How To Cope With Unrequited Love

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated April 24, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

When you love someone who doesn’t return your feelings, it’s often referred to as unrequited or empty love. These types of situations may occur due to age differences, sexual orientation, your romantic interest in already having a partner, or them simply not feeling the same way about you. Creating physical distance from the person you’re interested in, distracting yourself with hobbies and time with loved ones, or moving on with someone who is equally interested in you may be ways to cope with unrequited love. If you’re finding it challenging to let go of your feelings, you may benefit from the help of a licensed therapist in online therapy.

Why doesn’t the other person love you back?

The first thing you may wish to determine if you've met someone you have fallen for is whether you can realistically start a relationship with them. While asking for a chance to get to know each other romantically can be a valid option, recognizing a situation in which it’s not likely that a loving relationship will develop can be an equally valuable skill.

Below, you may find some common reasons why your romantic interest might not feel the same way about you.

Finding it challenging to move past unrequited love?

They already have a partner

It could be that the person you love is already married or in a couple. If you know that the other person is happy with their spouse or partner, then it may be best to put any ideas of a romantic relationship with them out of your mind. Moving forward with them would likely negatively impact their current relationship and, if they have children, their family. Even if you believe that their current relationship is lacking in something like passion (which can be seen in cases of those who have transitioned to companionate love) pursuing them would almost always be inappropriate. This type of behavior can be disrespectful, and it could cause long-term harm to all parties involved. If this is the unrequited love quandary that faces you, then it can be both appropriate and wise to withdraw gracefully.

Their sexual orientation means they aren’t attracted to you

Sometimes situations may arise where you have strong romantic feelings for someone, but realize you are not of a gender to which they are attracted romantically. In that instance, you should not try to pressure or persuade them into having feelings for you. A person’s sexuality is not up for debate; attempting to order or coerce them into a relationship when they are not attracted to you could be disrespectful of their identity.

Age difference

On occasion, you might have romantic feelings for someone who is either too young or too old for you. This problem might not be insurmountable, depending on how big the age gap is; if you are both old enough to give consent to have a relationship, then you may still be able to pursue a relationship with them.

However, there are some age differences so great that it is unlikely to work out in the long term, even if they eventually agree to date you. People who are many years apart in age or from different generations often have different values and priorities; their ideas of what to do for fun and their goals for life may not be the same as yours. There can be exceptions, but it’s often better to look for someone closer to your age.

They do not feel the same way

Sometimes, there may not be a particular reason why a person does not return your feelings of love. They may not be able to put this reason into words, or at least not in a way you can fully accept. Just as you may not be able to control your feelings of love for them, they may not be able to force feelings of love for you, even if they want to. In some cases, you may not be on the same page with the person you care for, or you may have an idea of them in your mind that differs from who they are in reality. This can often be true if you and this person are strangers or don’t know each other very well. 

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How to move on from unrequited love

Determining that you may not be able to win over the person you love can feel like a crushing blow. It may be easy to say, "Well, you need to stop loving that person," but directing your heart to do something and doing it can be two different things. We don't always have complete control over our emotions, and in some cases, we may have little control over who we fall in love with.

What can you do to overcome unrequited love for a more fulfilling consummate love? Here are some suggestions.

Physical distance

If you love someone and know that they don't feel the same way about you, then you might choose to distance yourself from them or try to end any contact you have with them in your life, even if only temporarily.

If you are in unrequited love with someone from work, then you might inquire about getting transferred to a different floor or another department, minimize your face-to-face interactions with them, or, if the situation is particularly intense and you happen to feel it is necessary, you might search for another job. If it's someone you know socially, you can politely decline to spend time with them. If they're insistent about knowing why you're acting that way, it may be best to be direct and honest about your emotions and the resulting decision to remove yourself from the situation.

Out of sight might not equal out of mind at first, but it may eventually lessen the number of times you think about the person you love and the intensity of your feelings toward them. If you don't have to see them every day, you might think about them constantly at first or want an update on what they are up to, depending on the level of your infatuation. But the longer you remain apart, the better you may be able to distance yourself emotionally and accept the situation.

Distract yourself

One of the most difficult parts of being in unrequited love can be the intense mental and emotional focus it takes up. A good way to combat those feelings can be to find a strategy to distract yourself and avoid dwelling on them needlessly. This isn’t to say that you should hide or run from your feelings; it’s simply to say that filling your downtime with activities that bring you comfort and joy can make working through unrequited love significantly easier by eliminating opportunities for rumination.

You might consider taking up a new hobby or reinvesting time in an old interest. You could think about beginning a project, taking a class, or practicing a skill. Spending time with friends and family can also be helpful. Whatever you do, try to make sure that it engages your mind and your body so that it can take up your focus and provide your mind with some relief from your feelings of unrequited love.

Find someone else

Once you have had time to let go of your unrequited feelings, it may make sense for you to look for someone else with whom you can have a relationship. It may be refreshing to pursue someone who is equally interested in being with you. It may help to search for a relationship that possesses the three components of love outlined in the triangular theory of love. According to the theory, these components are intimacy, passion, and commitment. 

This might not seem like the perfect solution at first, but much like distancing yourself from the person you love and distracting yourself, it may be effective if you're patient and give it a chance. Making a concerted effort to refrain from thinking about the other person and focusing on this new individual may lead to you finding the requited love you are seeking.

It is generally not helpful to take the viewpoint of "there's only one person in the world I'm capable of loving." The idea of one individual in the world who's suitable for each of us or the “person of our dreams” can be a fallacy; there are billions of people on the planet, many of whom you might be compatible with.

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Finding it challenging to move past unrequited love?

Therapy may help you overcome unrequited love

You might decide that your emotions are complicated enough that you need to talk to someone about the way that you feel. Having an outlet can be critical if you are in a romantic conundrum and can't see a way through it. One option for that outlet could be an online therapy session in the comfort of your own home. This may provide the opportunity to sort through your emotions in comfort. You may vent and talk about your options moving forward with a licensed professional and message them when your feelings are too intense or confusing to sort through alone when you want advice on how to proceed, or when you’d like to report your progress.

Studies have shown that online therapy can be as effective as in-person therapy sessions for many mental health concerns, including those of personal emotional control. Patients were able to find success at the same rate when meeting with their counselors online as they were when meeting in person and were able to effectively implement the techniques and mindsets they learned into their daily lives.

Takeaway

Unrequited love is a term that describes a situation in which you love someone, but they don’t love you back. This lack of romantic feelings may stem from differences in sexual orientation, an age gap, or a current partner. It could also be possible that there isn’t a specific reason why the person you’re interested in doesn’t return your feelings. A few ways to cope with the challenging emotions that often come with unrequited love can include distracting yourself with hobbies, spending time with friends and family, creating physical distance between yourself and the object of your affection, and choosing to change your focus to a new romantic interest. If you’re having a hard time moving past unrequited love, online therapy may be a helpful tool for you.

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