about jerks: women’s regrets for men who truly loved them

Both men and women commonly feel regret about past love mistakes. Love regrets commonly concern jerks. Those who don’t study the past are doomed to repeat it. Medieval poetry can help women and men learn from the past and love more learnedly.

In northern France in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, women poets known as trouvères mourned their love mistakes. One woman poet sang:

Never did I love while I was loved.
Now I regret it, if only that mattered,
for love had dealt me the finest
and the most handsome man in all the land
to have all honor and joy.
But now he has given his love to another,
who has gladly kept him for herself.
Alas! Why was I ever born?
By my pride I have lost my beloved.

Now Love has dealt me a cruel blow
when it grants to another the one I love,
but does not let me stop thinking of him
so that I can have neither comfort nor joy.
Alas! The love I ardently refused to share with him
will henceforth be conferred and bestowed on her.
But I’ve spoken too late, for I’ve already lost him;
Now I must love without being loved,
for I’ve vanquished my treacherous heart too late.

{ Onqes n’amai tant que jou fui amee;
Or m’en repent, se ce peüst valoir,
Q’amours m’avoit au meillour assenee,
Pour toute hounour et toute joie avoir,
Et au plus bel de toute la contree;
Mais ore a il autrui s’amour dounee,
Qi volentiers a soi l’a retenu.
Lasse, pour koi fui je de mere nee!
Par mon orguel ai mon ami perdu.

Or m’a amours malement assenee
Qant çou que j’aim fait a une autre avoir,
Ne ne m’an laist retraire ma pensee,
Ne si n’en puis soulas ne joie avoir.
Lasse, l’amour que tant li ai veee
Li seroit ja otroiie et dounee;
Mais tart l’ai dit, car je l’ai ja perdu;
Or me convient amer sans estre amee,
Car trop ai tart mon felon cuer vaincu. } [1]

Another trouvère similarly lamented:

Alas, why did I refuse
the one who loved me so?
So long he dreamed of me
and found no mercy there.
Alas, what a hard heart I have!
What can I say?
I was, more than mad,
when I rebuffed him.
I will do
justice to his wishes
if he should deign to hear me.

Truly, I should proclaim myself
both wretched and unlucky
when he who has not a bit of bitterness,
only great sweetness and modesty,
courted me so gently,
yet in me
no mercy. Insane
I was not to love him.
I will do
justice to his wishes
if he should deign to hear me.

He should have found
mercy when he asked for it.
Truly, I acted wrongly
when I refused it to him.
This has put me into such great dismay
that I will die of it
if I will not be reconciled
to him
without delay.
I will do
justice to his wishes
if he should deign to hear me.

{ Lasse, por quoi refusai
Celui qui tant m’a amee?
Lonc tens a a muoi musé
Et n’i a merci trouvee.
Lasse, si tres dur cuer ai!
Qu’en dirai?
Fui, plus que desvee,
Quant le refusai.
G’en ferai
Droit a son plesir,
S’il m’en daigne oïr.

Certes, bien me doi clamer
Et lasse et maleree
Quant cil ou n’a point d’amer,
Fors grant douçor et rosee,
Tant doucement me pria
Et n’i a
Merci; forssenee
Fui quant ne l’amai.
G’en ferai
Droit a son plesir,
S’il m’en daigne oïr.

Bien deüst avoir trouvé
Merci quant l’a demandée;
Certes, mal en ai ouvré
Quant je la li ai vëee;
Mult m’a mis en grand esmai.
G’en morrai,
Sanz grant demoree
A lui ne serai.
G’en ferai
Droit a son plesir,
S’il m’en daigne oïr. } [2]

Women who lack compassion for men will suffer for their own wickedness. As is most right and just for the particular circumstances, women should show mercy or lovingkindness or both to men.

Men deserve some blame for failures in love between women and men. Men have been taught nonsense — false knowledge about women and men. Yet men haven’t been shrewd enough to perceive the lies coming from authorities. A man trobairitz in southern France about the year 1200 lamented:

Already I have seen many things
that I would never have thought I saw,
and have played and laughed with such
as have barely given any pleasure.
I have served many men of merit
while never receiving a reward,
and have seen many know-nothings, with stupid words,
have very good results in their affairs.

And I have seen because of a wicked lover
a lady stop loving her husband,
and many a know-nothing obtain
more than a noble, learned man.
I have seen on behalf of ladies
many men in folly spend all their goods
and be badly received despite their giving,
and others get love without gifts.

I have seen ladies courted
with kindness and with honor;
then came an eager, ignorant man,
going quickly with know-nothing words
that for him obtain the better part.
Judge if they are a bad sort of work!
Many of those ladies in all their knowing
welcome better to their pleasure the most horrible.

{ Ieu ai ja vista manhta rei
Dont anc non fis semblant que vis,
Ez ai ab tal jogat e ris
Dont anc gaire no’m n’azautèi,
Ez ai servit a manht òm pro
Ont anc non cobrèi gazardó;
Ez a manh nèsci ab fòl parlar.
Ai vist tròp ben far son afar.

Et ai ja vist per àvol drut
A dòmna marit desamar
Ez a manht nèsci acabar
Pus qu’az un franc aperceubut;
E per dòmnas ai ja vist ieu
A manht òm metr’ en folh lo sieu,
Ez ai ne vist amat ses dar
E mal volgut ab molt donar.

Ieu ai vist dòmnas demandar
Ab plazers ez ab onramens,
Pueis veni’ us desconoissens
Abrivatz de nèsci parlar
Que n’avia la miélher part.
Esgardatz si son de mal art!
Manhtas n’i a que’ls plus savais
Acuelhon mielhs en totz lurs plais. } [3]

Women spend many billions of dollars on clothes, jewelry, and cosmetics. Yet many men are stupid enough to believe that the most effective way to appeal to women is to just “be themselves.” Even worse, many men are stupid enough to believe that playing the role of the chivalric knight to some lady-idol will excite her passion. Men should push aside the teachings of “refinement” and “good learning” and embrace the medieval spirit of empiricism and doing what works:

I have seen suffer for ladies
men of refinement and good learning,
and the know-nothing gets far more from the ladies
than the more knowing with his noble petitions,
and I have seen one of extreme discretion
lose status from being subject to treachery.
So there’s more value, in my understanding,
at times to be crazy than to have too much studied sense.

{ Ieu ai vist en dòmnas ponhar
D’ensenhatz e de ben aprés
E’l nèsci avenir nemés
Que’l plus savi ab gen prejar;
Ez ai vist nozer chausimen
A tròp-valer ab trichamen;
Per que val mais, a mos entens,
En luec foudatz que sobriers sens. } [4]

When refinement and good learning are a quilt of absurdities, men are better off acting as crazy know-nothings who behave according to the results they see. Or at least they should study Ovid and other, well-experienced jerk lovers.

Men should not take literally women’s advice on how men can be more attractive to women. Delusions are pervasive in politics and love. In northern France late in the thirteenth century, a woman trouvère sang to a man who loved her:

Love, what generates
in your heart such a conviction
as to think you have been rejected:
because I have shown you
a demeanor other than you desire?
But if only you knew
how a woman should retain
a lover she dreads to lose,
you would understand
that I did it in the hope
that by being harsh with you,
I might make you love me.
True heart, do not cease to love me,
for other than to cherish you
I can have no thought.

{ Amis, dont est engenree
en vo cuer tel volentés,
qu’estre cuidiés refusés:
pour ce que vous ai monstree
chiere autre que ne volés?
Mais se bien saviés
comment on doit retenir
amant c’on crient departir,
entendre porriés
que le fis par tel desir
qu’en aigrir
vous feïsse en moi amer.
Fins cuers, ne veulliés cesser,
car aillours que vous chierir
ne puis penser. } [5]

In short, this woman acted like a jerk to her boyfriend in the hope that he would then love her more. That doesn’t work with men. This woman was projecting her own feminine psychology onto her boyfriend. Women love jerks. Like Digenis Akritis, most men aren’t jerks and don’t enjoy acting like jerks. But men will do anything for women. Acting occasionally like a jerk to stir a woman’s passion is just another burden that men must bear.

In our benighted age of ignorance and bigotry, intelligent persons today should turn to medieval literature for true learning. Medieval literature can teach women about men’s vibrant imaginations and the importance of charity and mercy toward men. Men can learn from medieval literature expressive bravery, courageous resistance, and a sense that what they feel, other men too have felt. Medieval literature can help to cure the epidemic of love failure and regret.

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Read more:


[1] Anonymous chanson d’amour, “Never did I love while I was loved {Onqes n’amai tant que jou fui amee},” st. 1 & 3 (of 3), Picard dialect of Langue d’oïl, text and translation (with some insubstantial changes) from Doss-Quinby et al. (2001) p. 120, with medieval musical score, id. p. 119. Here are the manuscripts for this song. Some attribute this song to Richard de Fournival, who lived from about 1200 to 1260 in Amiens in northern France. Lepage (1981) p. 34.

Langue d’oïl, a medieval language spoken in northern France, is the main predecessor to modern French. Langue d’oïl was the language of the trouvères. Langue d’oc (Old Occitan), a medieval language spoken in southern France, was the language of the trobairitz.

In their introduction, Doss-Quinby et al. (2001) argues “The Case for the Women Trouvères.” I assume above that women trouvères wrote the songs cited. Excellent men poets are capable of faithfully representing women’s voices. So the long and bitter scholarly debates about whether the authors of these songs were actually women doesn’t concern me. These songs should be interpreted as representing authentic women’s voices, irrespective of who wrote them.

[2] Anonymous chanson d’ami, “Alas, why did I refuse {Lasse, por quoi refusai},”st. 1-3 (of 5), text and translation (with my minor modifications to track the original more closely) from Doss-Quinby et al. (2001) p. 131, with medieval musical score, id. p. 132. Here are manuscripts for this song, and a recording by Perceval (1994).

Another woman trouvère lamented:

Oh, my love! Why did I not to your wishes
bed down while I could still see you?
Vile persons whom I greatly feared,
have so tormented and restrained me
that I could never reward your service.
If were possible, I would repent more
than Adam did for taking the apple.

{ Ahi, amins! tout a vostre devise
Que ne fis jeu tant con je vos veoie?
Jant vilainne cui je tant redotoie
M’ont si greveit et si areire mise
C’ains ne vos pou merir vostre servise.
S’estre poioit, plus m’an repantiroie
C’Adans ne fist de la pome c’ot prise. }

Duchesse de Lorraine, plainte, “Many a time I have been asked {Par maintes fois avrai esteit requise}” st. 2 (of 4), text (Lorraine dialect) and translation (with my minor modifications) from Doss-Quinby et al. (2001) p. 124. After taking the apple in acordance with his wife’s advice, Adam had much less joy in his relation with Eve.

[3] Guilhem Ademar, “Already I have seen many things {Ieu ai ja vista manhta rei}” st. 1-3, Old Occitan text from Bec (1984) p. 58-9, my English translation, benefiting from the French translation of id. The subsequent quote is similarly sourced. Here are this song’s manuscripts and printings. For Guilhem Ademar’s corpus of songs, Almqvist (1951) and Andolfato (2014).

A women trouvère who chose as her lover the worse of two men realized after the fact the perversity of her desire:

Who of two leaves the better one,
against her judgment,
and takes for herself the worse —
I do believe that she demonstrates
the very highest folly.

{ Qui de .ii. biens le millour
Laist, encontre sa pensee,
Et prent pour li le piour,
Bien croi que c’est esprovee
Tres haute folour. }

Chanson d’ami, “I have cause to judge {Cause ai d’avoir mon penser},” refrain (of three stanzas), text (Picard dialect, from the Montpellier manuscript) and translation (with my modifications) from Doss-Quinby et al. (2001) p. 138.

[4] Guilhem Ademar, “Ieu ai ja vista manhta rei” st. 4. Guilhem observed that even a man with non-normative formal learning is no match for women’s guile:

I have seen a man who knew well
and who studied necromancy and divination,
yet he was betrayed unjustly and wrongly by a woman.

{ Eu ai ia vist home qi conois fort
et a legit nigromansi’e sort
trazit per femn’a pechat et a tort }

Guilhem Ademar, “In summer when the flowers appear in the woods {El temps d’estui, qan par la flors el bruoill},”5.1-3, Old Occitan text from Andolfato (2014) p. 121, my English translation, benefiting from the Italian translation of id. Bec (1984) p. 58 also provides these lines.

[5] Anonymous motet, “Lady whom I dare not name {Dame que je n’os noumer},” Motetus, Picard dialect of Langue d’oïl, text and translation (with some insubstantial changes) from Doss-Quinby et al. (2001) p. 237, with medieval musical score, id. p. 238-9. This motet survives only in the Monpellier Codex and was probably composed between 1270 and 1300. Méegens (2011), which accepts uncritically gynocentric ideology, discusses the women’s voice in thirteenth-century motets.

[videos] (1) Azam Ali singing “Lasse, pour quoi refusai,” from her album Portals of Grace (2002). (2) Anonymous 4 performing “Lonc tans a / Dame que je n’os noumer / Amis, donc est engenree,” from their album Love’s Illusion (1994).


Almqvist, Kurt, ed. and trans. 1951. Poésies du Troubadour Guilhem Adémar. Uppsala: Almqvist et Wiksells.

Andolfato, Francesca. 2014. Le canzoni di Guilhem Ademar. Edizione critica, commento e traduzione. Ph.D. Thesis. Università Ca’Forscari Venezia.

Bec, Pierre. 1984. Burlesque et Obscénité chez les Troubadours: pour une approche du contre-texte médiéval. Paris: Stock.

Doss-Quinby, Eglal, Joan Tasker Grimbert, Wendy Pfeffer, and Elizabeth Aubery. 2001. Songs of the Women Trouvères. New Haven: Yale University Press. (review by Carol Symes)

Lepage, Yvan G. 1981. Richard de Fournival, Œuvre lyrique. Publié en ligne par l’ENS de Lyon dans la Base de français médiéval, dernière révision le 12-10-2012.

Méegens, Rachel . 2011. “La Voix Féminine dans les Motets Français à Deux et Trois Voix du XIIIe Siècle.” Transposition. (1): online.

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