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.

  • Adam

    August 16th, 2023 at 8:29 AM

    I told my best friend a 37 year old woman that I want to upgrade our relationship. She told me she doesn’t feel the same way. But wont tell me why, just a no. She still wants to be my friend. Don’t I deserve an answer/reason?

  • 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

  • struggling

    December 16th, 2021 at 12:24 AM

    This is both very relatable and hard to read. We all know walking away from the woman we love is the right thing to do but we love off the ‘what if’ or lay in wait hoping she falls for us…Me and my female friend grew very close this year, even sleeping in the same bed numerous times. What I took as a woman falling in love turned out to be someone who loves me unconditionally as a friend and nothing more. I allowed what I thought were feelings of love take over my mind of sped out of control. I expressed how I felt and she took that as me playing a long winded game just to have sex. I always saw her as a friend but only 3-4 weeks ago did I see her as someone more than that..I miss the friendship we had as there were no complications or issues. Now I’m in love with someone who doesn’t feel the same way. Walking away loses not only the woman I fell in love with but also my best friend. It hurts

  • Ashley

    December 20th, 2021 at 10:21 AM

    To sp, I know what it feels like to love someone that way. It’s extraordinarily painful and really hard to walk away from. But in reading your comment, I noticed that you do see your own value. And that means, somewhere deep inside, you know this relationship isn’t serving you. I wonder, have you ever tried to use creativity to let some of your emotions out? Like, have you ever tried to write a poem or a story or even just a journal entry about what you’ve been feeling? I hope you’re not still dealing with this person, but if you are and you would like to begin the moving on process, try finding a way to let out all your emotions. I find that helps a lot.

  • Joe

    February 10th, 2022 at 9:52 PM

    I’ve been attracted to my friend for several years now.I never told her how I feel because I’m 24 years older than her. She mentioned to me once that ten years is the highest she’ll go. So our friendship has continued to grow, but whenever she tells me about someone she’s dating or interested in, I find I feel a lot of pain and hurt and unattractive. No matter how many times I tell myself that there is too much of an age difference and that we probably will always be better as close friends than as lovers, these feelings won’t go away. I tell myself that this is more about my insecurities and lack of self worth than it is about my friend. But it only helps so much. Sometimes I feel that I should’ve been more upfront with her so if she would’ve rejected me, I would know for sure that we’ll always be just friends and there wouldn’t be this wondering about the possibility that there could be something more.

  • rip

    May 25th, 2022 at 10:50 AM

    i’m living with a broken heart. years and years not being able to let go.

  • medievil

    May 30th, 2022 at 10:32 PM

    bought my friend a birthday gift, didn’t really think that much about it… yes I do have a crush, but she is unavailable, so I would never broach that subject…. anyway, long story short… I had the gift delivered to her home and the next day(saturday) I was unfriended, no contact, no reason, nothing… gift(coat for winter cause she didn’t have one) had been opened, tried on, etc… but when I got to work on Monday morning it was there in front of the door… been 8 days now, nothing, she hasn’t read my message (though she did get it )
    so yea, got my friend a birthday gift and immediately lost that friend… so yea I am lost, confused, sad… dunno what happened….

  • J. Doe

    December 1st, 2022 at 9:53 AM

    sp, it’s interesting you say this; I can definitely sympathize. In my case, I was friends with a person who was mutually attracted to me but was prone to hot and cold behavior and broadcasting mixed signals. He was governed by a lot of fear and was not ready for a committed relationship. Throughout our 3 year friendship, we attempted to be more than friends multiple times, but I always had to back away because he would get cold feet, and I wanted to honor his boundaries. What did I learn from his constant back and forth? That my wants were not being considered. I adapted to his need for space, and sometimes he would disappear without much notice… and this was not fair.

    After the third attempt, I had to re-evaluate the relationship. It takes two to tango. And eventually one gets tired of being built up to then be shut down. There are only so many times a person can endure this before their self-esteem takes a hit. I was a very present friend, and I was very compassionate/patient during his cold seasons… but I could not deny the fact that “I” was willing and capable of consistency. “I” needed that from him as well. After round 3 of giving everything I had, I realized that I needed to bow out. I needed to preserve my dignity. His inability to take accountability for his own feelings started to breed resentment between us. I wanted what I wanted; he was never sure–there’s a huge misalignment there. I came to learn that he was prone to indecision and wishy-washy behavior in many assets of his life. This should have been a red flag, but I continued to persist… and push. Red flags are there for a reason. That “gut” feeling that we get is our intuition screaming at us to read the signs.
    We also have to take responsibility for our part in this. We oftentimes assign blame to one party, but we also have choices here. Do we continue to allow them to run circles around us without setting our own boundaries? or do we establish control? Remember that we need to teach others how to treat us; we cannot assume that they have a built-in understanding of our respective language. But if we constantly take them back, we are inadvertently communicating that their behavior is okay and that we are willing to tolerate it.
    Needless to say, I had to end contact with this friend. Things got very confusing and going “no contact” seemed like the most viable option to me. As an empath who had a lot of skin in the game, this has been very painful. However, in the grand scheme, I know that I did what was in my best interest. I could no longer navigate as if we were “all good.” That served his narrative, but not mine… and what you want matters.
    Sometimes stepping away from a situation will help you develop some objectivity. It’s okay for you to take some space to reevaluate. You should ask yourself if the friendship is reciprocal and whether or not it is serving you. We deserve to surround ourselves with people who do not take us for granted.

  • Luz

    January 19th, 2023 at 3:48 PM

    I’m faced with exactly the same situation now…
    It really hurts I actually cried…I have tried so many times in the past to walk away I just keep coming back..took me 15months to know that i had fallen head over heels for my best friend…. walking away really hurts🥺

  • D

    March 8th, 2023 at 6:07 AM

    I work mostly alone in an office, I go home and don’t go out or meet anyone. Recently there has been a new person in my life that has lit up my world and made me think that maybe there is a future worth living for. She has only been working with me for a few months and every Friday afternoon I look forward to seeing her. She is someone who is naturally gifted at inter personal relationships and is well liked by everyone who she interacts with. She has a knack for putting people at ease and just radiates positivity and always manages to lift my spirits whenever she is around me. I have completely fallen for her and whenever she is not around all I can do is pine for her companionship. I am not conventionally attractive and struggle with low self esteem, I am alone at the best of times but being without her somehow makes me feel lonely to the very core of my being. I know that there is no future romantically between us and it kills me. She is half my age and is already in a long term committed relationship. I’m not about to kid myself into thinking that what we have together is anything other than a platonic work place friendship. It’s just getting so hard now to deal with these feelings of unrequited love for her. My heart is broken into pieces. She will be leaving soon to start a new placement and I will miss her terribly. The thing is, I don’t know what is worse: her being in my life, a constant reminder of her love that I can’t attain. Or being without her and missing the joy and radiance that she brings. I know that I am just a bit part player in her life and she is driven and will achieve great things. I want to see her succeed and she will, but not with me. It is killing me, she is one of the greatest people I have ever met in my life. Maybe when she leaves for good I will not be so hopelessly love sick. I don’t usually post on these things but I just had to put my feelings into words. I just want to cry.

  • Pining4KM

    May 23rd, 2023 at 10:39 AM

    Unrequited love is another form of grief. It’s unfortunate that I know the pain of both. I lost my first wife to brain cancer when I was 29 years old. That loss destroyed me and I jumped on the first relationship that came along. Marriage and 2 kids later, and I here I am wishing I was single. Over the past 6 years, I’ve gotten close with someone who works directly for me. She’s twice divorced but we get along famously and she is the most beautiful woman I have ever met. A couple of years ago, I decided I would see how she felt about me. It went horribly wrong and she accused me of not considering her stress when I just asked if she ever thought of me romantically. I didn’t even admit that I was head over heels in love with her. After her rejection, I cut off contact for several months, which wasn’t easy because she still works for me. Eventually, we had to talk and she declared it was “water under the bridge”. Since then, she says I’m the only friend who she can talk to about anything and I have helped her through numerous tough times. She says I’m the only one is always there for her but she only reaches out to me for work stuff or when she has a problem and wants my help. I can’t even remember the last time she asked me how I’m doing. Needless to say, I’m still hopelessly in love with her but I know it something that can never be. I’d have to break my wife’s heart, destroy the only family that my kids know, and one of us would have to quit our job. That’s just too much to give up but at the same time, I haven’t felt love like this since before my first wife passed away. And this feeling of unrequited love is very similar to the grief I felt when I lost my first wife. I feel like I’m constantly in a state of perpetual purgatory and there is no way to make this work. I know I could give her everything she never had and I know we would be a match made in heaven. But is it worth the cost of my family or job? Every time I ask that question, the answer is a resounding no. And even if I were to blow up my life for her, there is no guarantee that she would ever see me as more than a friend so there’s a more than likely chance that I would just end up alone. Like many others that are seeking answers to how to deal with unrequited love, I’m at a loss. Stay strong my fellow lovesick friends. I wish I had more answers for you or that I could give you hope for a happily ever after. Unfortunately, that’s not the way this cruel world works and all we can do is try our best to keep our head above the water.

  • John

    August 29th, 2023 at 2:05 AM

    I went on a trip with my school’s marching band to Disney in Florida. One of the days my group of friends were sitting on a bench. I have wide shoulders, and there were 5 people on the bench, so I put my arms out and happened to put my arm around a girl I just met that day. And she had a very jealous boyfriend (who I was friends with but didn’t know how jealous he was). Anyways, people thought we flirting and asked her boyfriend if they were still together. A bunch of stuff happened, and I grew feelings for her after a couple of weeks of hanging out and trying to figure out a bunch of drama. (There were 3-to 4 other big dramas that happened over the next few months) During this, I admitted that I loved her, and soon after she said that she also had feelings for me. For a couple of weeks, we were seriously considering starting a relationship, but eventually, she started to lose her feelings for me. For a couple of months, I was just hoping that they might come back, but recently she has been getting closer with someone else. I know I should let go so that I don’t get in the way of anything, but I can’t. A lot of my favorite memories are with her, and she helped me learn things about myself.

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