There are times when we have strong romantic feelings toward someone, only to find out that they do not feel the same way about us. That is called unrequited love—love that is not returned or rewarded. It is a one-sided experience that can leave us feeling pain, grief, and shame.
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. Learn what to look for and how to address the situation.
Signs to Look For
There are signs that can help you understand what is going on and if the love you are feeling for someone is being reciprocated. People describe feeling as if they are getting “mixed signals” from a love interest only to find that it is, in fact, unrequited love.
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 their 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, not leaving one person to bear the responsibility of reaching out to connect.
Do you desire to touch the other person, to hold hands, to kiss or hug? Our longing for connection includes physical contact and when people are equally attracted, there is a reaching out by both parties to 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.
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.
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 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 seems to come.
How to Move Forward
There are many things we can do to successfully 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.
Although unrequited love can feel extremely painful, it can offer us an opportunity to grow in unexpected ways.
Through an experience like this, we can gain a better understanding of our needs, our patterns in a relationship, and how to become a healthy, positive partner in the future.
Allow Time to Grieve
Unrequited love usually results in deep heartbreak and feelings of rejection. When we are emotionally invested in someone and they don’t seem to feel the same way about us, we might question our worth or wonder if we 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 has not been 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 va ariety of reasons why love may not be reciprocated that have nothing to do with your worth or being “enough.”
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 we view and experience adult relationships has to do with what we learned growing up, what we observed, and what we were taught about love and relationships.
Attachment style can influence how we 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 our adult romantic relationships as well.
Understanding your attachment style can allow you to gain insight into your own patterns of relationship, your needs and how to develop healthier connections.
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.
Our sense of self can become lost when experiencing unrequited love since our sense of self can often be strongly connected to our love interest and our continual longing for them to return that love to us. 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.
By Jodi Clarke, MA, LPC/MHSP