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unrequited love

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Unrequited love, to be succinct, is usually unreciprocated love. It is a rather dramatic term usually reserved for a situation in which the person who is doing the loving is extremely desirous of another, passionate and unrelenting, despite that love not being returned or reciprocally desired. Unrequited love can also be situational, as we often see in tragic plays or films where one character or both characters die before declaring their unbeknown love to one another. Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story are classic examples.

Unrequited love is the subject of countless novels. Emily Bronte's classic Wuthering Heights is an exquisitely painful example, as is Gabriel García Marquez's newer classic Love in the Time of Cholera. Charles Dickens favored unrequited love as a subject; Shakespeare excelled at it. Look up "unrequited love" and you'll get a reading list to last you a lifetime. It remains a favored topic of authors to this day.

Through time, unrequited love has also been the subject of countless poems, and many songs, plays and operas. From James Blunt's "You're Beautiful" and Eric Clapton's "Layla" to Phantom of the Opera. You will know it when you read or hear it.

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Unrequited Love

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While I was growing up, I had what I considered to be two best friends: a male and a female. I actually had a long term unrequited crush on the male. This crush waxed and waned over a long period of time, interrupted by periods when other young men drew my attention away from it. I kept returning to it; it was an emotional sweater to wrap around me in times of emotional chill.

My friendship with him began was when he showed me a reprint of a New York Times article on the rock group KISS. I was completely drawn to how they looked. Our main link for many years was that we both loved that group. It was facilitated by the fact that our names were alphabetically next to one another and our high school teachers loved nothing more than to seat us in alphabetical order. This gave me ample opportunity to talk to him most days.

Throughout high school, he was into heavy metal and hard rock music. He smoked pot, played drums and guitar, and dated a variety of girls. In every way, he seemed pretty much your typical 70s teenager. Conversely, I was pretty much isolated, awkward and studious. I got good grades and didn’t date, drink or do drugs.

I still felt a great affinity for him and I’m sure he (and likely everyone else) was well aware of the situation. Unrequited crushes are never much of a secret, particularly among teenagers. One of the reasons I think I was drawn to him was that he was always kind to me, perhaps in spite of any unwanted attention I gave him.

I recently read Breaking Hearts: The Two Sides of Unrequited Love by Roy F. Baumeister which made me think that there was likely a lot more going on than my teenage perception and ego could register in that situation.

The book includes a lot of case histories about both parties in an unrequited love situation. The most illuminating part is how unpleasant the experience can be for the person who is the object of unwanted desire. In popular culture, the focus is usually on the suffering of the pining heart of the would-be suitor, rather than on the emotional difficulties the unwanted attention places on the one who is desired.

After reading the books and seeing the other side of the situation more clearly, I felt bad for being such a pain. Part of me would like to get in contact with him and ask him how uncomfortable I made him during those years. Part of me can’t bear the thought of hearing the possible truth.

I do recollect clues that I wasn’t always his favorite person to be around. On occasion, a teacher would allow the class to sit anywhere they wanted and he’d always choose not to be near me. I never thought about how it was possibly a relief for him to escape me and only thought about how unhappy it made me that we weren’t seated near each other.

Eventually, after more than 10 years of unrequited love, I told him how I felt. He rejected me. He told me he never thought about me that way and then he kissed me quickly anyway. At the time, I thought the kiss held a promise of a tiny hope but now I know it was very likely more about pity and sympathy. It wasn’t too long after this confession to him that I fell in love with my future husband and threw out that old, tattered emotional sweater of my old crush for good.

My former crush and I remained friends even after I was over him. I hope that the bond we felt was genuine at that point rather than a level of contact he continued to permit out of kindness or pity. It felt like a better friendship once I was over him but it’s clear that my feelings could easily be deceived by my desire to believe in a certain reality.

I eventually moved to California, then to Japan, and the became a DINK (Double Income No Kids) who embraces new age spiritual concepts. He fell in love with and married a coworker. They had a few kids together and appear to be serious about church-related activities. We have been in touch a few times by e-mail but I only know a little about him these days based on the web site he maintains for his Christian rock group. Looking at the person each of us has become, I now know very clearly that we would have been completely unsuited to one another. It would have been pretty disastrous if he had ever accepted me.

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About Shari

  • Thank you for the tip on the book. It seems very interesting! Your post made me think of my younger years and my foolish desires. I wonder what the other side of the story could have been.

    I am glad to have stumbled upon your post! It is very well-written, rich in insights and it sent me down memory lane for awhile. Now I’m off to look for that book by Baumeister. Thanks.

  • Thank you for your kind words, Toni. It’s appreciated.

    I hope you find the book as interesting as I did.

  • Amazing, isn’t it, what kind of perspective time grants a person? You make a great point here about perspective. I’m struck by not having seen it myself before. Thanks for the tip on this book 🙂

  • I must say that I wish the perspective reflected more favorably back on me. 😉 However, I think you learn more when it doesn’t.

    Thanks for your kind comments, AtomicZebra7.

  • Meli

    Thanks for revealing your love experience. Some things just aren’t meant to be. I love someone and he loves me, but we know that it would not work out because he does not believe in God and God is my life. So we decided to move on. I don’t know if this is unrequited love, but it still hurts. However, I know I made the right choice. Any one out there ever made a decision like this?

  • Jasmin

    i’m glad i happened upon this post. It confirms what I desperately want to beleive. Whatever happens, happens for the best. I have been in love with my ex for 4 years now, we just started talking again after we broke up 3 years ago. We have developed a comfortable friendship that was never there before, but my old feelings seem to surface everytime I talk to him. i just keep reminding myself, if he didn’t love me then, there is little chance he’ll love me now and it is for the best.

  • Alyssa

    I suppose I just might have to read this book you mentioned, seeing as I am currently in a hopeless situation in love myself.

    Your description of him as an “emotional sweater” really feels like the most accurate way to describe how I feel about him.

  • balaram

    the situations you were in are what i am presently in.i dont know what it is likely to turn out in the end.

  • The Train Robber from Timbucktoo

    Hi Toni,

    I read your post and recognised part of myself, though my story is a little different.
    Like yourself, I have always been a studious hardworking individual, but very independent minded. In my teenage years I had a unique gift for writing and due to my lingual gifts people were drawn to me, especially since I had a very singular mind.
    After finishing college I worked for a few years, and throughout this time, I had a level of self-confidence due to my language skills, but one day I had some type of reaction to a chemical in an ordinary tobacco cigarette, and my life changed. My mind began to regress and the words that flowed out of my mind so effortlessly became harder to formulate, and I became extremely depressed. However, I needed to prove to myself that I could still use my mind so I enrolled on a university course. This is where I met one of the most special people I have ever come across.
    This girl, lets call her Marge, partly reminded me of myself. She was independent, witty and had so much character. I guess it wasn’t really the way she looked that attracted me to her. I found her liberated lifestyle very inspiring, as well as her easygoing manner. She was always full of funny anecdotes and was very indiosyncratic, and I fell in love with her, almost from the moment I first saw her. The very thought of seeing her made me want to get out of bed in the morning and be in class before everyone else. I loved the thought I’d see her and whenever we had free periods I’d try and catch up with her, and she never seemed to mind. However, I think it is fair to say that she was always a little cold, maybe because she saw that I had feelings for her, although if this was the case she interpreted my affection for her in the wrong way. My love for her was the type you have for a friend, but someone you worship, and I guess she thought I fancied her, although there’s a chance that she didn’t. Seeing her made me very self-conscious. I could never say anything when she was there, my mind simply became stultified and I couldn’t, no matter how much I wanted to impress her, say anything. I was always different when I was with her, and part of the reason for this was bthe intimidation I felt by her personality. She was not loud or larger than life, she was simply a delightful character full of intelligent, snappy comments and a lot of life. Of course, as friendly as she sometimes appeared to be, I always felt I was her least favourite university friend because when she was with other people, she almost always totally ignored me and this made me feel very insignificant and crushed my self-esteem. I could have done anything for her, and always collected notes etc when she wasn’t in class, though she did the same thing for me. I beleieve the reason for my declining self-esteem was that I had already experienced a an intellectual regression, and then to be ignored by someone I admired and had a great deal of respect for, was quite devastating because it confirmed I no longer had the ability to impress people. My behaviour was never overlty obsessional and I was very conscious of the way I would appear, and she was never mean to me, and sometimes her little gestures inspired great euphoria. For instance, she once wrote something nice in a notebook I had, and at another occasion she emailed me and said it was wonderful to hear from me and wanted me to stay in touch.
    However, since we finished college, we hardly saw each other, and after some sporadic emails in the early days of post-college withdrawal, I hardly ever heard from her. However, the whole point of this story is that my self-esteem was always boosted when I received her acknowledgement. I don’t believe she was ever impressed by me, but I do she probably found me interesting.
    However, I do feel that maybe our friendship would have been more successful had I not been as clingy and had I not always sent her text messages and emails. Sometimes you get a feeling that the reason for someone’s lack of response to a message is because they simply do not want to. Knowing this, I still persisted, but I think she never felt houndd because occasionally she would call me herself, and sent good vibes, only to ignore me for weeks. However, I think if you appear to always be available and literally waiting for the one who is adored, you appear to have no life. You must move on, blow out the torch and maybe do something with your life.
    I will admit, maybe those who have unrequited love will always feel some affection for the adored, but I don’t think there’s any harm in having fond feelings about someone if they don’t harm anyone and act as a source of inspiration. Remember the poet Dante’s greatest muse was his sercet love Beatrice who died tragically young. It is arguable that his greatest work would not have been as powerful without her imagery. Some things in life are buried deep within the human heart and they don’t need to be excised if they are not harming anyone. One thing to remember, as pointed out wisely by Toni, is that if you truly adore the person you love, it would be wise to let go of them, because they deserve to live a happy life, without the attention of someone they have no affection for.

    If read my boring story, maybe you want to know if I ever got over her. I never did, and I don’t want to. Marge is the most special girl I ever met and the moments I had with her still inspire me. In fact, after a few years of no contact I met her quite recently and I was just as hopeless in talking to her, but I have given up on her returning my affections.
    I never told her how I felt because it is very obvious she doesn’t have any feelings for me, but I don’t think it is very important. I am moving on, and if we can be friends it would be great as she’s a cool chick!!

  • paula


    writing from Brazil… so my english is a bit rusty.

    I just had a weird experience of unrequited love… it actually developed into a relationship, but reading your posts I can see how simmilar my situation was to the stories posted here. – For some weird reason it happened… we clicked – but there was always something missing. It was horrible really, more pain than gain. Because I did feel the lack of something more substantial, and I also felt like he didn’t want me around most of the time… it was a short relationship – 4 months, we started out as friends and in the end I decided the hurt was too much so I split paths with him. It felt like a drug, an addiction – and I guess I learned that his emotional unavailability is what attracted me to him (it was safe) it seemed. The worst of it all is how quickly he found someone else just after I decided not to go on with it anymore – I guess that’s when I realized his lack of romantic interest me. We have common friends so in the beginning we made a pact to try not to hurt each other… (too much). We’re still friends.
    I found these things can’t be controlled, I had a moment of selfish romanticism with this experience where I felt if I loved him enough, he might just fall in love with me too.
    I don’t know what will happen next time I see him, I hope to be strong. I’m so afraid now of launching into any new relationships – I really felt like he completed me. You see, there was no intense passion, but in the short amount of time we were together I found in him what I had been lacking in life. He inspired me.
    From your stories, and from the stories my friends tell me, sometimes these wonderful people come into our lives to unleash something hidden within ourselves… even if it’s not meant to be in the end. He taught me a lot, even not knowing it – and I also learned a lot about myself.
    Quantities of love, chemistry, passion… pace yourself!
    I guess that’s what I had to say. Thank you for posting your stories, they help me understand a bit better this whole love thing!

  • Rai

    Hi… Like you, I’ve been inlove (and still is) with someone who could never love me back because he’s married… 🙁

    I can;t descrive the kind of closeness we’ve had. It seemed as if he loves me too, but he never said that. He will always say that I am like a little sister to him…

    I have a bf now, but there is still a little hope that someday, a day would come when we can legally be together at last, that is if we will meet again and fall inlove with each other

    So much for the fairy tale like hope, it really hurts and it is really depressing to think so much of someone who could never love you back..


    I wish i could get over it soon too just like you

  • stranger

    you have to make choice on your own, make decisions how to survive while loving a person that doesn’t love you. for example i write music an songs, so i express my feelings there and now i’m gonna be in love only with music. currently i’m listening to coldplay – fix you and feel like this : twf44gt4r9jugt0gtq=43t41=rcefw#EJKGTEF}KJTEFE#q232!@#$!!

    “Love is not blind — it simply enables one to see things others fail to see.”

    “Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies.” – Aristotle.


  • dara

    I have been in love with someone since i was 13… he is getting married in a few months… and they have a baby together. i have felt this way for 15 years and there have been so many times that the feelings have faded and i have convinced myself that they were gone. but i still think about HIM!! sometimes it is so strong i can’t concentrate on anything else! i obsess over moments we had 12 years ago when we spent a summer living near by and seeing eachother everyday when up until then i had only seen him a few times a year. there are four things i relive over and over and over.
    1. this happened 12 years ago… we were sitting on my couch watching a movie and he grabbed my hand and held it.
    2. i was laying down and he rolled over on top of me for a few seconds and put his hand on my leg…
    3. he told me i was beautiful. once when i was 16 and once when i was 26.
    4. this happened three years ago… he was passing through town to pick me up on the way to our hometown… he suggested we stay at my house that night and leave the next morning but i wanted to get to my parent’s house that night so we just drove and he dropped me off…
    now he’s getting married and i really like her and he’s so happy. i wrote him a letter once and i told him that i wanted to kiss him another time.. but nothing ever came of it. anyway… i just googled unrequited love and i found this and i thought… might as well tell someone about it. i’m having a “phase” right now where i think about him constantly so i needed a little release… i don’t talk about it to anyone. although i used to. but not now. because i see them sometimes and try to play it cool so i just don’t ever talk about it. his birthday is coming up actually. so why can’t i let it go? i mean, like others, i do realize now that i am an adult that we couldn’t be married or have a relationship because we are so different it just wouldn’t work really… but i still obsess! i guess i just want to know, was i ever important to him? did i imagine all those moments? was there ever a time even for a second that he felt the same way? but then if i did know… what then…what if he said no? what if he said yes?

  • rebecca


  • kim


  • k

    Well, this might be strange. But I have been on the other side of unrequited love- numerous times. Actually, whenever I meet a guy, I get properly afraid they will fall in love with me and I will have to deal with crushing someone again. I felt like the angel of death, always breaking these hearts. It feels awful, but once you’re in it, you’re in it. Whether you chose to be in it or not. It always feels like it’s your fault for not caring, and I do always care very much on a friendship level- seeing people hurt, hurting people takes alot out of you. I also have began to feel that there might be something wrong with me that I don’t fall for these guys how they fall for me.
    Until last year. It happened to me-bad. In my head, it’s worse than anything I ever inadvertantly inflicted upon anyone else.
    Let me just mention that, this usually NEVER happens to me, because, A.usually I receive more unwanted attention than I realized, and it was always empty. B. I never usually have feelings anything like this for anyone.
    I expected that after all the other instances, he would definitely feel the same way for me- if not way more (I still had the fear of breaking his heart, but he ended up breaking mine, i had no idea) But not so. We met through a friend and then ran into eachother at a coffee shop. We are so alike, both writers, both romantics-excpt he a little more eccentric and scatty than I. he was so honest, sometimes too honest. It was amazing. He was so alive.
    I have been in love with him for going on 2 years now. Bear in mind we were friends for 3 months and dated towards the end right before he disappeared and seemed to drop off the face of the planet. I was a wreck. I still see him. I got to the coffee shop he works at once in a while-to ‘write’ and to see him. He now lives 2 blocks down the street from me. I have good days. But I have to deal with it everyday. I have to deal with the fact that everyone else thinks I’m beautiful, but I hold no lasting charm for him. It feels like my beauty goes to waste when the one that takes up all my sight, seemingly, can’t see it. Or worse, he thinks I’m beautiful but just doesn’t care. It makes it hurt a little more when you know that it’s not because you’re not pretty enough- I am. He just doesn’t connect to whats inside, which is exactly what I feel for him- a connection inside.

    So, yup, it sucks -that’s an undertstatement. Not to mention, his best friend is in love with me.

  • janelle

    I have been dealing with this for 6 years – unrequited love, a one sided love. It has been torture, the energy and time I have spent trying to figure him out. Hanging on to anything that seems hopeful and making excuses for the obvious brush off. Feeling safe and happy in the world if I got a little attention which did not include ever being asked out or having a pass made toward me. He was always my friend, only my friend and he was honest about that. He was hot and cold which now I know was probably a reaction to not wanting to send mixed messages. No one else ever compared. I felt beautiful inside and out when he was looking at me. I gave up time and passed on good men because for some strange reason I felt a loyalty towards him.
    Our friendship is slowly coming to an end. he has a new friend the kind he’s never had before and I had a jealous outburst – the first ever.
    He was horrified and I felt shame.
    I’ve tried to apologize but he seems uninterested. Like a dear friend said to me – he owes you nothing and she’s right.

  • Jalla

    My heart breaks reading all the stories on this blog. I am currently pulling myself out of what would probably have been an unrequited situation if I had let it continue. A new acquaintance of mine was drawing my attention and I was convinced she was interested in me – until I learned how many other great men had been interested in her, and she had only dated the “player” types while politely rejecting the rest. Some people are constantly sending out signals that they are “interested” to everyone they meet, and people can get sucked in.

    Back in grade school, I had a consistent, unrequited crush for 6 years, from grade 6 to grade 11. I told her about it at some point, and it was really uncomfortable for her at times. Largely because of that crush, I missed out the opportunity to experience real dating throughout my adolescence. I also got used to being in an unrequited situation, and it wasn’t until I was 20 that I managed to find a reciprocal relationship.

    Many years later, and having had my fair share of both requited and unrequited loves (and some that fall somewhere in the middle), I can say that the unrequited kind has a unique bittersweetness to it. Perhaps that is why people cling to it after experiencing it. But at the same time, it can be avoided, and it can be let go. Ultimately I believe we are all drawn to experience the beauty of mutual love, and we are all capable of finding it. 🙂

  • Tonia

    I think for me there are two things that are really really hard about unrequited love which is not to be confused with a simple crush. A simple crush (of which I have had many over the years) I have always managed to get over easily enough. The two hardest things for me is 1) I don’t usually trust people easily and take a long time to get to know them (too many broken hearts in my lifetime) so I go by my intuition. If I trust someone easily or this man’s case, instantly, it is usually because of an intuitive connection I feel with that person, like this man. And I’m almost never wrong, time and time again my intuition has been proven right so how hard is it for me to believe that his feelings are not returned if my intuition is telling me that they are? Which I guess leads me to 2) the second hardest thing about unrequited love (if it is unrequited) is that as self confident as I have become over the last year, I am still not confident to actually ‘force the situation’ and find out one way or another. Sometimes I would just love to, because it is so torturous not being with him but then I get to thinking what if he does like me but is not sure and just needs a bit more time but if I force it now he will run and I will have never had the chance to make him as happy as he makes me. I don’t want to lose the precious yet fragile connection we do have even if it is only conversation because it makes me feel so good when we do talk to each other. But then I worry about him and how these feelings are making him feel because part of the term ‘unrequited love’ is love and while I may feel the way about him and there is every likelihood he doesn’t feel that way about me the simple fact of the matter is that I love him. Purely and simply. Part of loving him means to me that his feelings matter and I would hate to think I am making him feel uncomfortable. I justify my continuance of these ‘as yet’ unrequited feelings by the fact that I have given him so many ‘outs’ as a way to stop this situation without hurting me (if that is his fear) and he not only continues to ignore them but also encourages me by continuing to communicate with me in our own unique (and very quiet) way. How could I not be encouraged by that and he cannot say he didn’t know, I am so ‘not subtle’ it is not funny. I know I am justifying once again but it is true, our situation to this point has been very complicated, time will only tell if it is that that is keeping us apart or if it is genuine unrequited love and for the first time in many years my intuition was wrong. Maybe I am just deluding myself, but then again maybe I might just get my one christmas wish this year, and I have been a good girl santa I really have.


    I think love is above reason, and as such, should not carry any adjectival attributes on its name. For, to begin categorizing love as true, untrue, mutual or unrequited, would be like setting a price upon a free gift that we offer to someone. We offer this gift because we must, and sometimes, no matter how priceless our gift may be, the other person might just not accept it.
    Because we are human, we are in need to be loved and cherished, approved and recognized for our qualities, and the idea of Jesus dying on the Cross of unrequited love may sound and feel appalling to most of us, but to me, it seems that’s all what love is all about.
    Why should one be so selfish as to expect a reward for his/her gift? He or she is not nearer to love then, than if he or she chooses the object of one’s desires for solely commercial reasons.
    Like you, I too have felt it, and like you, I too, have known its ups and downs and I wouldn’t be writing this, if I wasn’t suffering from it right now, but in the humility which is love, in the richness of its warmth, I respect for other people’s wishes.
    For who are you, who say that you do love but care only for yourself and not for the loved one’s happiness? In love, which is free will, if there is a choice, then it must be the other person’s, not ours! For love is calling us, love is not being called for!
    Sometimes, we feel as though we are on the wrong path, as though there were something we could do or say to change the way things are… And we blame ourselves, or we take a pride in what should shame us. We are shunned by our own mistakes and we are wrapped in our thoughts and our dreams.
    But it is only when we abandon this one-sided love, a love for our eyes only, for the love for the other person, that we see how poor we are in our judgements. And, maybe, it is only then that our true love and happiness has been found.

  • Nisha

    Inever thought about it before, till I read your blog, It appears to be htestory of mylife, I fall head ove heelsin love with someone, I get too intense and it puts off theperson. I wish for once that I knew how to be friends and then let it progress to a relationship. Unfortunately I guess Ihave never been in a real relationship and never really had the social skills that promoted such. For allof you whohave the capacity to enjoy friendship, develop a relationship and sustain a elationship Kudos to you becaue social ingrates lke myself will continue to be sidelined and continue tobe disappointed in life.

  • NortheastTexas

    I fell in love with my Boss. He was 60 at the time, short, pudgy, bald, married almost 40 years, a new grandfather – and the most brilliant manager I had ever worked with. He was also kind, funny, and embodied values that I deeply admire, things like duty, honor, and loyalty. We thought alike, and I saw so much of myself in him, I sometimes thought I was looking at the male version of myself. I suppose, looking back, I was fated to fall in love with him. The thing is, I was also married, and I love my husband. At first I thought it a crush and I would get over it, but it grew stronger and I panicked. I pulled away and he, puzzled, tried to work out what was wrong. Eventually he decided I hated him. Boss is also ruthless, so he started to isolate me, which is what he habitually does to people he considers a danger (one of his few flaws). I could not bear it and after one particularly bad meeting, I left. Quite suddenly. I didn’t plan it, it took everyone by surprise, including me. I’ve tried to get over him but I seem to be genetically programmed to care for him, even though he has since pulled some moves that were incredibly cruel to others. It makes me sick that I hurt my husband, it makes me sick that I probably annoyed his wife (I’m sure he told her everything) and it makes me sick that I have lost something I valued almost more than anything else in life: his approval. It’s jolly awful. So now I am unemployed in a global recession, I grieve for the loss of a job I liked, friends I have had to leave behind, the loss of a man I love, and am dealing with depression and low self esteem. It’s like dealing with multiple deaths with no end in sight. If it were not for my husband, who has stood by me through all this, I would have removed myself from the planet by now. This love has sucked all life and joy from me, I used to be an essentially happy person, don’t recognise myself anymore. I need it to end before it ends me.

  • Olya

    “Rejection is the greatest aphrodisiac”