If you’ve ever developed strong, romantic feelings toward somebody who doesn’t see you the same way, you’ve experienced unrequited love.
There are many versions of unrequited love. Maybe you have a crush on someone who’s unavailable. Perhaps you can’t stop feeling for somebody who already rejected you, or you’re struggling to move past an ex. Maybe, like Levitt, you’re stuck in a one-sided relationship.
No matter the situation, unrequited love sucks. And while we won’t pretend to have a cure, we talked to a psychologist about steps you can take toward letting go and moving on.
Signs it’s unrequited
- You’re always the initiator. (They’re never the one to reach out to you.)
- They often ignore you and/or aren’t attentive to your needs.
- They don’t fulfill your emotional needs, nor do they seem interested or willing to.
- They’re hot and cold; they give you mixed signals.
- You feel anxious whenever you think of them, no matter if you’re together or apart.
Getting over someone you have feelings for isn’t the easiest task in the world. And the process will be different for everyone. The steps below are by no means a recipe, but they may be able to kickstart the healing process.
1. Accept the pain
On the whole, the healing process is about acceptance, says Dr. Joti Samra, a registered psychologist and CEO and founder of MyWorkPlaceHealth. “And acceptance doesn’t mean that we say everything’s rainbows and lollipops. Acceptance is about validating the pieces that were hard and invalidating those which aren’t true.”
The good news is the intensity of your current feelings won’t last forever. While you’ll probably always remember this time in your life, the emotions around it will dull and, eventually, heal.
2. Know you’re not alone
Love and heartache are extremely personal experiences. But they’re also universal. Knowing that this is an experience most people will have in their life can help ease feelings of shame or embarrassment.
3. Reframe it as a learning experience
While you’re being introspective, examine why you’ve allowed yourself to stay in the relationship, Samra says. Use it as a learning moment: Why are you allowing them to engage you even though it hurts?
4. Fulfill your needs in other ways
Once you make peace with the fact that this person cannot give you what you need, ask yourself why, exactly, you felt so strongly towards them in the first place. Do you crave emotional intimacy? Does being around them boost your self-confidence?
“Get really clear and crisp on what our needs and wants are,” says Samra. “If we look at that drive for social connection, we can fill it in other ways.”
For example, if your whole social life revolves around this one person, consider reaching out to friends and family, instead. By broadening your social connections, you won’t put so much weight into the one-sided relationship, says Samra.
5. Set boundaries (for yourself)
When we long for someone, we’re often driven to do things that don’t actually serve us. We scroll through their Instagram even though it hurts. We fixate on things they said to us in the past. We feed our obsession, when we actually need to be starving it.
To stop focusing on them and regain control, you might have to be strict with yourself. “Likely this is going to mean ending all communication with the other person,” Samra said. This could mean unfollowing their socials and deleting their contact.
If you feel the urge to contact them, try reaching out to a friend instead.
6. Meet and date new people
There are people out there who will love you. You just need to commit yourself to finding them, said Samra.
No, you’re not imaging that pain. It’s a real part of heartache. A 2010 study found that when subjects talked about people who rejected them, their brains registered activity in regions associated with physical pain.
And according to Samra, it makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. “Belonging to a group, belonging to a community, belonging to a family is really critical for our survival,” she told Greatist.
The emotions that come along with romantic love help ensure babies not only get made, but are properly cared for. Parents who are in love are more likely to cooperate in raising a child, said Samra, and this increased survival rate means that loving behavior is reinforced and passed on.
Based on this info, it totally makes sense why rejection hurts so much — millions of years of evolution are telling your brain to chase someone who doesn’t want you back.
It’s unfortunate that pop culture is drenched with stories of plucky protagonists winning their loves via what can only be described as constant harassment. Because if someone clearly isn’t interested, pushing the issue is disrespectful at best, and can even become dangerous.
This is a list of behaviors you should definitely avoid:
Involving the other person in your healing
Despite how painful it may feel, it’s not their burden to bear. “The reality is, when we don’t get what we need, just asking for it often doesn’t solve the issue,” she said. Under most circumstances, we won’t be able to change the other person’s mind.
Not only that, but a study found that persistence could have the exact opposite effect. Many rejectors said they found their suitors’ continual pursuit “intrusive and annoying.”
Blaming them for the way you’re feeling
Put yourself in their shoes. How would it feel if someone you didn’t like made you feel faulted for not liking them back?
Plus, putting blame on the other person isn’t going to help you move on, which is where all your efforts need to be focused right now.
Hoping a romantic relationship might form down the road
This includes maintaining a friendship in hopes of it turning into something more. Once again, this is just going to prolong your pain. And it’s also not fair to the other person. They should be able to trust your intentions.
Allowing this rejection to define you or affect your self-esteem
Getting rejected can feel like a punch in the gut. But don’t make the situation more painful by reading too much into it. It doesn’t mean you won’t find love in the future and it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. It’s simply the way things go sometimes.
According to Samra, if you’re going weeks or longer while feeling low or anxious, or if it’s so bad that you’re having difficulties in your work or personal life, it may be time to see a professional.
“One of the greatest benefits of seeing a professional is we get objectivity,” said Samra. “[Therapy] can guide us toward asking and reflecting on the right questions. It can give us an objective, an image of what we might want.”
It’s also possible you’re suffering from underlying issues like depression or anxiety. A trained professional can recognize these issues and help you overcome them. You might even come out better than ever before.