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How to Bounce Back From Unrequited Love

Three tips when it's clear a crush will never become a match.

racorn/Shutterstock
Source: racorn/Shutterstock

Falling in love is complicated; picking a mate always involves some trade-offs. When all goes right, however, a loving relationship is a mutually-satisfying exchange that meets the needs of both partners. Nevertheless, sometimes there is a mismatch in feelings between two people. This is particularly true for cross-sex friendships. In those cases, feelings may not be equal or reciprocated. Unrequited love is often the result.

If satisfying relationships are mutually affectionate, why do we sometimes love someone who does not love us back? And how do we deal with unrequited love when we feel it? Fortunately, the psychological research has some answers.

Motivations for Unreciprocated Love

In a 1998 article, Aron, Aron, and Allen reported research that supports their mini-theory of the motivational factors involved in unreciprocated love. According to that theory, there are three main reasons why we may fall in love with someone who does not love us back:

  1. Perceived value of the relationship. Sometimes we feel unrequited love because the potential partner seems so attractive and valuable to us. This is often what we consider a "crush," or admiring someone who is "out of our league" in terms of status.
  2. Perceived probability of the relationship. Other times we feel unrequited love because we think an actual relationship might be possible, although not assured. This can happen when there is a friendship with mixed signals—or we misconstrue the interest of someone else.
  3. Benefit to the self of loving the other person. We may feel unreciprocated love simply because we enjoy the feeling. This can happen when we are in love with the idea of love itself, or an idealized soul mate, rather than the real person.

Aron, Aron, and Allen (1998) tested whether personality differences made it more or less likely for someone to experience unreciprocated love. The researchers looked at attachment styles—whether each individual felt secure in relationships, was anxious or ambivalent about their potential partners, or tended to avoid real relationships altogether. The results indicated that the people who felt anxious about relationships overall were most likely to experience unrequited love. This was especially true for unrequited partners who seemed exceptionally desirable. People who avoided relationships were less likely to experience unreciprocated love, but were most influenced by enjoying idealized romantic feelings from afar. Secure people were the least likely to experience any form of one-sided love.

Dealing with Unreciprocated Love

It's difficult when your feelings are unreciprocated. Before you move on to other, more interested partners, though, here are three techniques to try that might increase an unrequited partner's interest in you:

  1. If you are crushing on someone who feels out of your league, you may want to explore various ways of being more desirable and attractive to them. Break the ice, talk to them, and become friends. Get to know them over time and show them your best self. Be careful to avoid the "friend zone" by directly asking for what you want.
  2. If you are already friends and have received mixed signals, you may want to check to see whether your perceptions of their behavior is accurate. Sometimes it is hard to tell when others like us. If they show genuine interest, it may be possible to establish a real relationship (and escape from the friend zone). Try being a little less "nice" in ways that might lead to you being taken for granted. Make them invest a bit more in the relationship; play harder to get. When the probability of a relationship with you is less secure, it may make them a bit more interested.
  3. If you are more in love with being in love than with the actual person, you may want to check yourself for various relationship biases. You might also want to reconsider your belief in such romantic notions in general. Beyond that, being curious about the actual person you are "loving" can help reduce your fear and avoidance of real relationships. Decide on the features you really want in a partner and see whether they are compatible with this person. If so, attempting to develop an actual relationship might be better than simply living out a fantasy by yourself.

Sometimes love is never reciprocated. Fortunately, there are ways to cope with rejection, after which you can get back out there and find a new partner who feels the same way about you. In any case, by following some basic steps for dating success, you may eventually develop a mutually-satisfying relationship with someone who will return your loving feelings.

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© 2016 by Jeremy S. Nicholson, M.A., M.S.W., Ph.D. All rights reserved.

References

Aron, A., Aron, E. N., & Allen, J. (1998) Motivations for unreciprocated love. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 24, 787-796.

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