Belfast Telegraph

It is a fine line between pining for a love lost in hope of reunion and being guilty of stalking

Crazy in love is one thing, but Bristol man's bid to win back his ex highlights the risk of going too far, writes Gail Walker

Luke Howard is the 34-year-old Bristolian who captured the world's headlines by somehow getting a piano on the city's College Green and vowing to play it until his ex-girlfriend - whom he refers to as 'Rapunzel' - gets back in touch with him.

What do we make of this? Poor man's Hugh Grant (which is, let's face it, pretty poor?) Or pin-up boy for stalkers everywhere?

Some people - mainly men, admittedly - supported Howard, conjuring up images of romance and happy endings.

And, sure, isn't love supposed to be a little bit crazy?

Howard's message, both to the public in general and to 'Rapunzel' in particular, was don't be so uptight. Let love take its rambling wayward course.

All of which was meant to hit every button in our vast sentimental repertoire of love nonsense.

Except of course it sounds more like stalking, humiliation and coercion. In other words, downright creepy.

What does the public have to do with his ex-girlfriend's private life anyway? Why should they have a say whom she should give a second (twenty-second? sixty-second?) chance to? This is life, not The X Factor.

And, when you get right down to it, blackmail - for that is what it is when you strip away the trappings - is an ugly thing.

You don't do that to someone you love - you do that to someone with whom you are obsessed.

Basically, Howard is saying that all would be hunky dory if it wasn't for 'her'… After all, who doesn't love 'love'? Give us all a snappy RomCom - you know, starring Jennifer Bubblegum and Brad Brickwall - and a happy ending after 90 minutes of comic misunderstandings and misfires?

The passing public, blissfully ignorant of the realities of the relationship between Howard and Rapunzel (isn't that moniker just a tiny bit icky?) will want the RomCom ending. Only natural.

But then we're not the one trapped in a relationship that for one of them at least - her - isn't working.

Howard certainly wasn't going to shed light on the reasons why the relationship had hit the buffers. It "wasn't anything nasty or bad". It "was just life getting in the way". Texting and calling, he said, was just making things worse.

Hmmm … you're 34, mate. Do you not think that it may be time to call the time of death on this relationship and move on?

Bracing myself for complaints of being a feminazi, I would just point out that if the situation were reversed and it was a woman with the piano, the comparisons wouldn't be with all the Grants, Hugh and Cary and, er, Mitchell.

Nope, it would be Glenn Close and Fatal Attraction. We would be advised - quite rightly - to lock up our bunnies.

Women who refuse to let go are psychopaths. Men are just 'lovestruck'.

There was a backlash to the stunt - there always is. Howard has shut up shop, claiming that he got a punch in the head for his efforts.

Well, love hurts, as they say. And I don't feel that sorry for him to be honest.

Join the rest of humanity, Luke, it's kind of lovely.

We've all been dumped at some time but the vast majority of us know the dos and don'ts. And most of us know the most cardinal rule of them all: take it on the chin.

Anything else and you're a loser. Start making like you are a cheeky Billy Crystal and you are loser of epic proportions.

Of course, there will be the odd slip-up.

Occasionally, we may have gone for that one last phone call, sought that one last meeting … but we know that there are limits.

You don't keep turning up uninvited. You don't keep ringing in the middle of the night. You don't follow people around town and just 'happen' to be where they are. ("Yes, I often have my nails manicured here - men can like grooming as well." "I was a devotee of kick-boxing a long time before I met you, didn't you know that?").

The reason why all this kind of behaviour should not just be written off as the idiocies of the lovelorn is that they are not victimless crimes. On the contrary, the victim is 'him' or 'her' whose agency as an independent human being is subjected to vicious undermining.

They are the target of all-consuming love - the question is what happens when he or she just doesn't want to be consumed.

We shouldn't judge Howard too harshly - he was being just a prat and he seems to have got his comeuppance.

But we shouldn't forget either that his behaviour is just the prettified Disney version of unruly emotions that lead to violence and fear. And worse.

It may not be the most romantic thing to say but, love - whatever that is, to quote the philosopher king-to-be Prince Charles - doesn't give you any entitlements.

You don't have a right to a person's company, their regard, their affection, an explanation even, and certainly not their 'love'. You also don't have a get out of jail free card just because you are 'in love'.

Love may be blind but that doesn't mean we can be stupid into the bargain.

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