The Perils Of Unrequited Love

Richard Wade’s new column is typically sage, this time  as he soberly and accurately advises someone who is unrequitedly in love with a friend:

When a friend learns that their friend loves them romantically, but they don’t have that kind of love to return, they often feel a tension because of an odd quirk in our culture.

The healthiest response for the friend would be to feel sad about their love-struck friend, knowing that they are frustrated in their love. Unfortunately, in our culture people often take upon themselves the responsibility for other people’s feelings, thinking that they are supposed to somehow do something about or fix the other’s feelings. They confuse caring about someone’s feelings with taking care of someone’s feelings. So, being unable to return their friend’s romantic love, they might feel guilty. It is not rational or fair to themselves to take on that responsibility and the resultant guilt, but unfortunately it is all too common.

Also unfortunately, guilt is almost always accompanied by resentment. They don’t want this responsibility, but they don’t realize that it isn’t really theirs to take on. So they gradually begin to resent the source of their guilt. They think, “Oh why did my friend have to fall in love with me, making my life so complicated? Now I have to do something about it.” They cannot imagine themselves saying to their smitten friend, “I care about you, and I’m sad that you’re so frustrated, but there’s nothing I can do about it. My feelings are just not the same as yours. I hope that you can resolve your feelings.” They might consider such a response to be cold and uncaring, but it is not. It is the healthy, reasonable response of a caring friend who can only care, but who cannot be the manager of someone else’s emotions.

This is why your friend may at first have wished that your feelings would go away, and later may start wishing that you will go away. If she’s caught to any extent in that cultural false responsibility, the discomfort of guilt and resentment will take its toll on her friendship for you.

If someone loves you and you don’t love them, you can’t soft-peddle it, you’ve just gotta dash their hopes as clearly as possible.  And if you love someone and they’ve confirmed they have no feelings in return, you’ve just got to let it go.  Even were something to change in the future, you’re far more likely to have that happen if you two are not spending time in a relationship so imbalanced in terms of feelings and (in turn) power.

Your Thoughts?

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.