Unrequited love

Unrequited love or one-sided love is love that is not openly reciprocated or understood as such by the beloved. The beloved may not be aware of the admirer's deep and strong romantic affection, or may consciously reject it. The Merriam Webster Online Dictionary defines unrequited as "not reciprocated or returned in kind".[1]

A wrapped, unopened Valentines Day gift with heart-shaped helium balloons attached sits discarded in a dumpster.

Psychiatrist Eric Berne states in his book Sex in Human Loving that "Some say that one-sided love is better than none, but like half a loaf of bread, it is likely to grow hard and moldy sooner."[2] Others, however, like the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, considered that "indispensable...to the lover is his unrequited love, which he would at no price relinquish for a state of indifference."[3] It can also be contrasted with redamancy or the act of reciprocal love.[4]


Route to unrequited loveEdit

According to Dr. Roy Baumeister, what makes a person desirable, of course, is a complex and highly personal mix of many qualities and traits. But falling for someone who is much more desirable than oneself, whether because of physical beauty or attributes like charm, intelligence, wit or status, Baumeister calls this kind of mismatch "prone to find their love unrequited" and that such relationships are falling upward.[5] According to some psychologists, opposites do attract, but it is not possible to attract those whose moral values are different.[6]

'Platonic friendships provide a fertile soil for unrequited love'.[7] Thus the object of unrequited love is often a friend or acquaintance, someone regularly encountered in the workplace, during the course of work, school or other activities involving large groups of people. This creates an awkward situation in which the admirer has difficulty in expressing their true feelings, a fear that revelation of feelings might invite rejection, cause embarrassment or might end all access to the beloved, as a romantic relationship may be inconsistent with the existing association.

Unrequited love victimsEdit

The inability of the unrequited lover to express or declare their love often leads to negative feelings such as depression, low self-esteem, anxiety and rapid mood swings between depression and euphoria.[citation needed]


'There are two bad sides to unrequited love, but only one is made familiar by our culture'[8] – that of the lover, not the rejector. In fact, research suggests that the object of unrequited affection experiences a variety of negative emotions on a par with those of the suitor, including anxiety, frustration, and guilt.[5] As Freud long since pointed out, 'when a woman sues for love, to reject and refuse is a distressing part for a man to play'.[9]

In popular cultureEdit

Young Werther after his suicide

Unrequited love has been a frequent subject in popular culture. Movies, books and songs often portray the would-be lover's persistence as paying off when the rejector comes to his or her senses. The presence of this script makes it easy to understand why an unrequited lover persists in the face of rejection.[10] In the traditional Welsh folk song Cariad Cywir, the protagonist persists in unrequited love happily despite being continuously ignored. However, there have been other depictions in which the unrequited lover commits suicide, as in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's novella The Sorrows of Young Werther or in the traditional British Isles folk ballad I Once Loved a Lass.

In Margaret Mitchell's 1936 novel Gone with the Wind the main character Scarlett O'Hara feels unrequited love towards Ashley Wilkes.

In Billy Bragg's song The Saturday Boy, the young protagonist looks up the word "unrequited" in the dictionary whilst in the state of unrequited love.

One of the better examples of unrequited love is Frank Ocean's "Bad Religion".

"Johnny Angel", a number one hit song by singer and actress Shelley Fabares, has a relatively notable example of unrequited love. According to the lyrics of this song, a girl falls in love with a boy who doesn't even know that she exists. She even declines countless dates with other boys, just to fully concentrate on the boy she loves. And she has dreams about what the world would be like if the boy loves her. In its sequel, "Johnny Loves Me", also by Fabares, the girl later wins the boy's heart, convincing him to believe that the girl does exist.

The comics strip Peanuts features multiple different characters engaged in unrequited love relationships. Commenting on the abundance of unrequited love in the series, author Charles Schulz said that he did not know why there is so much unrequited love, but it is something everyone can relate to.[11]

Unrequited Love is a pop album by actress singer songwriter Hillary Hawkins with songs such as "Missing You".[12]


Dante looks longingly at Beatrice Portinari (in yellow) as she passes by him with Lady Vanna (in red) in Dante and Beatrice, by Henry Holiday

Unrequited love has long been depicted as noble, an unselfish and stoic willingness to accept suffering. Literary and artistic depictions of unrequited love may depend on assumptions of social distance that have less relevance in western, democratic societies with relatively high social mobility and less rigid codes of sexual fidelity. Nonetheless, the literary record suggests a degree of euphoria in the feelings associated with unrequited love, which has the advantage as well of carrying none of the responsibilities of mutual relationships: certainly, "rejection, apparent or real, may be the catalyst for inspired literary creation... 'the poetry of frustration'."[13]

Eric Berne considered that "the man who is loved by a woman is lucky indeed, but the one to be envied is he who loves, however little he gets in return. How much greater is Dante gazing at Beatrice than Beatrice walking by him in apparent disdain".[14]


Roman poet Ovid in his Remedia Amoris "provides advice on how to overcome inappropriate or unrequited love. The solutions offered include travel, teetotalism, bucolic pursuits, and ironically, avoidance of love poets".[15]

Cultural examplesEdit



  • The medieval Japanese poet Saigyō may have turned from samurai to monk because of unrequited love, one of his waka asking: "What turned me to wanting/to break with the world-bound life?/Maybe the one whose love/turned to loathing and who now joins with me in a different joy".[19] In other poems he wrote: "Alas, I'm foreordained to suffer, loving deep a heartless lass....Would I could know if there be such in far-off China!"[20]
  • In China, passion tends to be associated not with happiness, but with sorrow and unrequited love.[21]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Unrequited - Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary". Merriam-webster.com. Retrieved 2012-05-23.
  2. ^ Berne, Eric (1970). Sex in Human Loving. Penguin. p. 130. ISBN 0-671-20771-7.
  3. ^ This is how R. B. Pippin describes Nietzsche's views in The Persistence of Subjectivity (2005) p. 326.
  4. ^ Ash, John (1775). The New And Complete Dictionary Of The English Language: In Which All The Words are Introduced ... : To Which Is Prefixed, A Comprehensive Grammar; In Two Volumes, Volume 2. Dilly. Retrieved 12 June 2015.
  5. ^ a b Goleman, Daniel (1993-02-09). "Pain of Unrequited Love Afflicts the Rejecter, Too". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-03-31.
  6. ^ "The Real Reason That Opposites Attract". Psychology Today. Retrieved 2015-12-26.
  7. ^ Spitzberg, p. 311
  8. ^ "To love or be loved in vain: The trials and tribulations of unrequited love. In W. R. Cupach & B. H. Spitzberg (Eds.), The dark side of close relationships (pp. 307-326). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Carpenter, L. M. (1998)Spitzberg, p. 308
  9. ^ Janet Malcolm, Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession (London 1988) p. 9
  10. ^ B. H. Spitzberg/W. R. Cupach, The Dark Side of Close Relationships (1998) p. 251
  11. ^ Charles M. Schulz (2009). Celebrating Peanuts: 60 Years. Andrews McMeel Publishing.
  12. ^ https://www.broadwayworld.com/bwwmusic/article/Missing-You-is-2-Nickelodeon-Stars-1-Music-Video-20190903
  13. ^ Mary Ward, The Literature of Love (2009) p. 45-6
  14. ^ Eric Berne, Sex in Human Loving (Penguin 1970) p. 238
  15. ^ A. Grafton et al, The Classical Tradition (2010) p. 664
  16. ^ Y. B. Yeats, The Poems (London 1983) p. 155
  17. ^ Pippin, p. 326
  18. ^ Pippin, p. 326n
  19. ^ W LaFleur, Awesome Nightfall (Boston 2003) p. 14-15
  20. ^ H H Honda trans,The Sanka Shu (Tokyo 1971) p. 236-7
  21. ^ G Maciocia, The Psyche in Chinese Medicine (2009) p. 136

Further readingEdit

  • Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy (New York 1951) THE THIRD PARTITION: LOVE-MELANCHOLY
  • J. Reid Meloy, Violent Attachments (1997)
  • Peabody, Susan 1989, 1994, 2005, "Addiction to Love: Overcoming Obsession and Dependency in Relationships."
  • Mead, Nicole L.; Baumeister, Roy F. (2007), "Unrequited love", in Baumeister, Roy F.; Vohs, Kathleen D. (eds.), Encyclopedia of Social Psychology, SAGE Publications, ISBN 9781412916707

External linksEdit