Unrequited Love

Unrequited love, a one-sided affair

Unrequited love, also referred to as one-sided love, is when one person loves, and the other person is unaware of it.

Unrequited love is where the person who loves suffers the pain of not having their love returned, instead the beloved person carries on coolly unaware.

Tennyson wrote ‘it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.’  But was he right?

Is unrequited love better than no love at all? Or, is it a painful way of suffering, a waste of your time, your energy and your love?

How does a state of unrequited love develop?

Often unrequited love develops out of ordinary everyday life.  Platonic (not eroticised) relationships create a situation in which one person starts to idealise the other.  The basis of the relationship might be in a shared experience of school or of working together. 

What starts off as an ordinary and agreeable relationship starts to change as one party begins to invest more in the relationship than the other does.  The other person may be unaware of the feelings that the other person has for them, and which are now being projected onto them.

The situation can have an awkward dimension to it.  The person who has started to love the other doesn’t feel they can speak about how their feelings have changed.

A college tutor spoke of the deep feelings he had developed for a colleague in his department.  “we became friends, and then that changed and I started to fall for her.  I felt all of the depth of love to her.  She was married and showed no signs of wanting to leave her partner.  There was just nothing I could do to stop my feelings for her.  It was so painful.  As painful as any physical pain.”

In classical literature unrequited love falls upon us unbidden as though it has fallen from the skies.  Once Cupid has shot his arrow whoever it hits has no way out of the powerful loving feelings that develop.

The state of unrequited love is a state of ongoing suffering 

  • Is it better to have these heightened painful feelings than not to feel them? 
  • If we gave them up would our lives become more mundane and ordinary? 
  • Is it better to suffer unrequited love than to live without meaningful emotional experience?

If you want to break free from the state of unrequited love; get to know the other person better.

One reason that we can develop such powerful feelings about another person is that we just don’t really know enough about what they are really like.  We idealise the loved person and we project all kinds of idealisations onto them. 

But, if we got to know them, then all of this would probably change.  We would see the person for who they really are, irritating habits imperfections and all.  This would likely mean that our feelings about the person would change.

It is common that unrequited love is an experience we go through as teenagers.  We love someone who ignores or rejects us. With luck, in time we find partners who want us too and we leave this state behind. For other less fortunate people it can endure beyond the teenage period. 

Unrequited love, and Attachment theory

It may be that people who grew up in homes without a secure sense of attachment are more prone to these kinds of unrequited loving feelings.  Someone who has grown up with an insecure attachment may be more likely to be looking for figures who will love them back, people that they can project their fantasies of loving relationships onto. 

The repetition of unrequited Love

Attachment theory suggests that we look to the person that we can develop powerful feelings about because we have grown up searching for a person who will love us back. 

Someone who has an insecure attachment style may continuously search out figures to love who are unavailable and unwilling to love them back.  This leads to repetitions of failed love relations. 

The cure for unrequited love is to find a way to become clearer about your attachment style and preference and to find a more satisfying, rewarding, mutual and constructive way of developing relationships.  You need to find a way to break the pattern that may have started long ago of picking unattainable partners.

Unrequited love – can we learn to care for ourselves better?

Just because the person you have set your heart on does not love you back, it does not mean that you are unlovable.  Try to stop yourself from projecting all of your good feelings onto the other person.  Try to keep some love for yourself. This is easier said than done. 

If we have grown up without feeling loved and cared for by others it leaves a scar on our sense of ourselves, our self-esteem.  We lack a sense of self care that other people seem to have.  I think we have to find a way to recognise ourselves more clearly.  To assess the things we lack as realistically as we can, and then try to find ways of providing those things for ourselves.  The more we can learn to look after ourselves the more we create opportunities for growth and helpful development.

Carl Jung, the self and unrequited Love

In Jung’s psychology the self is the part of us that has the potential to develop and shape our personalities.  But in order for this to happen the self needs to be nurtured.  If you grew up in a home that lacked that nurture there will have been consequences for you and how you have developed.  One self-destructive consequence being that we may be more likely to keep chasing the shadows of unobtainable people. 

We need to find ways of looking after ourselves, to limit the way we can be caught up in concentrating on other people.  Being in a state of unrequited love can use up a lot of our energy and time.


Stepping back from the state of unrequited love

If you recognise that you have become caught up in an unrequited love, then perhaps you can give yourself the chance to try to step back from it and to think more carefully about what has happened. 

It may be possible within the confidentiality of a psychotherapy relationship to talk and work out more about the patterns of the relationships you are drawn to.

How can Counselling Buckinghamshire help?

I have a depth of experience of working with people who are trying to learn more about the kinds of destructive relationships they are drawn to.

Counselling Buckinghamshire offers a serious chance to understand our lives and the choices we make, the decisions we make that limit us, and which can get in the way of us living more creative and satisfying lives.  Contact me for a free telephone consultation to discuss how Counselling Buckinghamshire might be able to help you.