Unrequited love involves having strong romantic feelings toward another person who does not feel the same way. It is a one-sided experience that can leave people with feelings of pain, grief, and shame.
Types of Unrequited Love
You may think it would be easy to tell if love is unrequited but it isn’t always clear and can cause a lot of confusion and emotional turmoil.
Unrequited love may take a few different forms, including:
- Loving someone who does not return those feelings
- Pining for someone who is not available
- Mutual attraction between people who are both in other relationships
- Desire for an ex after a relationship has ended
It is important to recognize that it is common for people to experience unrequited feelings at some point. Recognizing the signs of unrequited love may help you learn to deal with it more effectively and find ways to move on.
Signs of Unrequited Love
There are signs that can help you understand what is going on and if the love you are feeling for someone is being reciprocated. Some people describe feeling as if they are getting “mixed signals” from a love interest only to find that it is, in fact, unrequited love.
You Reach Out to Connect
Are you the only person making effort to communicate? Are you the only one reaching out to check in with the other person to see how the day is going or find out what important things are happening in their life?
When you are the only one taking the time to reach out and connect with the other person, follow up with them about things, or inquire about their life, it can be a sign that this love is unrequited.
In healing dynamics, two partners who care about each other are motivated to connect with each other and share in the pattern of fluid, healthy communication. The exchange of energy between partners in a healthy relationship feels balanced and doesn’t leave one person bearing the responsibility of connecting.
You Long for Physical Touch
Do you desire to touch the other person, to hold hands, to kiss or hug? Longing for connection often includes the desire for physical contact, and when people are equally attracted and desire physical intimacy, both parties want to connect on a physical level.
If you find that you are always the one initiating any physical touch, or that when you attempt to physically connect, you are met with resistance or the other person pulling away, it can signal that this is a one-sided longing.
You Put the Person on a Pedestal
Many times, in situations of unrequited love, one person has the other on a pedestal. The love interest is perceived as near perfect and any imperfections are easily explained away. There are rarely healthy boundaries set in unrequited love.
When people build a healthy romantic bond, they can both still see one another’s faults, vulnerabilities, or imperfections. Healthy relationships allow for space for people to make mistakes and use those opportunities to help create closer bonds.
Each party can see and hear each other and their areas of vulnerability. In an unrequited love dynamic, only the emotionally invested person is able to see and hear the other party. There is not a mutual, healthy acknowledgment of each other in unrequited love.
They Never Take Time to Get to Know You
Getting to know another person takes time. Over the course of time, partners in a healthy relationship go through experiences together, ask questions, and make an effort to understand and get to know each other. In an unrequited love dynamic, there is emotional investment on only one side.
You might find that you are always asking questions, initiating contact, and making efforts to invite the person into conversation or experiences. In turn, the other person may know nothing about you at all, never ask you questions, or never seem to invite you into any meaningful conversation about you, such as your desires, interests, goals, or hobbies.
You may long for the other person to know you but the opportunities for sharing with them never seem to come.
Possible Reasons for Unrequited Love
How the other person feels has more to do with them than with you—but how you respond to those feelings might be because of conflicts or challenges that you are dealing with.
Sometimes, you might love that person because you’ve idealized them in your mind. You are attached to that ideal version without really viewing them as a full, complex individual with flaws and even undesirable characteristics.
For some people, it might be a case of simply wanting someone they know they can’t have. The fact that there can never be a genuine connection is part of the appeal. For someone with an insecure attachment style, being in love with someone who won’t return those feelings means they can stay in a distant relationship without making other real connections.
Loving someone, and being loved in return, requires making yourself vulnerable and accepting that authentic, two-sided relationships involve both risk and reward. Staying stuck on unrequited love allows you to remain in the safety of a pseudo-relationship that can never be real and will never require you to become vulnerable, accept risk, and commit to another person.
Impact of Unrequited Love
Unrequited love can be a source of stress and emotional turmoil. Some of the potential effects of experiencing unrequited love include:
- Poor self-esteem: If you continue to have deep feelings of love for someone who does not return them, it can erode your self-esteem. You may feel rejected and worry that you are unworthy of their affections.
- Isolation: When someone doesn’t return your feelings, it can leave you isolated and lonely. This can be particularly pronounced if you fail to pursue relationships with others.
- Stress: Healthy relationships act as a protective buffer against the negative effects of stress. Loving someone who doesn’t love you back can be an unhealthy or potentially toxic situation that may increase your stress, create feelings of unhappiness, or even contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression.
How to Heal the Heartbreak
There are many things you can do to move forward after the heartbreak of unrequited love. It may feel impossible now, especially as you begin the healing process, but know that this takes time and healing can happen.
Through the experience of unrequited love, you can gain a better understanding of your needs, your patterns in a relationship, and how to become a healthy, positive partner in the future.
Take Time to Grieve
Unrequited love usually results in deep heartbreak and feelings of rejection. When you are emotionally invested in someone and they don’t seem to feel the same way about you, you might question your worth or wonder if you will ever feel loved.
Taking time to grieve your loss is important. You are certainly not alone in your experience, as many people have been through situations in which their love for another person was not reciprocated.
Challenge the thoughts that might creep in telling you that there is something wrong with you or that you are not enough. There are a variety of reasons why love may not be reciprocated that have nothing to do with your worth or being “enough.”
It’s hard to move past the pain of rejection if you are dwelling and ruminating on your heartbreak. This doesn’t mean that you should completely avoid thinking about what has happened, but rather that you should find ways to stay busy so that you are not dwelling on negative thoughts.
Spend time with friends who can offer support. Over time, you will find that the pain lessens and you are in a better place to look back at the experience with greater objectivity.
This may be your first experience with unrequited love or you may find that this seems to be a pattern for you. Much of the way people view and experience adult relationships has to do with what they learned growing up, what they observed, and what they were taught about love and relationships.
Attachment style can influence how you develop and maintain adult romantic relationships. Attachment, as described by famed psychologist John Bowlby, is a deep and enduring emotional bond that connects people to each other. Primarily referenced within parent-child dynamics, more research is showing that attachment style has quite a bit to do with adult romantic relationships as well.
Invest in Yourself
When you have experienced unrequited love, it is likely you have poured a lot of emotional energy into another person, and this may leave you feeling drained. To move forward in a healthy way, it is critical that you reinvest energy into yourself, your interests, your hobbies, and your personal goals.
Your sense of self can become lost when experiencing unrequited love since your sense of self may be strongly connected to your love interest and your continual longing for them to return that love. Instead:
- Take inventory of your interests, things that bring you a sense of peace and joy, and the things that make you, you.
- Evaluate your goals and your values, and become intentional about letting your decision-making and behavior reflect those parts of you.
Dealing with unrequited love, a breakup, or another type of relationship distress can lead to complex feelings of sadness, anger, and sometimes depression. If you are struggling to cope because of unrequited love or some other relationship issue, consider getting help from a mental health professional.
A therapist can help if you:
- Struggle to get back to your normal routine
- Experience feelings of breakup depression
- Ruminate on negative emotions
- Have thoughts of suicide or self-harm
- Explore patterns that contribute to poor romantic relationships
Tips If You Don’t Feel the Same Way
It can also be challenging to cope if you are the person who doesn’t return someone else’s feelings of love. Rejecting another person isn’t easy, especially if you know how deeply they will be hurt. However, it is important to be clear to avoid future complications.
- Don’t avoid it: Just trying to avoid an uncomfortable conversation can make matters worse in the long run. If you don’t return their feelings, tell them directly.
- Don’t be vague: It might seem like you are preventing hurt feelings, but not being direct might only add fuel to the other person’s feelings. Don’t leave them languishing in a state of hope or expectation.
- Be compassionate: Rejection can be painful, so be as kind and compassionate as you can be when turning them down.