Petronella Phillips Devaney
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Unrequited Opportunities


What on earth, you may ask, are unrequited opportunities?

The phrase arose a few weeks ago in the lively little poetry group that meets one evening every month in my sitting room.  Each time we set a new poetic theme for us all to work on.  Put on the spot at the end of one of our recent meetings, someone (not me!) came up with ‘unrequited opportunities’.   It’s a phrase without much obvious meaning, a bit surreal, and yet, the more I thought about it, the more it intrigued me.

And being a therapist, naturally I had to dig a bit deeper to see where it might have originated.  It came out so spontaneously that, as with an image from a fast-vanishing dream, I could feel the surge of unconscious energy pushing through.  Unrequited opportunities?  Hmmm.

So here’s how my train of thinking went.  It started with the word ‘unrequited’.  Unrequited what?  Unrequited love?  Definitely seemed a likely first connection.  Many thoughts and feelings and memories of my own started to tumble about.  Early ones, teenage memories – the classic period for unexpressed yearnings, unconfident attractions, the longing to be valued, acknowledged, admired – and the fear of not being any of these things.  The need to be the hero in one’s own story.  So, yes, maybe this was a good place to begin.

And opportunities.  An opportunity for romance, for friendship, for relationship, for travel, for a special career path, for something – anything – one would have loved to have had in one’s life, and that was missed?  An opportunity only now, after many years, and in the light of greater maturity, fully noticed and regretted?  And suddenly creating a great big resounding WHAT IF?  A secret desire to have another look at what might have been?

Social networking sites, apparently, are awash with people madly trying to locate long lost relatives, friends and lovers.  I’ve experienced this first hand:  shortly after joining Facebook I re-connected with one of my closest friends from high school and we found ourselves picking up quite easily and happily where we’d left off decades earlier.

It’s only as we get properly into the second half of life, round about the late 30s, that these ‘unrequited opportunities’ really come back to haunt us.  Sometimes, like with my old school friend, it’s a prompt to retrace and recover something that’s still relevant, still valuable, and worth reviving.

More often, it’s a prod to look at what’s missing and what we need to create anew.  What it might be good to make room for in our lives.

Something of those youthful yearnings we once had pointed to a more profound sense of who we really are – the true self – and to our deepest needs, our passions.  Maybe we’ve settled for something less, something a bit more secure and sensible.  And now, looking down the vista of years to come, that spark of possibility, so strong in our young life, is shining again and asking whether this time we’re open to adventure,  to a new chance of relating, to following our heart’s desire.

An admission:  I’m afraid I never wrote that poem!  But now I’ve written this instead, and it’s given me the chance to pursue an interesting train of thought set off by a seemingly random idea – much as one does in therapy – and at the same time reclaim an opportunity I might easily otherwise have missed.

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