Sunday, August 24, 2008

Unrequited Love

Earlier this month I took the train to San Francisco for the Romance Writers of America’s annual conference. I love the train. It’s a laid back and relaxing way to travel, and I always meet the most interesting people.

At dinnertime on the trip home, I was seated in the dining car with a man from the UK. He was nearing the end of a seven-week trip around the world and had just spent a few days in San Francisco, celebrating a friend’s 60th birthday.

We chatted about various things and eventually the conversation turned to our occupations. He told me he works for a marine salvage company. I told him I was a romance author.

He smiled at that and said, “I have an interesting story to tell you about romance.”

I get this a lot. People offer to share personal stories because they feel they’d make great books. What they don’t seem to realize is that it would be almost impossible for me to capture the emotional connection they have with their stories. Still, out of politeness, I listened while this man told me his.

Forty years ago he had dated a young woman and fell madly in love with her. He had to go sea for several months and when he returned, she broke the bad news—she was seeing someone else.

He was devastated, and he never saw her again. Not until he attended his best friend’s birthday party. The woman he’d fallen in love with all those years ago was his best friend’s twin sister. Yes, the same friend who had just celebrated his sixtieth birthday, which meant it was also the old girlfriend’s birthday, and yes, she was at the party in San Francisco, along with her husband of thirty-five years.

My dinner companion’s his face flushed red as he looked down at his plate and confessed, “After all those years, I discovered I still have feelings for her. Deep feelings.”

At that point I knew he wasn’t telling me this because he thought his story would make a great book. He was sharing the details because he had to, because it was all still so new and he hadn’t had a chance to talk about it with anyone, and because he assumed that a romance author would be a sympathetic listener.

I asked if he told her how he felt.

That question shocked him a little. “No!” he said. “It wouldn’t have been appropriate.”

I’m sure it wouldn’t have been. And although he had done the honorable and truly heroic thing, it was obvious that he’d considered the alternative, and perhaps regretted his decision.

Our conversation soon shifted to other topics, but after dinner I found myself thinking that his story of unrequited love just might make a great book after all. But would it be okay to rewrite history? I'd definitely want to write a happy ending for this particular hero.

Until next time,


Anonymous said...

That story does tug at your heart, doesn't it? So this man never married, never had his own family? That's very sad.

Makes me grateful for what I have.

Thanks for sharing that, Lee.


Shereen Vedam said...

Nice story, Lee,

It could make for a very happy ending, and that's the best part of fiction, having leeway to give new twists to real life events.

The possibility that never manifested, the road not taken, a choice we didn't see at that particular moment.

That's why they say hindsight is 20-20.

I think we could also say fiction is 20-20.


Ellen said...

That would be a hard one to have a happy ending because the girl, her husband and the guy could not all have a happy ending. Or at least in a non-writers mind I don't see how.

Lee McKenzie said...

Sheryll, at the time I met him, he was single, but I believe he had been married and divorced.

I hadn't thought of it as a story that makes me grateful for what I have, but now that you've mentioned it, it does.

Lee McKenzie said...

Shereen wrote:
The possibility that never manifested, the road not taken, a choice we didn't see at that particular moment.

Beautifully stated, Shereen! Thank you!

Lee McKenzie said...

Ellen, you're quite right. Things often end badly for at least one member of the proverbial love triangle.

Romance authors usually get around that problem by turning one of the people into an unsympathetic character ;)

Anonymous said...

You called him honorable and heroic – and that's so true.
Leaving the party without confessing to his friend or his friend's sister must have been very hard – and so much the right thing to do!
As much as he might regret his lost love, he can't regret doing the right thing.

That's a hero, and a heroic character. Maybe we'll see him in some other guise in one of your books in a couple of years, Lee!


Trish Milburn said...

What a sad story. Unrequited love is always so painful. That theme is used a lot in YA novels, but usually the person pining away for someone who doesn't like them back often figures out that's not the person they're supposed to be with anyway. So all works out in the end. :)

Lee McKenzie said...

Great idea, Rachel. Maybe he will inspire a character in a future story ;)

Lee McKenzie said...

Good point, Trish. Now that you mention it, I've read lots of YAs with that theme. It makes for great conflict, especially since the real hero is usually right there, waiting to be noticed.

Shelley Galloway said...

Oh Lee,

Thanks for giving us the perfect story to sit and sigh about! Oh, that poor man.

I definitely would be rewriting that history! He needs a happy ending, if only in a book.


Cathy McDavid said...


You are a true romantic :-)

Cathy Mc

Lee McKenzie said...

I've been thinking the same thing, Shelley! Great minds ;)

Lee McKenzie said...

Thanks, Cathy. I'm in very good company!

Anonymous said...

Might be intereting to make a story of her having feelings for him too. And somehow they get together

Anonymous said...

Wow Lee, - the ride on the train must have made you appear so relaxed and approachable that he felt he could tell you his tender story.
As another writer mentioned - what if the woman wasn't happy in her marriage and after they met, she too went home wondering about journeys not taken.
Such a wonderful tale.


Lee McKenzie said...

Joye, that's a good point. The story possibilities are endless, aren't they?

Lee McKenzie said...

LOL, Jodie! I'm not sure how relaxed I was on the train. Exhausted might be a more apt descritption - national conferences always do that to me!