Oh what might have been…
It seems as humans we are sometimes doomed to always think of what might have been.
This tendency takes many forms: regret, obsession, rumination.
Yet no matter the form, there is always the emotional pain that comes along with it.
There is one “what might have been” situation that I, and many other people, have experience with, which is why I write about it.
It’s different than letting go of a long-term relationship, or from mutually breaking off a relationship because of irreconcilable differences.
Unrequited love is its own animal. It’s fueled by speculation and the fact that we never really got to know the other person’s faults. That’s why in our heads, the love seems so perfect.
Love is so magical and uplifting when it comes, like the spirit of life itself has come to fill us with all the beauty and possibility that the universe possesses. It’s like the sun has just come out after a long period of clouds and rain.
You discover they don’t feel the same way. Even though in their presence your heart is beating faster and slower at the same time; even though the dynamic between you and the other person feels so rich and vibrant; somehow they don’t feel it at all.
It’d be practical to just let go of this feeling. After all, what’s the point of loving someone that can’t love you back?
Yet, for many of us, this feeling lingers. It tortures us, keeps us up at night, and continues to make us daydream of them.
Why does unrequited love hurt so bad?
Why it Hurts: Expectations and Reality
You know that scene in 500 Days of Summer when Tom gets invited to the party by Summer?
There’s that split screen that shows us both Tom’s reality and his expectations for the party. In the expectations scene, we see him reconnecting with Summer, flirting with her on the rooftop, and eventually passionately kissing in her room.
But in reality he ends up awkwardly talking with other people at the party, standing alone on the rooftop looking over the city, then seeing Summer show a friend her engagement ring. He runs out of the party and into the street before the scene fades into black-and-white charcoal.
Unrequited love hurts because we have built up so many expectations for this relationship. We have surrounded this person with ideas of how they will treat us.
It’s amazing how clear it can be sometime, the image of that special someone cuddling up close to us, holding our hand as we walk down the street, or laughing at our jokes on a starlit night. Though we wish so mightily, we know that it’s not real.
Why it Hurts: Losing a Connection and a Friendship
If you’re like me, your probably have a fun and exciting dynamic with this other person. That’s why you fell in love with them. They make life exciting in so many different ways.
When someone brightens up your life, you don’t want to let them go. Like Harry in When Harry Met Sally, “when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with someone, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”
But if that brightening is followed by long, depressive nights where you ache for them, then maybe you can’t be around them. If every time you see them your heart cries out for it to be something more, then you’ll probably have to let them go.
Maybe in another time or another place, you could have been friends. But not now. This is perhaps the most painful part of unrequited love.
Why It Hurts: Seeing Them With Someone Else
In 500 Days of Summer, seeing Summer’s engagement ring is what finally sent Tom running out of the party. He realizes that not only does she not love him, but that she loves someone else.
There’s nothing worse than realizing that the one we love is with someone else. Maybe it’s serious, maybe it’s not, but still we just can’t understand why they don’t want to be with US.
Remind yourself that there’s nothing you can do. If they don’t see a future with you, then you might as well just forget about it.
The problem is that unrequited love makes us feel so alone. It can make us feel like we’ll never find love, or that we’re just unlovable people in general.
The good news is that we aren’t alone. Research has shown that more than half of Americans have experienced unrequited love at some point in their lives.
And we’re not unlovable. These people just didn’t see the things that make us so great.
I know it doesn’t make it hurt any less. I know that, for you and me, there will likely be many more lonely, uncertain nights.
There will be other people to love, even if it doesn’t seem like it. And then one fine day…