13 Books About Unrequited Love, Because It's The Perfect Time For A Heart-Wrenching Romance
If you’re sick of hearing about Valentine’s Day by now, believe me — you are not alone. From the moment all those stuffed snowmen and red-nosed reindeer were replaced with giant, heart-shaped chocolate boxes on my favorite convenience store’s shelves, I’ve been ready to move on to a different time of year altogether. Preferably one with more sunshine and less snow. It’s not that I’m not feeling the love this year, it’s just that I’d rather take my love with a little less glitter, maybe fewer twinkle lights. And that’s why these books about unrequited love — filled with all kinds of achy, melancholy heartbreak — are landing at the top of my TBR pile this Valentine’s Day.
As book lovers know, some of the greatest novels of all time feature stories of unrequited love: the longing, the heartache, the distraction of loving someone who cannot or will not ever love you back, the lengths one will go to move on from a love that simply cannot be. It’s a feeling that most of us, on some level, can relate to — and it’s a feeling that, once felt, isn’t ever totally forgotten. Perhaps that’s why so many stories of unrequited love have endured over time.
Here are 13 books about unrequited love — perfect for anyone who is vibing heartbreak (or, still channeling their inner-Ebenezer Scrooge from the previous holiday season) this Valentine’s Day.
'Wuthering Heights' by Emily Brontë
This might be the most epic — and recognized — tale of unrequited love ever written. Literally every character in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights is agonizingly, deliciously miserable from the first page to the bitter end of this novel. It’s the perfect misery-loves-company indulgence. If you're into that kind of thing.
'Gone With The Wind' by Margaret Mitchell
Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Gone With The Wind is simultaneously one of the greatest love affairs ever written, and one of the most profound tales of unrequited love. But maybe — if only in the love department — we could all cut Scarlett some slack. She was only 16-years-old when she fell in love with Ashley, after all. It’s hard to get over those first loves.
'The Great Gatsby' by F. Scott Fitzgerald
In The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jay Gatsby’s entire life essentially revolves around trying to win back the affections of Daisy Buchanan that he enjoyed in his youth, and compel her to leave her marriage. Based on how well things turned out, Nick — the neighbor who reunited Daisy and Jay — could have probably served everyone better by just minding his own business.
'Love in the Time of Cholera' by Gabriel García Márquez
Another entirely epic unrequited love story, Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez follows Florentino Ariza as he spends his life pining for the dazzling Fermina Daza — through her marriage, the birth of her children, and even her husband’s death. That’s a lot of pining. Florentino must not have known about Coffee Meets Bagel.
'The Ballroom' by Anna Hope
A more recent addition to the list of literature's unrequited loves is the romance between Ella Fay and John Mulligan, two characters housed in different wings of the early-20th-century Sharston insane asylum, who fall in love during the weekly ballroom dances the residents attend. But that is practically the only glimpse of humanity the patients at Sharston are ever allowed, and as all unrequited loves do, The Ballroom by Anna Hope ends rather tragically.
'Like Water for Chocolate' by Laura Esquivel
Sometimes a love goes unrequited because one or both parties are unwilling or unable to give the other what they need. And sometimes, it’s because your family seriously gets in the way. In Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, it’s the latter: as Tita de la Garza obsesses over her neighbor, Pedro, but can never have him because of the family tradition that the youngest daughter (in this case, Tita) remain unmarried and home, caring for her aging parents throughout their lives. Major downer.
'Persuasion' by Jane Austen
I’d be challenged to name a Jane Austen novel where unrequited love didn’t play a role to some degree, but Persuasion has to be one of the most obvious examples. Having given into social pressure to end her engagement to the man she loves, Anne Elliot spends almost a decade filled with regret, until she’s given the opportunity for a do-over. If only all of literature’s unrequited loves could have been so lucky.
'Anna Karenina' by Leo Tolstoy
Another novel that dives deep into both unrequited love and obsessive love is Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. This is just one of those novels where nobody gets what they want, in the saddest way. Alexey is frigid with Anna. Anna leaves Alexey for her obsession with Vronsky (also named Alexey, just to keep things simple…). Kitty is desperately in love with Vronsky whose life and reputation are effectively destroyed by his affair with Anna. It’s just a mess, all of it.
'Tuck Everlasting' by Natalie Babbitt
I’m not going to lie: I’m not so sad that the youthful love between Winnie Foster and Jesse Tuck remained unrequited in Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting. Nobody is worth making an irreversible and eternally-long (literally) sacrifice for, no matter how good they look running around the forest in those pioneer pants.
'Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet' by Jamie Ford
Another new duo to add to your unrequited love TBR pile is that of Henry Lee and Keiko Okabe, in Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. Meeting as pre-teens living in Seattle before World War II, Henry and Keiko enjoy all the promising flirtations of youth, before Keiko is tragically forced into a Japanese internment camp with her family. Decades later, the belongings of the Okabe’s — and hundreds of other interred Japanese families — are discovered, transporting Henry back into that thwarted love all over again.
'I Love Dick' by Chris Kraus
Absurd, angry, feminist, with just the slightest echo of Fatal Attraction, I Love Dick by Chris Kraus is the story of a woman in a sexless marriage, who falls in lust with a well-known art and culture theorist named Dick, and sets out to seduce him through a series of letters (co-written by her husband, no less.) Dick is having none of it. But maybe the love wasn't his to return anyway.
'Ahab's Wife: Or, The Star-Gazer' by Sena Jeter Naslund
In Sena Jeter Naslund’s reimagining of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, as told through the perspective of Captain Ahab’s Wife — Ahab's Wife: Or, The Star-Gazer — it’s not so much that the love between Una and Ahab was unrequited, exactly… It’s just that he loved that darn whale so much more. SO MUCH more, in fact, that Una became kind of a afterthought.
'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows' by J.K. Rowling
Whether you think Professor Severus Snape nursed a lifelong devotion to Lily Potter, or that he was just a totally creep, there’s no denying that his woeful tale of unrequited love, revealed in the seventh and final title of J.K. Rowling’s bestselling series, had Potterheads everywhere in tears.