who crave for the touch of, or even a phone call from, some elusive mystery man. Such is the plight of many modern lovers.

Frederick is a nice enough fellow who lectures at university. For the past ten years, he has carried a torch for the beautiful, yet unreachable Sonia. She is as unreliable as she is unfathomable. They met at a party in 1989. He was so struck by her looks that he just got her telephone number and scattered off home, lest he make a complete fool of himself at the party! He called her, nervously, a few days later and they met for lunch. She stated at the beginning that saddest of all lines: "Let's just be friends". But he could not take his eyes off her and in that luminescent state of 'love-ecstasy' a man will agree to almost anything. So, for the next three years he 'courted' her in a low-key manner. He played the ultimate 'Mr Nice Guy', never receiving as much as a goodnight kiss. But he adored her.

She treated him with the contempt which is reserved for those who worship someone who is not interested. During this time, they didn't meet often because the frustration of these languid meetings was driving him to the wall of madness. Let's face it, for all of her endearing qualities, she is not a great conversationalist. Another dangerous characteristic was her unpredictability. Though he called her about once a fortnight, she only showed up for their 'dates' about 4-5 times per year.

One day, after they had not met for about six months, she visited him for tea after work, and although he knew it was hopeless, he tried to kiss her, before she vanished again into the unknown evening. For some strange and inexplicable reason, at this point she acquiesced. To his great surprise, they were soon locked in a passionate embrace. He will never forget her words on that first occasion: "You were right," she sighed, "we can't just be friends".

From that day on and for the past seven years, they have continued what, for him, is a hopeless liaison. She is as unpredictable as ever, always beyond his reach. He doesn't know any more about her than he learned on that wonderful evening of their first sensual encounter. The pattern of their relationship remains the same: she calls to make a date once in a while and then, just as often, with no apology, she will break the date without explanation. She actually shows up less than half the time. The rest of the time she seems to exist in limbo. There is no point trying to reach her; all he ever gets is an answering machine. Recently, he has started sending her postcards in the mail, just to reassure her that he exists and is longing for her as much as ever.

So, during all these years, even though they make passionate love all night when she does miraculously show up, he has only seen her about 20 times! As often as not, she will make a date only to break it later.

Yet, when she does arrive on his doorstep, the pleasure is so maddening and satisfying that he puts up with this velvet torture, yes, just for the chance of one more 'love-night' with his beloved Sonia. In fact, the relationship has not changed since its beginning. She is always the same, the ultimate temptress, alluring and beyond reach.

Once he asked her why she came to see him at all, if she was so ambivalent about their meetings. She responded jovially: "Because you look so happy when you open the door and see me!"

He once invited her abroad for a long holiday: "You can't buy me" was her curt response. So, she is not in this for his money, that is clear. His suffering was immense. When she called him a few weeks later, promising to meet him on the following Friday, he was as happy as a young lad in love, but when Friday came and vanished with no sign of Sonia, he was crushed; the excellent dinner he had prepared went into the freezer. He had lost his appetite. Is she an angel or a witch?

Looking to literature, we have the well-known examples of Maugham's description of a one-sided love story in Of Human Bondage, when a young medical student is hopelessly in love with a worthless, flighty waitress. Even more powerful is The Blue Angel film, where we see the uxorious professor in the clutches of Marlene Dietrich.

Frederick's affair is, of course, a more modern one, in that he doesn't give up everything for the femme fatale of his choice. He accepts her as she is, expecting nothing more than seeing her once in a while, whenever she deigns to pop around. He believes it is worth it, despite the frustration; the ridiculous pain when she once again cancels on Tuesday, a date for Wednesday which she had booked on Monday. Sometimes she will call and make plans to meet, and then cancel a few hours later. All he gets is a short message on his machine: "I can't come tomorrow; I'll call another time." Snap. And then he must wait weeks or months before she calls again, never knowing whether this time she will truly show up in all her glory.

Did I ever meet this beauty of the night? Yes, I did and she was all he claimed and more!


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About Sheldon Litt, Ph.D.

Dr Sheldon Litt is an American psychologist who trains professionals in modern methods of psychotherapy. He has taught at many universities in northern Europe. He was trained by Fritz Perls at the New York Institute for Gestalt Therapy.S. Litt, Inedalsgatan 25, S-11233 Stockholm, Sweden. Tel: +468 651 2489 Email:

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