30 Of The Most Powerful Unrequited Love Quotes From Literature

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Claire Handscombe


Claire Handscombe moved from Europe to DC in 2012, ostensibly to study for an MFA in Creative Writing, but actually – let’s be honest – because of an obsession with The West Wing. She is the author of Unscripted, a novel about a young woman with a celebrity crush and a determined plan, and the editor of Walk With Us: How The West Wing Changed Our Lives. She also hosts the Brit Lit Podcast, a fortnightly show of news and views from British books and publishing. Blog: the Brit Lit Blog. Twitter: @BookishClaire

Unrequited love. We’ve all been there, haven’t we? I know I certainly have. I’ve spent most of the last eighteen months wallowing in it, and at the height of my obsession I trawled Goodreads for hours, trying to find unrequited love quotes that would help put what was happening in my heart into words.

Everything I read was about this crush, even when it wasn’t. Everything I wrote was, too. Here’s what I discovered in unrequited love quotes that made a difference for me, in books and my own experience.

30 Of The Most Powerful Unrequited Love Quotes From Literature |

At the beginning when you fall in love, there’s hope. It’s all sweetness and light and loveliness…

“It’s more like every electron in every atom in the universe paused, breathed in deeply, assessed the situation, and then reversed its course, spinning backward, or the other way, which was the right way all along. And afterward, the universe was exactly the same, but infinitely more right.”

― Lydia Netzer, How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky

“Isn’t that how falling in love so often works? Some stranger appears out of nowhere and becomes a fixed star in your universe.”
― Kate Bolick, Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own 

…. and anticipation.

“Being in love with someone who doesn’t even know you exist isn’t the worst thing in the world. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Almost like passing in a term paper that you know sucked, but having that period of time where you haven’t gotten your grade back yet — that kind of exhale where you haven’t been rejected, although you pretty much know how it’s going to turn out.”
― Tonya Hurley, Ghostgirl

“I have to admit, an unrequited love is so much better than a real one. I mean, it’s perfect… As long as something is never even started, you never have to worry about it ending. It has endless potential.”
― Sarah Dessen, The Truth About Forever

“…as long as nothing happens between them, the memory is cursed with what hasn’t happened.”
― Marguerite Duras, Blue Eyes, Black Hair

Hope drives us to ridiculous extremes, sometimes.

“I was in love with unavailable man, an old, sad story. When I first started to fall for him, months before, my feelings gave me pleasure and hope. I would wait for him, as lovers had waited for each other since the beginning of time. But as the months passed and he didn’t come around, something inside me shifted. My unrequited love became obsessive.”
― Lisa M Philiips, Unrequited: The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Romantic Obsession

“Unrequited love is a ridiculous state, and it makes those in it behave ridiculously.”
― Cassandra Clare

“She’d been in love with the man, and love is a scary thing. If not reciprocated, it can turn a person into a monster.”
― Michele Young-Stone, The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors

We can’t imagine ever not feeling this way.

“’And how do you really feel?’
‘Like I’ll never recover. Like I’ll never draw another breath without half of it being a wish for him.’”
― Jane Seville, Zero at the Bone

We transition or swing between inexplicable hope and forlorn depair.

“I know this sounds crazy to say after one encounter but I kind of fell for you pretty hard and it has been forever since I’ve connected to anyone like this and my heart is kind of broken in a million pieces.”
― BJ Novak, One More Thing

“Because what’s worse than knowing you want something, besides knowing you can never have it?”
― James Patterson, The Angel Experiment

To want and not to have, sent all up her body a hardness, a hollowness, a strain. And then to want and not to have- to want and want- how that wrung the heart, and wrung it again and again!
― Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

“What made you feel that stomach-churning agony for one person and not another? If Bridget were God, she would have made it against the law for you to feel that way about someone without them having to feel it for you right back.”
― Ann Brashares, Girls in Pants; The Third Summer of the Sisterhood

“’You see,’ she concluded miserably, ‘when I can call like that to him across space–I belong to him. He doesn’t love me–he never will–but I belong to him.’”
― L.M. Montgomery, Emily’s Quest

“You just know something is amiss, when you look at someone and long for something that is not yours or you cannot have. It’s an absence–a loss of a heartbeat.”
― Nadège Richards, Burning Bridges

“Unrequited love does not die; it’s only beaten down to a secret place where it hides, curled and wounded. For some unfortunates, it turns bitter and mean, and those who come after pay the price for the hurt done by the one who came before.”
― Ellie Newmark, The Book of Unholy Mischief

“The feelings that hurt most, the emotions that sting most, are those that are absurd – The longing for impossible things, precisely because they are impossible; nostalgia for what never was; the desire for what could have been; regret over not being someone else; dissatisfaction with the world’s existence. All these half-tones of the soul’s consciousness create in us a painful landscape, an eternal sunset of what we are.”
― Fernando Pessoa

“Desiring another person is perhaps the most risky endeavor of all. As soon as you want somebody—really want him—it is as though you have taken a surgical needle and sutured your happiness to the skin of that person, so that any separation will now cause a lacerating injury.”
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Committed: A Love Story

And then one day – and the journey is different for each of us – you come to your senses.

“Unrequited love is all right in books and things, but in real life, it completely sucks.”
― Meg Cabot, Haunted: A Mediator Tale

“But why, she thought wryly, did a man seem more attractive as he became less available? How humbling to think one had so much in common with a cow stretching its neck through a gate for better grass.”
― Mary Jo Putney, The Bargain

“How much of life could he spend aching? Aching is not a stable condition; it must resolve into something.”
― Arthur Phillips, The Song Is You

But that doesn’t mean you forget the person or your unrequited love…

“Yet my longing for her was like a bad cold that had hung on for years despite my conviction that I was sure to get over it at any moment.”
― Donna Tartt, The Secret History

“The wait is long, my dream of you does not end.”
― Nuala O’Faolain, My Dream of You

“She hardly ever thought of him. He had worn a place for himself in some corner of her heart, as a sea shell, always boring against the rock, might do. The making of the place had been her pain. But now the shell was safely in the rock. It was lodged, and ground no longer.”
― T.H. White, The Once and Future King

“I know that’s what people say– you’ll get over it. I’d say it, too. But I know it’s not true. Oh, youll be happy again, never fear. But you won’t forget. Every time you fall in love it will be because something in the man reminds you of him.”
― Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

“I did not know how long it took to get over such a love, and that even when you did, when you loved again, you would always carry a sliver of it in your stitched-together heart.”
― Christina Haag, Come to the Edge

“A mighty pain to love it is,
And ‘t is a pain that pain to miss;
But of all pains, the greatest pain
It is to love, but love in vain.”
― Abraham Cowley, The Poems of Abraham Cowley

or that you never wonder what might have been…

“When you loved someone and had to let them go, there will always be that small part of yourself that whispers, “What was it that you wanted and why didn’t you fight for it?”
― Shannon L. Alder

or that you stop longing for the unattainable.

“Maybe I was destined to forever fall in love with people I couldn’t have. Maybe there’s a whole assortment of impossible people waiting for me to find them. Waiting to make me feel the same impossibility over and over again.”
― Carol Rifka Brunt, Tell the Wolves I’m Home

 But you know what? Maybe that’s okay.

“Let no one who loves be called altogether unhappy. Even love unreturned has its rainbow.”
― J.M. Barrie, The Little Minister

What are your favorite unrequited love quotes? Want even more literary quotes? We got you