Q: There’s a guy in my circle of friends who pushes all my buttons. I’m totally in love with him, and he’s so hot that whenever we’re in the same room, I can hardly keep my eyes off him. He’s friendly to me, but that’s all. It’s obvious that he will never feel for me what I feel for him. It’s so painful to know that he’ll never be with me. This has been going on for over a year now! Is there anything more serious here than frustration at not having the relationship with him that I want?” I feel so stuck and unable to move on. I guess I’ll get over him eventually but I would appreciate any advice you might have as to how to make it all less painful.
A: I wonder if there is anyone reading this who hasn’t experienced what you’re going through. It’s always painful to long for what we can’t have, but unrequited romantic love is especially painful. To have regular contact with the man you love and see that his eyes don’t light up for you the way yours do for him is a form of acute suffering.
But your question “Is there anything more serious here than frustration at not having the relationship with him that I want?” is a good one, because unrequited love is one of those situations which is full of emotional pitfalls for many people. If the object of their affection doesn’t return the interest, for instance, many people go immediately into self-denigration. Why doesn’t he love me? There must be something wrong with me. Maybe it’s that I’m not good looking enough, or interesting enough. Maybe it’s just that I’m not a lovable person. Maybe I’m just not the sort of person who ever gets what he wants. Maybe I’m just a loser. Any kind of suffering can trigger a cascade of thoughts about why my suffering shows that I’m defective. I shouldn’t be hurting so much about this. If I were a stronger, healthier, more secure human being, I wouldn’t let things like this get to me. The fact that I’m in love with someone who doesn’t love me shows that I’m self-destructive, self-defeating, masochistic or neurotic – otherwise I’d pick someone who returned my feelings. And so on.
I know a man who fell deeply in love with a dorm mate in his freshman year of college. The other guy was mildly friendly, but not otherwise interested. Now – twenty years later – this man continues on an almost daily basis to pine away for the love that never was. Why did he do this to himself? Because, having been abandoned in early childhood by his drug addicted father, he had come to suspect that he was not the sort of person who could be loved by any man, and he took his first adult disappointment in love as confirmation of that grim belief. His problem wasn’t unrequited love, but what his mind did with it. Hearing this man’s story was an important lesson for me in how self-destructive the human mind can be.
So, examine what your mind is telling you about this situation and don’t believe everything it may be saying. Your recovery from this disappointment will be a lot faster if you can be alert and skeptical about any pessimistic or self-denigrating interpretations you may be assigning to your situation.
In the meantime, here is a meditation practice which might mitigate your pain. In this meditation, you bring to mind all the millions of people in the world who are probably currently experiencing the same kind of suffering you’re living with, whether it’s an illness, a loss, or a disappointment such as unrequited love. Then form the intention to use your own pain as a springboard to become more compassionate toward all those who are in situations similar to yours. Having done that, imagine yourself sending waves of compassion and loving kindness to every one of them. This exercise may sound hokey, but it is surprisingly powerful. I’ve used it myself on a number of occasions, and I find it a great antidote to self-pity. I also find it a useful way of using my suffering to connect with others rather than to feel separated from them.