Unrequited love hurts. It’s easy to talk about ‘plenty more fish in the sea’ or some similar cliché when you’re not the one who’s in pain. Taking this advice and moving on is far more difficult when it’s you.
How to deal with unrequited love and heal your broken heart? When the person you love doesn’t return your feelings, you go through feelings of loss and grief. It can be as painful as a breakup and getting over it can be just as hard.
Falling in love with someone who shows no interest in you or outright rejects you can make you question your value and leave a permanent scar on your self-esteem. Unreciprocated love can result in stress or even trauma, and leave you feeling unlovable.
Here are some useful tips for dealing with these feelings.
How To Deal With Unrequited Love And Stop The Pain
Many people go through unrequited love at least once in their life. You can probably think of more than one song and movie that talks about rejected romantic feelings and the pain of unrequited love – it’s a common part of the human experience.
Even though figuring out how to deal with unrequited love, the love that simply wasn’t meant to be, is so often the subject of art, when you’re actually going through it, it doesn’t feel romantic or poetic. The pain you feel when you give your heart to someone and they don’t want it can be so intense that you feel actual physical pain.
Here are some suggestions to help you cope.
1. Choose to move on
Hope is what keeps us going. When the world seems dark, if a human being has hope, it’s possible to move forward. But hope is sometimes the opposite of what you need.
A significant part of being in love is wishing for the other person to love you back. It happens to everyone – you get a crush, then you give yourself permission to hope they’ll like you back, so you let your feelings grow. If they don’t seem that interested, you have two choices: you can keep hoping or you can move on.
If you keep dwelling and hoping that they will come around, you’re only prolonging your heartache. No matter how much you want to believe that they might feel the same, you always know when this hope is in vain. The signs are all there, you only have to choose to let yourself accept them.
When the object of your affection doesn’t return your feelings, you have to be the one to love yourself. Unfortunately, the kind of love you need to give yourself at first is tough love. You must be honest with yourself and choose to leave behind the feelings that are just hurting you and do what’s best for yourself.
2. Respect their decision
When a person loves someone, they let them know. If your love was reciprocated, you wouldn’t have to dissect their every move for hints of feelings and crumbs of hope. The hardest part of dealing with unrequited love is accepting that the other person doesn’t love you back.
Love can’t be forced, and trying to do it hurts both of you. If you try to convince your love interest to accept your feelings, the most likely result is that you’ll push them away completely. Being persistent when someone rejects you isn’t romantic, despite what the media tells you.
It’s extremely important to remember that whether they love you back or not has nothing to do with you. Don’t think that you have to change something about yourself to make them love you. You’ll only lose yourself in the process if you try to do it and you won’t gain their love.
There’s nothing you can do to change their feelings, so accepting their decision is the kindest thing you can do for yourself. The sooner you move on, the sooner you can meet someone who loves you the way you are.
3. Feel your pain
It’s undeniable that rejection hurts. Heartbreak from having your feelings denied causes genuine distress. Accepting that your feelings aren’t reciprocated can cause the same pain like ending a romantic relationship.
You were not only emotionally invested, but your sense of self-worth can be shaken by rejection. Let yourself feel the pain you’re experiencing. Don’t try to save face or keep your cool by pretending that you’re okay.
Loneliness, disappointment, anger, shame – all of these feelings are normal when you’re heartbroken. Allow yourself to feel them, but don’t let them overwhelm you. Be kind and understanding with yourself while you’re going through the pain.
Feelings have no shortcuts, and they won’t go away just because you want them to. Depending on how deeply in love you were, it might take a while. Give yourself as much time as you need to feel better, but make sure you don’t allow these emotions to take you down.
If you let yourself fully experience your feelings while focusing on getting better, soon enough you’ll be able to move on.
4. Distance yourself from the other person
This is the only way to let go. The key is to not stay around and keep hoping. If they’re always around, you won’t have a chance to get over them. If you’re close, stop hanging out and talking to them, at least until you’re feeling better. In a situation like this, things might be a little more complicated than in the case of a breakup.
If you’re friends, it might be awkward to block them and unfollow them on social media, especially if you haven’t told them about your feelings and you intend to keep them in your life. Rejection can hurt even more than a breakup, but you still might want to stay friends with this person.
Your solutions are to either talk to them and tell them you need some distance for a while, choosing whether or not to tell them why, or do it without them being aware of what’s going on. The way you decide to distance yourself depends on how close you are and whether or not you want to continue having them in your life.
5. Find distractions
Feeling your feelings is necessary, but don’t let them take over your life. Give yourself some time to process everything without dwelling or wallowing in self-pity. Instead, do things that are interesting enough to make you forget all about what’s happening.
When you’re hurting, it can seem that nothing can help, and this is when mindless scrolling through whatever is trending on TikTok or Twitter might be helpful, but it’s much better to find something more productive to distract you. The goal is to do something that will make you feel better about yourself.
For example, after a couple of hours on Instagram, you’ll feel like you’ve wasted that time, but after a couple of hours at the gym, you’ll feel energized, accomplished and relaxed. Even if you’re not normally into working out, doing any kind of physical activity will help distract you from your feelings.
The effects of exercise on mental health are well-known, and if you find something you actually like doing, it can be an amazing distraction. If you prefer other ways of relaxing your mind, make sure it’s not something that will make you feel worse. Instead, keep yourself busy with an activity that increases your emotional wellness.
6. Ask for help
While you’re dealing with your heartbreak, you must focus on your own well-being.
Instead of dwelling on the fact that your feelings weren’t returned, do everything you can to move on. At first, when your feelings are at their most painful, it might seem impossible, but if you let yourself feel them, gradually they’ll become bearable enough that you can focus on yourself.
Distance and distractions are necessary to move on, and your loved ones can provide both, and much more. Just knowing that you can talk to someone can bring you peace of mind. When you share your problems, their weight lessens.
Having a shoulder to cry on or someone to just be there when you need them can provide great support.
If there’s no one you can openly talk to about your feelings and you feel like you need it, don’t run away from asking for professional help. A counselor can guide you to deal with your feelings and recover faster. They can be especially helpful if you feel like your self-esteem has taken a hit.
7. Work on your self-esteem
Rejection can really shake your sense of self and make you question your value. It can be very hard not to take things personally. When someone you love doesn’t love you back, you can get lost in believing that there’s something wrong with you.
You must pay close attention to any feelings of inadequacy and low self-worth that might come from this experience and stop them before they take root. Don’t get stuck on thinking about the reasons you were rejected. We can’t control other people’s feelings, only our reactions to them.
The fact that the person you have feelings for doesn’t have anything to do about your value as a person. Heartbreak can make you doubt that you are valuable and lovable, so at this point it’s very important not to lose sight of your own worth.
Challenge all negative thinking that you might be experiencing. Be kind and encouraging to yourself. Accepting that the other person doesn’t feel the same as you can be painful, but once you realize that you’re perfectly lovable, and they’re simply not right for you, things will look up.
What Unrequited Love Really Is
What’s love in the first place? Love is a choice. It can be a complicated and unconscious choice, but it’s a choice nonetheless.
Before you enter into a relationship with someone, all that exists is possibility. When you’re looking for love, anyone can seem like a potential partner. You find certain things attractive, so when you meet someone who checks all (or enough) of the boxes, you become aware of the possibility and choose this person as a love interest.
This is what you’d call a crush, attraction or infatuation. At this point, you want the other person to notice you, pay more attention to you or show interest – basically, you want them to like you back.
I can tell you with certainty that what you’re feeling at this moment isn’t love, although it sure feels like it.
Real love is about actions, not feelings. It must grow and develop. It’s when you learn to care about each other’s well-being and develop emotional intimacy. Love is about deciding every day to make an effort, build your relationship and let it enrich you.
So why does it hurt so bad if it isn’t really love?
It doesn’t matter what it’s called when the feelings are strong, but being aware that it’s infatuation rather than love can make it a little easier to deal with the aftermath of rejection.
When you long for love, if you recognize or imagine potential in someone to be the one you love, they can feel like they’re everything you ever wanted.
If you don’t know someone on an intimate level, the combination of attraction and fantasies about the relationship you could have with them can make you want it badly. Enough that if they fail to accept you, your feelings of expectation, hope and desire can be deeply injured.
Unrequited love is disappointment about making the wrong choice, and not being chosen in return. You thought that this person you were attracted to would be good for you, so you spent a lot of energy thinking about and planning your future.
This can be applied to your connection to anyone in your life, not only to romantic relationships, it only manifests in different ways. The same way you meet someone you think would be good as a partner, you might meet someone you consider a good candidate for a friend.
However, your emotional investment in the relationship isn’t the same, so the consequences of someone you’d like to be friends with not returning the sentiment aren’t the same as unreciprocated romantic feelings. The bottom line is that you’ve invested a lot into your expectations and fantasies coming true.
Why Does Unrequited Love Happen?
Frankly, unrequited love can happen to anyone, and to a lot of people it does. So if you’re so lovable, why doesn’t the other person love you back?
The reason why your love isn’t returned depends on who it is you’ve fallen for, and it says more about the way you choose partners than about who the other person is.
1. If it’s a friend
Friends are precious, and most people would say that they love their close friends. So why doesn’t your friend you’ve fallen in love with love you back?
Falling in love with a friend is very common. In fact, unrequited love most often happens with friends. People fall in love with their friends because warm feelings already exist when they realize that their friend has the potential for a romantic relationship.
Any attraction that you might have been suppressing comes out once you realize that you think something else is possible. Falling for your best friend and having them love you back would be like a fairy tale, and sure, it happens. The problem is when the other person doesn’t feel the same way.
What to do when you’re in love with a friend?
When you’re in this situation, deciding what to do can be very difficult. Depending on how much you care about your friendship, choosing whether or not to tell them can be risky. If they don’t see you the same way, what will happen to your friendship?
Letting your friend know you’re in love with them might cause a lot of embarrassment and awkwardness. Choosing what to do next is another problem – do you keep hanging out, or do you keep your distance? What if you want to stay friends despite everything?
Your best course of action is to openly talk to your friend. I recommend keeping away for a while, at least until you’re not hurting because of the rejection any more. Let them know how you feel and that you need some time, but that you want to keep them in your life.
After the worst has passed, you can continue your friendship, but be very careful of your expectations. Don’t cling to the hope that they will change their mind. This is only setting you up for more heartbreak.
2. If it’s someone you don’t know well
If you’re in love with someone you’ve met recently, in person or on a dating app, your feelings of love might be premature. You’re very likely projecting your fantasies of a perfect partner on this person.
Some people believe in love at first sight, some don’t. Whatever your beliefs, it’s only true love if it’s mutual. So if you’re experiencing feelings for someone you don’t know well enough to be able to appreciate who they really are as a person, it’s more likely that you’re not really in love with them.
In this case, you’re probably seeing in them what you want to see. We all have a picture of an ideal partner we would love to have, and when someone comes along who might have some basic qualities that remind you of that fantasy partner, it’s easy to assign them all other characteristics in our imagination.
The easiest way to get over a person like this is to see them for who they really are. They might be a great person, but not the person you’ve imagined. Once you realize that the person you love doesn’t actually exist inside the object of your affection, dealing with your feelings might be easier.
Falling in love with someone you know is unavailable can be a sign of an unhealthy attachment style. You must figure out why you let your feelings grow knowing that a healthy relationship with the other person is impossible.
If the other person is in a committed relationship they don’t want to leave, if it’s someone in a position of power, someone who has different priorities, someone unreachable – ask yourself why you fell for them if you already knew what the situation was.
Think about whether you fall for unavailable people often and if there’s a reason why it happens. Sometimes people don’t believe they deserve love so they only look for partners who are toxic or unavailable.
If you believe that you might have issues like this, your best choice is to talk to a professional. They can help you identify the reasons why you fall in love with those people and help you solve the issues you’re fighting, so that you start choosing partners who will love you back.
It’s heartbreaking when you love someone and they don’t return your feelings. The effect it can have on your emotional and mental well-being is significant. You spend time wondering why they can’t just love you back and it’s easy to come to a conclusion that you’re the problem.
Before this causes permanent damage, it’s helpful to learn how to deal with unrequited love in a healthy way. Pining from afar or trying to get the other person to change your mind are both damaging. Unless you move forward, you won’t be able to find someone who appreciates you for who you are.