Dreaming With a Broken Heart

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For many years scientists have studied Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy, also known as broken-heart syndrome, and its curious affect on the human body.

The condition occurs in times of stress. Anything from the death of a beloved one to a heated argument can onset the disorder. And with this wide range of known stressors, it’s a common and often misdiagnosed condition.

While there’s a chance that some of us will experience Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy for a variety of reasons, a surprisingly large number will develop this condition as the result of unrequited love.

“Scientifically speaking, unrequited love isn’t a mere mismatch; it’s the presence of love or attraction that is entirely one-sided,” says Dr. Duana Welch, relationship science writer and author of “Love Factually,” the first science-based book to take men and women through every phase of dating. Unrequited love describes the development of romantic feelings for an individual who cannot, or in some cases will not, return these affections.

“But of course it’s more complicated than just that,” says Lisa Phillips. “It can also exist in a situation where the beloved other doesn’t return the feelings or the commitment to the same extent as you do.”

Phillips, author of “Unrequited: The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Romantic Obsession,” points to the frequency at which this type of romantic pairing arises in today’s so-called “hook up” culture. This dating lifestyle, Phillips clarifies, is the “lazy name” for an environment that includes “endless opportunities” for partnering as well as the reception of mixed messages.

Also considering the plethora of options for seeking out dates and relationships, risk and confusion abound. We have so many options and paths available that many individuals can simply pick up and move on. Those who don’t feel insecure or depressed as a result of unreturned affections may actually gain a boost in confidence in this particular situation.

“In a study of college students,” Dr. Welch explains, “unrequited lovers were rewarded by thinking their beloved was exceptionally special and desirable, and thus worth their efforts.”

They also, Dr. Welch continues, “strongly believed that loving another was its own reward, aligned with the statement, ‘it’s better to have loved in vain than never to have loved at all.’” These lovers, according to the study, maintained a “fervent hope” that their warm feelings would eventually be reciprocated.

This position, says Dr. Welch, may sometimes develop due to expectations caused by popular media. For example, in “Pride & Prejudice” and other popular stories, one lover may initially feel scorned and yet still manage to score the object of the other’s affections.

“However,” she stresses, “it’s deeper than that.”

Similarly to Phillips, Dr. Welch points to our current dating culture as a contributing factor to the development of unrequited love.

The “human mating ritual,” says Dr. Welch, traditionally involves a male “strutting his stuff” and showing off his desired traits and status to woo a female. In this particular system, the male is never fully sure if the female feels a reciprocal desire since she is encouraged to play hard-to-get or feign disinterest. The male may begin experiencing deeper feelings for her, but never understand if she meets him at that same level of mutual attraction.

Similarly, when a woman shows too much interest in the object of her affections, she is often rebuffed as crazy or too intense. In this way, the man feels a sense of fear over the depth of her desire and backs out of the romance.

So while some people recognize that these misunderstandings occur and are able to move on, some aren’t as lucky or perceptive.

“Passionate love is an inherently obsessive state that researchers liken to other addictions,” says Phillips. “This rejection feels just as momentous as a rejection by someone they have been with in a mutual relationship.”

Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy occurs quite frequently amongst spurned lovers. Moreover, if an individual wrestles with a strong desire and disappointment enough to experience this condition, there’s a chance they may carry residual fear and reluctance over into future relationships.

Such intense pangs of loneliness and rejection can, according to Phillips, impact everything from sleeping patterns to work performance.

“Unrequited love can make for a very stressful experience, leading to a certain amount of depression in vulnerable individuals,” says Dr. Leon Seltzer, a psychologists who has covered this subject in his own writing.

“As [in] regards [to] task performance,” explains Dr. Seltzer, “it can interfere with concentration because it may lead to obsessive rumination and ever-distracting thoughts.”

Dr. Seltzer admits to a lack of hard research on the subject, but does note that because of “self-pity, a decrease in self-esteem, or repetitive obsession thoughts,” these one-sided feelings “can definitely interfere with present-day performance and motivation.”

So how can we avoid the trap of running into a one-sided love affair?

Dr. Welch advises female clients to play hard-to-get by setting the pace of the relationship but openly voicing their happiness in the relationship without being “cold.” Meanwhile, she tells male clients to tread carefully, as the line between obsession and stalking is often very thin.

She advises men struggling to win over a desired partner to openly confront a romantic interest about their desires while giving the other party room to directly respond. Dr. Welch tells clients of both sexes to then be “kind, brief, and direct, closing the door firmly but fairly” if they aren’t interested.

If the problem wasn’t confronted early enough, and you just can’t shake the obsession, Dr. Seltzer points to three ways you can be “happy” in unrequited love:

The first option is to take a spiritual path in a sense by “liberating” yourself from self-absorption and shifting that focus to the person you desire. In this way, you focus on their needs and less on your more “egocentric” needs.

As Dr. Seltzer puts it, “it’s all a matter of finding yourself in others—empathically expanding your consciousness (or self-centeredness) so that you can better identify with another’s perspective.”

A more grounding route involves envisioning a reality that recognizes that the ideal, romantic outcome may never happen.

Imagining or daydreaming an amorous affair between the two of you allows you to satisfy this needs, while helping you to “recognize, and come to terms with, the practical futility of further pursuing your beloved.”

Finally, you can open yourself up to fully embracing the idea that your paths “simply weren’t meant to cross.”

“If you can learn how to be ‘enough’ for yourself, you can continue to love them, painlessly, from afar, and make that sufficient for you,” says Dr. Seltzer, “and in this case, you can actually count yourself fortunate in having someone to eternally, joyfully, and erotically idolize.”