Peter Leithart summarizes Richard Barber on medieval romantic poetry and courtly love:
Troubadour poetry reflects a “continual tension between the physical side of love, love shared and enjoyed, and the longing of an unfulfilled love.” Some praise consummated love as the only true love, while others enjoy the “exquisite pain-pleasure of a love which is either impossible to fulfill or is deliberately denied fulfillment.” Whatever direction the poetry goes, the man’s life is dominated by love, and his main object is to win his lady by gaining her favor. Thus, “from his love stem all virtues of this world – valour, courtesy, generosity – summed up in the one word pretz, worth. The man who does not love can never hope to be as accomplished as the lover whose desire spurs him on to new achievements.”
I must say I’ve always been a sucker for the idea of unrequited love. An impossible idealization that transcends our fallen nature. It doesn’t actually exist, but it’s often spoken of in music and art. It is curiously devoid of sex too, at least it’s not articulated. Some have suggested that it’s really a longing for God. I was surprised (though I guess maybe I shouldn’t have been) to find it in spades in the distant past as well.