Your heart jumps when they walk into the room. You get butterflies every time they send a text. You may or may not have turned on post and story notifications for their Instagram. Everything seems to be going great until one day, you find out the person you’re super into is super into… someone else.
Sometimes, it’s just a crush, and you’ll move on to a new one faster than you can say “thank u, next.” But when you’ve legitimately fallen for someone who doesn’t feel the same, it’s unrequited love—and it’s seriously crushing.
According to psychology professor Gary W. Lewandowksi Jr., Ph.D., unrequited love can take many forms: having a crush on someone unavailable (Liam Hemsworth), crushing on someone nearby (that cute trainer at your gym), pursuing a love interest (shooting your shot but getting turned down), longing for a past lover (your ex—oops), and being in an unequal love relationship (catching feelings for a FWB).
But whatever form it takes, unrequited love is simply “unreciprocated love,” says Lewandowksi. “It’s the love you have for another person who does not love you back.”
Of course, getting over the pain of unrequited love is easier said than done (sigh). Luckily, these expert-approved tips will help you move on—for good.
1. Cut off contact for 30 days.
You know the warm and fuzzy feeling you get when your crush posts a new pic on Instagram or texts you back? That’s dopamine—the feel-good neurochemical associated with falling in love. When love isn’t reciprocated, however, that source of dopamine disappears, and your brain starts to go through withdrawal.
“In order to get over these initial [withdrawal] symptoms, give yourself at least 30 days of no contact to start, then reevaluate how you’re feeling after one month,” Samantha Burns, licensed mental health counselor, dating coach and author of Breaking Up & Bouncing Back advises. Yup, that means unfollowing and/or blocking them on social media, too. This, she explains, will help you resist the urge to cyber stalk and “free up some mental energy” you can redirect into healthier habits.
2. Prepare to go through the stages of grief.
“The emotions and pain from getting over unrequited love can feel quite similar to breaking up from an established relationship,” says Burns. In fact, moving on from a one-sided love situation can be “especially painful because you often put your crush on a pedestal.” Plus, she says, “mourning the loss of a future you envisioned together” can hurt just as much, or more, than ending an exclusive, committed relationship that didn’t work out for concrete reasons.
Burns says you’ll likely go through some, if not all, of the stages of breakup grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.So “give yourself time to wallow and process your emotions,” she advises. “Research shows that just the act of becoming mindfully aware of your emotions and labeling them can help you regulate these intense feelings.”
The amount of time needed will usually depend on how long you’ve been in unrequited love. For those who’ve been crushing hard for multiple years, Burns estimates “you’ll likely need at least three months to get to a more neutral place.”
But “time isn’t really the best measure” of the healing process, according to Lewandowski. “Rather, it has nearly everything to do with what happens during that time,” he explains. “…Have you taken the time to work on recovery? Engaged in coping strategies?”
3. Stop ‘running into them’ all the damn time.
While you might have spent months staging “casual” run-ins with your crush, now’s the time to avoid them like the plague. This will help you “set healthy boundaries and not constantly surround yourself with triggers,” according to Burns.
If your crush is part of your regular social circle, Burns suggests making plans with different groups of friends or even making new friends. “If you work together, avoid the coffee station or lunchroom where you typically flirt or try to catch their attention,” she adds. When you do have to interact, keep the relationship “solely focused around work issues” so you don’t give yourself false hope.
4. Tell your crush you need space.
If your crush already knows your feelings, you’ve got nothing left to lose. Might as well be a badass who’s straightforward about what you want and need from the relationship (or lack thereof) going forward. “Tell them that you need to take time and space to heal and move on, and that you’ll reach out if and when you’re ready,” says Burns. “Do not leave this up for debate, and do not feel the need to justify your actions.” You know what you need better than anyone else, so trust yourself and ask for it.
5. Recognize unrequited love for what it is.
“Unrequited love is love-ish, or love light,” Lewandowski explains. While it shares some qualities with reciprocated love, it “isn’t experienced as intensely as true romantic love.” That’s good news, he says, because just knowing there’s potential for something better can help you move on.
6. Remind yourself why you’re awesome.
“Don’t allow unrequited love to make you doubt yourself or what you deserve from a partner,” Burns advises. “… Remind yourself every day that you define your own worth.” She suggests replacing negative thoughts with a positive affirmation or mantra, such as, “I am worthy of love, value, and respect, both from myself and from a partner.” (And if a mantra isn’t your thing, you can always play Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Party for One” on repeat.)
7. Talk to a professional.
Many people can move on from a crush no sweat. But for others, there’s only so much a social media cleanse and self-care routine can do. “If you’re struggling, professional support is always a helpful option,” says Burns.
Lewandowski agrees and adds that therapy would likely be beneficial for anyone whose “experiences associated with the unrequited love are severe enough and interfering with everyday functioning.”If you’re too depressed to get out of bed in the morning, you’re struggling to sleep due to anxiety, or your friends and family are noticing something’s off, it’s probably time to get professional help.
Of course, if traditional therapy isn’t in your budget, you might want to try a more cost-effective option, such as a therapy app.
Getting over unrequited love isn’t easy, but come on, it’s way better than pining over someone who doesn’t deserve you. And when the right person does come along, you’ll be ready.