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How To Cope (and How to Help Your Teenagers Cope) with Unrequited Love
by Rachel G. Baldino, MSW, LCSW for

Most of us have experienced unrequited love at one point or another; often during the emotional turbulence of youth.

But anyone at any age can experience the emotional anguish of unrequited love, so it is not only teenagers who need to prepare for the possibility. (But teenagers do indeed have a particular susceptibility to this phenomenon, which is why the final part of this article addresses the parents of teens who may be dealing with this difficult situation for the very first time.)

Dante and Beatrice: An Immortal Tale of Unrequited Love

It seems as long as humans have existed there has been unrequited love. One of the most famous literary examples involves the gut-wrenching case of unrequited love that Dante Alighieri (author of The Divine Comedy and other great works) felt for Beatrice Portinari -- whom he actually met only twice in his life, once when they were only nine and eight years old respectively!

Despite the fact that each of them grew up to marry other people, all evidence suggests that right until the day he died, Dante regarded Beatrice as his one and only true love (which must have been incredibly hurtful to the woman that he actually married).

Not all cases of unrequited love are this extreme ... but in the midst of them they can certainly feel that way.

Two Serious Emotional Dangers Associated with Unrequited Love

unrequited love

Whether you are a teenager or an adult, unrequited love can be a deeply painful emotional experience.

One of the greatest dangers of unrequited love is that it can cause us to romanticize or idealize the object of our desires. Sometimes when we fall in love, we allow ourselves to put on blinders where that one person is concerned. We put the beloved up on a pedestal, and refuse to look at any of their faults.

Believe it or not, while it may appear to be flattering to idealize or romanticize an individual, it is actually a way to dehumanize that person, because no flesh and blood human being can possibly measure up to such a perfect, overly idealized image.

Teenagers and preteens, who, after all, have the least experience with love relationships (and who sometimes develop massive crushes on falsified, airbrushed images of their favorite heartthrob-celebrities), are particularly susceptible to this tendency to idealize those they love or desire. But of course, adults can fall prey to this all-to-human tendency as well.

In addition to this propensity for idealizing or romanticizing the beloved individual, a second danger associated with unrequited love is not taking no for an answer.

Sometimes we think, "Well, if only he got to know me a little better." Or, "All she needs to do is give me another chance. Surely she'll change her mind about me."

But of course no always means no. It doesn't mean "Maybe," or "Get back to me next week."

Falling in love is an entirely subjective experience, and of course it is never okay to stalk someone, or to insist that someone "give you a chance," romantically speaking, if that person is simply not interested. We cannot control who we fall in love with, and we certainly have no control over whether or not they will return our feelings.

In fact, when unrequited love develops into a full-blown, all-consuming obsession, many relationship experts view this phenomenon as an "addiction to a person," a subject that is addressed in-depth in Dr. Susan Forward's book, Obsessive Love: When It Hurts Too Much to Let Go, and also in Howard Halpern's book, How To Break Your Addiction to A Person.

The Healing Power of Time

We've all heard the old saying, "Time heals all wounds." In reality, this is an adage that doesn't always hold true in every situation (such as Dante's noted above.) But it can actually be quite useful when it comes to coping with the traumatic emotional upheaval caused by unrequited love.

According to this brief but helpful article, "Only time can help get strong emotions into perspective. You can't fall out of love with someone overnight, after all, and in some ways you need to grieve for this lost love. It's easy to become withdrawn from everyday life when you're bewitched by someone who doesn't feel the same way, but it's vital that you get out and fill your time constructively. Surround yourself with friends, and lean on them to help regain control."

If you are currently suffering from unrequited love, one very important thing to bear in mind is that just because one specific person does not return your feelings of love, this should not be cause for total despair, and it certainly does not mean that you are an unlovable person, or that you won't have a wonderfully reciprocal love relationship with someone else.

It simply means that you will not be having a love relationship with this one particular human being, a fact which may feel devastating at first, but will genuinely become easier to accept with the passage of time.

Six Practical Tips for Coping with Unrequited Love

  1. Get together with your closest friends and then decide if you want to talk about your feelings of unrequited love, or if you don't. Trust your gut instincts on this. There will be moments when it is helpful to discuss these feelings, and there will also be moments when it feels like absolute torture to do so.

  2. Try to rediscover your sense of humor. Unrequited love can feel like very serious business, and it can even send you into a major emotional funk if you're not careful. This is why it is very important to keep your sense of humor about all the other, lighter things that may be going in your life at the same time that you are experiencing your feelings of unrequited love.

  3. As mentioned above, you will also need to allow time to work its magic in helping you to move past your feelings of unrequited love.

  4. If you are doing all of the above (seeing your friends, working on regaining your sense of humor, and patiently allowing some time to pass), but none of these actions seem to be helping, you may want to arrange a meeting with a therapist to discuss the range of feelings that you are experiencing.

  5. Try to keep your mind and heart open to the possibility of meeting someone else-ideally someone who strongly reciprocates your feelings of love and affection.

  6. The final--and perhaps most important--tip is to work on rediscovering yourself and your own interests. As I discussed earlier, people who fall in love with someone who does not return their feelings sometimes end up becoming obsessed with and/or "addicted to" that individual, or at least to the fantasy of having that particular person in their lives.

    But dreaming about what things would or could be like if that person were to suddenly change his mind and fall in love with you is living in a fantasy world. In other words, focusing too much on your feelings of unrequited love can serve as a means of escaping from your real life, and while it's certainly okay to have occasional dreams and fantasies of alternate realities, it is not healthy or okay when those dreams begin to consume you by dominating your thoughts or taking over your entire life.

Helping Your Teenager Cope with Unrequited Love

unrequited love

To move past the pain of unrequited love, focus on rediscovering yourself and your own interests.

If you are the parent of a teenager who is experiencing the emotional turmoil of unrequited love for the first time, remember that adolescents have not yet been alive long enough to look at a situation from the "long view" perspective.

They may have heard the expression: "This too shall pass," but they don't yet have enough life experience to fully grasp (or believe) the great wisdom contained in these four critically important little words.

Bearing that in mind, if you want to help facilitate their healing process, you can let them know that you, too, have experienced unrequited love in your lifetime. In fact, you can point out to them that almost every person alive has experienced unrequited love at one point or another.

As hard as it may be for your teenagers to believe right now (when they are right in the midst of their heartache), they will probably be glad to learn just how universal the experience of unrequited love is. They will also be deeply relieved to hear that they truly will get past this painful experience, and once that happens, they will be able to move on to a fully reciprocal (and therefore much happier, healthier and more fulfilling), love relationship.

Recommended Reading

How To Talk To a Teenager And Know that They're Listening

Why High School Memories Often "Loom So Large" In Our Minds

You Really Can Die from a Broken Heart

How To Talk to Your Kids About Suicide


Obsessive Love: When It Hurts Too Much to Let Go

How To Break Your Addiction to A Person


Unrequited Love and Time

Dante and Beatrice

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