There's something terribly tragic about unrequited love. Some have even committed suicide over it. Yet in a sense what could be more romantic? An "untried" love is virtually without limits precisely because, never really having begun, there's been no time for disillusionment to set in. The beloved—frequently distant, uninterested, unavailable, or unapproachable—can remain an object of indefinite idealization.
One of the most curious things I encountered in selecting the quotes below was their remarkable inconsistency. At times I even found them sharply contradictory. No surprise, really. For there are few subjects as peculiarly subjective, or ambiguous, as love in general—and unrequited love in particular. Which explains why the tone of these quotes ranges from bitterness and cynicism to the most heart-rending melancholy and despair. Unquestionably, there are few experiences more painful than realizing that the person for whom you have such adoring sentiments doesn't, can't, or won't return your so-committed, so-impassioned feelings.
As a lover it's difficult not to project your boundless feelings of fondness onto the beloved. But when it becomes blatant that these feelings aren't recognized—and if so, certainly aren't reciprocated—the ensuing disappointment and hurt can be immeasurable. The famous line, "She [or he] doesn't even know I exist," is so familiar because the experience itself is so common. Which one of us hasn't at some time experienced the pangs of a love that's not reciprocated?
It's no wonder that so many poets have written about unrequited love. For when their emotions have become so overwhelming, so agitating, anxiety-laden, or consuming, how could they not be driven to search for just the right words, images, and metaphors to express—or better, release—such intense feelings? And, almost like a bloodletting, such a discharge is likely to offer them at least some immediate relief. So throughout history, writers have painstakingly sought to transform their raw, overpowering feelings into a language as poignant, as "touching" and "moving," as this excruciatingly frustrating experience must have been for them. And their deeply personal need to give voice to such anguish was probably as urgent as the anguish itself.
Employing a somewhat expansive definition of unrequited love, I've included quotes on such intimately related experiences as broken hearts, lost love, hopeless or forbidden love, obsessive love, scorned love, and (yes) puppy love as well.
Unrequited love is also the stuff that popular songs are made of. But having examined the lyrics of many dozens of songs centering on this woeful theme, I had to conclude that they really didn't transcend the merely sentimental or melodramatic. The emotions rendered by the words seemed true enough, but the verses could hardly be seen as poetic. While they may have (though simplistically) mirrored age-old truths, they reflected them mostly through cliches and platitudes. So in the end I chose to exclude modern-day songwriters and stay with what, in both prose and poetry, seemed most memorable on this most eternal—and universal—of subjects.
Anyhow, here are the best quotations I could find. I think you'll find them not only suggestive, but evocative as well.
Nothing takes the taste out of peanut butter quite like unrequited love. ~ Charles Schultz [actually, Charlie Brown, in "Peanuts"]
To burn with desire and keep quiet about it is the greatest punishment we can bring on ourselves. ~ Federico García Lorca, Blood Wedding
If only the strength of the love that people feel when it is reciprocated could be as intense and obsessive as the love we feel when it is not, then marriages would be truly made in heaven. ~ Ben Elton, Stark
Unrequited love does not die; it's only beaten down to a secret place where it hides, curled and wounded. For some unfortunates, it turns bitter and mean, and those who come after pay the price for the hurt done by the one who came before. ~ Elle Newmark, The Book of Unholy Mischi
Every broken heart has screamed at one time or another: "Why can't you see who I truly am?" ~ Shannon L. Alder
I had to get over [him]. For months now, a stone had been sitting on my heart. I'd shed a lot of tears over [him], lost a lot of sleep, eaten a lot of cake batter. [!] Somehow, I had to move on. [Life] would be hell if I didn't shake loose from the grip he had on my heart. I most definitely didn't want to keep feeling this way, alone in a love affair meant for two. Even if he'd felt like The One. Even if I'd always thought we'd end up together. Even if he still had a choke chain on my heart. ~ Kristan Higgins, All I Ever Wanted
When unrequited love is the most expensive thing on the menu, sometimes you settle for the daily special. ~ Miranda Kenneally, Catching Jordan
Unrequited love is a ridiculous state, and it makes those in it behave ridiculously. ~ Cassandra Clare
He could remember all about it now: the pitiful figure he must have cut; the absurd way in which he had gone and done the very thing he had so often agreed with himself in thinking would be the most foolish thing in the world; and had met with exactly the consequences which, in these wise moods, he had always foretold were certain to follow, if he ever did make such a fool of himself. ~ Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South
One is never too old to yearn. ~ Italian Proverb
Unrequited love is the infinite curse of a lonely heart. ~ Christina Westover
I realized that one might love him secretly with no hope of encouragement, which can be very enjoyable for the young or inexperienced. ~ Barbara Pym, Excellent Women
But that afternoon he asked himself, with his infinite capacity for illusion, if such pitiless indifference might not be a subterfuge for hiding the torments of love. ~ Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera
Let no one who loves be called unhappy. Even love unreturned has its rainbow. ~ James Matthew Barrie
It's delicious to have people adore you, but it's exhausting, too. Particularly when your own feelings don't match theirs. ~ Tasha Alexander, A Fatal Waltz
Love is never lost. If not reciprocated, it will flow back and soften and purify the heart.
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. ~ Abraham Cowley
The saddest thing in the world is loving someone who used to love you. ~ Anonymous
I never knew until that moment how bad it could hurt to lose something you never really had. ~ from the TV series The Wonder Years
Self-love seems so often unrequited. [!] ~ Anthony Powell
Love, unrequited, robs me of my rest:
Love, hopeless love, my ardent soul encumbers:
Love, nightmare-like, lies heavy on my chest,
And weaves itself into my midnight slumbers! ~ William S. Gilbert
I hold it true, whate'er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all. ~ Alfred Lord Tennyson
It is better to have loved and lost than never to have lost at all. [That's right: "lost," not "loved"] ~ Samuel Butler
Loving can cost a lot but not loving always costs more, and those who fear to love often find that want of love is an emptiness that robs the joy from life. ~ Merle Shan
You never lose by loving. You always lose by holding back. ~ Anonymous
Most of you have been where I am tonight. The crash site of unrequited love. You ask yourself, How did I get here? What was it about? Was it her smile? Was it the way she crossed her legs, the turn of her ankle, the poignant vulnerability of her slender wrists? What are these elusive and ephemeral things that ignite passion in the human heart? That's an age-old question. It's perfect food for thought on a bright midsummer's night. ~ Sybil Adelman
In the arithmetic of love, one plus one equals everything, and two minus one equals nothing. ~Mignon McLaughlin, The Second Neurotic's Notebook, 1966
I have so much in me, and the feeling for her absorbs it all; I have so much, and without her it all comes to nothing. ~ Goethe, Sorrows of Young Werther
I hate the day, because it lendeth light
To see all things, but not my love to see. ~ Edmund Spenser
If we must part forever,
Give me but one kind word to think upon,
And please myself with, while my heart's breaking. ~ Thomas Otway
Yet leave me not; yet, if thou wilt, be free;
Love me no more, but love my love of thee. ~ Algernon Charles Swinburne
Only three things are infinite: the sky in its stars, the sea in its drops of water, and the heart in its tears. ~ Gustave Flaubert (to Louise Colet)
We are never so defenseless against suffering as when we love, never so helplessly unhappy as when we have lost our loved object or its love. ~ Sigmund Freud
As soon as forever is through, I'll be over you. ~ Toto [at least the first time you've gone through it, the pain and regret feel everlasting, even identity-changing]
Ask me why I keep on loving you when it's clear that you don't feel the same way for me. The problem is that as much as I can't force you to love me, I can't force myself to stop loving you. ~ Anonymous
When you give someone your whole heart and he doesn't want it, you cannot take it back. It's gone forever. ~ Sylvia Plath
Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it. ~ J. K. Rowling
I prithee send me back my heart,
Since I cannot have thine;
For if from yours you will not part,
Why, then, shouldst thou have mine? ~ John Suckling
There's nothing quite so humbling as thinking you're completely over someone, then realizing you're not even close. ~ Brian Strause, Maybe a Miracle
Only time can heal your broken heart, just as only time can heal his broken arms and legs. [!] ~ Miss Piggy [who else?!], from Miss Piggy's Guide to Life
The worst thing: to give yourself away in exchange for not enough love. ~ Joyce Carol Oates, "Death Mother"
Why hide your feelings to the one you love? Why love the one who loves another? Why give everything if only pain comes in return? Why wait if there's nothing to wait for? I guess the answer is love. ~ Anonymous
I know I am but summer to your heart,
And not the full four seasons of the year. ~ Edna St. Vincent Millay
You can close your eyes to the things you do not want to see, but you cannot close your heart to the things you do not want to feel. ~ Anonymous
It was all love on my side, and all good comradeship and friendship on hers. When we parted she was a free woman, but I could never again be a free man. ~ Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, "The Adventure of the Abbey Grange"
. . . a final comfort that is small, but not cold: The heart is the only broken instrument that works. ~ T. E. Kalem
NOTE 1: I should probably add here that this post complements a very popular one (over 250,000 views!) I completed a year ago entitled: "Love Quotes: The Wisest, Wittiest . . . and Most Cynical." It's probably not a coincidence that this compilation doesn't repeat a single quotation selected earlier. Certainly unrequited love can be subsumed under the general heading of love. Yet its particularly grievous experience of non-reciprocation is quite unto itself.
NOTE 2: For any reader who would appreciate a respite from—or "antidote" for—this rather pessimistic post, I'd suggest a third "quoting post" of mine that's, well, much more upbeat. Also very frequently "clicked" upon, it's called, "Wittiest Sex Quotes Ever."
NOTE 3: If (sadly) you can relate all too well to some of the sentiments expressed in this post, please consider sending it to others who might also resonate to it. And, finally,
NOTE 4: To explore other posts I've written for Psychology Today, here's the link.
© 2012 Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.