Unrequited love is love that is not openly reciprocated or understood as such, even though reciprocation is usually deeply desired. The beloved may or may not be aware of the admirer's deep affections. The Merriam Webster Online Dictionary defines unrequited as; "not reciprocated or returned in kind."
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Unrequited love has a long cultural history. The 1st century BC Roman poet Catullus wrote about his unrequited love for Lesbia in several of his Carmina. Abraham Cowley wrote of the emotion (in "Anacreontiques: Or, Some Copies of Verses Translated Paraphrastically out of Anacreon"):
Robert Burns' poem "Anna, Thy Charms" catches it succinctly:
Alfred Edward Housman wrote a poem inspired by his life-long unrequited love for his best friend Moses Jackson:
As the literary selections suggest, the inability to express and fulfill emotional needs may lead to feelings such as depression, low self-esteem, anxiety and rapid mood swings between depression and euphoria. A universal feeling, by some estimates affecting 98% of all people during their lifetimes, unrequited love has naturally been a frequent subject in popular culture.
The object of unrequited love is often a friend or acquaintance, someone regularly encountered in the workplace, during the course of work or other activities involving large groups of people. This creates an awkward situation in which the admirer has difficulty in expressing his/her true feelings, as a romantic relationship may be inconsistent with the existing association; revelation of the lover's feelings might invite rejection, cause embarrassment or might end all access to the beloved.
Unrequited love has long been depicted as noble, an unselfish and stoic willingness to accept suffering, though contemporary western culture may give greater weight to practical, goal-oriented and self-assertive behavior. Literary and artistic depictions of unrequited love may depend on assumptions of social distance which have less relevance in democratic societies with relatively high social mobility, or less rigid codes of sexual fidelity. Nonetheless, the literary record suggests a degree of euphoria in the limerence associated with unrequited love, which has the advantage as well of carrying none of the responsibilities of mutual relationships.
In terms of the feelings of the hopeful one, it could be said that they undergo about the same amount of pain as does someone who is going through the breakup of a romantic relationship without ever having had the benefit of being in that relationship. On the other hand, some research suggests that the object of unrequited affection experiences a variety of negative emotions, including anxiety, frustration and guilt.
Moreover, while it is not identical with puppy love, it can be associated with the underconfidence and emotional immaturity of extreme youth, as illustrated by its prominence as a theme in the work of Charles Schulz; his Peanuts character Charlie Brown suffers from unrequited love for the Little Red-Haired Girl, as does Peppermint Patty for Charlie Brown, Lucy van Pelt for Schroeder, Sally Brown for Linus van Pelt, and Linus for his teacher, Miss Othmar (and later a girl in his class, Lydia). Charlie Brown famously notes in one strip: "Nothing takes the taste out of peanut butter quite like unrequited love." According to Aron, Aron and Allen, "incidence of unreciprocated love [is] greatest for those whose self-reported attachment style was anxious/ambivalent."
Dante Alighieri's love for Beatrice Portinari as depicted in La Vita Nuova and the Divine Comedy, along with Petrarch's devotion to Laura, established a spiritualized view of unrequited love. In this, as in the literary tradition of courtly love (which was, at least by convention, regularly adulterous, but not typically brought to physical consummation), the longing for the beloved spurs the lover towards physical, moral and/or spiritual perfection. This chivalrous ideal is both lampooned and glorified in Don Quixote.
Other classic literary works which use unrequited love as a key theme include:
Unrequited love has been a topic used repeatedly by musicians; as in literature, its inherent conflicts and universality provide rich opportunities for lyric expression. The often-covered song Glad to Be Unhappy captures the essential ambivalence of the experience:
Many songs of Dusty Springfield convey the theme of unrequited love, most notably "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me" and "I Only Want to Be with You." The songs from the album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness by The Smashing Pumpkins delves heavily into unrequited love with songs such as "Lily", "Galapagos", "Beautiful", "Thru The Eyes Of Ruby" or "By Starlight."
Other well-known instances include: