At some point or another, we’ve all experienced unrequited romantic feelings for someone else. It could be as simple as a crush or as crushing as love that goes on for months or years. While it’s bold and healthy to put yourself out there, it’s also easy to become a doormat – going out of your way to please someone that doesn’t reciprocate your feelings.
So when is enough enough?
It may sound romantic: To love someone with all of your heart and soul, whether or not they love you back. But the reality is very different. The pain of loving someone who doesn’t feel the same way about you can be almost unbearable. It certainly doesn’t feel romantic. It just feels devastating.
How do you deal with it?
To avoid this, you need to be objective. Hope is a beautiful thing but it can lead us astray if we rely too much on it. Deep down, we usually know when someone returns our feelings. But when they don’t, we still take small positive signs and let ourselves run with it because we hope they like us. We see what we want to see because it makes us feel good and ignore all the flashing signs that they’re actually not interested.
Remember that mixed signals don’t always indicate mixed emotions. People are contradictory beings. Sometimes we are inconsistent and we say and do things that don’t coincide. Put yourself in the shoes of the object of your affection. When someone gives you affection and attention, you usually don’t dismiss them outright. You’ve probably led people on, either accidentally or on purpose. So don’t mistake your crush’s kindness, gratitude or even flirtation for interest.
“Unrequited love, aside from it being unreciprocated, often it’s the kind of love that creeps up on you without any warning…!”
Look for the signs. As painful as it might be, look for evidence that may indicate they’re just not that into you. Chances are, if you’re wondering, you can probably find some. Are you always the one initiating contact? Do they talk about being interested in other people? If these kinds of things are apparent, even if you’re getting mixed signals, your feelings are probably one sided. You may be getting hints of possible interest but if they never go out of their way to spend time with you, it’s probably meaningless fun to them. Because when you like someone, you put in effort.
Do the smart thing and not what feels good. Once you’ve gone back and analyzed your interactions like Joseph Gordon-Levitt in “500 Days of Summer” and seen them for what they really were, you’re faced with a decision. You probably enjoy spending time with this person and you probably get joy out of making them smile and doing things together. But you have to face the fact that nothing will ever come of it, because they just don’t like you that way. Even if they’re too nice to say it.
So distance yourself even if it hurts, even if you feel like texting or seeing them, until your feelings fade or you find someone to focus your attention on that feels the same way. Otherwise, you’ll just continue investing time, effort and emotion for someone that in the long run doesn’t really matter.
Recent research has shown that we feel an emotional wound in the same way (and sometimes in the same part of our brain) as we feel physical injury. Phrases like “broken heart,” “wounded spirit,” or “hurt feelings” are not simply metaphors. According to a group of researchers headed by Ethan Kross at the University of Michigan, evidence shows that emotional pain activates the same part of your brain as physical pain.
So to start with, acknowledge that you’ve been injured and you need to take care of yourself. You need to be gentle and kind and nurture yourself just the way you would if you had a physical illness. This doesn’t mean you should go to bed and waste away. It actually won’t help. But whether you’re at work or school, go easy on yourself. Don’t expect yourself to turn in a peak performance. But by plugging away, putting one foot in front of the other, all the time acknowledging that you’re feeling hurt and sad, you’ll gradually get your life moving forward.
Be reasonable and don’t let yourself get caught up in something that is only promising in your head. You’ll only be selling yourself short if you do.
In the song “Chasing Pavements,” Adele captures the never-ending loop of the search for proof:
“I build myself up and fly around in circles; Wait then as my heart drops and my back begins to tingle; Finally could this be it? Should I give up or should I just keep chasing pavements, Even if it leads nowhere?”
The answer? It may sound harsh, but there are actually two solutions: In one, you learn to accept that, for whatever reason, and for however long, this circle is the pattern you’re going to live with. If you come to that conclusion, then try to find some ways to be comfortable with it, to let go of your self-criticism for being in this place and with your fantasy that closure of some sort is just around the corner. Or … Let go and move on, without the closure that you think you want.
They say love conquers all, so what’s the point in trying to win half a battle, when you can win the war?