When The Feeling Isn’t Mutual: How It Feels To Be In An Unrequited Attraction

I was a freshman at a small, Midwestern university and he was the “dream guy.” Older and tall with blonde, curly hair, he was witty and smart. Bell-ringingly attractive, in fact. Our meeting was akin to one of those cliché movie scenes: the first week of college at a party and everything unfolding in slow motion.

I was only 18 years old and no one had ever mesmerized me so completely. For confidentiality reasons (and so I don’t completely “out” him here), let’s call him “Paul.” Perfect Paul.

Later, we would see each other around campus and we would say hello. Sometimes, we were even thrown in together with the same social group. But, if my life were really a movie, now would be the time to point out a minor detail: He wasn’t interested in me. At all.

Lacking the better judgment to emotionally pick up and move on, I continued to stew in futile fantasies. But, his continuing lack of interest in me only made me want him more. I’d been drawn into that piercingly painful psychological spiral to which I know many others have also befallen.

My hope was that I could change myself and conform to what I thought he wanted. But, in my efforts to launch The New Andrew — Paul's ideal Andrew —, I was morphing into an alien version of myself. My wardrobe skewed preppy (not my favorite look), and I feigned interest in topics about which I neither knew nor cared.

As my efforts to conform to his perceived desires pushed me further into my charade, the real me diminished; I knew it was absurd. I had never felt there were any perks to being a wallflower, but I had now learned, throughout months of awkwardness, that there were also no perks to contorting yourself to fit someone else’s ideal.

The New Andrew never did make Perfect Paul’s heart throb, and by the dead of winter, I admitted defeat and ended my foolish efforts. During this time of introspection, however, something grand began to happen. I guess it was my silver lining that met me upon hitting my psychological rock bottom.

I began to remember the many movies and books that deal with the pain of unrequited love. My epiphany was that my predicament was not one of unrequited love, but rather, unrequited attraction. Upon further thought, I came up hard on the reality that this was not about Paul; it was about hollow me.

The next wave of insight that startled me was realizing the over-sized, exaggerated pain that unrequited attraction can cause you to feel — if your sense of self is a vacuum, that is.

I began to appreciate that I didn’t really know Perfect Paul, despite having handed him a tremendous power: the power to make me feel powerless. I reduced myself to an article of merchandise and, in turn, him, as well. This insidious degradation had successfully dehumanized both of us as far as my mind was concerned.

And so, I returned to being me. And, you'll never guess what happened when I embraced my newly-minted self-awareness. Perfect Paul began to show interest in me. Initially, this created a wonderful disorientation, but it also left me with confused feelings to sort.

As we increasingly encountered one another around our small campus, his attention became less subtle. Strangely, though, it didn't make me happy. I wasn’t exhilarated. I wasn’t much of anything, even though I was getting exactly what I thought I wanted.

I began to realize that all along, I had built Perfect Paul into a caricature, one based substantially on appearances. In getting to know him better, I finally saw that Paul wasn’t so perfect.

The fact that I had an unhealthy need to mentally elevate Paul tempered my need for adoration. I was coming to understand why the Chinese expression, “Be careful what you wish for,” has endured for so many centuries.

Merchandising Paul and myself both stemmed from my tortured need for validation. I had reduced another guy to a commodity — an unattainable one, at that — to be purchased in the social marketplace.

We often invest so much of ourselves in symbols, labels and logos. We spend excessive money to elevate our statuses and climb the social ladder. I had simply assigned my objectified version of Paul a high pricetag. Like others need validation from cars and homes, I sought approval from winning over a human product.

Two years have separated me from my need to corroborate my inner worth. I’ll never lose sight of the underestimated destructive power unrequited attraction can wield over our lives. Paul was and is just Paul.

I am just Andrew. Though I learned the hard way, I gained a better understanding of how an empty sense of self can compel one to reduce others to objects. I continue to gain strength by accepting people as they are, and accepting myself as myself.

Photo Courtesy: We Heart It