In the myth, Venus and Adonis, Aphrodite, the literal goddess of love, can have anyone she wants. She picks Adonis (I never said exclusively), who in some versions of the myth doesn’t reciprocate her feelings. Unrequited love is a major trope in all media and it’s one of my favorites when done right. It’s not love/hate (which I also like). When unrequited love is played as love/hate is problematic for a lot of reasons, because it tends to evolve into stalker syndrome and as a viewer it’s hard to get behind. The reason love/hate works is that both players in the trope eventually realize they’re compatible. If one realizes it and the other keeps hating, it tips the balance into a really unhealthy portrayal of a crush.
It works best when the two are friends who you can almost see working. And it works absolutely best when the friendship isn’t resented with friend zone nonsense. When both characters involved really value the friendship but one of them wants more, it works. And the best example of this I’ve ever seen is in Doctor Who.
“I spent a lot of time with you thinking I was second best, but you know what? I am good… Right then. Bye. Because the thing is, it’s like my friend Vicky. She lived with this bloke—student housing, five of them all packed in. And this bloke was called Sean. And she loved him. She did. She completely adored him. Spent all day long talking about him… He never looked at her twice. I mean he liked her. That was it. And she wasted years pining after him. Years of her life. ‘Cause while he was around she never looked at anyone else. And I told her, I always said to her, time and time again, I said, ‘Get out.’ So this is me, getting out.”
This is one of the best versions of unrequited love I’ve seen done because it, at least in the end, showed so much respect to both characters involved. I still really wish they hadn’t pursued this plot line with Martha, because it just wasn’t fair. Viewers were going to hate the new companion immediately, no matter who she was because the Doctor and Rose had such an epic thing going for so long. To then give her a crush on him instead of say, jumping straight to Donna and THEN doing Martha, was a disservice to the character because it fueled fan hate. But out of context, if you watch these episodes after a period of grieving for Rose, this was handled amazingly well.
Martha really had a thing for the Doctor and he didn’t think of her as more than a friend. Maybe it was timing (he’d just lost Rose), but more likely through no fault of Martha at all, he wouldn’t have ever felt this way about her and it was okay. He didn’t have to like her like that for their relationship to have value. She managed without him reciprocating, it was never central to the plot and she had her own life and identity outside of the doomed crush.
Can you think of any other times the media handled unrequited love exceptionally well?