Everything I Learned From Loving Someone Who Didn't Love Me Back
Love is a tricky thing.
As someone who isn't very in touch with my emotions, I'm the first to admit that feelings are terribly confusing.
"Do I actually like him or do I just like that he pays for my food?" is a question that I find myself struggling with way too often, so I'm pretty understanding about uncertainty when it comes to relationships.
(Stranger Things via Netflix)
However, understanding that feelings aren't black and white doesn't make it any less hurtful when relationships don't work out in your favor. Despite my struggles with genuine emotions, I eventually reached a point in my life where I was absolutely and unquestionably in love with my then-boyfriend. There was just one small problem: He wasn't in love with me.
Of course, every romance teaches a lesson. Keep scrolling for everything I learned from loving someone who didn't love me back.
1. Actions Speak Louder Than Words
I met Noah* right before I started college. We knew of each other before that time through mutual friends, but hadn't actually spent much time together. When we did finally connect in person, sparks flew instantly. We had an easy chemistry and a general feeling that we just understood each other, which neither of us ever experienced before.
Noah told me he loved me a few months into our three-year relationship, and I wholeheartedly returned the sentiment. I thought we were on the path to a happily ever after, but if that had been the case, then this wouldn't be much of a story, amirite?
Eventually, an unequal balance developed in our relationship. I was always available when Noah needed me. I adjusted plans to help him through a few difficult life struggles, spent countless hours supporting and encouraging him as he disclosed his stresses with school and basically did everything I could to ensure he was happy and well-supported. Whatever he needed, I was available for him, but when I needed his help or support it was a completely different story.
If I asked him to call or come over to help me with a problem, I was often told that he already had plans with friends that he didn't want to cancel. When I started struggling with an overwhelming sense of stress regarding my schoolwork and my future, the disclosure of my worries and fears often resulted in accusations that I was just being too needy. For every time I was there when Noah needed me, there were three times he refused to give me the same help.
All through this very unhealthy time in our relationship, Noah always proclaimed his deep love for me. He tried to smooth over arguments and my worries or doubts by explaining how much he cared for me. I was deeply in love with him, so I decided to take his words at face value. I stuck by his side, continuing to put all the effort into making our relationship work.
Eventually, Noah ended our relationship. It caught me totally by surprise, but looking back on it, I realize it shouldn't have. His actions throughout our entire romance were clear signals that he wasn't in love with me. Taking his words at face value only heightened the intense pain of our breakup.
Even though it's a very over-used cliche, actions really do speak louder than words. Acknowledging what someone will actually do for you is the best insight you can get into any relationship. If someone isn't acting like they love you, you should always assume they don't love you, no matter how difficult that might be to admit.
(The Vampire Diaries via The CW)
2. Unequal Effort Will Never Result in a Healthy Relationship
It's not that I didn't recognize Noah's lack of effort—I did. We had many an argument about the unequal balance in our relationship, where I struggled to make him understand just how much his actions were hurting me.
The problem was that I didn't fully recognize the impact that this disproportionate effort would have. I truly believed that I could make up for his shortcomings by trying even harder on my end. I thought that if I just put enough effort in, I could save what was (at the time) my ideal relationship.
It took me a while to understand that unequal efforts can never result in a healthy relationship. Trying to make up for someone's flaws doesn't create a balance, it just makes you all the more exhausted trying to hold a relationship together that clearly isn't working. If someone truly cares about you, they'll do everything they can to ensure that you're happy and fulfilled. If they don't, you might have to accept that you don't mean as much to them as they mean to you.
(Gossip Girl via The CW)
3. Don't Let Yourself Turn Into Someone You Don't Recognize
Honestly, unrequited love can make you a little crazy. I'm the first person to admit that I didn't handle the slow deterioration of mine and Noah's relationship well. I became overly jealous, increasingly demanding of his time and attention and sometimes just plain mean. When I felt like he was slipping away, I reacted in anger, often hurling unfounded accusations at him or bursting into tears.
By the time our breakup rolled around, I barely recognized myself. I was never the jealous girlfriend, and I pride myself on my ability to keep a cool head in frustrating situations. Suddenly, I was an emotional wreck who was filled with an overwhelming sense of frustration and anxiety at the slightest mistake. Sadly, that only made me want Noah even more because my sudden realization that I had transformed into an unidentifiable version of myself only made me want to cling to something familiar.
If you ever feel like you're losing yourself or you're turning into someone you don't like in your partnership, it's time to re-assess the relationship. My frustrations and difficulties stemmed from a deep fear of losing someone I cared so much about. I was so afraid, in fact, that I let myself lose track of what I really wanted in an effort to keep someone who didn't really want me.
It's honestly impossible to have a healthy relationship if you don't stay true to who you are. Once you feel like you're losing your identity, the relationship is already doomed, so you should probably say a quick goodbye and head for the hills.
(Frozen via Walt Disney Animation Studios)
4. Someone Who Can't Return Your Love Doesn't Deserve It
This was probably the hardest thing for me to come to terms with. I spent years showering Noah with affection and attention, allowing my love to manifest in a variety of different forms. I was his emotional crutch, his support system and sometimes a shield that blocked him from dealing with some very real personal issues, oftentimes at the expense of my own health and well-being.
I can't say that I regret all the effort I put into my relationship with Noah because I don't. It taught me so much about what it means to truly care about someone, how to draw boundaries within relationships and how to effectively communicate things that are bothering you.
However, what I finally realized was that Noah didn't deserve everything I did for him. It's not that he's a terrible person or that I harbor hate or anger towards him—it's simply that reaping the benefits of a loving relationship shouldn't get to just happen. Noah spent years taking everything I could give and only giving the bare minimum in return—that's not how love works.
Love depends on reciprocity—you have to give in order to take. If someone can't return the love that you're putting into a relationship, then they don't deserve the benefits of the love you feel for them. Does that make them a bad person? Not at all. It just means that they have to find someone else who they're willing to love, just as you have to find someone else who is willing to love you.
((500) Days of Summer via Fox Searchlight Pictures)
5. Listen to Your Fears
If there's one piece of advice I wish I was able to follow more closely, it's that I should have trusted myself. Months before we broke up, I had many, many fears about the state of our relationship. I recognized the negative aspects and I could very clearly see that we weren't headed down a good path, but I ignored my worries. I convinced myself that I only felt afraid because I'd never been in love before, and that my worries would pass with time.
Whatever you do, listen to those annoying nagging voices inside your head. At the end of the day, you have to be able to trust yourself, and trusting yourself starts with listening to what your subconscious is trying to tell you. Sometimes your worries will be totally unfounded, and that's an awesome feeling. Not every fear should result in a total change of direction—we would never get anything done that way.
The important thing about your fears is simply listening to them and taking the time to analyze where they're coming from. Not only will that make you much more in tune with what you need and want, it also might save you from heading down a path that will never result in a happy ending.
(Perks of Being a Wallflower via Summit Entertainment)
6. Don't Regret the Risk
If you were looking for a cheerful story about how unrequited love really isn't that bad, I'm sorry I can't provide you with happier news. There's no way around it—falling in love with someone who doesn't love you is downright painful. Unrequited love will always hurt, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't risk it.
Falling in love doesn't take one straight path. There's no formula you can follow, and there's honestly no way to ever be positive that it's completely right. All you can do is follow how you feel in the moment, and try to take your brain along for the bumpy ride that is literally every romantic relationship.
If you never put yourself out there, you'll never find love. If you don't risk the painful heartbreaks, frustrating emotions and disheartening moments of discouragement, you won't get any of the happy times either. Risk is always involved when you're trying to achieve something great, so don't let a little heartbreak stop you from pursuing a great love.
*Names have been changed
Finding love might not be a perfectly straight path, but there are definitely some bumps in the road that you should watch out for. Click HERE for seven relationship red flags you should never ignore.