Famous Examples of Unrequited Love

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Unrequited love – put simply – is when one person has romantic feelings for another person and those feelings are not reciprocated. Most of us will have experienced those feelings at least once in our lives. It can be harrowing for the person having the feelings when they know they will never be reciprocated but it can also be stressful for the other as they seek to avoid awkwardness and try to put them off without hurting their feelings.

1. Film: Forrest Gump

The terminally fortunate Forrest Gump because a millionaire through shrimping, inventing several pop culture icons, gaining notoriety for running coast to coast, surviving the Vietnam War with a flesh wound after saving his buddy but there’s one thing he cannot conquer: women. Madly in love with Jenny his whole life, he watches her lurch from one terrible relationship to the next until one day he finally confesses his love and she seduces him in what was probably pity sex. She falls pregnant and Forrest doesn’t find out for many years by which time she is dying of AIDS.

2. Book: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Pip seems to have been let down by practically everyone in his life and despite being surrounded by people who do not deserve his attention, he slowly comes of age in the cynical and often brutal world of Victorian England and its colonies. He falls in love with Estella from a very young age but her ability to love has been corrupted by the caustic Miss Havisham (her adopted mother). She pushes him away continuously and eventually marries an abusive man. Following his death, the two do get together.

3. Song: White Flag by Dido

Critics and fans alike loved Dido’s highly successful second album, Life for Rent. This, the first track on the album, shot to number 1 in many countries. It was written about a breakup that the protagonist refuses to accept, she wants to cling on to those feelings and make him feel what she feels when he no longer does: ‘And when we meet, Which I’m sure we will, All that was there, Will be there still. I’ll let it pass, And hold my tongue, And you will think, That I’ve moved on’. Her feelings for him remains and so this is unrequited love for a lost love.

4. Book / Stage: The Phantom of the Opera

The highly popular stage play written by Andrew Lloyd Webber is based on a much older book. The basic story is about a young girl ‘ Christine Daae ‘ who is a backing singer at a world famous opera house, auditions for the lead part after the Prima Donna storms off stage following an accident on stage. Christine wows the crowd and takes centre stage, but she has been taught by the Opera House’ Phantom and he is madly in love with her and seeks his revenge when she falls in love with an old childhood friend. He feels betrayed and attempts to destroy all that is dear to her.

5. Film: Run Fat Boy Run

In a moment of madness, Dennis runs out on his pregnant bride to be on his wedding day. Years later, he hopes of a reconciliation with Libby realising it was a stupid thing to do. However, she is set to marry somebody else and to prove his worth, Dennis will run the marathon that her new love has also entered. He is crazy about her and always was, and ran out on her because he didn’t want to ruin her life over the course of several years.

6. Book: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Love triangles are a trope of young adult fiction and this highly successful trilogy is no exception. A romance blossoms between Katniss and Gale before she is sent into The Arena yet while there she is forced to fabricate a romance with her District 12 counterpart Peeta. In this, the second book, she must pretend to be madly in love with Peeta, but really her feelings are drawn to Gale. She spends most of this book torn between the two men knowing that both love her.

7. Song: Beautiful by James Blunt

Blunt hit the charts with a storm in 2005 and many women claimed to have been the woman he was singing about. It is about encountering an ex with a new love for the first time and having those feelings (once believed long forgotten) return to the surface. During the course of the song he realises that he is still in love with his ex but knows he will never get her back: ‘You’re beautiful, it’s true. I saw your face in a crowded place, And I don’t know what to do, ’cause I’ll never be with you.’

8. Film: Love Actually

This Christmas favourite features a number of people in love or falling in love and featuring many of the stages of love: marriage, break ups, sex, falling in love and even unrequited love. Andrew Lincoln is in love with his best friend’s girlfriend ‘ which is creepy in itself ‘ but keeps his thoughts to himself and his distance from the pair, leading to exasperation from the pair. In the end, he visits the house on Christmas Eve with a set of cards in which he declares his love for her while telling her it was the end of it, vowing to himself ‘no more’.

9. Poem: Love and Death by Lord Byron

Byron goes into great detail about the things who would do for the object of his or her affections, they get larger and more complicated, each one pronouncing the love that the protagonist feels for the other. Yet in the final stanza following all of the powerful imagery, he finishes by pointing out that love and declaring that he realises it is not reciprocated’¦ and that it does not matter.

10. Song: I Can’t Make You Love me By Bonnie Raitt

The ultimate song of unrequited love, it has been covered several times, most notably by Adele but Raitt did it originally. It is quite a frustrating song and the lyrics point to those frustrations ‘ and the realisation – of those who have ever felt unrequited love: ‘Cause I can’t make you love me, If you don’t. You can’t make your heart feel. Somethin’ it won’t’. It goes on to request one night with the person she loves and then she will give it up, she wants just for one moment of closeness with him ‘ anything and on his terms.


Unrequited love is such a large part of the human condition that it is hardly surprising that it has become such a rich mine for arts, particularly literature, film and music. This is just a small selection of some of the best examples of unrequited love, mostly from modern sources. Examples exist from ancient Greece, Rome and even the medieval and Renaissance periods.

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