On Valentine's Day of this year, the Washington Post featured a story about retired U.S. Marine Esteban Perez, who has spent every Valentine's Day standing on a street corner in Nuevo Laredo, hoping to catch a glimpse of the woman he loves, Cecilia. Perez and Cecilia first met in 1996 at a nightclub in Nuevo Laredo, and they dated for two months before their relationship came to an end.

The exact reason for their separation is unclear, but reports suggest that it may have been due to Perez's military duties. Despite this, Perez's devotion to Cecilia has remained steadfast, leading him to continue his annual Valentine's Day vigil in hopes of reuniting with her.

Unable to find or contact Cecilia, Esteban started returning to Nuevo Laredo after a few years and has been standing on the same street corner every Valentine's Day since, carrying flowers, in the hope that he might see her again. The locals have come to know him as “the soldier of love.”

According to Esteban, he has remained single all these years, never marrying or having children, because of his love for Cecilia. “I have never looked for another girl because I would never see in anyone else what I saw in Cecilia.”

Sounds tragic, and yet unrequited love is far more common than most of us would have ever imagined.

Unable to process our emotional responses

Unrequited love can be an incredibly painful experience that can trigger a range of emotional responses, such as sadness, frustration, and disappointment. When these emotional responses are not processed and resolved, they can contribute to a state of emotional devastation that can make it incredibly difficult for us to let go and move on.

Inability to process the emotional pain of unrequited love makes it difficult for us to accept and come to terms with the situation. We often find ourselves stuck in an excruciating state of emotional limbo, unable to let go of the person we have feelings for. It becomes even more difficult when we continue to see and interact with this person because it reinforces our feelings of longing and hope.

What makes unrequited love so damaging?

Unrequited love can easily turn into a downward spiral. It becomes a destructive cycle of repeated emotional wounding that can have an enormously harmful impact on our mental health. When we have feelings of love for someone who doesn't reciprocate those feelings, it can contribute to our feelings of rejection, shame, and embarrassment. This can do enormous damage to our self-esteem, erode our self-confidence, and even cause us to question our own worth as a person.

Unrequited love can easily feed into our feelings of sadness, depression, and anxiety. We find ourselves constantly thinking about the person we love, obsessing over their every move and action, and analyzing every interaction we've had with them. This can be incredibly exhausting and can take a toll on our mental health over time.

Unrequited love can also cause us to isolate ourselves from others, as we may feel like no one else can understand our feelings. Cutting ourselves off from other people exacerbates our feelings of loneliness and can make it harder for us to form meaningful connections with others.

Ten things we're probably going through, worried about, or lying in bed at night concerned about:

  • Replaying interactions with the person we love: We constantly replay conversations and interactions with the person we love in our heads, trying to find clues or signs that our feelings may be reciprocated.
  • Feeling rejected and unwanted: We feel rejected and unwanted, which contributes to our feelings of low self-esteem and self-worth.
  • Questioning our own worthiness: We may question our own worthiness and wonder why the person we love does not feel the same way about us.
  • Feeling stuck and unable to move on: We feel stuck and unable to move on from our feelings, which magnifies our sadness and despair.
  • Obsessing over the person we love: We obsess over the person we love, constantly checking their social media profiles or finding reasons to be near them.
  • Feeling ashamed or embarrassed: We feel ashamed or embarrassed about our feelings, which contributes to isolation and a tendency to withdraw.
  • Questioning our ability to find love: We question our ability to find love and wonder if we will ever find someone who reciprocates our feelings.
  • Worrying about ruining the friendship: We worry about confessing our feelings and ruining the friendship we have with the person we’re wanting so much to be with.
  • Feeling hopeless and helpless: We feel hopeless and helpless, believing that there is nothing we can do to change the situation.
  • Experiencing physical symptoms: We may experience physical symptoms such as loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, or feeling constantly on edge.

Understanding the deep psychological processes involved in unrequited love

It is essential for us to recognize the deep psychological processes that occur when we experience unrequited love or become obsessed with someone who does not reciprocate our feelings. Several factors contribute to our fixation and difficulty in letting go, including our brain's neurochemistry, our attachment patterns, and self-worth issues.

Neurochemistry: When we fall in love, our brains release a surge of neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin, which create feelings of pleasure, attachment, and excitement. In cases of unrequited love, our brain may still be producing these neurotransmitters, but the lack of reciprocation can lead to an imbalance or dysregulation. This accounts for the intensification of our emotions and obsession-like behaviors. We often continue to seek the “reward” of being with the person we're longing for, despite the lack of reciprocity, and that perpetuates the painful cycle of unfulfilled longing.

Attachment patterns: Early childhood experiences shape our attachment style, which influences how we form and maintain relationships later in life. Insecure attachment styles, such as anxious or avoidant, can increase our likelihood of developing unrequited love or fixating on potential partners who are unavailable. Anxious attachment, in particular, is characterized by a fear of abandonment. Our need for constant reassurance causes us to seek validation from romantic interests who don't reciprocate our feelings.

Self-worth issues: Those of us who struggle with self-esteem or have low self-worth are more susceptible to unrequited love. At a deep level, we believe we don't deserve a healthy, mutually satisfying partnership. Consequently, many of us fall into a pattern of seeking validation from someone who is unavailable. Pursuing the unobtainable reinforces our underlying sense of unworthiness and defectiveness, thereby perpetuating the painfully cyclical longing for someone who, for whatever reason, cannot reciprocate our desire to be together.

Trauma: Past traumas, such as childhood neglect, abuse, or previous relationship betrayals, make us even more susceptible to patterns of unrequited love. What makes it even worse is that parts of us associate being loved with being mistreated.

All those horribly painful feelings that we internalize from the lack of reciprocation resurface whenever we attempt to form a connection. The repeated trauma of forming attachments to individuals who do not reciprocate our love exacerbates our underlying distress while intensifying our needs for validation and connection.

Unrequited love can often be traced back to our upbringing or early romantic relationships. During our teenage years, when we are extremely vulnerable and still developing our sense of self, forming an attachment to someone who is abusive, or that traumatizes us can lead to a pattern of unrequited love later in life.

How cycles of childhood abuse and neglect are perpetuated through unrequited love

The cycle of abuse and neglect that began in childhood is in many instances perpetuated through patterns of unrequited love. Those of us who were abused or neglected as children internalize negative beliefs about ourselves, such as feelings of unworthiness, unlovability, or inadequacy. These beliefs become deeply ingrained and continue to shape the way we perceive ourselves and our relationships in adulthood.

Our early childhood experiences, particularly those involving abuse and neglect, can significantly impact the development of our attachment style. Insecure attachment styles, such as anxious or avoidant, can result from these adverse experiences and make us more susceptible to unrequited love or fixating on unavailable partners.

The unconscious drive to recreate familiar patterns of relationships, known as repetition compulsion, can predispose us to seek out partners who replicate the dynamics we experienced in our early childhood relationships. In the case of unrequited love, this might involve pursuing partners who are emotionally unavailable or unable to reciprocate our feelings, thus reinforcing the familiar feelings of rejection, abandonment, and unworthiness.

Unrequited love can serve as an unhealthy way of dealing with stress or problems for those of us who have experienced childhood abuse or neglect. By fixating on a person who does not reciprocate our feelings, we may be unconsciously attempting to protect ourselves from the potential pain of a fully committed, intimate relationship. This pattern can serve as a way to avoid confronting unresolved issues related to our childhood trauma.

The abuse and neglect we suffered in childhood can make it difficult for us to develop a strong sense of self and establish healthy boundaries in relationships. As a result, we're more likely to tolerate or even seek out relationships that involve unrequited love, emotional unavailability, or other unhealthy dynamics.

How our brain’s dopamine reward cycle reinforces patterns of unrequited love

Our brain’s dopamine reward cycle plays a significant role in perpetuating the pattern of unrequited love. When we develop feelings of love or attraction for someone, we experience a surge of dopamine in the brain. The neurotransmitter dopamine is associated with feelings of pleasure, reward, and motivation. Our anticipation of being with the person we’re attracted to, or receiving their attention or validation, triggers the release of dopamine.

Whenever we receive attention or validation from the person we’re attracted to, even if it's minimal or inconsistent, it reinforces our feelings of attraction and desire. That creates a reinforcing feedback loop, as the dopamine release makes us feel good, further motivating us to seek more of these rewarding experiences.

As we continue to seek the reward of attention and validation from the person we’re attracted to, we become more and more obsessed with them. We’re constantly thinking about that person, checking their social media profiles, or trying to find ways to be around them. This obsession is fueled by our brain’s dopamine-driven reward cycle.

In cases of unrequited love, our feelings are not being reciprocated by the person we’re attracted to. The lack of reciprocation can create an imbalance in our brain’s dopamine reward cycle. We may experience an intensified longing for the person we’re attracted to, as we continue to seek the dopamine-driven reward of attention and validation.

Despite the lack of reciprocation, we continue to hold onto the hope that the person we’re attracted to will eventually reciprocate our feelings. This hope, coupled with the dopamine reward cycle, perpetuates the pattern of unrequited love. We may become trapped in a cycle of seeking validation and reward from someone who is not reciprocating our feelings, causing emotional distress, and reinforcing the unhealthy pattern.


It's important to note that unrequited love can affect anyone, but I've found it to be far more common in people who are dissociated. Dissociation, or a lack of presence in the body, can make it especially difficult for some of us to process our emotional responses to unrequited love. We get strung out on a person, like a drug addict craving their next fix.

Unrequited love can be especially difficult because it often triggers a range of unpleasant and, in many instances, extraordinarily painful emotions, such as sadness, frustration, disappointment, anguish, and longing. These emotions can be incredibly difficult to process. If we don't process those emotions, we can never fully let go and move on.

If we remain dissociated, the pattern of unrequited love is far more likely to perpetuate itself. Many people struggling with unrequited love do seek out a therapist. And psychotherapy is an important part of many of our healing journeys. We also need to understand that there are limits to what psychotherapy can do for us. People often spend years or even decades talking about why their relationships are not working, and yet they're still very much dissociated or not fully inhabiting their bodies.

Suicidal Ideation

Unrequited love can be an extremely painful and difficult experience to go through, and in some cases, it can lead to suicidal thoughts and behaviors. When feelings of rejection and despair become so overwhelming, it can feel like there is no other way out. In fact, those who experience unrequited love may be at an increased risk for suicidal ideation and attempts.

It's important to seek professional help if you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or behaviors related to unrequited love. A mental health professional can provide support, guidance, and treatment to help you manage the overwhelming emotions and thoughts that may be contributing to suicidal ideation.

Distorted perception of reality

Unrequited love often involves elements of projection. It can be an incredibly ungrounding and delusional experience because it creates a distorted perception of reality. We end up projecting our needs, desires and fantasies onto the other person, rather than seeing them for who they truly are. Our projection can create an idealized image of the other person, making it difficult for us to see their flaws or imperfections. We invariably add fuel to the fire with our refusal to accept the truth of the situation.

We can easily interpret the other person's actions or behaviors as signs of romantic interest, even when there is none. This can give us a sense of false hope, and so we continue to pursue, despite the lack of reciprocation. Our delusion can also stem from our beliefs that the love itself is enough to change the other person's feelings, despite all evidence to the contrary.

How long does unrequited love last?

The duration of unrequited love can vary greatly depending on the individual and the circumstances. Some people are able to move on relatively quickly, while others may struggle with feelings of unrequited love for an extended period of time. In some cases, unrequited love can last a lifetime, especially if the person is unable or unwilling to move on.

Factors that can determine the duration of unrequited love include the intensity of the feelings, the depth of the relationship (if any), and the level of attachment to the other person. It's also important to note that unrequited love can cause a lot of emotional pain and can be difficult to cope with, so seeking support from friends, family, or a mental health professional may be necessary in order to move forward.

A profound longing to be with someone that is not being fulfilled

When we’re desperately struggling to hold onto and make a relationship work with someone who is not reciprocating our love, we're holding enormous emotional pain on the inside. The pain, which we're so resistant to feeling, is the underlying driving force that compels us to become fixated on someone who is not loving us back.

Weeks, months, years, and even decades can pass, but some of us continue to hold on indefinitely. At the core of it all lies a profound exhaustion stemming from our relentless efforts to forge a relationship and cling to the person we yearn for, despite their lack of reciprocated love.

I'm very familiar with unrequited love because I reenacted that dynamic with several women in my past. In many ways, I resisted the pain of my love not being reciprocated by doing everything I could to win their love and make the relationship work. Resisting the pain perpetuated the pattern that caused me so much suffering and prevented me from letting go.

Many of us fall into a destructive pattern of fantasizing about the person we’re longing for. We imagine being together and being loved by that person, even indulging in sexual fantasies about them. This behavior becomes highly self-destructive when it causes us to continue holding onto that individual.

I taught myself to break the habit. I started by acknowledging the reality of the situation: “She's not here. She's not communicating with me. She's in love with another man.” I kept bringing myself back to reality. I would then ask myself, “What does this truly feel like?” I would then allow myself to fully experience every feeling that arose in response to the reality of unrequited love that was playing out in my life. Embracing reality while breathing into the depths of all those painful feelings helped me dissolve those unhealthy attachments.

Breathing softly and deeply while fully immersing my awareness in the depths of all those feelings and sensations has also been a big part of breaking the pattern. Working with this breathing practice became much more effective when I did it in conjunction with deep tissue bodywork, sessions with gifted healers, and the vision quest.

I repeated that pattern multiple times, enacting the pattern in one relationship, but not fully resolving it, only to reenact it with the next woman down the line. Once I started understanding the steps I needed to take for healing, I gradually freed myself.

During my meditations, I would often bring the woman to whom I had formed such a strong attachment into the forefront of my awareness. I would then breathe into every feeling and bodily sensation that arose. In many instances, I would continue to do this practice for weeks or months at a time. I alternated my practice by breathing softly and deeply while bringing my full awareness to the feelings and sensations within my abdomen. At other times, I would breathe while immersing my awareness within the full range of sensations throughout my body.

Working with this practice brought up a lot of heavy, painful emotions. At times, it took me to a place where I felt incredibly vulnerable. Incorporating chi gong into my daily practice, however, helped me create a counterbalance to the intense emotions I was processing, providing a lighter and more neutral presence to offset the painful emotions.


Working with this practice has been an incredibly important part of my healing process, but I could only get to a certain point on my own. Psychotherapy helped me to gain a cognitive understanding of the patterns I was enacting in my relationships. Deep tissue bodywork helped me to release more of the emotions that were trapped in my body so that I could process them.

I had the opportunity to work with a number of gifted healers. During the individual sessions, I could feel the deeply entrenched patterns being dismantled, and I felt the easing of the painful emotions and the beginning of a new foundation being built from which I could form healthier attachments. The problem is that there are very few individuals working in this capacity, and they don't come around very often.

I had spent a few years training with one of the last surviving traditional doctors from the Kiowa Indian tribe in my early twenties. At thirty, I began to feel a strong pull to return to the Wichita Mountains to go on the vision quest, a traditional healing process that involves going out to fast alone in the mountains for four days and nights without food or water.

It was during the vision quest that I felt an extraordinarily powerful presence working within my body. I would enter an altered dreamlike state and could feel myself digesting the painful relational dramas and all the emotions attached to it. This ancient healing presence began building a whole new foundation, creating internal models that enabled me to form healthier attachments. I found it much easier to let go when feelings were not mutual, and I began experiencing more reciprocity with the women I was attracted to. As that happened, I began to co-create more meaningful and fulfilling relationships.

Nearly everyone experiences unrequited love at some point in their lives. Most will get over it and move on. Those of who are deeply wounded will require considerable practice and intervention. Reach out to me if I can be of assistance.

©Copyright 2023 Ben Oofana. All Rights Reserved.

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