Unrequited love is an ugly thing, and as someone who has experienced it at fourteen and twenty-four, I can sadly tell you it doesn’t get easier. Caring about someone in a way he doesn’t care about you feels awful, and no matter how many times you try to tell yourself that the “friendzone” doesn’t exist and you’re being unfair or silly, you’re still alone. That hurts like hell. There’s no getting around it. But don’t let that make you feel like less of a person.

You’re better because of the unrequited love(s) of your life. Really.

My advice to the emotionally stunted is to fall in love. I know that’s what helped me get in touch with emotions I previously characterized as “icky.” When you’re falling in love, even when it’s not reciprocated, you’re able to share parts of yourself that you never thought possible. You feel safe and cared about. Even if it’s not meant to be with that particular person, you know that feeling is possible now. It took awhile, but eventually, knowing that made me proud.

Do you remember that moment when you looked at him and suddenly everything was different? I do. He was pulling on a jacket before we ducked out to an early dinner at Nando’s. I felt so strangely alive not just then, but whenever I was around him. Even though that relationship is never going to progress in the way I want it to, I’m addicted to that feeling, something I didn’t even know was possible to feel before. What I really want now is someone who feels that when they’re with me too. Knowing that I don’t actually want to be a crazy cat lady for the rest of my life is empowering. It allows me to make more conscious decisions to date and form relationships than I had been doing before.

Maybe you’ve experienced a great loss in your life and unrequited love isn’t comparable for you, but for me, I learned how to grieve and let go from these experiences of unreturned love. It took me a solid three years to get over my crushed crush at fourteen, and I’m still not over my most recent one-sided heartbreak. I am starting to notice patterns and learn coping mechanisms though.

This is the most important thing I’ve learned about grieving unrequited love: you have to allow yourself to grieve, not just the loss of the possibility of a future with this person, but also for all of the past fantasies you had of them.

The relationship you’ve imagined – the one where he’s secretly pining for you every time you exchange a glance – it’s not real. You need to feel that loss. Some people will say that since you never actually dated him you should just be able to get over it right away. Don’t listen to those people. Your. Feelings. Are. Valid. Repeat that often. It doesn’t just apply to this situation.

I know what made me feel better was cutting my recent not-so-nice unrequited love out of my life completely. You don’t have to do that, but this pain should make you reevaluate your relationship with this person. Is his presence in your life hindering your ability to grow? Does the relationship make you feel bad about yourself? Let him go then. The object of your unreturned affections might never understand how you feel or why you’re so hurt. Don’t try to force him to. It won’t change his mind. You are enough. You don’t have to prove that to anyone.

I haven’t only learned about matters of the heart from experiencing unrequited love though, and I suspect you haven’t either, if you think about it. My best friend is the real MVP of this situation, answering late night phone calls on Mondays and listening to me drunkenly utter the phrase “Why doesn’t he like me?” on repeat. My unrequited love brought me closer to my best friend. I trust her more than ever now. That’s worth more than any romantic relationship that my unrequited love could have offered me.

The last and most important takeaway from my career in unrequited love is this: I’ve never been in love. I’ve been infatuated with someone. But when love is real, it is reciprocated. It doesn’t make you feel inadequate, and it doesn’t make you feel hollow. I can recognize that now, and so can you.

Now go out there and find the true love you deserve. I know that’s what I’m going to do.

By Emily Cavanagh for ThoughtCatalog