Lisa Phillips' Unrequited looks at women and romantic obsession | Literary Arts | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Lisa Phillips' Unrequited looks at women and romantic obsession

The author normalizes the intense heartbreak that underlies some inappropriate behavior

Romantic crushes are universal and, typically, innocent experiences. But what happens when your crush is unrequited? With time, most of us snap out of it and figure out how to cope. Others, however, find themselves trapped by incessant thoughts of their crush, unable to move on. In her book, Unrequited: Women and Romantic Obsession (Harper, $25.99), Lisa Phillips describes the plight of women faced with that struggle.

In the late 1990s, Phillips was pursuing her master degree in fine arts at the University of Pittsburgh when she fell in love with B, sharing tender moments with him, from Schenley Park to Eat'n Park. At some point, however, B began distancing himself, leading to Phillips' rock-bottom moment: an unannounced visit to his Squirrel Hill apartment at the crack of dawn. When he opens the door, bat in hand, it's clear to the reader (though perhaps not to a younger Phillips) that this visit was not only unannounced, but also unwelcome. It's the first of many personal experiences Phillips (now based in Woodstock, N.Y.) shares as she explores the topic of female romantic obsession. Her stories, along with the anecdotes of other women who also struggled to cope with one-sided love, are woven throughout the book.

click to enlarge Lisa Phillips
Photo courtesy of Roy Gumpel
Lisa Phillips

Unrequited is well researched by Phillips, and the historical context she provides in each chapter is impressively comprehensive. For instance, in the chapter "Boy Chaser," Phillips discusses the hormones that come into play when women act "masculine," examples in literature of women pursuing men, and ample studies of the "male pursuer/female pursued" model of dating. Connecting this data with the stories of women who went to great lengths to pursue unavailable love interests makes the content interesting and relatable. Phillips makes good use of this writing style, motivating readers to consider their own experiences. For example, regardless of your gender, it's likely you have either rejected gender roles in the past or cling tightly to them now. This particular chapter of Unrequited gives readers space to think about why — and it's not the only chapter that offers such space.

When researching Unrequited, Phillips surveyed more than 260 women and interviewed 30 others, which suggests just how common romantic obsession is. While Phillips does not justify inappropriate behavior, she finds a way to normalize the intense heartbreak that underlies it. In short, Unrequited offers a compassionate perspective toward those seeking insight into complicated heartache, particularly women struggling to move forward with their love lives.

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