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Loving Someone from a Distance: What to Do and What Not to Do

Normally, when we love someone we will want to be in a relationship with them. We might be dreaming of living together, buying a home, and even having children. Sometimes, though, you find yourself loving someone where you know that none of those things can happen.

In this case, you might have to love them at an emotional distance. In this article, we’re going to look at why you might not be able to be in a relationship with the person you love and how to handle this situation without heartbreak.

Loving from a Distance: Physical vs Emotional

Firstly, let’s just be clear about what we mean when we talk about loving someone from a distance. There are different types of distance in a relationship; physical and emotional. When there is a physical distance between you and your partner, you’re in a long-distance relationship.

We have lots of articles to help you navigate a long-distance relationship. In this article, however, we’re looking at the other kind of distance between you and someone you love; emotional distance.

When you have to love someone from an emotional distance, it means that you’re not actually in a relationship with them. You recognize your feelings for them, but they might not be shared or there might be a reason that you can’t act on them.

Why Might You Need to Love Someone from a Distance

why you might need to love someone from a distance

Before we get into how you can deal with loving someone from a distance, let’s look at how and why you might find yourself in that position.

Here are some of the most common reasons you might have to love someone from a distance.

1. They’re already in a relationship

If you fall in love with someone who is already in a happy, fulfilling relationship, you might have to love them from a distance. No matter how strong your feelings are, they are simply not looking for a new relationship or they are not willing to leave their existing partner or children.

If you find yourself loving someone who isn’t available, the ethical thing to do is to keep your distance. You can’t control your feelings, but you can (and should) control how you act on them1.

2. They don’t love you back

Sometimes the person you love isn’t in a relationship but they still don’t want to date you. That’s an incredibly painful situation to find yourself in. For some people, finding out that the other person doesn’t love them back is enough to cool their feelings. For others, they are left loving someone who doesn’t love them back2.

Again, you’re not doing anything wrong by loving someone who doesn’t love you back. You do need to make sure that your feelings don’t create problems for yourself or the person you love, however.

3. You’re not good for each other

Another awful situation to find yourself in is when you love someone who loves you back but you just aren’t good for each other. You might have huge fights, bring out each other’s worst traits, or just not know how to create a healthy relationship between you.

It takes a lot of courage to end a relationship when you both still love each other. Sometimes, it’s possible to get back together later on, when you have both dealt with some of your personal issues that were making the relationship dysfunctional. 

It’s not helpful to hold onto that hope, however, as it can get in the way of you prioritizing your own growth and healing. It’s often better to accept that you will love them from a distance.

4. You have different long-term goals in life

It’s not just dysfunctional relationships that might break down and leave you loving someone from a distance. You might have a wonderful, loving relationship that brings you both a lot of joy but there is a single issue that you just can’t resolve or compromise on.

One good example of this is having children. If one of you desperately wants to have a family and the other is absolutely clear that they don’t, there really isn’t any room for compromise. You have incompatible needs.

Sometimes, one person in this kind of situation will decide that they are willing to change their position to accommodate their partner’s needs, but that’s not always feasible or wise. Sometimes, it really is kinder and more loving to end the relationship and accept that you will love each other from a distance instead.

5. They broke up with you

Lots of people find themselves loving someone from a distance when their partner breaks up with them unexpectedly. They still have all of the strong feelings of love and care and longing, but their ex has now made it clear that those feelings aren’t welcome anymore.

Some people become angry and fall out of love with their ex immediately. Others will love them from a distance for a while as they process the breakup and a few will love them from a distance for a long time.

When Not to Love Someone from a Distance

when not to love someone from a distance

Although there are many good reasons for loving someone from a distance, there are also times when it might cause you unnecessary pain or grief.

1. If your fear is holding you back

Sometimes, you might assume that the person you love doesn’t love you back, but you haven’t actually been able to ask them to find out. Your fear is holding you back.

Loving someone from a distance because you’re too nervous or afraid of rejection to be honest about your feelings isn’t helpful. You’re potentially missing out on a great relationship. 

Telling someone that you really like them isn’t easy for anyone and it’s especially difficult if you have social anxiety or you feel you lack social skills3. It’s still worth challenging yourself and pushing through those barriers, rather than continuing to long for someone who doesn’t know how you feel.

2. If you don’t really know them

Loving someone from a distance also isn’t the same as being infatuated with them. If you don’t actually know them as a person, it’s hard to say that you actually love them. It might be infatuation or even limerence4. At most, you love the few things you do know about them or the impression you have of them in your mind.

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Loving someone from a distance is in some ways selfless. It’s about the value you place on them as a person and wanting them to be happy and fulfilled in their life. If you don’t know them, you might not actually be loving them from a distance. You might just be infatuated or even obsessed.

3. If you were in an abusive relationship 

Having the courage and strength to leave an abusive relationship is incredibly hard. One of the things that people who have never experienced abuse (especially emotional abuse) might not understand is that you might still love your abusive partner, even as you leave them.

In fact, continuing to love an abusive partner is very common. It’s part of why abused women will typically return to their partners several times before they finally leave for good5. It’s understandable that you might want to keep loving them from a distance under these circumstances.

While it is completely natural and understandable, continuing to have deep feelings of love and loyalty towards an abusive partner makes it harder for you to move on and rebuild yourself after abuse. These feelings can often be linked to the ways that he has destroyed your self-esteem and self-confidence.

If you’ve escaped an abusive relationship, try not to simply live with loving your ex from a distance. Instead, find a great therapist who can help you work through the difficult process of putting yourself back together again. If you still love him at the end of that process, fine. At least you haven’t let your love stand in the way of your healing.

3 Tips to Show Someone You Love Them from a Distance

3 tips to show someone you love them from a distance

When we love someone from a distance, we often want them to know that we care and that we’re there for them, even while we know that a relationship isn’t going to be possible.

Here are some important ways you can show your love for someone from a distance.

1. Be honest about your feelings and the reality of the situation

The first thing you can do is be honest about your feelings whilst also making it clear that you are not expecting anything from them. We all feel insecure, alone, and unloved sometimes. Telling the person you love from a distance how you feel can give them comfort when they’re upset, even if they can’t turn to you directly.

The key here is how you tell them. One good strategy is to really take ownership of your own feelings. You could say

“I don’t want to make you feel uncomfortable or put you under any pressure but I also want to be completely honest. I love you. I’m not expecting anything from you and I’m not asking for anything to change. This isn’t a problem we need to solve. It’s just how I feel. You’re welcome to ask questions if you like, but I’m not going to bring it up again now that you know.” 

2. Be a friend for them if you can

When we truly love someone (as opposed to being obsessed or infatuated) we want them to be happy, even if that means we don’t get to be a part of their life in the way that we would like. You can demonstrate that you love someone by being there for them as a supportive friend.

Although this is a great way to really show that you love them, it isn’t always possible. If you both love each other deeply, you might need some distance to avoid causing each other more pain. If they’re in a relationship, they might not feel comfortable being around someone who loves them.

It might also be too painful for you to be around them as a friend. That’s ok too. Loving someone doesn’t mean that your needs don’t matter anymore. If being a good friend to someone you love is a net negative on your life, it’s ok to step back.

3. Respect their boundaries

Loving someone from a distance is hard, but it can also be a strange thing to receive. The person you love might feel awkward, embarrassed, or guilty about your feelings. That doesn’t mean that your feelings are wrong or that you shouldn’t have told them. It’s just how some people will feel when they find out.

Make it easier on them by respecting their boundaries. This might mean giving them space after you tell them how you feel, not being alone together, or having less physical contact than you did before.

Sometimes, these boundaries will feel a bit unfair. That’s normal, but remind yourself that their boundaries are there to make them feel safe. Respecting their boundaries is the best way that you can show that you care about their safety and well-being.

8 Things Not to Do When You Love Someone from a Distance

1. Don’t expect things to change

We’ve already mentioned that loving someone from a distance is selfless and generous. It’s about giving them your love, rather than asking them for something in return. Spending time with someone you love and caring for them in the hope of ‘earning’ a relationship isn’t being generous. It’s Nice Guy Syndrome in the worst way.

Although it’s not healthy to be constantly hoping for the other person’s feelings to change, you will also need to accept that your feelings can (and probably will) change over time. You might start to love them in a slightly different way, or your feelings might fade and you realize that you don’t love them at all anymore.

2. Don’t expect anything from them

When you love someone from a distance, you’re not in a relationship with them. This means it’s not ok to have expectations of them, especially if you haven’t communicated those expectations to them.

Remember, the only thing you can control is you. If you can’t stay in contact with someone while keeping your emotional distance, you might need to avoid contact with them altogether, at least for a while.

3. Don’t close yourself off from other love

don't close yourself off from other love

When you love someone from a distance, it can be hard to open your heart to someone else and form a meaningful relationship. But loving someone from a distance shouldn’t mean you have to be alone.

Instead, respect the love you have for someone you can’t be with but keep going on dates and being open to the idea of loving someone else as well.

4. Don’t fixate on them

Loving someone from a distance doesn’t have to mean that they become the central feature of your life. If someone is in a healthy relationship, they will also have other interests and activities separately from their partner6. The same is true when you love someone at a distance.

If the person you love has to be a part of every facet of your life, you’ve fixated on them. That’s not loving someone from a distance. It's an obsession, and it will probably make them very uncomfortable.

If you realize that you’ve fixated on someone, it might be helpful to talk with a counselor or therapist to work through it and help you learn healthy boundaries.

5. Don’t try to push yourself past it

Loving someone from a distance can hurt, but that doesn’t mean that you should just suppress your feelings or try to pretend that they don’t exist. Research shows that suppressing thoughts and feelings only makes them come back stronger7.

Instead, try to be accepting of yourself and your feelings. They might fade in time, but you’re better off allowing that to happen naturally rather than forcing your emotions away.

6. Don’t use someone else as a substitute

There’s nothing wrong with dating someone else, even when you love someone you can’t be with. There’s no reason you can’t have a wonderful relationship with someone as long as you’re not using them as a substitute for the person you can’t have.

Go on dates, spend time with people, and try to form a connection with someone, but make sure that you’re being honest and authentic about your feelings. No one deserves to be a substitute for the person you can’t have.

7. Don’t create an ideal “ghost”

If you’re in love with someone you can’t have, especially if you used to date them and the relationship broke down, it’s easy to set them as the standard for what you are looking at in a relationship. This makes it very hard for you to have a meaningful relationship because your partner is always in competition with a “ghost.”

No one will ever live up to the image you have of the person you can’t have, because it’s just an image. Every time the person you’re dating annoys you or hurts your feelings, you can say to yourself “Steve would never treat me like that.”

Your partner is in a no-win situation. You’re never going to spontaneously think “I bet Steve would say something hurtful right now” or “I think Steve would fart tonight.” You’ll only compare the two when your current partner isn’t behaving exactly as you would like.

If you find yourself comparing your current partner to the ‘ghost’ of the person you love at a distance, remind yourself that it’s not a fair comparison. Say “I don’t know what Steve would do, but that doesn’t matter. Right now, I need to think about how I feel about what is actually happening in my real relationship.”

8. Don’t ignore your boundaries

When you love someone at a distance, it’s easy to want to give them all of the love, affection, and care that you can. That’s understandable, but you need to make sure that your needs are fulfilled and your boundaries are respected as well.

You love this person, but that doesn’t give them free rein to walk all over you. For example, sometimes someone won’t date you because they’re not in love with you but they might want to kiss you or even have sex with you when they are feeling upset or insecure.

While you might enjoy the physical affection, you’re being used and that will probably hurt. It’s up to you to decide what is healthy for you and what’s not. Remember, your needs are just as important as theirs and enforcing your boundaries is an important part of maintaining your sense of self-worth.


Does true love have to be reciprocated?

No. You can love someone even when they don’t love you back, but it can leave you feeling lonely and unlovable. Try to remember that you can love someone who loves you back without losing the way you feel about someone you can’t be with.

Is it healthy to love someone from a distance?

Loving someone from a distance is an emotion. It isn’t healthy or unhealthy. It’s how you feel. How you react to your feelings can be unhealthy, though. If you fixate on the person you love or stop living a fulfilling life, it might be better to try to move on.

Do you have to tell someone that you love them from a distance?

You don’t have to tell someone that you love them from a distance, but you don’t have to keep it a secret either. If you are going to tell them, make sure you show that you’re not expecting a relationship and that you fully respect their boundaries.


There are many different reasons that we might not be able to be in a relationship with the person we love. If this happens, you might find yourself loving them from a distance. There’s nothing wrong with this but you will want to respect their boundaries and make sure that your own life doesn’t suffer as a result.

Have you ever loved someone you couldn’t be with? How did it turn out? Let us know in the comments below and please remember to share this with someone who might not be able to be with the person they love.

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7 Sources:
  1. Manstead, A. S. R., Nico Frijda, & Agneta Fischer. (2004). Feelings and emotions: the Amsterdam symposium. Cambridge University Press.
  2. ‌Protasi, S. (2014). Loving People for Who They Are (Even When They Don’t Love You Back). European Journal of Philosophy, 24(1), 214–234.
  3. ‌Porter, E., & Chambless, D. L. (2013). Shying Away From a Good Thing: Social Anxiety in Romantic Relationships. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 70(6), 546–561.
  4. ‌Tennov, D. (1999). Love and Limerence. Scarborough House.
  5. ‌Anderson, D. J. (2003). The Impact on Subsequent Violence of Returning to an Abusive Partner. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 34(1), 93–112.
  6. ‌Baxter, L. A., & Simon, E. P. (1993). Relationship Maintenance Strategies and Dialectical Contradictions in Personal Relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 10(2), 225–242.
  7. Wenzlaff, R. M., & Wegner, D. M. (2000). Thought Suppression. Annual Review of Psychology, 51(1), 59–91.

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