by Andy Nowicki
Love can die. Sometimes it dies hard, and with a vengeance. What happens to it afterwards? Does it proceed to its final judgment, then pass on to some eternal realm, be it Heaven or Hell? Or does it limp along in some pallid, spectral form like Caesar's ghost, oppressively ever-present even when it has seemingly vanished?
What of cases where love's collapse is expressly and tragically unilateral, expressly violating the consent of the formerly-loved? As Rick Springfield semi-famously observed, "Love hurts when only one's in love." Or as the J. Geils Band more succinctly put it, "Love stinks."
I'm sure that studies have been done regarding how men and women respond differently to having their lover fall out of love with them, but I haven't bothered to consult these surveys, nor do I feel particularly compelled to do so. Obviously, it's no fun to find oneself no longer loved by the one one loves; such sentiment surely holds true whether one is male or female. But psychologically speaking, men tend to be fragile in unexpected ways, while women can display a surprising and quite disconcerting strength that at times borders on being brutal, indeed even almost “hideous.”
Elsewhere, I have showcased how being "cuckolded" subjects a man to greater humiliation than a woman being betrayed by an adulterous husband, because it subjects him to the inevitable--but foul, cruel, and erroneous--insinuation that he if he were “more of a man,” his woman would never have strayed. (I have taken extensive pains to dispute thisdeeply-embedded cultural notion on several occasions, but I am just one writer with exceedingly-limited influence; hence, the notion persists.)
Just as REO Speedwagon aptly demonstrated the pathos of the husband who refuses to stop loving his wife even after she has become serially unfaithful, the under-remarked Beatles song “For No One” (1966) highlights the heart-rending quandary of the man who just can’t deal with the fact that the love of his life has gone cold and limp on him, and that the baleful change is very likely permanent.
Like the more famous Righteous Brothers song “You've Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” (superiorly covered by Hall & Oates, in this renegade music-appraiser’s opinion), “For No One” fairly pulsates with an aura of ache and loss. But while “Lovin’ Feeling” expresses an overt sentiment in first person directed towards his lukewarm lover (“You never close your eyes anymore when I kiss your lips… There’s no hungry look in your eyes when I reach for you”), “For No One” goes for a more subtle, and perhaps more devastating effect; here, the speaker is merely an observer of the sad scene, detailing the effect of a man waking up to the fact of his having become obsolete in the eyes of one whom he thought would cherish and adore him forever.
If the speaker of “For No One” doesn’t come across as terribly warm or sympathetic, he isn’t cruel, either; he is merely taking careful note of what is happening. Still, there is something almost heartless in his unflinching documentation of one poor fellow’s heartbreak:
Your day breaks, your mind aches
You find that all the words of kindness linger on, when she no longer needs you.
She wakes up, she makes up
She takes her time and doesn’t feel she has to hurry; she no longer needs you.
Presumably before he was "no longer" needed, our tragic lover received “words of kindness” from this girl who is now utterly indifferent to his presence. Indeed, she isn’t even bothering to “hurry” on his behalf; why should she? What he to her, now that this inexplicable transformation has taken place? Nothing at all, “no sign of love” now lingers on in any form whatsoever.
But the man is staggered before this revelation: he can’t accept it, because he still loves her! How could the love perish on her end, but still prevail on his?
You want her, you need her
And you just don’t believe her when she says her love is dead.
You think she needs you.
Now we find that the girl has told him directly, while staring into his very eyeballs, that she doesn’t love him anymore. Of course, she admits to having loved him once, but she is now so de-compartmentalized from this occasion that she weirdly reverts to depersonalized third-person when recalling that time, referring to the man in her presence not as “you” but “him”:
She says that long ago she knew someone
But now he’s gone
She doesn’t need him.
Yet he is not gone; he is still there, a boy standing before a girl, begging her to love him! Ah, but such an appeal is of no avail; it is beside the point, really… to her, he’s “gone” and will remain so, even if he may in fact still be alive and in a temporally proximate location.
The mournful chorus makes an odd reference to the girl is shedding “tears/ cried for no one” (hence the song’s title). She appears indifferent even to her own residual sorrow. Her final gesture is to leave, while he stays in, and the last lines of the final verse slam home the perpetual reality of the ordeal:
There will be times when all the things she said will fill your head
You won’t forget her.
And yet… he is now "nothing" to her. To realize this is a shock. The fact still barely registers. And yet, reality must be faced: death is real. What is more, love can die without your consent. And once this bird has flown, it won't come back.