The Sad Cycle of Unrequited Love in Donna Tartt’s ‘The Goldfinch’

Pin it


When Donna Tartt published The Secret History in 1992, readers quickly fell about themselves with sighs. College students have been pressing battered copies of the mass market edition into their roommates’ hands (“you have to read this”) for decades now. Murder, Greek mythology, and impeccable prep school style made it into a cult classic, but it’s the complicated and bloody love triangle hexagon that propels The Secret History.

No surprise, then, that The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt’s first new novel since 2002, is practically a master class on romantic pining. Protagonist (and accidental art thief) Theo spends most of the nearly 800 page novel infatuated with Pippa, a young musician whose family he befriends in the wake of a terrible tragedy at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. His unrequited love is fuel for many of the book’s most fateful moments and, because he’s a character in a Donna Tartt book, his lovelorn actions are nothing less than perfectly calibrated, operatic drama.

In fact, today’s lazy lovers can take some cues from Theo. Here are some lessons on how to give your ho-hum romantic maneuvers a melodramatic makeover.

Meet-Cute? Try Meet-Tragic

Whether you’re meeting online or off, sweet and airy romantic beginnings are unlikely to become the stuff of epic romantic drama. Consider sharing an important life event, instead. The more major, the better, with love forged in the wake of explosive acts of terrorism at a world-renowned art museum being about as romantic as it gets. This kind of meeting is hard to engineer, so be on the lookout for potential love interests everywhere you go. You never know.

Track Him Down Because His Dying Relative Obliquely Hinted At Where He Lives, Maybe

Slipping someone your phone number at a bar after trivia night is safe but pedestrian. Before you post that Craigslist missed connection, consider whether the person you’re wooing might have a dying relative. Dying relatives are so dramatic, and they’re always giving befuddled hints about how to find people. The harder it is to get to that first date, the better, so when that dying uncle whispers something about ringing the green bell, you’ll know you’re on the way to truly novelistic romance.


Talking and sharing information is fine, but, honestly? Kind of boring. Why not trust, instead, that you and your date are deeply, soulfully connected, right away. Talk a bit out of social necessity, but your first encounter should really be a near-mystical experience in which depth is felt rather than communicated.

Give Good Gift

You could buy your significant other a set of Candy Crush lives, but that’ll look pretty cheap compared to a priceless first edition of your boo’s favorite book. If you’re giving a gift to someone you’re still chasing, consider pairing the dusty tome with an invaluable antique necklace and a brief, impossible-to-misinterpret note declaring your love and sincerity.goldfinch-large

Trial Separation, Out. Arguable Kidnapping, In.

It’s perfectly normal for couples to want to spend some time apart, and trial separations can be useful for figuring out what to prioritize in a relationship. But that “we should take a step back” talk is tired. Don’t worry: You can rev up the melodrama by having a good friend or relative initiate the separation against your will. Someone should have a wealthy aunt ready to whisk one of you to a horse ranch in Texas, or a deadbeat dad in Vegas ready to finally take custody, or similar. Use those resources!

Break Down, Not Up

Feeling sad about a break-up? Go ahead and watch Gossip Girl reruns in your pajamas while eating cheese out of tubs, if you want, but to pine like a Tartt protagonist, you’ll have to hit rock bottom.  A true rock bottom will involve bad influences and intoxicants even stronger than tub-cheese. Consider getting out of your sad apartment and surrounding yourself with alcoholic gamblers in a near-empty suburban community in the desert.

Stay Busy

Whether you’re getting over heartbreak or just looking to meet people, it’s hard to go wrong with a new hobby. Pottery classes are fine, but selling expertly forged antique furniture for a literal fortune is a good, theatrical move.

Get Away

Like hobbies, independent travel can be a great way to reconnect with yourself. And while it might seem like heading to Thailand for a Sak Yant tattoo from a monk will earn you major drama points, the next time you’re topless at Burning Man you’ll realize that it’s kind of played out. Try heading to Amsterdam, finding yourself embroiled in an international art heist and the subject of a murder investigation. Not leaving your hotel room for nearly a month while you wait for your mysteriously missing partner-in-crime to get back with your passport is especially hardcore.

Rethink “Together”

Anyone can marry the person they love, or otherwise pledge to be together forever. But take a second to think about the dramatic potential of promising never to be with your soul mate. Perhaps you can argue that the unbreakable bond you share is the very reason you will never be together. Tragic! But if you can muster up the courage to accept this fate, remain perpetually engaged to an icy fiancé, host a fancy engagement party (so fancy Francis Abernathy is a guest), and continue amassing money, privilege, and style, then you’ll have eternity to pine for your unrequited love, read too much into every interaction, and feel blinding jealousy when they move on with their lives. What could be better?

Image by Gino Domenico