“I’m not in love with you.”
These words pierce the skin and puncture the heart.
The pain is visceral, overwhelming, malignant. Whilst there are no outer signs of trauma, you are bleeding internally as you gasp for air and your mind fogs over. You are free-falling—darkness takes hold and part of you feels as if it has died. In an instant, everything has changed.
That is the power of unrequited love.
The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return…right? Pretty sure that’s how the song is meant to go. So what happens when you loved, and it was in no way, shape, or form returned?
What happens when that love is wrapped in a gift box and posted right back through your door? Return to sender. No thank you ma’am. Wrong address!
Where do we put that emotion once the door has been slammed in our face? Does it just disappear? Or does it eat away at our soul until we are nothing more than a cardboard cutout of what we were before?
What the f*ck are we meant to do with unrequited love, and most importantly, how did we get here?
The villains at the center of our problems are our old friends (hah, right) dopamine and oxytocin—the love drugs! And much like a drug, they hook us in and keep us reaching for our next fix. Dopamine is the chase; dopamine is like crack for the brain. It gives us the high, attaches it to a person, and then manifests a desperate need inside us to want more.
Studies have found evidence of the way cocaine addicts’ brains react to dopamine that drive them to chase their next “high.” This type of reaction can have the same effect on people in other situations as well—like love.
When we are in love, our brains release dopamine, and we are hooked. We are addicted; we are all in. Once the chemicals have taken hold, if our fix is no longer available, we are faced with the inevitable withdrawal. And that is not pretty.
When we create strong bonds with someone, we also produce oxytocin (also known as the “tend and befriend” hormone). This is the “don” of hormones as it’s the key ingredient for forming bonds.
Then when we bond with someone (thanks to that pesky oxytocin), we start to experience a sense of contentment, calm, and safety in their presence.
Then the lethal love cocktail starts being mixed because this then drives our brains to produce even more dopamine.
If your love is returned, you drink the cocktail and have the party of your life; if it is not, your margarita becomes a poisoned chalice of your own making.
The deadly cocktail combo: with unrequited love, it is possible your brain produced oxytocin as well as dopamine once you realized you were attracted to the person, which is why the pain is so much worse than if you had merely been attracted to them and it wasn’t reciprocated—thus creating the worst hangover of your life.
Many people say that unrequited love is not real love—it’s one-sided infatuation. I call bullsh*t on that.
Love is about caring for another person deeply, even over yourself. Whilst love and infatuation may be hard to pull apart—especially in the sun-stained early days of the honeymoon period—unrequited love can be more than infatuation. You can still love someone even if it is not returned.
When your love is rejected, two things happen: you feel intense pain and you go into mourning as if being widowed. This pain is often also felt in a physical form alongside emotional. That is the power of this emotional cocktail—it will attack you across all senses.
You are on fire in a black veil and there is f*ck all you can do about it.
This pain is so real that your brain starts releasing endorphins in response—your body’s own source of painkiller being sent to deal with the hangover also caused by your body’s chemical cocktail. (Anyone else smell some bittersweet irony here?)
I would love to dive into a “Five Top Tips” for speeding up our recovery after the pain of unrequited love, but honestly, I don’t have any top tips. I want, dear reader, to offer practical advice instead.
>> Drink water.
>> Reach out when it all gets too much to bear.
>> Get out in nature.
>> Download 2,000 quotes on rejection, heartbreak, his loss, knowing your worth, and so on—and ruminate over them whenever you want too, with no shame.
I will level with you. From my own experience, it’s a sh*t show. Then one day it feels a bit better…then another, it feels a bit better than that.
Whilst unrequited love hurts, it is possible to heal, move on, and even grow from this experience. It may be an old cliché—but time is a healer!
In the absence of any real advice, here are 10 quotes on unrequited love. May they heal, may they resonate, or may they just be a reminder that you are not alone in this experience.
“Love Jo all your days, if you choose, but don’t let it spoil you, for it’s wicked to throw away so many good gifts because you can’t have the one you want.” ~ Louisa May Alcott, Little Women
“Sometimes no matter how many eyelashes or dandelion seeds you blow, no matter how much of your heart you tear out and slap on your sleeve, it just ain’t gonna happen.” ~ Melissa Jensen, The Fine Art of Truth or Dare
“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.” ~ Ellie Newmark, The Book of Unholy Mischief
“Unrequited love is all right in books and things, but in real life, it completely sucks.” ~ Meg Cabot, Haunted: A Mediator Tale
“I did not know how long it took to get over such a love, and that even when you did, when you loved again, you would always carry a sliver of it in your stitched-together heart.” ~ Christina Haag, Come to the Edge
“Nothing takes the taste out of peanut butter quite like unrequited love.” ~ Charles Schultz (actually, Charlie Brown, in “Peanuts”)
“Love is never lost. If not reciprocated, it will flow back and soften and purify the heart.” ~ Washington Irving
“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
“When you give someone your whole heart and he doesn’t want it, you cannot take it back. It’s gone forever.” ~ Sylvia Plath
“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