Unrequited love is such an indelible part of the human experience, it is nearly impossible to imagine a world where it is absent from literature, movies, plays and songs. Unrequited love has been a key theme in the arts since man first picked up a pen. Love that is not reciprocated captures the dramatist's attention because the experience is naturally dramatic, painful and sometimes tragic.
Unrequited love takes a tremendous toll on emotional health. This is especially true if the person in love has poor self-esteem. If feelings go beyond wistful longing and into obsessive rumination about the other person, she or he who is in love will, at the least, waste valuable time and energy on a fantasy.
Teens are most at risk for developing an obsession about a person, but people of any age can suffer from unrequited love that turns into damaging obsession.
It may seem odd to say that unrequited love can benefit anyone, but it can. A man or woman, confronted with the pain of unrequited love may begin to search within for self-acceptance and love. Pain from unrequited love, however, may override any benefits---or the pain may cause the individual not to notice the benefits until many years later.
People commonly mistake infatuation for unrequited love. The two emotional states are not synonymous. True unrequited love does happen, but is not as common as infatuation. Love and infatuation are not always easy to distinguish from each other. Infatuation is usually very intense, based on an unrealistic perception of a person, and easily changes. A celebrity fan, for instance, may believe he is in love with the celebrity, but he does not really know the celebrity at all. If the fan spent time with the celebrity, he may find he does not care for the celebrity at all. Love, on the other hand, involves enjoying a person as she or he really is--smelly socks and all.
Unrequited love usually causes a lot of emotional pain for the person in love. The person who is the object of affection may suffer too, especially if unrequited love involves two close friends. It is an uncomfortable, even painful feeling to love someone as a friend and know that friendship is not enough for the other person. Unrequited love can also cause physical problems. Effects may mimic grief symptoms: fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, headache, depression and forgetfulness. In extreme cases, unrequited love leads to suicidal thoughts, or even suicide.
Unrequited love can feel like the end of the world. However, this pain can instead be a stepping stone to greater self-understanding and awareness. There is no rule written in the heavens that others must love us as we love them. Once a person learns and accepts this, and once she or he gains self-love and self-acceptance, unrequited love loses its vicious sting. The pain and longing may still be there, but it no longer has the power to rule so completely over a life.