How to Deal With Loving Someone You Can’t Have

It can take a toll on your mental health.


Unsplash / Design by Julie Bang

Many of us have felt it: There's someone on our minds, and even though they don't feel the same way, we still feel the desire to build a relationship. Loving someone you can't have can take a toll on your mental health, and longing to be with them can be heart-wrenching. This type of emotional turmoil can feel unrelenting at times.

While you may feel like all hope is lost, it's important to remember that this person only plays a small role in the timeline of your life. Even if you're in love with someone you can't have, there are plenty of ways to work with your brain—not against it—to move forward.

Here, experts Jeremy Nicholson and Chloe Carmichael share five ways to get past unrequited love and how to move on the right way.

Meet the Expert

Work Through Your Feelings

When you love someone you can't have, it's common to bury your feelings in an effort to avoid the painful realities of your situation. It may seem easier to push these feelings of grief away, but working through loss is an important step to get past the longing. "Sometimes we feel unrequited love because the potential partner seems so attractive and valuable to us," says Nicholson. "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."

Whether you're still in love with your ex, crushing on someone who's unavailable, or feeling rejected, taking the time you need to acknowledge your feelings (and feel your emotions) is crucial to the process of moving on. Sometimes, you might even find that the attraction isn't based on the individual, but the actual desire to be in a relationship.

"We may feel unreciprocated love simply because we enjoy the feeling," Nicholson says. "This can happen when we are in love with the idea of love itself, or an idealized soul mate, rather than the real person."

Focus on Yourself

When was the last time you did something nice for yourself? Rather than devoting your emotional energy to thinking of someone else, try to focus on the first person who deserves your love: you. "Part of why breakups can be so painful is that [everything] in our current environment reminds us of our ex," says Carmichael. "It can sometimes seem as if everything in our life reminds us of that person. One way to change this is to deliberately create new experiences to help the old memories start to recede. New experiences can also subtly reassure us that there are other possibilities in life."

This isn't a time for getting lost in the memories: It's a time for making new ones. Concentrate on your personal happiness, mental health, and physical well-being. By pampering yourself and practicing acts of self-love and care, you can put your focus to better use by improving your own life. When you make yourself a priority again, you’re taking a major step in dealing with unrequited love.

Don't be afraid to try something new, like traveling, signing up for a new fitness class, or learning a skill or hobby you've always been interested in. What's important is the choice to make a healthy use of your time, and allowing yourself to let go of hurtful memories.

Make Time for Friends and Family

When you're going through difficult times in life—whether in love or not—your support system can make it easier. Instead of spending time alone and shutting the world out, now is a good time to reach out to other people you care about.

Your friends and family can offer great support, guidance, and love. By being around people with positive energy who have your best interest, you can reshape your mindset and embrace their optimistic outlooks. "We were not meant to grieve alone, so consider making sure that you’re always with a supportive friend or family member for the first week or two," Carmichael says. Their experiences can also help you put your current situation in perspective, as they've likely been there before as well.

Close relationships can be a great emotional resource, and they'll provide you with insight and direction when it comes to moving on. "Obviously, a friend or family member doesn’t fill the void, but at the very least it can be helpful to surround yourself with support during a loss," Carmichael says.

Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself

When you love someone you can’t have, it’s not uncommon to feel frustrated with yourself for not getting over them yet. But remember that the process of healing takes time—and rather than setting high expectations for yourself, it's okay to be proud that you were open to love in the first place.

"If you thought your ex was perfect but they broke up with you out of the blue, you might consider [focusing on] their inability to make or keep a commitment to you," Carmichael says. Whether you were in a committed relationship or not, it's helpful to remember that the person you love is an individual. They may not be interested in a relationship with you, or they may simply not be in the right mindset for romance to begin with. Ultimately, it's best to use these feelings as a way to move on.

"Sometimes just realizing that a person is actually not the stable, reliable 'relationship person' we initially thought they were can help decrease that person’s desirability, thereby making it a little easier to move past them," Carmichael says.

While it's okay to still have feelings for this person, you have to make your peace with the situation. Accept the reality, but remember that it can take time. Don't be hard on yourself if you're not entirely over them—these transitions don't happen overnight.

Don’t Give Up on Love

One of the most important takeaways from dealing with unrequited love is the understanding that you will find love again. While it may feel like a happy relationship just isn't in the cards for you, this simply isn't the case.

"Sometimes we may obsess about the past as a way to avoid re-entering the dating world because, on a certain level, we are afraid of repeating whatever potential mistakes that may have led to our current situation," Carmichael says. "If you think this might be the case, make sure you find ways to learn from your past relationship and have support as you ponder dating again."

Self-care and building stronger relationships with friends and family can speed up the process. Once you're confident in your daily life again, it won't feel so difficult to open up to new people. Take a moment to think about it: If you can feel this much love for someone you're not with, the amount of love you'll find in the right relationship will exceed these feelings (in the best way).

Rather than giving up on love, look forward. It's okay to let this person go in favor of excitement for meeting the next person. While it wasn't meant to be this time, it's only a step in the process of finding what's best—and it'll be even better after looking back on this experience.

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