Half of my Heart / Can’t Love You Back

This is my entry for the July 2020 Carnival of Aros, on the topic of “Music”.

Way back in 2010/2011, when I was both first exploring asexuality/aromanticism, and also discovering the unrelated world of youtube music covers, I came across this song (specifically this cover), that got stuck in my head as an earworm for a couple months:



Part of the appeal was that it’s just a catchy tune, but on another level, I think that “half of my heart” chorus also stuck with me as a sort of reflection of my own troubled thoughts about love and attraction and relationships – or lack thereof.

Now admittedly, if you listen at all closely, it’s not really very much of an analogue for the aromantic experience – it’s actually about someone thinking of themselves as unloving and then basically meeting the right person and getting over it, which is, well……the exact opposite of my own experience.

But with the joys of selective listening, I can and did still enjoy the snippets that did resonate (and conveniently ignore the fact that the rest of the song is about disputing them):

Oh half of my heart’s got a grip on the situation
Half of my heart takes time
Half of my heart’s got a right mind to tell you
That I can’t keep loving you (can’t keep loving you)
Oh, with half of my heart
I was made to believe I’d never love somebody else
I made a plan, stay the man who can only love himself
Your faith is strong
But I can only fall short for so long
Down the road, later on
You will hate that I never gave more to you than half of my heart
And half of my heart is the part of a man
Who’s never truly loved anything
Oh, half of my heart…

One of the things that resonated with me here is the imagery conflictedness – of half of one’s heart pointing in one direction, the other, another.

Also, the imagery of lack – of half a heart, because the love you carry can’t be passed to another, of falling short of expectations, of despairing even as others assure that “you’re not loveless! it’ll change when you meet the right one” – even as you know that actually, it might not (and that maybe, you’re not even sure you want it to).

There’s the fear of disappointment, of knowing that even if someone does love you, you can’t return that love in kind, no matter how much you might care for them in other ways. The sadness of knowing that despite their hope and optimism you can only answer it with heartbreak.

And ultimately – in the end result of this specific, selective reading – it’s a heartfelt, heartbreaking song about the pain unrequited love. Only, this time it’s from the perspective of the unrequiter.

Unrequiting Love Stories as Aromantic Catharsis

When it comes to dramatic love songs, everyone knows the trope of unrequited love. However, I’ve always had a soft spot for sympathetic portrayals of the opposite side of the equation – the “unrequiters” who must turn down advances from a dear friend, whether it’s because they’re already with someone else, or the wrong gender, or just not interested for whatever reason.

I suspect that part of this is the fact that as an aromantic person, while I still appreciate romantic stories in the abstract, the unrequiter is one of the only ones I can directly relate to. I’ve never known what it’s like to be so consumed by interest in someone that i can’t stop thinking about them, or to be in pain when they don’t return the emotion – but I have known exactly what it’s like to have someone spill out their feelings to me only to know that all I can do is shatter that hope, which can be it’s own kind of heartbreaking.

Although – even then, it sometimes feels odd, because despite the dramatic wording in the preceeding paragraphs, I don’t actually have that many strongly impactful unrequiting experiences! In reality, they were very awkward, but they were also very short, and I got over them and moved on almost immediately (the people in question also all took it well and didn’t seem very surprised by my answer, which also helped a lot). On top of the whole aro/ace thing, I’ve just never been the type of person whose emotions run hot – i’ve always taken a very casual ‘what comes, comes’ approach to life that makes it easy to shrug off a lot of things. So, whatever appeal angsty tales of not being able to requite a love confession aren’t necessarily rooted in any specific experiences or traumas.

Instead, I feel like some of the appeal may be more about…an alternative way of processing the underlying anxieties that I’ve learned to mostly brush aside the rest of the time? Like, as a sort of emotional catharsis  – a dramatic worst-case-scenario that processes any angst about being the unrequiter again, in order to go back to blasting forward with no regrets the rest of the time.

With all that said, however…good unrequiting love stories can be hard to find – especially in musical form. Many instances – like ‘Half of my Heart’ – require a heavy dose of willful misinterpretation. Others are centered around loving someone else instead, understandably which lessens the relatability. So I guess if anyone knows any other potential recommendations, I’d love to hear them!


2 thoughts on “Half of my Heart / Can’t Love You Back

  1. Ah “Unrequiting Love Stories as Aromantic Catharsis”!!! Yes I love this. Back when I was figuring out my asexuality (and maybe coming across the term aromantic for the first time but not fully realizing it might be me quite yet) 7 years ago, I asked a bunch of friends to work together to edit a collaboration fanvideo about unrequited love, actually lol. I allowed even just breakups as fitting the idea, a broad interpretation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFXuKwbdH8Q

    And I also always loved some fictional ships that I knew all along would be doomed like Clark/Lana on Smallville, which might in part be me processing my parents not ever getting happily ever afters in the love department, that I knew my whole life that people can get married and love each other at the time so much but it not work out anyway, but also… idk.

    I mean being ace and aro-spec and desiring a partner but only if the partner doesn’t want certain things from me makes me feel things where I relate to BOTH sides of an unrequited love story. I can’t ever feel most things “back” sure.

    But also, I know what it’s like to wish a friend I get along with great wanted to co-parent as queerplatonic partners with me, to wish a straight guy I have a big crush or squish or “mesh” on who seems to like me a lot as a person could possibly be compatible with someone like me who never wants to kiss anyone or have sex with anyone… I know what it’s like to be on BOTH sides of unrequited stories lol. And I do like seeing that it doesn’t always just magically work out where both characters in a story feel everything at the same time, that I’m not alone in complicated, mismatched, dynamics. Etc.

    Also I love the original “Half of My Heart” so much and have always gotten aro vibes from it too. I even mentioned it in the comments section of The Asexual Agenda back in 2017 when you first brought it up lol. ;) https://asexualagenda.wordpress.com/2017/07/18/question-of-the-week-july-18th-2017/

  2. I’ve always wondered about the lyrics to “I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonight” by Boyce & Hart (link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hm7HL05RFPg). The song starts out:

    “If I had told her that I loved her
    She would have stayed till who knows when
    But I guess she couldn’t understand it
    When I said ‘I wanna be your friend'”

    and continues:

    “Because a friend won’t say it’s over
    and got out just for spite”

    The rest of the song makes it sound like it’s about the singer grappling with unrequited love and jealousy, but love and jealousy can be platonic, too. I’d like to think it’s about the singer’s feelings of betrayal when someone he wants to be friends with leaves him just because he can’t give her the romance she wants.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s