We’ve all felt the romantic pull of unrequited love. We see it in movies and literature all the time, it’s the backbone of great drama.
I never thought I would feel as much pain and anguish as that feeling of unrequited love, knowing that the person I was swooning over could never love me back. That was until I felt the rawest and most confusing emotion known to man (ok, that’s a bit dramatic); so unthinkable I had to accidentally create a word to truly describe it.
The feeling of knowing that the person I loved COULD love we back, but didn’t think I was worth it.
The feeling of under-requited love.
This weird gray area of love is incredibly complicated and can’t be resolved with an honest but quick conversation about “just friends” and “I like you, but I don’t likelike you.” It takes months or years for both partners to realize that the love is under-requited; and by whom and what should be done about it.
- “I love you but not enough to stop sleeping with someone else.”
- “I love you but not enough to change my lifestyle to be closer to you.”
- “I love you, but not enough to help with the dishes.”
- “I love you but I want to be with someone who is younger/prettier/smarter.”
Under requited love is in a few words: I love you BUT…”
In an effort to start figuring out this whole thing for myself, coming out of a painfully under-requited relationship, I thought I’d put my own questions onto paper so you amazing people could help me figure it all out.
Why do we get into under-requited love relationships?
We all want a partner who is slightly better than our last partner. It’s natural, it’s practically natural selection. In an ideal relationship both partners feel like they are getting the better deal and “dating up”. They are with someone who makes them a better person and makes them feel worthy of an incredible partner. But in an under-requited relationship there is often an unhealthy addiction to that adrenaline rush of being with someone who we think is better than we are. It feeds on the insecurity that we aren’t good enough and perhaps at any moment our partner will figure it out and leave.
There is a subtle but enormous difference between that rush of excitement that we get when we’re spending time with a person who makes us feel like our best self; and the rush of anxiety we feel when a person who is smart, handsome and often selfish makes us feel belittled. We get caught up in the day-to-day actions of forcing love and ignore the core emotions. We are grateful for their love and feel the need to give more than we receive to keep them in our grasp.
I see this happen all the time with my clients who date selfish men. They feel small and unworthy but infatuated, and that translates into an unbalanced relationship. These relationships often don’t end for years, because the selfish partner is having all of their needs and wants met. Would you ever leave that? no!
Unfortunately, the anxiety and perpetuated anticipation burrows deep and turns into resentment for the partner who is having none of their needs met. This explodes and often the under-requited partner ends up being the rejected and the rejectee.
What makes us stay?
This is the question that makes me cry. I just did it while I was writing that sentence. I am a strong and courageous woman. So why then, after being strung along, dismissed and sort-of-loved-when-it-was-convenient, did I stay so long? Was I blind to the situation or just a complete idiot?
Neither. I did nothing wrong and there was no timeline for realizing I was dating a jerk. And honestly, he wasn’t a jerk and he did nothing wrong. We were working through the complex intimacies of a relationship and no one moment or action can be pinpointed as a mistake. But I never saw the forest for the trees, I could never see these moments culminating as I compromised my way towards an unhappy relationship.
One of my major faults was allowing my expectations to slowly drop and eventually become completely skewed.
I noticed that little by little my expectations dropped; with every unreturned call, every dodgy relationship talk and missed opportunity for commitment, I let my guard down and argued my way around the obvious. When expectations are low, a little bit of attention goes a lot further.
In any other relationship, having my man drive to visit me and take me out to dinner would be a normal Thursday night with my BF. But when that was a rare occasion and I was the one making plans, compromising my schedule and buying dinner, this was a monumental showing that he really did love me. Of course, this was all a fantasy in my head based on my insanely low expectations. He probably never flinched, and was annoyed at the extra time he had to spend. I read into every small kindness or remark and stretched it to capacity to justify our relationship. “He must love me, he bought me a Christmas gift.”
Is there a cycle?
This is the question that I am scared to ask. I have reconciled my feelings with my ex and have happily moved on. Well, sort of happily. Those things that affected me in the past didn’t just disappear when I started my next relationship. I fight with those emotions every day.
My new man cares about me unabashedly. It feels so great to feel truly loved, respected and appreciated. There is no drama around the words and there was no great moment of declaration or pent up anticipation. It just is a thing that exists in our growing relationship. Doesn’t that sound amazing? And I know it is, BUT…. there was something in those old feelings of excitement, and the fireworks in the tension when my ex should’ve said “I love you” but didn’t. Those moments had an addictive quality that are hard to quit. I find myself being easily bored with a relationship that is simple and uncomplicated and I am worried that I am massively fucked up now and definitively jaded.
My skewed sense of realistic expectations have also left me confused. There were moments after my last relationship ended that I felt so tired of the constant giving and appeasing and compromising that I have sat back and let my new boyfriend give to me and compromise for me and meet me more than halfway. Fortunately, I’ve tried to work my way out of that and can now see that I was being unfair. I work hard to fight those feelings. But, just to make things complicated, there are also times that I wonder if I’ve let my expectations drop so low that I am willing to get into any relationship where those needs were met, even if it is an imperfect match. Time will tell on that. Until then, I am working to not let my bad relationship ruin a good new one.
The part that really frightens me is that before dating me, my ex was in a relationship where he was the under-requited. His ex-girlfriend strung him along in the same ways he led me on. Obviously, I don’t know the deep intimacies of their relationship, but I could see where my uncomplicated love made him bored and even uncomfortable. I could see that the moments of drama in our relationship made him excited in a way that I wondered whether he was addicted to the arguments and theatrics in any relationship and whether he thought of love as something you have to constantly fight for with enormous grand gestures. That actually would explain a lot! He seemed exhausted after a long relationship of giving-giving-giving, so when he was with me and had the chance to take-take-take, he did.
I am so scared that I am going to perpetuate the cycle and hurt someone the way he hurt me.
I also see this cycle in other people. I even see my clients who have been hurt, turn around and hurt other men who are trying to get close to them. But I don’t think we are all jaded, unloveable crazies. I think it’s our responsibility to create a life we are proud of and we are capable as co-creators of our own life to break the cycle and build meaningful relationships.
How to break the cycle
It’s not you or me.
What I’m starting to learn through working with women and men on both sides of under-requited love is that LOVE actually has very little to do with it. It is more often logistics, timing, complications and fear. Be careful before making things too personal. They might not be. The hurt is personal, but the cause is not always as simple as one person not loving the other. Talk to each other and figure out the real reason for your disconnection. Maybe taking some time to explore your personal needs and realign on timing is all your relationship needs to grow and thrive.
It’s ok to walk away from something that’s pretty good
Not every relationship is destined to work out. Before things get bad and before relationships become imbalanced and potential hurtful, you can end things. Honesty and respect should lead the when and how.
My clients (friends, family and people on the bus) will hear me constantly say “feel your feelings”. Nothing is more detrimental to a relationship than the clogging of emotions. When feelings are ignored or pushed aside they fester and grow out of control and come back to make a situation worse. Cry or feel hurt in the moment, even if you want to look strong or unwavering. There is nothing more beneficial or powerful than feeling exactly what you actually feel, even if it means being vulnerable and looking .
You don’t need to be friends
There is a false expectation that a relationship was a success if you end up friends, and a failure if you end up never talking again. That is a fucking lie. Some relationships are deeply sexual and cannot reconnect as “just friends” and they don’t need to. If it happens, or if life circumstances like children, small communities or jobs keep you in the same room or social circle, find a friendship that honors the past and respects each individual.
You are the only one who can meet your needs
Mastin Kipp has a great quote on unrequited love and it works here too. “The only unrequited love that truly exists is towards ourselves.” We cannot control the way other’s feel about us. BUT, we can take control of how we allow ourselves to experience their love. If we truly love ourselves, the love we get from other people only augments our experience. We don’t feel lack of love or a hole where romance once lived. We feel complete as co-creators of our own romantic experience.
Rejection is Protection
Remember that you are a part of a bigger something. We don’t always know what’s best and sometimes there is a greater power at work; call it god or the Universe or intuition. Trust the process and know that sometimes letting go of something creates room for something better to come along. Or it creates the space and time and distance for relationships to rebalance and come together in their own time.
Find peace and joy and love will follow
Meditate, yoga-like-crazy, eat slowly, practice lifestyle habits that slow you down and bring peace and joy back into your life. Force the joy and fake it if you need to. Love finds itself attracted to people who are full of happiness. Create that and love will be a no-brainer.