It’s the subject of great literature from Don Quixote to The Great Gatsby. It’s the emotions behind ballads from the Eagles to Coldplay. Unrequited love is a love that isn’t reciprocated—and it’s something that most of us have experienced.
According to a recent BustedHalo online poll, more than 90% of respondents said that they have either had romantic feelings that have gone unreciprocated, or that they have had a friend who has had feelings for them that they did not share. It’s a torturous emotion: You just can’t get the object of your affection and desire to see you in the same way, or you feel deeply guilty about not wanting to be romantically involved with someone you love as a friend.
Jean, 27, had a big crush on a guy from work. She followed him around, tried to be where she thought he would be and became his friend. She chatted him up about philosophical topics, did her best to look good and seem appealing and gave him plenty of opportunities to take the relationship to the “next level.” But, after months and months, “he didn’t bite,” she writes.
Ryan, 29, said he was head-over-heels for a woman for a long time, but knew the feeling wasn’t mutual. “Although I still respect her and we are very close I have come to realize it wasn’t meant to be,” he writes. While Ryan now says that in hindsight, things worked out for the best, it was a rough few years of unreciprocated emotions.
Unrequited love can lead to depression and in its most extreme forms, stalking and other questionable behavior. But most of the time, unrequited love just feels like a slow punishment. And some young-adults wonder why God is allowing them to feel this way.
If, as the Gospel of John says, God is love, then God is intricately tied to our romantic lives here on earth. And many Christians blame God for their unrequited love—that if God loved them He would bring them happiness, according to Laura A. Smit, in her book Loves Me, Loves Me Not: The Ethics of Unrequited Love. Instead, she argues, that “if we believe God is love, we must trust that even in those times where we want to cry with rage and frustration … God is treating us with love.”
Plan of Action
When it comes time for action, BustedHalo respondents are split down the middle on how to how to handle unrequited love: 54% said it was best to keep your feelings to yourself until you know where they stand—you don’t want to ruin the friendship, while 46% said it was to best tell them how you feel and see what happens.
Deborah, 35, was in love with a man for three years. “Finally, one day I told him I wanted more than friendship and he told me (nicely) no. But, since then we have become very good and true friends. In fact, it’s surprising because I thought the friendship would end once we talked about our feelings, but it has only grown stronger,” she writes.
Joseph, 33, and Trevor, 29, both report that they came clean with their feelings—and were rejected—but they felt that sharing their feelings put an end to the anguish: At least they knew where these women stood.
the “confess” or “keep quiet” question.
For some who chose to stay quiet, the friendships broke up. Anne, 25, writes “It was awkward. It destroyed the friendship. I avoided him until we just kinda stopped hanging out.” For others, those feelings of unrequited romantic love transitioned into a strong friendship.
In fact, 74% of BustedHalo respondents said that they have had a friendship that managed to continue and be strong despite feelings of unrequited love.
“I Wasn’t Enough”
Diedre, 35, was—and still may be—in love with a close friend of hers, and has never shared her feelings. Now, he’s getting married in a few months. “I think because I never really came straight out and told him how I really felt that to this day I still wonder if he really knows how much I liked him,” she muses. “We continue to remain friends, although since he got engaged have not spent as much time hanging out. Really he’s just too busy, although I still wonder sometimes if he has an inkling [of my feelings]. I am extremely happy that he has found someone who makes him happy because I obviously wasn’t enough,” she writes, with obvious pain.
And sometimes unrequited love can last a lifetime:
John, 61, writes that he dated a woman when they were both teenagers, but broke up because they “outgrew the relationship.” Years later, as they remained friends, he realized he was really in love with her. Yet they had both married other people.
Decades passed. Her husband died and John’s marriage ended in divorce, all the while the two remained close friends. “I still am in love with this woman, but do not have any expectations other than that we maintain, at the very least, this wonderful and fulfilling relationship we have, which has been the only constant in my life over the past 47 years…. This may be the most important relationship of my life.”
There’s no easy answer on how to handle feelings of unrequited love—which is why it’s no surprise that our BustedHalo poll shows little resolution on the “confess” or “keep quiet” question. What is clear is that if your feelings are more than a crush, more than casual attraction, there is a possibility for a long and fulfilling friendship beneath these roiling emotions. Prayer and time may be the best cures.
If your feelings of unrequited love have gone on for months or even years, it’s time to move on, lest these unreciprocated emotions prevent you from actually having a deep and fulfilling relationship yourself.