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Dante looks longingly at Beatrice Portinari as she passed by him with Lady Vanna (in red) in Dante and Beatrice, by Henry Holiday

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."



Part of a series on Love
Basic Aspects
Human bonding
Chemical basis
Religious views
Philosophy of love
Courtly love
Types of emotion
Platonic love
Familial love
See also
Love sickness
Human sexuality
Unrequited love
Valentine's Day
Sexual intercourse
Interpersonal relationship

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"):

"A mighty pain to love it is,
And 'tis a pain that pain to miss;
But of all pains, the greatest pain
It is to love, but love in vain."

Robert Burns' poem "Anna, Thy Charms" catches it succinctly:

"Anna, thy charms my bosom fire,
And waste my soul with care;
But ah! how bootless to admire,
When fated to despair!
Yet in thy presence, lovely Fair,
To hope may be forgiven;
For sure 'twere impious to despair
So much in sight of heaven."

Alfred Edward Housman wrote a poem inspired by his life-long unrequited love for his best friend Moses Jackson:

"He would not stay for me, and who can wonder?
He would not stay for me to stand and gaze.
I shook his hand and tore my heart in sunder
And went with half my life about my ways."


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,[1] 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.[2]

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[citation needed]: "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."[3]

In literature

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:

In music

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:

"Unrequited love's a bore
And I've got it pretty bad
But for someone you adore
It's a pleasure to be sad"

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:


  • Loves me, loves me not: the ethics of unrequited love / Laura Smit., 2005
  • Breaking hearts: the two sides of unrequited love / Baumeister, Roy., 1992


  • The Holiday: Iris Simpkins, played by Kate Winslet, introduces the movie with a narration about love. Specifically, about unrequited love: "And then, there's another kind of love: the cruelest kind. The one that almost kills its victims. It's called unrequited love. On that I am an expert. Most love stories are about people who fall in love with each other. But what about the rest of us? What about our stories, those of us who fall in love alone? We are the victims of the one-sided affair. We are the cursed of the loved ones. We are the unloved ones, the walking wounded. The handicapped without the advantage of a great parking space!"
  • The Passion of Darkly Noon: A very dark story following the trials and tribulations of a young fundamental baptist man, Darkly Noon - played by Brendan Fraser who is discovered in the woods. Taken in by the beautiful Callie (Ashley Judd) and her mute lover Clay (Viggo Mortensen), he begins to be torn between the voices of his religious upbringing and the inner voice of his passion, when he falls in love with Callie.
  • Le Notti Bianche, directed by Luchino Visconti and starring Marcello Mastroianni, deals with the heart-breaking story of a young man who gives his love to a troubled girl who leaves him by the end of the movie.
  • (500) Days of Summer is a romantic comedy, starring Joseph Gordon Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, which analyzes an entire one-sided relationship in retrospect.
  • Passione D'Amore, directed by Ettore Scola, is about a handsome young soldier who is loved unrequitedly by a sickly and ugly woman, whose illness is exacerbated by his rejection. His psychological and emotional health spirals out of control as she begins to invade his life, and he becomes shattered and ultimately changed by the unconditional and obsessive nature of her love. The story was later adapted into a Broadway musical by Stephen Sondheim.
  • The Last American Virgin, is a teen coming of age film about a young man, Gary who falls in love with a girl, Karen who gets impregnated by his best friend, Rick. After Rick abandons Karen to go on vacation Gary takes care of her and even helps her to get an abortion. This slowly allows him to feel as though they are in a relationship. The film ends with Gary losing her to Rick when he returns from his trip.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Vol. 24, No. 8, 787-796 (1998)

External links

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