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The Why and How of Unrequited Love


Whether or not we believe in love and its overpowering effects, everyone has experienced the tingling feeling of butterflies in their stomach at least once in their life. As it can be the best feeling in the world, so can it ruin your confidence, self-image, emotional stability, and mental health. Especially if the emotions you are experiencing aren't mirrored by that one person. 


Unrequited love has been the central theme of many poems, songs, films, novels, paintings, and sculptures for an eternity. As Sylvia Plath once said, "when you give someone your heart and he doesn't want it, you cannot take it back. It's gone forever." Although everyone falls in love differently and has their own understanding of what it entails, everyone is bound by that feeling to some extent. Once it is obvious the love will never be reciprocated, you can't urge yourself to stop feeling it. As soon as the emotion is there, it is only time and self-reflection that can cure it. 


Most commonly, unrequited love appears between long-lasting friends. Although it is not rare to have a crush on a celebrity who doesn't even know you exist. The latter could develop into a more profound feeling, though unlikely. Another form of one-sided love is love for an ex. People often fall out of love with each other. However, if your ex breaks up with you over a lack of emotional attraction, there is nothing you can do to switch your own feelings off. One doesn't miraculously fall out of love as soon as the other person changes their mind. Otherwise, there would be fewer heartbreaks in the world.


We fall in love with small features, gestures, insignificant habits, smiles, conversations, or simply unique personalities. Once a person stands out to you, there is little you can do to prevent yourself from falling for them. 


A study by R. Bringle, T. Winnick, and R. Rudel identifies five different types of unrequited love: a crush on someone unattainable; longing for a past lover; an unequal love relationship; a crush on someone next to you; and the pursuit of a love object. They found that unrequited love is four times as common as equal love yet significantly less intense. 


Psychologists R. Baumeister, S. Wotman, and A. Stillwell analysed the perception and the origins of unrequited love through narratives of people involved in such complicated relations. Interestingly, it appears that lovers are often delusional about the reciprocity of their feelings and think they were led to believe this was mutual by the other person. On the other hand, most rejectors confess they have been honest about their emotions from the get-go. 


The coming about of such a love is a mystery. Why would you love somebody who doesn't give you the respect, attention, and affection you long for? This can apparently be explained through the theory of attractiveness. People tend to fall in love with someone who is significantly more attractive than them but will settle down for someone with the same level of beauty as themselves in the end. Those who are considered the most attractive have many more suitors and, therefore, they have a broader choice of partners. They will choose someone equal to themselves, although this will break the hearts of those less attractive who have already developed feelings.    


The pain of truly loving someone who can't reflect your feelings can linger for a while, causing more and more distress every day. People whose love is not mirrored can also experience guilt and shame for putting themselves and the other person in an awkward position. One-sided love can ruin friendships, cause significant fights, dramatic disagreements, and even work-related problems. 


Unfortunately, no philosopher or medic has yet invented a magic remedy to cure one-sided love. Although it has been proven that love is usually reciprocated, and someone you are attracted to will often like you back, it is not uncommon to find yourself among the unlucky. So how do you get out of the situation once you have already confirmed that your chosen one doesn't feel the same way about you? 


First and foremost, it is crucial to stay realistic even under the influence of such intense emotions. Don't read too much into the signs of love that only exist in your head. A slight accidental touch, a smile, a hug, a compliment, or a text are all things you can take as a sign of attraction. However, most likely, your love interest is simply trying to be friendly or is cautious not to hurt your feelings considering your attitude towards them. Tricking yourself into believing that the other person is giving you more attention than in reality they are prolongs your suffering. It only strengthens the unrequited love you are experiencing. Hence, be honest with yourself about your position, and try not to be delusional. 


It is crucial not to hesitate to voice your emotions regarding their behavior. This is, of course, only if you are still in contact with them after realising your love isn't reciprocated. If you feel they are being highly flirtatious with you, giving mixed signals, or confusing you in any other way, have a plain and open conversation with them. Explain how their behavior affects you negatively. In case they refuse to change their attitude towards you to make you feel more comfortable, going no-contact may be the only option. Sometimes it is the only thing that can help you get over that special person, although it may destroy the relationship you had with them prior. 


Be mindful. Do a lot of reflection and journaling. Talk to a trusted friend or even a therapist. Letting your feelings out, feeling them, and treating them with acceptance instead of rejecting them is the most vital thing in your healing journey. However, whatever you do, don't try to force yourself to stop loving them. That will usually just make you feel worse instead. 


The next best thing to do is to focus on yourself. Work out a fitting work or study and personal life balance, go to the gym, start a new hobby, go on holidays, and spend more time with your loved ones. The better you feel about yourself and the more distractions you have from your unreciprocated love, your mental health will improve, and you will get over them quicker. 


Although there are many speculations about whether or not unrequited love is really love in its true form, the feeling in your body, the overthinking, and the agitation is still there. And despite not being able to do much about it, there is still hope that one day you will wake up free from this bond. 

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