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The Spirituality of Unrequited Love

By John Mallon
© 1993, 2005 by John Mallon

Unrequited love feels like death. In fact, there are times when death would seem preferable to the unrelenting pain and frustration. There are those, even in the Church, who would seek to minimize or make light of this most unique agony: “Oh, don’t worry about it! Women (or men) are like street cars, there’s another one along any minute!” Like Hell. I don’t think there is any other pain quite like that of unrequited love, especially when rejection is involved, although that might even be preferable to being strung along with hopes raised and dashed with punishing regularity. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a wish fulfilled is the tree of life.” (Proverbs 13:12)

Even the death of a loved one has a clean finality to it, and, normally, is not a deliberate choice on the part of the other to be free of you. Advice from others all sounds cliché. Especially from those well meaning but insensitive vocational terrorists who zoom in with, “Well, maybe God wants you for himself! Have you considered that possibility?” As if you haven’t. Besides, someone heartbroken from rejection, grief, and loss is in no mood to have the joys of celibacy preached at them. The subject of vocation is holy ground where we take off our shoes and tread softly, not go charging in with golf cleats and glib answers. Especially when it’s someone else’s vocation. Unrequited love is real valid agony. And no one has a right to rob you of it so cheaply, especially if they’re stacking false guilt over “not following God’s will” on top of it. It must be endured. And can be.

Unrequited love is the very pain of God. The Crucifix is a snapshot of unrequited love. God doesn’t minimize this pain. Suffering it can be a profound identification with Christ’s pain over the lack of appreciation He receives from His Bride. Suffering can be an expression of love and profound sanity. Without love all is demonic chaos. In A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis said he never imagined grief felt so much like fear. And so it should. Grief follows separation and echoes the ultimate calamity of separation from God. As the unity of man and woman in one flesh mirrors the image and likeness of God, so too the separation of man from woman conjures the cruelty and fragmentation of Hell. But some loves must die, if they are not from God they are not really loves anyway, but still it hurts, like Hell. All death hurts like Hell, because God did not make it. (See Wisdom 1:13-14) But He did redeem it by entering into our separations.


This article originally appeared October 14, 1993, in the Troubadour, the student Newspaper of Franciscan University of Steubenville. It also appears in the unpublished collection Common Sense Spirituality: A Catholic Guide to Avoiding Spiritual Nonsense, by John Mallon


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Unrequited love, spirituality, heartbreak, relationships, break-ups

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1 - 10 of 17 Comments

  1. Ky
    3 years ago

    I have unrequited love for some one and looking for help. But I can't find someone who feels as I feel. It use to bother me real bad but then I notice after some time past and I'd see him, all the stress and pain that i endure from other stressful life sitions went away. I became closer to God , tryinhg to better myself and help with life stressors. when I seen him after months , I felt i wasnt good enough and not in a bad sense, but my heart, my life, I felt there was too much sin and i knew that i wasnt the best person i knew i can be, and i just wasnt myself and i went to God and I repent. repent as often as can and try not to sin. I dont lust for him and if the slighest idea pop up i repent right there. My UR love helps me not sin and helps me be better as a person. I wanted the love to go away until i realized how happy he made me. It does feel cruel that he is not mine. but i am just so thankful i met him and i can once agian feel love, that i thought I was roobed of and never see agian.

  2. Raphael
    5 years ago

    I think that this is an excellent article, which definitely helps to put in perspective the feelings of unrequited love. It offers a valid viewpoint that I would not have otherwise come across.

  3. M
    5 years ago

    Spare us. I don't want to hear about an "afterlife" or "spiritual relationships"; some of us want to be happy NOW, and not have to suffer in THIS life. I ended my friendship with a man who did not love me back; he relished the friendship, so when I rejected him, it was his turn to suffer.

  4. Scott Vines
    6 years ago

    This is an excellent article for all Christians, even for those like me who are not Catholic. Remember, you will be richly rewarded for everything you suffer in this life, if you die in Christ. Try to imagine how much deeper your relationship with Him will be in this life, and especially the next, if you've really loved someone, thought they should or did love you, and ended up being used or otherwise rejected. Jesus loves all of us, but He was rejected.
    And we reject Him every day when we sin. He feels this way every time we hurt Him. So now you have a better idea how he feels. He really does love us.

  5. Alex
    6 years ago

    If God doesn't minimize the pain of unrequited love, then there no point in worshiping now isn't it

  6. Dani
    6 years ago

    I won't even ask for a happy ending, just closure. I wish I could get over it.

  7. Lisa
    6 years ago

    I've been in love with him since 4th grade. My first and only love. I've always prayed that I would end up with him. I'm only now coming to the realization that I'm not what he wants. I'm only in college, but I don't think anything will hurt quite like this.

  8. Tony
    6 years ago

    I'm in this situation. At school.
    ahh High School unrequited love no? Sigh. I don't know why but even if it hurts, i'm fine if she doesn't want anything more. I just want her happy. I really do.

  9. Kris
    6 years ago

    I miss my ex. I love him, but he doesn't love me because he has a girlfriend. And it HURTS.

  10. John
    6 years ago

    Yes, I too am suffering through an unrequited love at work. The most difficult part is I have to work with this person nearly every day. I have told her how I feel about her only to have her tell me there is no chance for us - to further complicate matters we are both in unhappy marriages. She does not wish to be the other woman or do anything to hurt my children. We almost slept together at a National Meeting last year - but did not (I was the one who didn't make it happen). 6 months went by and she said nothing about it and then out of the blue brought it up for no apparent reason other than to bring it up. Lately she has been more flirtatious which only confuses me more. I know I have to move on and treat her as the work colleague she is but my heart won't let me. She has all the qualities in a woman I desire. I know what I have to do I just don't want to.

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