Five Common Causes Of Unrequited Love and How To Prevent Them
This is the article #13 to be published on the Get The Guy blog from my brother Stephen. Steve helped co-write the Get The Guy book and is a wealth of knowledge on dating and relationships.
Today’s piece hones in a masochistic tendency a lot of people have in relationships, and lays out a roadmap for those who want an alternate route.
There’s a ridiculously simple principle Matt talks about in his seminars. So simple it seems kind of silly. Naïve even. But it’s actually great.
It goes like this: “Make it a rule only to like guys who like you back. If you can do that, you’ll never go wrong.”
A noticeable balk always ripples through the crowd when they hear this. And I get it. It sounds ridiculous.
After all, attraction isn’t a simple choice right?
We are taught that attraction is a biological reaction in our brain that we can’t control. Attraction is triggered instinctively when someone just inflames our desire and we can’t resist them; it’s like that moment you inhale the popcorn scent in the movie theatre and your brain tells you there’s no way you are getting through the next two hours without a bucket of that sweet buttery goodness in your lap.
Many of us feel we have no control over who we become attracted to, which can often lead to that great generator of humanity’s worst misery and best poetry: Unrequited love.
Unrequited love is when we fall hard in love with someone who don’t love us back. It’s the painful kind of obsession that keeps you awake at night, and sees you spending hours at your laptop obsessively scouring your crush’s Facebook profile praying that they don’t change their status to “in a relationship”, or that makes your stomach convulse at the thought of catching them kissing another person.
But can unrequited love be avoided? Is it really completely out of our control?
It’s perfectly natural to want people who don’t like us back. But some of us choose to actively pursue the situation even when we have received signals that there is no future hope for a relationship. We ignore the signs. Shrug off rejections. Or we see our crush pursuing other people but think “he just needs time to truly notice me, then he’ll fall in love with me”.
Why do we get into this unhealthy fixation and keep pursuing someone who clearly doesn’t want us back?
There are many reasons, all of which can be traced to a lack of confidence, lack of standards, or lack of other important qualities that prevent us from moving on from unhealthy situations.
Unrequited love, like any love, is a complex topic. But here are a few common factors that lead us to pursue a lost cause:
1. You project traits onto a guy that he doesn’t have
This easily happens when we feel in ‘scarcity mode’. We meet someone who ticks a few boxes (i.e. nice, attractive, smart), and over time we fill in the blanks and build a fantasy image of them in which they represent our version of total perfection.
But until you have actually dated a guy and seen how he is romantically, you don’t even truly know him yet.
That vision of perfection you have in your head is completely false. You’ve stopped seeing him as a normal (i.e. flawed) person and begun seeing him as an ideal. This leads you to feel crazy about him and completely overlook the potential negatives he might have.
2. You focus too much on impressing him, instead of whether he meets your needs
Just because a guy seems to have many great qualities: i.e. he’s attractive, funny, kind to his parents, successful and ambitious – does not mean that he is necessarily a great guy for you.
I know many great guys who are still bad boyfriends. It’s important not to put people on a pedestal just because they tick a lot of boxes. He still has a lot more to prove before you could feel love for him.
The classic victim of unrequited love is the person who spends all of their time dreaming up ways to win over the object of their affection, or scheming about how they can find excuses to be alone with him and try to adapt themselves to his likes and dislikes in order to become perfect for him.
In all of this effort though they forget to think about their own needs. They are simply investing and investing. They think if they just push hard enough, they will logically convince the guy to fall for her.
The way to combat this, crazy as it sounds, is the principle we talked about at the start: Like people who actually like you back. Or more specifically: Invest emotionally in people who emotionally invest in you.
This is easier said than done.
It’s hard to get into this mindset initially. But once you do, it’s one of the most powerful mental spaces you can be in. In order to do it you need to have:
(a) A clear picture of all the things you need for your perfect relationship (i.e. real affection, someone who loves you for who you are, someone who reciprocates your devotion and wants to be with you naturally).
(b) A strong sense of what you deserve. Your mindset is this:
I need to be with someone who is crazy about me, who can see what an incredible ‘catch’ I am and who puts in the effort to appreciate and invest in being with me – who shows affection and who recognizes on their own how happy they can be with me in their life.
That should always be our standard for falling in love, instead of just: I really, really, really like this person, even if they barely notice my existence, even if they date other girls while I sit on the sidelines, even if they overlook me and show no romantic interest.
This second mindset is a recipe for massive pain, and indicates low self-esteem, since it shows that we have no standards for what we need from the other person.
If you don’t feel like a catch right now, that’s another issue. It may be a wake-up call that you need to work on other areas of your life in order to feel truly worthy of someone amazing.
3. You are substituting “falling in love” for something missing in your own life
People who frequently fall into unrequited love often hope that their crush will ‘fix’ certain areas lacking in their own life. This is also known as the “wanting to be saved” syndrome – it happens when we latch onto people because they show us attention and perhaps because they embody certain qualities we want in ourselves.
This turns the guy into a symbol. You think: If I have him, I’ll be saved from the dull existence I’m living in now. E.g. you see a guy who has his life together, and envision stability, or you see a guy who has a fun lifestyle and hope that he’ll be able to bring excitement into your dull existence.
When you do this, you are making him responsible for your happiness in life, instead of focusing on bringing your own value to the table.
4. You aren’t confident enough to show romantic interest, so you always fall for people who see you as just a friend
This form of unrequited love comes from those who usually get stuck in the ‘friend zone’ – which is usually symptomatic of a person who lacks confidence at showing romantic desire early on.
This person keeps their desires concealed out of fear of rejection, and then tries to be friends with someone and do what I call the “killing him with closeness” approach, hoping that more and more time spent together will magically transform into love.
To fix this, we need to become more comfortable with expressing our romantic and sexual desires early on and flirting in a non-needy way. (There’s more of this in the Get The Guy book for those who have a copy – check out the chapter “Stuck In The Friend Trap”).
5. You are unable to take rejection
Finally, some people pine over romantic interests because they can’t take no for an answer. This is usually a result of low self-esteem, and indicates an inability to deal maturely with the fact that someone doesn’t return our affection.
We become dedicated to changing our crush’s mind, making them a project to win over, instead of moving on in a healthy way and finding someone who does like us for who we are.
The only solution to this final one is to create a bigger purpose in our lives than being liked, and to know when to cut our losses and find someone else. Remember: Added time and effort will never change someone’s mind romantically once it has been made up.
This is a complex subject, and the issues linked to unrequited love run wide and deep into many different areas of the human psyche. The important thing to takeaway is this: Although attraction isn’t always a choice, pursuing a lost cause is definitely a choice, and we can always choose to move on and begin the process of healing and getting our sanity back.
There is often a crucial moment when we can choose whether to emotionally over-invest in a losing situation, or to move forward, take the short-term pain, and find someone who actually reciprocates our feelings.
If in doubt, turn to Alice Hoffman’s sobering words:
“Unrequited love is so boring. Weeping under a blue-black sky is for suckers or maniacs.”
I think Hoffman’s quote is too narrow. All forms of love lead us to act like suckers and maniacs at some point.
But at the very least, when we find healthy, reciprocal love with someone who shares our feelings, we get to enjoy the madness who feels the same.
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Photo credit: Sarah Horrigan