Unrequited love is the woooooorst.
Oh, I certainly get the appeal. I see why it’s played up in movies, music, theatre, and TV. Unrequited love is dramatic, romantic, captivating, titillating. It keeps you on your toes, on the hook, on the edge of your seat.
But what those fictional portrayals don’t quite capture is just how bad it feels to love someone who doesn’t want you. It’s not all giggly-eyed banter in school hallways and pretty-crying in the bathroom mirror. The real pain of the situation is so much worse than that. And I say that as someone who’s spent many a night sobbing in bed until my eyes were so bleary I couldn’t see and my voice was too hoarse to form the words “Why doesn’t he love me?!” anymore.
When you get your heart bruised or broken, lots of people offer you advice. “Laughter is the best medicine,” they’ll say, thrusting a Mel Brooks DVD into your hands. “Time heals all wounds,” they’ll mumble with a shrug as they pass you a bowl of Häagen Dazs. “Everything happens for a reason,” they’ll chide, tossing you a pillow to punch to a pulp. And you’ll beat up that damn pillow, less because it helps your heartbreak and more because all this unsolicited advice is inciting your wrath.
With that in mind, I’m offering you six strategies which, used in tandem and in order, have helped me enormously when oblivious cutiefaces have stomped all over my heart. You don’t have to take this advice. You don’t even have to read this advice. But if you’re tired of living in a whirlpool of tears over someone who doesn’t break a sweat over you – if you’re tired of feeling swathed in lovelorn lethargy and you want to actually get some shit done – then give these tips a try. They’re not revolutionary or new, but they are effective.
Dump out all your feelings. Emotions are like trash. (Okay, not always, but go with me for the sake of this metaphor.) You can try to throw them in the kitchen garbage pail, slide them down the garbage disposal, toss ’em out a window – but unless you firmly, physically remove them from your space, you’ll never be completely sure they’re actually gone from the premises.
So take out the trash. Grab a journal and pen, and write out every single thought or feeling or idea or dream or fantasy you’ve ever had about the object of your affections. Write until your muscles ache – and then switch to typing if you have to. Look for sore spots – any particular concepts or memories that make you feel especially miserable and dejected – and unpack them until they can’t be unpacked any further. Resolve all your thought-loops of anxiety, worry, insecurity, sadness, and anger, so you can finally set them to rest.
You can do this verbally, too, by talking out loud to a friend. But I find journals are more patient and less judgmental.
Forgive them. If you still harbor any bitterness toward your love for not loving you back, you need to nix that shit. The forgiveness process might take time and reflection (boring, but effective), or you might be able to do it quicker with some empathy and the ability to put yourself in their shoes.
For example: when I get frustrated that a crush doesn’t like me back, I always mentally revisit times that someone has liked me and I haven’t wanted to date them. Maybe it was a lack of physical attraction, maybe some doubts about our compatibility, maybe a sexual attraction that just didn’t lean romantic enough, or maybe it was just the headspace I was in at the time. Whatever the case, there was nothing I could have done to conjure feelings for my unrequited admirer; it just wasn’t going to happen. That’s the type of reality check that makes it painful-yet-possible for me to forgive a crush in the present for not loving me back: I know they can’t help it. Because I couldn’t help it either.
View them through the lens of someone who doesn’t love them. You might have trouble viewing your amour with any objectivity, but guess what? Your friends can view that person accurately. You should take advantage of that power.
Ask your friends to tell you about the flaws, faults, and failings of the person you love. They might only have petty things to report – “One of her boobs is bigger than the other!” “He gets crumbs everywhere when he eats!” – but they might also have some bigger complaints to lodge, that they’ve been holding back for fear of offending you in your smittenness. For example, I’ll always be grateful to the friends who pointed out that a longtime crush of mine actually treated me badly, dismissed my ideas, and took my affection for granted. I hadn’t noticed these things at all because I was so wrapped up in my squeaky-clean image of him. Thank god for third-party neutral observers.
If you don’t want to reach out to friends to ask about your love’s flaws, or if none of your friends know the person you’re trying to get over, you can also try to unearth this information yourself. Journal for a nice long time about all the ways your love has slighted you, mistreated you, acted out, fucked up, and fallen short. Normally I don’t advocate focusing on people’s failures, but right now you need to be shaken out of your “I love them, they’re perfect!” mentality.
Publicly decide you’re getting over them. When I say “publicly,” I don’t mean you have to announce it on your blog or blast your Facebook friends with the news – that’s a bit much, even for me. But you should tell at least a couple of close friends that you have decided to get over your crush. To some extent, they can keep you from sending sad drunk texts, creeping your love’s tweets at 2AM, or taking a “casual stroll” through your crush’s neighborhood. You’ll feel more committed to your recovery mission if you’ve told your plan to people you respect.
But this attitudinal shift isn’t just important for your friends to know; it’s important for you to know, too. Once you’ve decided to get over your crush, you’ll (slowly, incrementally) stop mentally highlighting everything they say or do as worthy of your notice. You’ll scroll past their tweets like they were anyone else in your timeline, write about them in your journal only when they’re actually relevant to your day, and wait until you have a moment free to answer their texts instead of hammering out an instant reply. Treat them like a non-crush, and they’ll gradually become one. Mental categorization is more important than we realize, and that includes the mental category of “person I love.”
Destroy all mementos. Fuck, this is really hard to do! I am an appallingly sentimental person, and I cling to physical tokens obsessively if they remind me of a person, place, or time in my life that was important to me. But let’s be real: if you claim to be getting over someone, but you still own objects that remind you of that person every time you see them, you’re half-assing the task at hand.
“But Kate!” you might be screeching as you read this, “Why do I have to get rid of the endtable my crush made for me/T-shirt she gave me/stuffed animal he won me at the carnival?! Those things came from the person I love, but they don’t remind me of them!” Only you can know if that’s really true. If an item is useful to you, or genuinely makes you happy, and its tragic origins don’t come to mind when you glance at it, then it might not be so bad for you to keep it. But you have to get really real with yourself about this, and get rid of anything that makes you even borderline-sad.
If you truly can’t bear to let go of some of these objects – maybe because they’re expensive, one-of-a-kind, or you think you might want them years down the road – then put them in a bag (Gala says you should write “DON’T!” on the outside) and give that bag to someone you trust for safekeeping. It’s okay if your mementos stay in your mom’s garage or your best friend’s bathroom closet; having them out of your space will be good for you.
Go out and live your life!! They say the best revenge is living well. I say the best “revenge” is not feeling like you need revenge. Living well because you want to and deserve to live well – not because it makes you appear a certain way to a certain someone.
Throw yourself into your creative projects. Go to parties and events. Make new friends and new professional connections. Go on dates with other cute people, if you wanna. Learn new skills. Spend time with people who love you. Watch movies that make you howl with laughter. Go for walks in the sunshine. Make lists of goals and then get started. Dance your ass off surrounded by sweaty happy people. Start saving for a vacation. Get your hair done or buy some new clothes. Write a book. Make collage art. Roll down a hill. Write a gratitude list every morning. Listen to music that makes your heart pound with glee. Figure out what would make you happy and then go do that.
We make ourselves miserable when we wait by the phone, endlessly hoping our crush will get off their ass and finally notice us. Relying on other people to make you happy is emotional masochism. Make yourself happy, even if you’ve never really done that before and aren’t sure where to start. Just try a whole bunch of different things and see what sticks. Get out into the world, make things, do things, have experiences. Wash the bitter love from your system with as much hustle and joy as you can muster.
Keep going. Nothing worth doing is instant or easy, but it’s still worth doing.
What are your best strategies for when you love someone who doesn’t love you back?