Lessons Learned from Unrequited Love

Writing is my therapy, probably a bigger therapy than driving, reading, or playing my small piano keyboard. The past 13-14 months have been one of the most painful periods of my life, especially the last 6 months or so. While trying to deal with my pain, I have been reading about unrequited love a lot. It is one of the most painful experiences in life, because it is one of giving, but not of receiving. Through this pain, I have learned a lot. The last year has matured me in ways I didn’t imagine, and today I feel I am a better and stronger person because of it.

Unrequited love can be for a friend or a coworker. With a friend it is especially hurtful because someone who knows you really well rejected you. That can create havoc with your self-esteem and feel humiliating. It is especially painful if it is a friend, who might also a coworker, who might be one of two-three people in your existence to whom you have bared your mind and soul. You feel that the person you opened up to the most, the one who knows you the most, is the one who rejected you. Who doesn’t deem you worthy as a partner. Being rejected by strangers doesn’t hurt. But being rejected by your closest ones can burn through your soul. It hits your confidence, self-esteem, and you get this terrible feeling that you are unlovable.

Unrequited love can be addictive. Since it is usually for a friend, and a close friend, it can afflict those who love the idea of Love. Those who passionately believe that Love can conquer all. Those who are givers. Those who do not quit or give up. You might give and give hoping it will change their mind. You might intellectually accept the rejection, but emotionally you keep giving because you love the idea of loving them. Unrequited love, being a one-sided feeling, drains you till you are empty. Till you have nothing to give, till you have exhausted your last ounce.

But giving without receiving is unhealthy. Especially if there are expectations. And for most humans, there are expectations to giving. Any relationship should be based on equanimity, equal giving and receiving. Sure, it may not be exactly equal because some people are bigger givers, but every relationship should be based on reciprocity. Lack of reciprocation, even in friendship, are signs of disinterest, disrespect, or even taking someone for grated. Neither of it is healthy for the giving person.

Unrequited love has also filled me with a lot of guilt. I am the type who normally takes the blame. I feel guilty about putting her in this situation, having to turn down a friend. I feel guilty I tried so hard to make her feel special, but from her perspective it was probably awkward. I feel guilty if I put her in discomfort. Guilt about what if it felt like harassment. My intentions were pure, but my actions came across strong. Intellectually I might have accepted it, but emotionally I wanted to make her feel like the most special girl on this world. I feel guilty if I messed up a friendship. Then I wonder if we were even friends because any and nearly all interaction was initiated by me. Most communications was initiated by me. We became close and started talking because I fell for her and pursued her. If I hadn’t fallen for her, would she be just a casual acquaintance? I do miss our close friendship, even if it felt one-sided to me. I miss talking to that one person about everything. It is probably the biggest thing I am struggling with right now, not able to share or talk with her as I used to. There are lots of questions and doubts going through my head. Sometimes I regret saying anything. Sometimes I feel I did the right thing by saying something I had wanted to for six years. Maybe we will go apart. Maybe we will come closer than ever before. But the regret I had for six years about not telling her, I won’t have that regret any more. Today it is 426 days since I told her, or 86 months since I wanted to tell her, and hopefully future shows that being honest and open was worth it.

If the one you love is a friend or a coworker, you might see new people coming into their lives. It will kill you inside. Thinking you aren’t good enough for them, but a stranger is. You will start obsessing what they are doing, picturing them together. You might lose your mind. But know this, time will heal. Spend time with your close ones, with your loved ones, those who want to be with you. One thing I always looked forward to in this pain was time. From the one previous life experience, I knew time will heal. I didn’t know how long, but time always heals. It can leave scars behind, but it will make you feel better. You will stop thinking about it, you will stop obsessing over it, you will get over it, and you will feel yourself again. So no matter how bad the situation feels, take your time to grieve, take your time to process your emotions, but know that with each tick of the clock, things are closer to getting better.

While I was focused on who did not want me or love me the way I wanted, I missed all those who did. People say nice guys finish last. I wholeheartedly disagree. Over the past year I have experienced the countless people who have listened to me and supported me while I went through this painful experience. No matter the depth of my grief, they were there by my side. The sheer amount of love and support was overwhelming and I cannot thank them enough. They are too numerous to list, but I thank all of them and reinforced my belief of being good to people. Someday, they will be there for you too.

Looking back, I appreciate those who were there for me and loved me, starting with my parents and family. I do regret not always appreciating those who were there for me in the past, or who showed interest in me. While I pursued those who rejected me, I was blind to or ignored those who did like me. That is something I do regret and will have to figure out why I chased failure over those who wanted me. There were some with whom there was nothing wrong with, yet I ran away from them. While I try to understand that psychologically, my future goal would be to appreciate and be with those who want me in their lives, not whom I want. And as I have opened myself more recently, I have come to see how many people love me, like me, and want me. As I have allowed my heart to be open, the few dozen interests I have received in just a few days has helped me realize that I am not unlovable. This has reminded me of those who made an effort for me in the past, who made me feel special, who made me feel wanted, yet I ran away from them to chase the unavailable. I cannot change the past, but want to give appreciation to those who saw something in me and gave their time, attention, and feelings towards me. Over the last few days I have reached out to people from the past to show my appreciation to them. In future, they are what I want – not who is perfect for me, because no one is perfect, but who is willing to make an effort for me. And whom I am willing to make an effort for.

I learned that the ideal partner or friend isn’t someone we click with, but someone with whom we can grow with, and who is willing to compromise for us, sacrifice for us, and be willing to get of their comfort zone for us. This should obviously go both ways. The person we are today, our likes and dislikes today might not be the same tomorrow. If someone is willing to go out of their comfort zone or compromise to be with us, then in future as we face the troubles and challenges of life, I am more confident that they will be with us. And not say, I didn’t sign up for this and leave us. One thing I am proud of about her is that it made me go out of my comfort zone. Whatever expectations I might have had or not, I did more for her than anyone I ever have. And it is a compliment to both of us, that I think she deserved it, and that I could do all of that.

The positives I learned in the last year is that my communication skills became vastly better. It was one of my greatest weaknesses, not being able to communicate what I want or how I feel. I regret not opening up to her many years back. But last year I did. I opened myself up completely – my emotions, feelings, fears, insecurities, happiness, and joy. I didn’t hold anything back. I have been in love twice. After my first break up, I gave up on feelings and emotions. I shut myself off. I didn’t like showing of emotions, and thought it is a sign of weakness. Yet with her, the human me came back. I could feel emotions again, I could show my feelings again. I never, ever got angry at her. No matter the situation, whether I was upset or not, I learned how to communicate respectfully and patiently. Knowing someone for nearly 8 years, spending countless hours with each other, can and will create differences. I have been upset numerous times, I have been irritated numerous times, but never, ever raised my voice with her. She might be clueless about social situations, people’s feelings, expectations, or actions, but never have I experienced her having ill will towards anyone. She seems to be so innocent, sometimes childlike. Her laughter, interests, hobbies…very simple, very innocent.

Love should be about giving, not receiving. You have to accept them as they are, not as they might be. Anyone who knew us both told me that we wouldn’t have worked out. I am not sure what they saw that I missed. Or maybe I was wearing rose-colored glasses. They saw that I wasn’t always treated nicely or with respect, and that our personalities were too different. Maybe it was deliberate, maybe subconscious, or maybe it was her discomfort reactions to my feelings. I realized that chemistry is a two-way street. You can be funny, charming, or playful, but without reciprocation or appreciation there is no chemistry. I have seen grumpy or lifeless reactions from people when talking to one person, who suddenly turn chirpy and start giggling when someone barely starts talking to them. It can feel confusing to first person, but chemistry, friendship, relationship…any interpersonal human interactions succeeds only when efforts and interests are from both sides.

You have to take care of yourself. Grieve as long as you must. But do not isolate yourself. If you need to break off friendship to get over them or the pain, do it. Not to punish them, but to heal yourself. If you need a break or distance, do it. If you need to stop seeing them, do it. Do what helps you in healing. But do not punish them. Do not be bitter. Do not ask why not me. Today I am asking myself the opposite question – why did I run away from those amazing girls who showed interest in me, or made an effort for me. I cannot answer that question. So I understand the other side’s perspective too. Feelings can be irrational. So do not blame them or be angry at them. No one is entitled to be liked. No one is entitled that their feelings, friendship, or efforts would be reciprocated. But appreciate those who did make an effort for you, who were there for you.

No matter how much pain I was in, surrounded by loved ones and their support has helped me in healing. Today I am nearly back to myself. I have learned the valuable gift of communication. I was patience before, but I have learned new skills of patience, of mentoring someone in their career and social interactions. I have learned giving in ways I didn’t know I could. Doing something small for them every single day. I learned unconditional love. I remembered what sacrifice and compromise is. Putting their likes, dislikes, schedules, and interests over mine. I learned I can have deep feelings again. I learned I can completely open my soul to someone. I learned to manage expectations. I learned the importance of reciprocity. I learned just because you want someone to be close doesn’t mean they will want the same. Accept them for who they are. Accept the type of relationship or distance they want. Do not chase who won’t give you what you want, and in the process get blinded to those who would. Find friends and relations who will give you their best, not ones for whom you are an option when they are bored or lonely.

I have to give thanks to her for bringing out these positive traits in me, for making me a better person. For teaching these lessons I have learned. Today my focus is back to myself. I gave my all to her and my job and emptied myself out for both. But today I am focusing on my passions like writing, music, reading, outdoor activities, and sports. Even if I am an introvert, there is a joker inside me who likes to spread joy and cheer to those around him. I felt that side of me was shut down for several months. But now I am once again feeling myself, to make others smile and laugh, to spread joy, and ensure others are having a good time. Today I won’t shut off myself from people or feelings or giving. I will still give, without expectations. And if I feel disrespected or mistreated, I now know when to walk away. So if you are in this situation, just know that time will heal. Surround yourself with loved ones.

Do not focus on those who cannot love you the way you want, and you will start seeing those who actually will love you the way you want. Do not put your value on the chase or receiving validation, but open your eyes to those who do appreciate you, the little things you do, and who reciprocate your efforts. Most importantly, do not blame the person of your unrequited love. You fell for them for a reason. Focus on that. Wish them joy and happiness. If they were a close friend, try not to lose them. And if they had no feelings for you or never even noticed you or what you do, even as a friend, then you dodged a bullet. If they as a friend don’t notice you or appreciate you today, they wouldn’t have if you were together. But if they truly cared for you, they are hurting too, at your pain, and at their unintentional part in it. Be the mature person and show your support to them.

Don’t put them on a pedestal. They are human too, just as imperfect as you are. Support them, be their friend if you can without feeling pain. Be happy for their happiness. But never, ever neglect yourself or forget about yourself. Never put your happiness in someone else’s hands. In your chase of the unavailable, barely-available, or lukewarm available, do not lose sight of the ones who are trying their best for you. Someone might like you today because it is convenient, because you have similar hobbies, you live in close proximity or go to school together. Once one of those parameters change, they will walk out of your life. Find the ones who will be there when everything changes, because their love is for the person you are, not your hobbies or proximity or usefulness in taking away their boredom. To all who have suffered through unrequited love or heartbreaks, I wish you the best. Take care of yourself, and surround yourself with those who truly love and care for you. Do not neglect them or ignore them. Most importantly, love yourself and if you are like me, learn to forgive yourself.

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