How to Deal with Unrequited Love for a Friend

Two friends have an uncomfortable moment of silence.Unrequited love is part of the human experience. At some point in life, most people will develop romantic feelings for someone who doesn’t feel the same way about them. A study of college students and high school students found unrequited love was 4 times as common as reciprocated, equal love. This type of one-sided love is typically more intense than a passing crush, and it often lasts longer.

Experiencing rejection after you’ve risked telling someone how you feel can cause a great deal of pain. In fact, some research has suggested pain associated with rejection causes brain activity resembles that caused by physical pain. Yet knowing unrequited love happens to most of us may not make that pain any easier to bear.

If you’ve ever loved someone who doesn’t return your feelings, you may have tried to cope by turning to your friends for support. But what happens when the object of unrequited love is a friend? Dealing with the pain of unrequited love may be even harder if you’re already close to the person you’ve fallen for. You might not understand how they can reject you when you’ve shared so much.

Over time, though, you may come to believe it’s more important to treasure the friendship you do have instead of wondering about other possibilities. If you want to sustain the friendship through the challenge of unrequited love, know that it’s often possible to do so.

Keep in mind, though, that it’s important to consider your intentions honestly. If you continue the friendship because you’re secretly hoping they’ll change their mind, you’re not honoring yourself, your friend, or your friendship. In the end, this deception can lead to more pain for you and your friend.

Why Do We Fall for Our Friends?

Developing romantic feelings for friends isn’t uncommon. Love grows over time, and strong friendships that last for years often provide numerous opportunities for intimacy to flourish.

  • Friendship as a gateway to love: Many people believe a strong friendship is an essential foundation of a romantic partnership and prefer to build a friendship with potential partners first. This belief could help create a tendency to see friends as potential love interests.
  • Proximity: People generally spend a lot of time with close friends. Eventually it may become difficult to imagine not seeing a particular friend often.
  • Shared hobbies: Friendships often grow out of shared interests. Having multiple hobbies, interests, or other things in common with one person can make them seem even more like an ideal romantic partner.
  • Mixed signals in a friendship: Some friendships are characterized by flirtatious jokes, physical affection, or other behaviors typical of romantic relationships. Mixed signals won’t “make” you fall in love with someone if attraction isn’t already there. But frequent touching or affectionate nicknames can fan the flames, so to speak, by giving the impression of a mutual interest.
  • Attachment style: A 1998 study found people with an anxious/ambivalent attachment style were more likely to experience unrequited love. Attachment styles have their basis in childhood. If your primary caregiver was unpredictable with affection or met your needs inconsistently, you may grow up unconsciously reenacting that dynamic in adulthood. In other words, you may be more likely to develop romantic attraction for people who are unlikely to return your feelings.

Can Friendship Survive Rejection?

You told your friend how you feel. They apologized and said they just didn’t feel the same way, though they valued your friendship. You agreed the friendship was important and assured them you wanted to stay friends. You feel sad and hurt, but you’ve experienced rejection before and know the feelings will pass in time. In the meantime, how do you deal with frustration and pain while continuing to spend time with your friend as if nothing had happened?

First, it’s important to understand your feelings are normal. It’s normal to grieve, to feel hurt, sad, confused, or angry. But it’s also important not to direct those feelings at your friend. As long as they didn’t lie to you or lead you on, they’re simply being honest about their feelings, just as you were with yours. Your friend can’t help having platonic affection for you, just as you can’t help having romantic affection for your friend.

When your friend doesn’t return your romantic feelings, you both might struggle to deal with the situation. Yet friendships can recover from unrequited love if the situation is addressed with care and maturity. What happens next depends on both you and your friend.

Dealing with Awkwardness

Some friendships may continue but feel slightly different. You might experience some awkward interactions or occasionally feel embarrassed around each other. This isn’t necessarily anyone’s fault—this can happen even if you both truly want to remain friends. It may simply indicate you both need time to recover.

According to research published in Michael Motley’s Studies in Interpersonal Communications, friendships often end after a confession of unrequited love when awkwardness or embarrassment develops. To avoid awkwardness, it may help to avoid bringing up the situation once you’ve agreed you want to stay friends. Instead, move forward from it.

Jealousy is a common emotion, and it’s not inherently harmful. However, it’s important to manage jealousy in safe and healthy ways. Acknowledging what you feel is often a helpful way to start.It may feel more natural to completely avoid your friend, but Motley’s research suggests friends who continue to talk and see each other are more likely to remain friends than those who stay away from each other. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t give yourself some space. Even if you don’t feel you need it, it can help to take time for healing.

Your friend might also need space. If they seem distant after you’ve told them how you feel, consider that they too may need to work through what happened. They may feel sadness or guilt and wonder how to act to prevent hurting you further. Give them some time. If you communicated daily in the past, after a few days you might send a casual message letting them know you’re there when they’re ready. Then wait for them to reach out.

On the other hand, your friendship could also bounce back right away. But this scenario can present other challenges. If your friend has a partner already or begins dating someone before you’ve fully healed from the rejection, you may feel hurt and jealous. You may end up comparing yourself to their partner, and anger or resentment can develop.

Jealousy is a common emotion, and it’s not inherently harmful. However, it’s important to manage jealousy in safe and healthy ways. Acknowledging what you feel is often a helpful way to start. Open communication can also help. If this isn’t possible in your situation, try talking to another close friend or a counselor.

Tips for Moving On

If you’re struggling to get over the rejection after an extended period of time, it may be best to draw back from the friendship while you heal. It may help to interact with your friend in group settings rather than one-on-one. If you find yourself texting or calling them frequently, it may be best to take a break from contacting them.

If your friendship was characterized by affectionate gestures or flirtatiousness in the past, it’s probably better for you both to avoid this behavior, at least until your friendship has healed. Otherwise you might give your friend the impression you aren’t actually okay with remaining friends.

It is common to feel a decreased sense of self-worth or low self-esteem after rejection. Rejection can have an even more significant effect if your friend has been supportive through other instances of heartbreak. Reaching out to other loved ones can help when you’re having trouble separating the pain of rejection from your worth as a person.

Meeting new people can also help. Trying to date when you’re still recovering from rejection may not seem appealing at first. If you’re still feeling heartbroken, you may not feel ready to consider any other potential romantic partners. But dating casually—meeting someone for a short coffee date, for example—can actually help you begin to heal. Even if you plan to keep things casual, a few fun dates can distract you from what you’re feeling. It can also help you realize that you have plenty of romantic options.

Getting Help for Heartbreak

Grief and jealousy often accompany rejection and heartbreak, and it’s not always easy to cope on your own. Therapy is highly recommended when painful emotions interfere with daily life or make it hard to think about anything else. If you’re struggling, we encourage you to reach out to a mental health professional.

It may seem hard to believe, but you will heal in time. A therapist or counselor can support healing by helping you work through what you’re feeling in a productive way. Our therapist directory can help you find a compassionate mental health provider in your area.


  1. Aron, A., Aron, E. N., Allen, J. (1998, August 1). Motivations for unreciprocated love. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 24(8), 787-796. Retrieved from
  2. Bringle, R. G., Winnick, T., & Rydell, R. J. (2013). The prevalence and nature of unrequited love. SAGE Open. Retrieved from
  3. Davis, S. (2018, October 22). Anxious/ambivalent attachment style: An examination of its causes and how it affects adult relationships. Retrieved from
  4. Morain, C. (2009, January 21). Unrequited love: How to stay friends. Retrieved from
  5. Weir, K. (2012). The pain of social rejection. Monitor on Psychology, 43(4). Retrieved from

© Copyright 2019 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Crystal Raypole

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • DODO

    August 15th, 2020 at 6:15 PM

    this is by far the most relatable and useful article about one-sided love. thank you so much it really helped.

  • Frank

    October 20th, 2020 at 6:17 PM

    Thank you for this. I got rejected yesterday from a good friend and was feeling pretty down on myself. This is just the advise I needed. It’s hard to let go.

  • samie_bts

    January 1st, 2021 at 4:14 AM

    2021!! Welcome the year with a blast!!! I’ve got rejected by my closest friend. Unrequited Love that’s why Im here :D looking for positivity amidst the heartaches it brings.

  • sp

    February 6th, 2021 at 1:47 PM

    they used me, rejected me 3 times since we were youngsters to our middle ages. i am too hopelessly in love with them to stay away and too attracted physically to stay away. they have their way with me on their terms and then stop on their terms. the only shred of dignity is i havent confessed my feelings to them. they use me for free labor for their project and i give it because i believe in the project but also because i want to do the project and then reject their offer to compensate me. they have me around because i am good at what i do, i am attractive, dedicated to work, offer my best – it feeds their ego to have me around. and i miss them so i don’t leave. it hurts so much. every day every night. it was all on their terms – this is what hurts most – if they had approached me as an equal to mutually stop i might have felt better (maybe not) but they unilaterally withdraw on their own terms. i am so angry and helpless and i stay on in the hope of finding some way to regain a shred of dignity of justice. but justice does not exist in a world of power differentials and selfishness.

  • Paul

    February 9th, 2021 at 5:20 PM

    I’ve never expressed romantic / sexual interest in any woman because I know my feelings would not be reciprocated. I’m 43 and have never kissed anyone or been on a date. I am incapable of attracting any woman at that level – I have many women friends who seek out and enjoy my company and tell me that if I just tried a little bit I’d have no trouble finding lots of ladies who would want me. I think they’re just trying to be helpful – they know as well as I do that any woman I try to show romantic / sexual interest in would be offended.

  • Daniel

    August 28th, 2021 at 1:21 PM

    It’s been 14 years. I messaged “Jamie” on a dating site, and we met at a coffee shop. I felt a bit insecure beforehand, since she was an engineer and well-known artist while I was in school and working part-time. Any fear was unfounded. Once we started talking, I felt completely at ease. She had a level of charm and empathy that I had never seen in a person before (or since). Both of us being creative thinkers provided an endless supply of conversation topics. It turned out we had unknowingly crossed paths 11 years earlier during a summer arts program at my college four states away. I knew I wanted to see her again well before we parted ways for the night.
    Jamie was definitely interested in me, but I wasn’t sure if it was on a romantic or platonic level. We stayed in touch, and often got together for her exhibit openings or other events around the city. We always had a great time, and there was never an unkind word between us. We would regularly talk on the phone and support each other through the twists and turns of young adulthood.
    Then Jamie started confiding in me about how she was being rejected by men she wanted to date. To clear things up, I asked her how she felt about me romantically. She was surprised by the question, and said she saw me as a friend. She was looking for her polar opposite in a romantic partner, and we had too much in common for that. While this was painful to hear, I don’t believe she set out to hurt me – that’s not in her nature. It is possible that my desire for a romantic relationship was so strong that I missed an earlier cue.
    Perhaps I should have cut ties with Jamie at that point, but by then we had a tight bond, even though we were looking for different things in a relationship. I hoped that once we both found partners my romantic feelings would subside and we could stay friends. Obviously that was naive.
    The last time I saw Jamie was at one of her art shows, shortly after she was married. Our interaction was as cordial as ever, but by then I felt I could no longer be completely open with her. I knew I had to step back, and we gradually lost touch.
    I tried every trick in the book, from deleting Jamie’s number from my phone to blocking/unfollowing her on social media (although I am occasionally caught off guard when her exhibits are covered in the newspaper). Some would recommend making a list of the conflicts we had, but there were none aside from an uneasy moment or two. If you met Jamie even once, you would never forget her.
    Two years later, I met my wife, who is also a wonderful person. Of course no two relationships are the same, and no two people are the same. As ashamed as I am to admit it, when our marriage hits rough spots, it’s hard to keep my mind from going back there.
    I miss you, my friend.

  • nocluewhattowrite

    September 1st, 2021 at 11:15 AM

    its much more hard to handle for me personally because i take the littlest things as a sign of that person genuinely liking me back
    i havent been able to get over it for over a year now even though i know that person sees me as a friend and only that

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