Dante's Inferno showed us the progression from the outer- to the inner-most of the nine Circles of his literary Hell. This provided us with finer resolution for use in gauging and describing the relative severities of our suffering than the uniformity of the previous fire and brimstone model.

Of course, it's all relative. We can never know how my third circle compares to your fifth, or indeed even how the difference between my first and second circles compares to the difference between yours. And I've learned that, in the same way that my ear can discern that two notes are not the same, while being unable to tell which is the higher, different agonies can present a similar conundrum.

In the twenty years of my adult life, my three experiences with unrequited love were certainly the greatest sources of ongoing emotional pain; even while my rational self could see that the men who provoked such feelings in me were deserving[1] and appreciative of my ardor to different degrees, the pain that I endured seemed in each case of a similar nature and extent. (And eventually included the sentiment expressed so eloquently by a certain bowl of petunias, Oh no, not again.) The one love I had for a woman through most of that time, while not one-sided, lacked great passion, and having finally put it behind me, I don't really miss it.

I always assumed that if and when I found myself loving a person who met me partway down the spiritual tether between us, that the pain would be absent. Childhood ideas of our personal Snow White or Prince Charming stay with us all, I think.

For the past year, I've been consumed with love for my best friend Edward, to a degree far surpassing any that came before. In addition to the friendship and the love, there is a compatibility and a mental bonding that I've never come close to sharing with another person. And this with a man who is uncommonly comfortable in both accepting my love, and returning it in word and deed — while at the same time being swaddled in that condition known as heterosexuality. While this creates a major failing in the consummation of my personal fairy tale, this is definitely requited love, of the Agape variety.

And that, unsurprisingly, is where the concepts of the Yin and the Yang from the East team with Newton's third law to place me in another Circle of Hell. Being a human of the male variety, it can be correctly assumed that there is a great and virtually continual desire on my part for Eros to join our party. This is not new; this element was present in my feelings for Nolan and his two predecessors as well. But this unreachable gift in the context of requited love makes the torture even more exquisite, despite its infliction being concurrent with joy a quantum leap above even that which I enjoyed before.

A wise man once said to me that even requited love is not totally symmetric. No two people can love each other in exactly the same way. Obviously true. But I guess I always thought of love requited and unrequited as substantially different; I never thought that contemplation of the former would bring dread a la the petunias. (I do recognize that it is usually received joyously, and perhaps some day that will be the case with me as well.)

This new experience does bring forth from within me the same observation I've made in the past: I could do without the pain, but I wouldn't choose to forego it at the cost of missing out on the wondrous pleasure. But it has shown me that, in my case anyway, exacerbation of the one is concomitant with magnification of the other. As John Calvin, Ludwig von Mises, and Robert Heinlein would all agree … there ain't no such thing as a free lunch.

[1]Of course, some would say that all persons are deserving of love.

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