One of my all-time favorite movies is The Holiday. The film begins with an epic monologue by one of the main characters, Iris, about love—not head-over-heels or soulmate love, but the love that Iris calls “the cruelest kind. The one that almost kills its victims.” Unrequited love.
You may have heard of it. Unrequited love is when a person loves someone who doesn’t love them back. It could be someone they are in a relationship with or simply a friend, colleague, or acquaintance. Unlike infatuation, the one who loves still wants the best for the other person; it’s just the other person doesn’t reciprocate their romantic feelings.
Maybe you’ve been in this one-sided situation; you loved someone who didn’t feel the same way. Perhaps you’re even in that situation now. Unrequited love comes in many forms, from wanting a person who doesn’t want you back, to being in love with someone who isn’t available, to wanting back an ex who has already moved on.
Regardless of your situation, unrequited love is difficult to endure. No matter how much you wish things were different, you can’t change someone’s mind about who they love. Sometimes it seems like you wouldn’t feel such a strong connection if the other person didn’t feel the same way. It’s difficult to accept when that’s not the case.
Just like a breakup, unrequited love is something you can heal from and put in the past. Here are some ways to face your reality and move on.
Let Yourself Be Not OK
Finding out someone doesn’t love you back elicits a mixture of emotions, from confusion to rejection to grief. These emotions are completely normal.
Just know you’re not alone—98% of people experience unrequited love at some point in their life. And your body reacts to it in the same way it would when you break up with a partner or lose someone close to you. So don’t make this harder for yourself by feeling guilty about the emotions that come up.
Instead, experience your feelings as they come. Give yourself time to grieve and come to terms with reality. You’re only human; no one can come out of rejection unscathed.
See the Other Person for Who They Are
The line between unrequited love and idealization is thin. Often, you put the person you love on a pedestal and explain away their imperfections. But that’s not reality; that’s simply your heart wanting even more what it can’t have.
Take a step back from the situation. Consider the person for who they are, not the image you built them up to be in your head. It doesn’t help to hyper-focus on everything you love about a person, regardless of who they are to you. Healthy relationships involve both people seeing and accepting the other’s flaws.
You know you’re idealizing a person when you believe they can do no wrong. Know that no one is perfect, and the idea you have of them isn’t reality.
Cut Off or Limit Contact
Imagine pricking your finger on a bush in your front yard and then going back to touch that bush every single day. You’d cause yourself more pain and never fully heal.
That’s what you’re doing when you keep in touch with the person who doesn’t love you back. You’re returning to the source of your distress. You’re causing yourself unnecessary pain.
If possible, cut off or limit your contact with them. Even if it’s for a few months, it’s better to give yourself time to heal than to be continually hurt. You don’t have to ignore them forever; just give yourself a fighting chance to move on without being constantly reminded of them.
Spend Time With Friends
If you’re not careful, you may dwell in your thoughts of rejection. The best way to move on from someone who hurt you is investing in your life outside of them. Your friends are a perfect source of that.
Your friends can offer you support when things become too overwhelming. They can also serve as a reminder of how much other people love you. That can be helpful when you find out someone doesn’t love you back.
Don’t hesitate to call your friends, make plans, and lean on them when you need support. That’s the beautiful thing about friendship; you have people who can help you overcome challenging times.
Set Firm Boundaries
Boundaries are limits for other people on how they can and can’t treat you. While there’s a misconception that creating boundaries will hurt your relationships, they actually help them.
Circling back to The Holiday, Iris was constantly at the disposal of the man she loved who didn’t love her back. He would text Iris for emotional or work support, and she’d respond within minutes.
Iris couldn’t draw boundaries with the man she loved. You can be different from her, though. Instead of spending all your emotional energy on one person, decide what your boundaries are. Figure out how much emotional labor you’re willing to put in based on what’s reciprocated.
Reflect On Who You Are
If being rejected by someone made you think you’re not enough, congratulations. You’re human. It’s normal to take it personally when someone doesn’t love you back. But that doesn’t mean those beliefs are true or that you have to hold onto them.
Reflect on how this experience made you feel about yourself. Write down those beliefs. You can take it a step further and write down beliefs you have that make you attracted to people who don’t love you back.
How you think about yourself greatly affects how you act and who you love. You’re more likely to try to date people who mistreat you if you don’t believe you’re worthy of healthy love yourself.
Unrequited love is painful but it won’t be the end of your love journey. Just take care of yourself, experience the feelings that come up, and do the work to learn from this experience and move on in a healthy way.