What to do with unrequited love

When they don’t want you like you want them

A reader recently emailed:

“I just want to ask you a small favour to please write something about unrequited love for a friend and please let me know that not talking to her is a good decision as everyone says.”

Of course.

Not talking to her is a good decision, as everyone says.

I agree with this, however, mostly if not talking to her is what you need to do to in order to develop a stronger mindset and more fruitful interests. But you can do that either way.

I wrote about how one-sided love isn’t enough love back in mid-August. From that post, there are two important messages:

  • First of all, the feeling of one-sided attraction is incredibly common. I know it feels like you alone are enduring this, but it happens all the time. Of course attractive, smart, fun, nice people have admirers, and of course they don’t always admire — and certainly can’t pursue — all of them back.
  • But the mistake many of us make is: despite its name, this feeling isn’t love. It’s infatuation and fantasy. That’s all it can be, because it’s all we have.

“Unrequited love” isn’t really love

And it’s truly unfortunate that we call it that.

Aside from a few edge cases — the care-taking of a child, for example — this feeling we call “unrequited love” isn’t love.

Psychiatrist Eric Berne states in his book Sex in Human Loving,

“Some say that one-sided love is better than none, but like half a loaf of bread, it is likely to grow hard and moldy sooner.”

It’s not something that can ever nourish and sustain.

“Unrequited love” is fantasy

I once heard a therapist tell a woman who wasn’t over her ex:

“You’re not in love with the real him. You’re in love with the idea of him in your head.”

You’re “in love” with a fantasy. Some made-up version, stripped of the stuff you don’t like (namely, the reality of them not wanting you, which is a pretty fundamental part of their lived experience) and that’s not actually them.

You don’t see them as they exist. You just want all the good parts that you like, and then add in imaginary layers of stuff like “if only we were together!” and “them wanting you, too.”

Real love means honoring the other person

— their lived experience, their preferences, their needs

And if their number one “need” regarding you is to “not receive or return your love,” then each time you extend it anyway, you are violating — not satisfying — their wishes, hoping to coerce them into what you want. And that’s not love.

Writer Emma Lindsay wrote, of her online admirers:

“They always have one thing in common; they think that their feelings define a connection between us. They are so focused on how they feel about me that they never consider how I feel about them. They don’t stop to think how creepy I will find their messages, how how unnerved I will be by their constant attention. [They] are always dismissive, or often even angry, about my feelings. My feelings are an obstacle to their satisfaction.”

That’s not love.

“Love without care for the other person’s lived experience is not love.”

Real love means honoring yourself, too

This does not mean satisfying your superficial wants. This is about deeper, underlying needs, like the need to invest your emotions into things that are rewarding. Loving ourselves means pursuing people that want us, rather than gutting ourselves over people who don’t.

Your time and attention are the most valuable things you have. Invest them in worthwhile people and things.

What you should do

Roman poet Ovid in his Remedia Amoris suggested things such as “travel, teetotalism, bucolic pursuits, and ironically, avoidance of love poets.”

Or sure, you could also try simply “not talking to her.”

But distraction and avoidance won’t resolve the underlying issue.

Because it all boils down to self-love as the solution. If we develop our self-esteem, dumping our energy and attention into lost causes suddenly seems remarkably less compelling. If you need to step away to build that, then do so, but don’t simply step away without the more positive and constructive emotional work. You’ll be far happier focusing on the latter.

And, as an aside? People love secure people.