Unrequited Love: How to deal when they don’t love you back

Discover the best ways to cope when your affections aren’t returned.

by: E.B. Johnson

Unrequited love is a painful, strange, one-sided affair that can make us feel vulnerable in a number of ways. Loving someone that doesn’t love you back is agonizing and it leaves you stuck with torturous emotions that are hard to overcome.

Sometimes, Cupid gets involved where he shouldn’t, but the trick is learning how to spot the signs and know when things have crossed the line. Unrequited love might seem like an impossible obstacle to overcome, but it can be conquered with a little understanding and acceptance of things as they are.

The roots of unrequited love.

Unrequited love occurs when you have strong romantic feelings for someone that does not return those feelings. It’s a one-sided experience that leaves us suffering with pain, grief and shame and it has plagued lovers through the ages.

Love unreturned stems from a lot of places, including our past experiences and childhood traumas — but it (almost) always stems from a warped sense of self and low self-esteem. Chances are, if you’re looking for love in people that don’t love you back, you’re self-sabotaging for one of the following reasons.

You’re chained to your past.

More often than not, our hang-up’s about love are rooted in the past. These past experiences can include painful situations involving your caretakers or even disappointing experiences that involved friends you trusted or people that you were close to.

This fear of the past often reflects the negative impact of sexual or emotional abuse. When we are beat down or violated by people that we trust — the people we believe we love — it skews our definition of love. Broken definition to hand, we start chasing after love in all the wrong places; repeating the pattern of heartbreak and longing that becomes familiar to us.

If you’re pining over someone that doesn’t love you back, ask yourself: Is this behavior that has occurred before? Have you seen this behavior modelled in someone close to you? The answer might surprise you.

You’re seeing things as you wish they were (rather than how they are).

Projection is a term that’s tossed about a lot in psychology and one of the best ways to explain why we love people that we shouldn’t.

One of the most common causes of unrequited love is an insistence on seeing things as you wish they were, rather than seeing them for how they actually are.

We continue to chase the wrong people because that seems less painful to us than accepting the truth — they are not in love with us.

Facing reality is tough and it can undermine our sense of personal omnipotence. The world isn’t a fair place, however, and things don’t always have a happy ending. The sooner you learn to see people for who they are, rather than who you wished they were, the sooner you’ll be able to find your way back to happiness.

You’re terrified of intimacy.

Remember that self-sabotage thing I mentioned? Well, here’s one of the greatest examples of the ways in which we use unrequited love to sabotage ourselves.

Sometimes, placing all of our affection-eggs in one basket is a way to prevent ourselves from getting too close to someone who might hurt us. A fear of intimacy is one of the number one reasons we give our love to people who don’t love us back, as we know there will forever be a safe distance between them and our most vulnerable parts.

Chasing after an impossible person seems like a bargain. You get all the thrill of the chase with none of the commitment of “opening up” to someone that might hurt you. Remaining fixated on someone that doesn’t love us allows us to enjoy all the intensity of love while still keeping ourselves protected.

You enjoy the drama.

Some people can become addicted to dramatic relationships for the attention and thrill they provide. This, however, is an extremely toxic way to approach connection and one of the quickest ways to alienate not only potential partners, but friends and loved ones as well.

Signs they don’t (or can’t) love you back.

There are concrete signs you can look for when it comes to spotting unrequited loved. If you feel like you’re getting “mixed signals” or just feel unsure about where you stand with someone you care about, look out for these signs.

Familiarity

Consider your relationship and the way the two of you interact. Getting to know one another is a task that takes time. As time goes on you should get to know more about one another through asking questions and sharing experiences that help you understand one another on a more intimate level.

Unrequited love is a one-sided dynamic. If you find that you’re the one always initiating contact or making the effort to connect, chances are it’s time to run the other way.

Be honest with yourself about yourself (and the other person). If they don’t seem interested in your desires, interests, hobbies and goals — they don’t care for you like you think they do.

Physical touch

When we long for someone romantically, we also long to be close to them physically. Whether it’s hand-holding, kissing or hugging, physical touch is important in a romantic relationship.

If you’re always the one initiating physical touch, or if there is no physical touch between the two of you at all (be it platonic or otherwise) then it might be a sign that things are a little more one-sided than you hoped.

Unrealistic ideals

Loving someone who doesn’t love you back often involves putting that person on a delusional or unrealistic pedestal of ideals. This means that one partner generally sees the other as perfect, with imperfections that can be easily explained away or justified.

The unloved-lover fails to set any healthy boundaries because they don’t have a healthy point of view; they’re caught up in a world of delusional obsession.

Those who build healthy romantic bonds can still see the faults and vulnerabilities of their partners, but unhealthy relationships make no space of this type of acceptance.

When you love someone who doesn’t love you back, it is often because you refuse to see the person for who they are, and elevate them up on a mound of unrealistic ideals that are based in a fantasy, rather than truth.

How to cope when your love’s not returned.

There are a lot of different ways you can go about dealing with an unrequited love. For some, that path can be found by connecting with someone else; for others, the only way back is a long and arduous road of healing.

However you decide to deal with a love that isn’t returned, if you find yourself on the other side of a one-sided crush: these are the simplest techniques you can use to get yourself back on your feet again.

1. Drop the delusions.

Whatever it was that led you to fall in love, take a few moments to reassess and realign yourself with the reality of the situation. Drop the delusions that led you to pine for someone and give yourself a set of terms (and a timer) that clearly defines when enough is enough.

For example, give the other person a week to show signs of interest in you. If, at the end of that week, there’s been no sign — commit to moving on and stick to it. Accept that it’s time to come to terms with the fact that they’re just not that into you and start moving on with what pride you have left.

2. Learn how to love yourself.

If you’re someone that regularly finds yourself in an unrequited-love situation, it is perhaps time to take a step back and start sharing some of that love with yourself.

We chase people that can’t love us when we find that we can’t love ourselves.

It’s like a passive-aggressive form of self-flagellation that keeps reinforcing our worst beliefs about ourselves.

Rather than falling into this oppressive and soul-destroying trap, trying practicing a little love for self, by celebrating your strengths and getting back in touch with the passions and interests that make your spirit soar.

3. Get to know the real person.

Being in love makes it easy for you to forget the fact that nobody is perfect. Rather than focusing on the idol of your crush that you’ve built up in your mind, take some time getting to know the real them and then compare your feelings against this new reality.

While we always want to believe the best of the people that we love, the fact of the matter is that they’re only human, with all the flaws that entails. Though we don’t like to hear it, our crushes are flawed individuals with drawbacks, bad habits and negative attitudes just like us.

4. Find a distraction.

When we’re in love we can get a little obsessed. We imagine how wonderful it would be to spend time with the person that we care about and — if we actually get that time — we can lose track of everything and everyone else that matters.

Instead of focusing all your mental and emotional energies on someone who can’t or won’t love you back, try finding a distraction instead.

Distractions can take many forms and come in the shape of many different people. Getting your mind off of someone you love isn’t always the easiest thing to do, but it’s considerably easier when you start pursuing the things that spark your passion or bring you pleasure.

Use your free time to get outside or start that hobby you’ve always considered. You can also use that time to go on dates, to start getting involved with people who do want to get to know you and the things that make you tick.

5. Accept that they don’t need you.

Finding your truth means accepting that this person does not love you and does not need you.

Look back at your love from a different perspective. When you view it from a place of space, does it look like a Hollywood romance or more like a horror gore flick? Think about how this person feels about you and then think about how they would react if you went missing from their lives for a week or a day.

Would it make a difference to them or would they go on living as if nothing was amiss? The answer might be wounding, but it’s one of the key’s to unlocking your own happiness.

No matter how much you might love them, accept that they don’t need you. They never did and they never will.

6. Practice a little self-care.

Some tend to think that unrequited love isn’t as damaging as a long-term romance, but it is. When we fall for someone that doesn’t love us back, it injures us in a deep and vulnerable place — especially if you’re someone who has dealt with a lot of heartache or trauma in the past.

Practicing a little self-care can be a great way to scrape yourself up off the pavement and get back and into the swing of life. Feeling good about our outsides is often a short-cut to feeling good about our insides, but it takes time and a little commitment each and every day. Take a warm bubble bath or treat yourself to that cup of fancy loose-leaf tea. You don’t have to go out and buy an entirely new wardrobe (though that might help) but even just changing up your hairstyle can be a great way to feel refreshed and re-energized.

Though you might be tempted to self-destruct — in the hopes that your loved one will see how much pain you’re in and come running — don’t. They won’t come running and you’ll only end up feeling worse about yourself. Treat yo’self instead, and trying playing nice with yourself, instead of mean.

7. Let go of the anger.

Failure is a part of life, and it’s a part of love too. All of us know what it feels like to have our hearts broken and we all know what it feels like to love someone who doesn’t love us back.

Connecting with people is hard and caring for them is sometimes even harder.

No matter how hard we try, things just don’t work out sometimes, but knowing that doesn’t make the healing any easier. The real secret to getting past heartbreak is learning how to let go of your disappointments rather than clinging to the anger they generate. Only when you’ve mastered this will you be able to move beyond your perceived loss and look forward to what’s coming next over the horizon.

When it looks like things aren’t going to go according to plan, don’t start hating yourself or looking at every future partner as if they’re out to get you. Try instead believing that you will one day find what you need and let go of the rest. Anger doesn’t serve us, especially in matters of love. Release it if you truly want to be free.

Important things to keep in mind.

It’s important to keep a few things in mind if you’ve found yourself on the unloved-end of an unrequited affection.

  • Just because a single person failed to see your worth does not mean that you are unlovable or that anyone was “right about you”.
  • Working on yourself is the only way to ensure a better outcome in future.
  • Remember that you are responsible for your own happiness; no one else.
  • Sometimes, the timing just isn’t right.
  • If you find your love to be “draining” it’s time to run (not walk) the other way.
  • Don’t limit yourself to someone that does not care about you.
  • Open yourself up to more options if the ones you have now aren’t working for you.
  • Just because someone doesn’t return your feelings does not mean that that person is inherently bad.

Putting it all together…

Arguing with our hearts is hard, but it’s necessary when we find ourselves on the losing end of a one-sided love affair. The food of unrequited love is only fantasy and that, unfortunately, is a manna we just can’t live on.

Walking away from someone we love is gut-wrenching, but it’s necessary in order for us to live a life that is in line with our authentic selves and the things that bring us joy. Know the signs and stop wasting your time on someone who cannot give you the love you need to bloom. Have enough courage and respect for yourself to cut free the people and the things that no longer suit you or the person you are becoming.

Only when you learn to love yourself will you be able find the love you’re looking for in the world. See the bigger picture and know your place in it. Your soul-mate is waiting out there somewhere, but they need you to be the best version of yourself first. Would you want to give them anything less?