Musical Songs About Unrequited / Difficult Love

Some of my favorite songs in musicals are the songs that talk about unrequited and/or difficult love songs. They’re so full of feeling and I thought that I would list some of them today. There may be some spoilers, so you’ve been warned!

  • “I Dreamed a Dream”from Les Misérables
    • Quite easily one of the most well-known songs from Les Misérables and musical theatre in general, “I Dreamed a Dream” is sung by Fantine early on/toward the middle of Act I. The song really sets a theme for the story and just paves the tragic feel to the musical from thereon out. From the German translation, I love the line: “Doch wir sind nicht gemacht fürs Glück
      Für seine Stürme und Gefahren” which, for the most part, directly translates to “But we’re not made for happiness, but rather for life’s storms and dangers”. I think that that line in and of itself really just sums up the story of Les Misérables in a nutshell. I have to say that this is probably one of the most heartbreaking songs on this list.
  • “On My Own” from Les Misérables
    • While I’m on track with Les Misérables, I thought that I might as well swing over to the story of Éponine. A character who, throughout literature and musical theatre is known for her tragic and unrequited love for Marius Pontmercy. Éponine is one of my favorite characters from Les Misérables (though I must admit that it’s very hard to pick favorites) and I think that a lot of that has something to do with her strength and her willingness to stick by Marius’s side even though she knows that he does not return her affections. Again, from the German version: “Ja, ich weiß, er hat mich übersehen,
      Ganz egal, ich muss zu ihm stehen” 
      which, in English, translates to “Yes, I know he overlooked me. No matter, I have to stand beside him”. I think that might be the most heartbreaking line from almost any unrequited love song I’ve ever heard. It almost mirrors another song that will appear on this list shortly. I think that a trend with unrequited love songs is that the character singing is trying to brush off their feelings for the other person, but in “On My Own”, in my opinion, we see that Éponine would really rather die than not love Marius.
  • “As Long as He Needs Me” from Oliver!
    • This is the song that I mentioned above in the section on “On My Own”. I feel that the line “I won’t betray his trust, though people say I must. I’ve got to stay true just as long as he needs me” really mirrors the German line mentioned above. Nancy’s love story is a little bit well… complicated. It’s unclear as to whether or not it is a story of unrequited love but it definitely is a story of harmful, difficult love. It’s definitely not a healthy relationship, at any rate. And yet, the same resilient, strong personality is evident in both Nancy and Éponine. “As Long as He Needs Me” is one of the more well-known songs from Oliver! besides things like the title song and “Food, Glorious Food” and for good reason too. As said before, it’s unclear as to whether or not Bill Sykes really  loves Nancy or if he just keeps her around. Nonetheless, the song is a song that portrays great emotion.
  • “I’m Not That Girl” from Wicked
    • This song is a little hard for me to read at times. As much as the song is about unrequited love just as strongly as “On My Own” is it’s a completely different kind of song than “On My Own”. In both songs, Éponine and Elphie are experiencing great sadness due to the unrequited nature of their love. While Éponine’s song is more of the nature that she knows the love never can be, it’s evident that she won’t let go of that love. With Elphaba, it almost seems that at times she just wants to forget that she loved/loves Fiyero at all (while expressing sadness at this fact). And understandably so. Her best friend is in love with him as well. I just thought that was interesting.
  • “Why Does She Love Me?” from Love Never Dies
    • I find many flaws within the plot of Love Never Dies, but I am grateful for a few of the songs that have made their way into my life because of it. “Why Does She Love Me?” is one of those songs. Like the situation with Nancy in “As Long as He Needs Me”, it could be a song about unrequited love. But whether it is a song about unrequited love or not, “Why Does She Love Me?” is definitely a song that portrays great sadness of the difficulties in a relationship from the person who is largely but not entirely causing the problems.
  • “Someone Like You” from Jekyll & Hyde
    • Lucy Harris sings “Someone Like You” immediately after her visit with Dr. Jekyll. This song, I don’t think goes as far as love. But it’s the idea of it. The idea of the possibility of Jekyll being in love with someone like herself. And as a member of the audience, you are aware that Lucy does have feelings for Jekyll but that Jekyll doesn’t really, truly return them. I think that “Someone Like You” fits the label of a song about unrequited love, but maybe it doesn’t. And this song is a little more hopeful than the others on this list because Lucy doesn’t really know that Jekyll can’t return her affections. And it’s the idea of him being in love with her. It’s a dream. And maybe that makes it even more sad to the audience. But it definitely is a beautiful song and definitely worth a listen.
  • “In His Eyes” from Jekyll & Hyde
    • This song is interesting because it is a duet with two of the girls whom, I guess, if you wanted to see it as such are competitors. Except for the fact that Lucy doesn’t really have a chance with Jekyll. Hyde is a different story but Lucy loves Jekyll, not Hyde. Lisa/Emma is engaged to Henry Jekyll and herein lies the problem for Lucy, but it’s never made explicitly clear if she knows that Jekyll has a fiancée. Throughout this song, they don’t ever acknowledge one another but sing alternating verses and lines. It’s a very beautiful song and I can’t really explain it half as well as I wish that I could.
  • “Reflection” from A Tale of Two Cities
    • Unrequited love songs usually have a sort of theme of “I’m not good enough”. But Sydney Carton from A Tale of Two Cities takes this to a whole different, heartbreaking level. And love isn’t the only thing that Sydney thinks that he’s unworthy of. No. He thinks that he’s unworthy of any sort of kindness or anything good, really. I can’t listen to this song without bursting out into tears. There are so many good lines. For example, “I guess it doesn’t take a lot to be better than you…” and “And yet… dolls can be beautiful, they live within a different world. So easy on the eyes… but careful not to touch! It wouldn’t do for you to touch or come too close at all…”.

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I know that there are probably a plethora of other songs that I could use for this list that I will probably smack myself for not adding later, but I think that this is good enough for now. Maybe a part two sometime soon? What are some of your favorite songs about unrequited love? What are your favorite lyrics from those songs?

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7 thoughts on “Musical Songs About Unrequited / Difficult Love

  1. “I’m Not That Girl” and “On my Own” are so similar but so different. The are both about unrequited love, which is how they are similar. The way they are different has more to do the knowledge of what we know about these characters when the song happen.

    I always will find “On My Own” the sadder of the two because Eponine’s love for Marius is deeper and more tragic than Elphaba for Fieyro.

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    1. I think that I would have to agree. In “On My Own”, Éponine has loved Marius for quite some time. With “’m Not That Girl”, Elphie is just realizing that she has feelings for and may have been developing feelings for Fiyero for quite some time. I just think that Éponine’s song screams pain and suffering and yet the determination to stick by Marius no matter what and I think that that definitely adds to the trafic nature of “On My Own” and Éponine’s love for Marius.

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  2. Sometimes I wonder if Fiyero already developed feelings for Elphaba before “I’m Not That Girl”. In the scene before it almost seems like he did and he did not realize it or Elphaba. The fourth time I saw Wicked, I was looking for clues in the first act to understand Fiyero’s decision in act two when he broke up with Glinda and decided to starr a relationship with Elphaba.

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    1. I’ve always kinda wondered that too. I think that, like you said, he might have been developing feelings for Elphaba without knowing it. I also think that it’s possible that Fiyero didn’t have the heart to break up with Galinda until that point in Act II because after “I’m Not That Girl” there’s a bit of a dent in his relationship with Galinda that he might not have even noticed until Elphie goes into hiding.

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