Romance poets say love is pain, but love is also love and sometimes pain is just pain. Given that the annual amount of Valentine’s Day pain is higher than usual, I thought I’d share with you the stories of separated lovers across myth and time. Perhaps COVID is just another trial and tribulation in our neverending tale of love and loss and love again. Perhaps romanticizing struggle perpetuates it in the belief that only suffering validates happiness, which leads to people without power not seeking help or those in power not offering it. Either way, love hurts, so here’s my top picks for the heart-wrenchiest stories of all.
- Achilles and Patroclus
The Greek hero Achilles is famous for his weakness being his cursed heel, but his second weakness was a man who looked dashing in a fustanella. Romance in the military was a Greek tradition, each lover risking it all in battle similar to how romcom protagonists defeat airport security to stop their lover from getting on that flight to Wichita.
But Achilles and Patroclus did not die on the battlefield together; during the Trojan War, Achilles refused to go into battle, leading Patroclus to don his armor and lead the Myrmidons in his stead. Patroclus was stabbed in the stomach, and Achilles grieved by cutting his hair and laying it on him in burial. Then Achilles killed Patroclus’s murderer, dragged him through the streets by a chariot, and was shot in his heel for critical damage. So in comparison, you’re doing alright.
2. Jiknyeo and Gyeonwu
The Korean Chilseok festival celebrates the monsoon season and the tale of two lovers: celestial princess Jiknyeo, and charming farmer Gyeonwu. Truly, a tale as old as time. The King of Heaven separates these lovers with the Milky Way galaxy (roughly the distance between the NCA’s and Tafts on a Friday night). He only permis them to meet once a year, but when the time came, the lovers still could not cross Middle Path to be together. The crows and magpies hear their weeping and rally to make a bridge across the Milky Way for the lovers to be together. When they have to part again, they weep, and their annual tears create the monsoon rains.
The common factor between this story and yours, my friend, is crows. If they can take people across the Milky Way, surely Lewis to Manning is an easier trip.
3. Gnomeo and Juliet (2011)
In the hit animated classic Gnomeo and Juliet, two clans of lawn gnomes are locked in an ancient feud. The heirs to each clan, Gnomeo of the Blues and Juliet of the Reds, fall in love due to their adventurous nature and wish for something greater. This romance ends up sparking deeper conflict, leading to one of the gnomes shattering into horrifying little pieces. But in the end, love triumphs, and the two clans make peace.
In one scene, Gnomeo relates his tale to William Shakespeare, who vows to write a play about it. This derivative work, while widely performed, lacks the staying power of the original Gnomeo and Juliet. This Valentine’s Day, remember your roots by giving it a watch.
4. NASA and Opportunity
A mission that was supposed to last 90 days, became a love story that spanned 15 years. I’d heard tales of Opportunity as a child at the Adler Planetarium, which chronicled the brave rover as it traveled to Mars with its twin, Spirit. At the time, I liked Spirit more because it sounded like a cooler name. I didn’t appreciate Opportunity until it was dying, all alone. Spirit stopped functioning in 2010, while Opportunity lived on until its final message in 2019. It told NASA that its battery was low, and that the sky was becoming dark. A dust storm then enveloped Opportunity and buried it in red sand on a distant planet. When the storm passed, NASA attempted to communicate with the rover and, failing to get a response, declared its mission complete. Their final transmission to Opportunity was “I’ll Be Seeing You” by Billie Holiday.
I’ll be seeing you
In all the old familiar places
That this heart of mine embraces
All day through
5. Me and Sophia
Yeah, I know you go to a different college anyways. Doesn’t mean I wouldn’t miss you even in a regular year. I can believe that love travels distances, and knowing that you’re loved is a part of everyone’s experience. Still, I want to say it again. You know, when I tell you I love you, I can see you react before you say it back. I see your eyes brighten, and you smile a bit as you open your mouth, and I want to live forever that split-second where you know how much you mean to me. Happy Valentine’s Day, love. I miss you.