Unrequited Affection Definition Essay

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]

PsychiatristEric 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 love[edit]

According to Dr. Roy Baumeister, what makes a man or woman 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]

Unrequited love victims[edit]

The inability of the unrequited lover to express and fulfill emotional needs may lead to feelings such as depression, low self-esteem, anxiety and rapid mood swings between depression and euphoria.


'There are two bad sides to unrequited love, but only one is made familiar by our culture'[7] – 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.[8] 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 culture[edit]

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 Goethe's early novel The Sorrows of Young Werther or in the traditional British Isles folk ballad I Once Loved a Lass.

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.

"Johnny Angel", a number one hit song by singer and actress Shelley Fabares, has a relatively notable example of unrequited love. The lyrics show that 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 if the boy loves her. In its sequel, "Johnny Loves Me", also by Fabares, the girl later wins Johnny's heart, convincing him to believe that the girl does exist.

'Platonic friendships provide a fertile soil for unrequited love'.[11] 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.

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 doesn't know why there is so much unrequited love, but it is something everyone can relate to.[12]


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 analogues[edit]

In the wake of his real-life experiences with Maud Gonne, in a further twist, W. B. Yeats wrote of those who 'had read/All I had rhymed of that monstrous thing/Returned and yet unrequited love'.[16] According to Robert B. Pippin, Proust claimed that 'the only successful (sustainable) love is unrequited love'.[17] According to Pippin, sometimes 'unrequited love...has been invoked as a figure for the condition of modernity itself'.[18] Examples of unrequited love include W. B. Yeats, Stendhal, Dante, Ayn Rand, Hans Christian Andersen, and Goethe.

See also[edit]


  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. 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. ^Goleman, Daniel (1993-02-09). "Pain of Unrequited Love Afflicts the Rejecter, Too". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2015-12-26. 
  6. ^"The Real Reason That Opposites Attract". Psychology Today. Retrieved 2015-12-26. 
  7. ^"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
  8. ^Goleman, Daniel (1993-02-09). "Pain of Unrequited Love Afflicts the Rejecter, Too - NYTimes.com". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-03-31. 
  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. ^Spitzberg, p. 311
  12. ^Charles M. Schulz (2009). Celebrating Peanuts: 60 Years. Andrews McMeel Publishing. 
  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

Further reading[edit]

  • 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."

External links[edit]

There's something terribly tragic about unrequited love. Some have even committed suicide over it. Yet in a sense what could be more romantic? An "untried" love is virtually without limits precisely because, never really having begun, there's been no time for disillusionment to set in. The beloved—frequently distant, uninterested, unavailable, or unapproachable—can remain an object of indefinite idealization.

One of the most curious things I encountered in selecting the quotes below was their remarkable inconsistency. At times I even found them sharply contradictory. No surprise, really. For there are few subjects as peculiarly subjective, or ambiguous, as love in general—and unrequited love in particular. Which explains why the tone of these quotes ranges from bitterness and cynicism to the most heart-rending melancholy and despair. Unquestionably, there are few experiences more painful than realizing that the person for whom you have such adoring sentiments doesn't, can't, or won't return your so-committed, so-impassioned feelings.

As a lover it's difficult not to project your boundless feelings of fondness onto the beloved. But when it becomes blatant that these feelings aren't recognized—and if so, certainly aren't reciprocated—the ensuing disappointment and hurt can be immeasurable. The famous line, "She [or he] doesn't even know I exist," is so familiar because the experience itself is so common. Which one of us hasn't at some time experienced the pangs of a love that's not reciprocated?

It's no wonder that so many poets have written about unrequited love. For when their emotions have become so overwhelming, so agitating, anxiety-laden, or consuming, how could they not be driven to search for just the right words, images, and metaphors to express—or better, release—such intense feelings? And, almost like a bloodletting, such a discharge is likely to offer them at least some immediate relief. So throughout history, writers have painstakingly sought to transform their raw, overpowering feelings into a language as poignant, as "touching" and "moving," as this excruciatingly frustrating experience must have been for them. And their deeply personal need to give voice to such anguish was probably as urgent as the anguish itself.

Employing a somewhat expansive definition of unrequited love, I've included quotes on such intimately related experiences as broken hearts, lost love, hopeless or forbidden love, obsessive love, scorned love, and (yes) puppy love as well.

Unrequited love is also the stuff that popular songs are made of. But having examined the lyrics of many dozens of songs centering on this woeful theme, I had to conclude that they really didn't transcend the merely sentimental or melodramatic. The emotions rendered by the words seemed true enough, but the verses could hardly be seen as poetic. While they may have (though simplistically) mirrored age-old truths, they reflected them mostly through cliches and platitudes. So in the end I chose to exclude modern-day songwriters and stay with what, in both prose and poetry, seemed most memorable on this most eternal—and universal—of subjects.

Anyhow, here are the best quotations I could find. I think you'll find them not only suggestive, but evocative as well.

Nothing takes the taste out of peanut butter quite like unrequited love. ~ Charles Schultz [actually, Charlie Brown, in "Peanuts"]

To burn with desire and keep quiet about it is the greatest punishment we can bring on ourselves. ~ Federico García Lorca, Blood Wedding

If only the strength of the love that people feel when it is reciprocated could be as intense and obsessive as the love we feel when it is not, then marriages would be truly made in heaven. ~ Ben Elton, Stark

Unrequited love does not die; it's only beaten down to a secret place where it hides, curled and wounded. For some unfortunates, it turns bitter and mean, and those who come after pay the price for the hurt done by the one who came before. ~ Elle Newmark, The Book of Unholy Mischi

Every broken heart has screamed at one time or another: "Why can't you see who I truly am?" ~ Shannon L. Alder

I had to get over [him]. For months now, a stone had been sitting on my heart. I'd shed a lot of tears over [him], lost a lot of sleep, eaten a lot of cake batter. [!] Somehow, I had to move on. [Life] would be hell if I didn't shake loose from the grip he had on my heart. I most definitely didn't want to keep feeling this way, alone in a love affair meant for two. Even if he'd felt like The One. Even if I'd always thought we'd end up together. Even if he still had a choke chain on my heart. ~ Kristan Higgins, All I Ever Wanted

When unrequited love is the most expensive thing on the menu, sometimes you settle for the daily special. ~ Miranda Kenneally, Catching Jordan

Unrequited love is a ridiculous state, and it makes those in it behave ridiculously. ~ Cassandra Clare

He could remember all about it now: the pitiful figure he must have cut; the absurd way in which he had gone and done the very thing he had so often agreed with himself in thinking would be the most foolish thing in the world; and had met with exactly the consequences which, in these wise moods, he had always foretold were certain to follow, if he ever did make such a fool of himself. ~ Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South

One is never too old to yearn. ~ Italian Proverb

Unrequited love is the infinite curse of a lonely heart. ~ Christina Westover

I realized that one might love him secretly with no hope of encouragement, which can be very enjoyable for the young or inexperienced. ~ Barbara Pym, Excellent Women

But that afternoon he asked himself, with his infinite capacity for illusion, if such pitiless indifference might not be a subterfuge for hiding the torments of love. ~ Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

Let no one who loves be called unhappy. Even love unreturned has its rainbow. ~ James Matthew Barrie

It's delicious to have people adore you, but it's exhausting, too. Particularly when your own feelings don't match theirs. ~ Tasha Alexander, A Fatal Waltz

Love is never lost. If not reciprocated, it will flow back and soften and purify the heart.
Washington Irving

A mighty pain to love it is,
And 'tis a pain that pain to miss;
But of all pains, the greatest pain
It is to love, but love in vain. ~ Abraham Cowley

The saddest thing in the world is loving someone who used to love you. ~ Anonymous

I never knew until that moment how bad it could hurt to lose something you never really had. ~ from the TV series The Wonder Years

Self-love seems so often unrequited. [!] ~ Anthony Powell

Love, unrequited, robs me of my rest:
Love, hopeless love, my ardent soul encumbers:
Love, nightmare-like, lies heavy on my chest,
And weaves itself into my midnight slumbers! ~ William S. Gilbert

I hold it true, whate'er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all. ~ Alfred Lord Tennyson

It is better to have loved and lost than never to have lost at all. [That's right: "lost," not "loved"] ~ Samuel Butler

Loving can cost a lot but not loving always costs more, and those who fear to love often find that want of love is an emptiness that robs the joy from life. ~ Merle Shan

You never lose by loving. You always lose by holding back. ~ Anonymous

Most of you have been where I am tonight. The crash site of unrequited love. You ask yourself, How did I get here? What was it about? Was it her smile? Was it the way she crossed her legs, the turn of her ankle, the poignant vulnerability of her slender wrists? What are these elusive and ephemeral things that ignite passion in the human heart? That's an age-old question. It's perfect food for thought on a bright midsummer's night. ~ Sybil Adelman

In the arithmetic of love, one plus one equals everything, and two minus one equals nothing. ~Mignon McLaughlin, The Second Neurotic's Notebook, 1966

I have so much in me, and the feeling for her absorbs it all; I have so much, and without her it all comes to nothing. ~ Goethe, Sorrows of Young Werther

I hate the day, because it lendeth light
To see all things, but not my love to see. ~ Edmund Spenser

If we must part forever,
Give me but one kind word to think upon,
And please myself with, while my heart's breaking. ~ Thomas Otway

Yet leave me not; yet, if thou wilt, be free;
Love me no more, but love my love of thee. ~ Algernon Charles Swinburne

Only three things are infinite: the sky in its stars, the sea in its drops of water, and the heart in its tears. ~ Gustave Flaubert (to Louise Colet)

We are never so defenseless against suffering as when we love, never so helplessly unhappy as when we have lost our loved object or its love. ~ Sigmund Freud

As soon as forever is through, I'll be over you. ~ Toto [at least the first time you've gone through it, the pain and regret feel everlasting, even identity-changing]

Ask me why I keep on loving you when it's clear that you don't feel the same way for me. The problem is that as much as I can't force you to love me, I can't force myself to stop loving you. ~ Anonymous

When you give someone your whole heart and he doesn't want it, you cannot take it back. It's gone forever. ~ Sylvia Plath

Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it. ~ J. K. Rowling

I prithee send me back my heart,
Since I cannot have thine;
For if from yours you will not part,
Why, then, shouldst thou have mine? ~ John Suckling

There's nothing quite so humbling as thinking you're completely over someone, then realizing you're not even close. ~ Brian Strause, Maybe a Miracle

Only time can heal your broken heart, just as only time can heal his broken arms and legs. [!] ~ Miss Piggy [who else?!], from Miss Piggy's Guide to Life

The worst thing: to give yourself away in exchange for not enough love. ~ Joyce Carol Oates, "Death Mother"

Why hide your feelings to the one you love? Why love the one who loves another? Why give everything if only pain comes in return? Why wait if there's nothing to wait for? I guess the answer is love. ~ Anonymous

I know I am but summer to your heart,
And not the full four seasons of the year. ~ Edna St. Vincent Millay

You can close your eyes to the things you do not want to see, but you cannot close your heart to the things you do not want to feel. ~ Anonymous

It was all love on my side, and all good comradeship and friendship on hers. When we parted she was a free woman, but I could never again be a free man. ~ Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, "The Adventure of the Abbey Grange"

. . . a final comfort that is small, but not cold: The heart is the only broken instrument that works. ~ T. E. Kalem

NOTE 1: Two closely complementary (but non-quoting) posts to this one are my "The Blissful Torture of Unrequited Love"  and "3 Ways to Be Happy in Unrequited Love."

This post also complements an extremely popular one I completed a year ago entitled: "Love Quotes: The Wisest, Wittiest . . . and Most Cynical." And It's probably not a coincidence that this compilation doesn't repeat a single quotation selected earlier. Though certainly unrequited love can be subsumed under the general heading of romantic love, its particularly grievous experience is yet unto itself.

NOTE 2: For any reader who would appreciate a respite from—or "antidote" for—this rather pessimistic post, I'd suggest a third "quoting post" of mine that's, well, much more upbeat. Also very frequently "clicked" upon, it's called, "Wittiest Sex Quotes Ever."

NOTE 3: If (sadly) you could relate all too well to some of the sentiments expressed in this post, please consider sending it to others who might also resonate to it. And, finally,

NOTE 4: Finally, to explore other posts I've written for Psychology Today—on a broad  range of psychological topics—here's the link.

© 2012 Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.

---To be notified whenever I post something new, I invite readers to join me on Facebook, as well as on Twitter—where, additionally, you can follow my frequently unorthodox psychological and philosophical musings.

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