Unrequited love, a one-sided affair

Unrequited love, a one-sided affair

Unrequited love, also referred to as one-sided love, describes the painful problem of loving someone who doesn’t love you back. Unrequited love is not being loved back.

Often unrequited love develops out of ordinary everyday life.  The basis of the relationship might be in a shared experience of working together and spending time together. Friendship, Platonic, not eroticised relationships, can create a situation in which one person starts to idealise the other. 

How does a state of unrequited love develop?

What starts off as an ordinary relationship starts to change as one person begins to invest more in the relationship than the other person does.  The person may be unaware of the feelings that the other person has for them.

A man told me of the deep feelings he had developed for a colleague in his department.  “we became friends, and then that changed and I started to fall for her.  She was married and showed no signs of wanting to leave her partner.  But there was just nothing I could do to stop my feelings.  It was so painful.  As painful as a physical pain.”

Anonymous client

In classical literature unrequited love falls upon us unbidden as though it has fallen from the skies.  Once Cupid has shot his arrow whoever it hits has no way out of the powerful loving feelings that develop.

Tennyson wrote ‘it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.’  But he was a Victorian, and in Victorian times keeping your feelings to yourself was seen as a virtue, maybe he was wrong.

Is unrequited love better than no love at all? Or, is it a painful way of suffering, a waste of your time, energy, and love?

The state of unrequited love is a state of ongoing suffering 

  • Is it better to have these heightened painful feelings than not to feel them? 
  • If we gave them up would our lives become more mundane and ordinary? 
  • Is it better to suffer unrequited love than to live without meaningful emotional experience?

If you want to break free from the state of unrequited love; get to know the other person better.

One reason that we can develop such powerful feelings about another person is that we just don’t really know enough about what they are really like.  We idealise the loved person and we project all kinds of idealisations onto them. 

But, if we got to know them, then all of this would probably change.  We would see the person for who they really are, irritating habits imperfections, and all.  This would likely mean that our feelings about them would change.

It is common that unrequited love is an experience we go through as teenagers.  We love someone who ignores or rejects us. With luck, in time we find partners who want us too and we leave this state behind. For other less fortunate people it can endure beyond the teenage period. 

Unrequited love, and Attachment Theory

It may be that people who grew up in homes without a secure sense of attachment are more prone to these kinds of unrequited loving feelings.  Someone who has grown up with an insecure attachment may be more likely to be looking for figures who will love them back, people that they can project their fantasies of loving relationships onto. 

The repetition of unrequited Love

Attachment theory suggests that we look to the person that we can develop powerful feelings about because we have grown up searching for a person who will love us back. 

Someone who has an insecure attachment style may continuously search out figures to love who are unavailable and unwilling to love them back.  This leads to repetitions of failed love relations. 

So the way out of this might begin with finding out more about yourself. Becoming clearer about your attachment style and preferences.  You need to find a way to break the pattern that may have started long ago of picking unattainable partners. Sometimes just starting to give yourself more time to notice the way you get attached, the way you react to people can be helpful.

Unrequited love – can we learn to care for ourselves better?

Just because the person you have set your heart on does not love you back, it does not mean that you are unlovable.  Try to stop yourself from projecting all of your good feelings onto the other person.  Try to keep some love for yourself. This is easier said than done. 

If we have grown up without feeling loved and cared for by others it leaves a scar on our sense of ourselves, our self-esteem.  We lack a sense of self care that other people seem to have.  I think we have to find a way to recognise ourselves more clearly.  To assess the things we lack as realistically as we can, and then try to find ways of providing those things for ourselves.  The more we can learn to look after ourselves the more we create opportunities for growth and helpful development.

Carl Jung, the self and unrequited Love

In Jung’s psychology the self is the part of us that has the potential to develop and shape our personalities.  But in order for this to happen the self needs to be nurtured.  If you grew up in a home that lacked that nurture there will have been consequences for you and how you have developed.  One self-destructive consequence being that we may be more likely to keep chasing the shadows of unobtainable people. 

We need to find ways of looking after ourselves, to limit the way we can be caught up in concentrating on other people.  Being in a state of unrequited love can use up a lot of our energy and time.

Stepping back from the state of unrequited love

If you recognise that you have become caught up in an unrequited love, then perhaps you can give yourself the chance to try to step back from it and to think more carefully about what has happened. 

It may be possible within the confidentiality of a psychotherapy relationship to talk and work out more about the patterns of the relationships you are drawn to.

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Having the chance to speak in a confidential setting is often the key to developing a clearer understanding of how we may have become caught up in destructive narcissistic patterns of relating.

By giving yourself a safe space to look at these things you may start to discover a greater sense of possibilities, and this may be the beginning of developing a greater sense of understanding how to relate to yourself and others, how to start living more fully again, and how to start to have healthy relationships with yourself and other people.

The chance to reflect on ourselves, our feelings and experience can be powerful and transformative. Out of this, you may be able to develop a clearer understanding of how you and your sense of your problems have developed, and what you can change.

I have been working with people on issues such like this for more than twenty years.  My work is built around helping you to develop greater insight into who you are, and how you live. 

Contact me to arrange a free telephone consultation to discuss how my approach might help you.

Email: toby@tobyingham.com