Writing To Cope Gives Hope

Photo by Kristen Warfield.

Valentine’s Day isn’t just for lovers. With the recent passing of the commercial holiday, we realize that it’s for those who are alone too.

Those who are alone are sometimes hit with the harsh reality of what it is to experience unrequited love, which can ultimately be defined as a love that is not reciprocated or returned.

Lisa Phillips, assistant professor of journalism at SUNY New Paltz, wrote of her own harsh reality – an obsessive, deeply personal experience – in her second book, “Unrequited: Women and Romantic Obsession,” which she presented on Tuesday, Feb. 17 at the Honors Center in College Hall with a reading, book signing and Q&A.

“I wanted to help people feel less shame and open up to different ways of connecting,” Phillips said.

With open ears and eyes focused on Phillips, the crowd listened closely as she read two chapters from her book – “Intro: The Unwanted Woman” and chapter five, “Falling from the Stars: Losing Yourself to the Narcissism of Unrequited Love.”

In the intro, she writes of how she was in love with an unavailable man, along with the stigma that is attached to women in these types of obsessive situations.

“There is nothing that says that women suffer more from this than men; female rates rival male rates,” Phillips said. “[But] women are more likely to be judged for this kind of love obsession, and less likely to be understood.”

In “Falling from the Stars: Losing Yourself to the Narcissism of Unrequited Love,” she writes of the impact on “the beloved” when the unwanted woman loses herself in the narcissism (the “why are they ‘doing this’ to me?”) of being unrequited and inevitably breaks down before his eyes.

Honors Program member Megan Rooney, a fourth-year cultural communications contract major, attended the event and thought that the passages Phillips read captured the essence of the story she wanted to tell.

“Her voice spoke through,” she said. “This topic is so relevant for a college age crowd. We are constantly thinking about the validity of our relationships and the future.”

Back in 1998, Phillips was also unsure of her future.  She had no idea that the 25 pages of release she had written about the character she calls “B.” would eventually turn into a book. At the time, it was simply a way to get her feelings out on paper.

Over a decade after her fabricated love affair with B., she still wondered, “What happened to me?” Phillips knew there had to be more scientific evidence behind her experience.

It was her journalistic instinct to go out of her comfort zone and write, report and research in a variety of fields ranging from psychology to cultural history.

In her studies, she found that a main contributing factor in this type of situation is having recently suffered a loss.

“It was the year after grad school and I had gone through a seemingly sudden breakup,” Phillips told the crowd.

It seemed as though everyone she knew was moving on and making families while she was at a standstill, fantasizing over a love that was never possible.

“I was lonely and vulnerable,” Phillips said.

In her book she writes of how she would stalk B. such as ride her bike around his neighborhood in hopes of seeing him, frequent the coffee shop she knew he liked to go to and wait outside his Pittsburgh apartment building pretending to be a tenant who misplaced her key until she was let in.

“The most disturbing part of the whole experience was the feeling of losing myself,” Phillips said. “My focus on my writing and teaching dwindled.”

To anyone going through this kind of obsessive experience, Phillips advises that if it interferes with one’s ability to function or is intrusive to the desired person, it needs to stop.

“It’s a serious matter and you don’t want to be self-destructive,” Phillips said. “You have to cut everything off. And that’s what the last chapter is about: letting go.”

Throughout her research, Phillips was a  self-proclaimed “walking unrequited love magnet.” In order to get sources for her novel, she needed to network – a lot.

“There was a lot of outreach and I sent out emails to everyone I knew,” she said.

Starting to conduct her research at the time when Facebook was just becoming popular, Phillips decided to buy an ad, which she linked to a survey on unrequited love.

About one person out of every 10 or 20 would respond to the narrative response, which would then lead them to a question: “Do you want to be contacted?”

Over 260 women responded to the online survey and over 30 of those women went on to become “the heartbeat” of her book.

Throughout the course of her interviews, she found herself constantly relating to women’s stories, no matter how different they were from her own.

“I felt like I was building a community of people,” Phillips said. “They got a lot out of it by being listened to, and I got a lot out of it from hearing them.”

Though unrequited love can be deeply unsettling, Phillips also said that there are powerful benefits from enduring the experience.

“It can move us in unexpected and important ways,” she read from her intro chapter. “Unrequited love can be a highly meaningful state of mind, offering us insights into what we really want in life and love.”

Miriam Ward, a fourth-year digital media production and history double major, found that Phillips’ presentation was fascinating and said that she had created “an incredible piece of work.”

Zachary Wahl, a third-year psychology major, agreed with Ward.

“[Phillips] took the bull by the horns,” he said. “[Unrequited love] is a relatable issue. Everyone has gone through it in some form or another.”

Though Phillips described her experience writing the book as very challenging, she also said that it was rich and rewarding.

“I hope people feel comfort from [my book,]” she said. “The experience still bothers me but I hope I’m a better person for it. Growth comes at the expense of something – I grew from my mistake.”