"Unrequited love" is usually when one person loves another, but keeps it a secret because it is not reciprocated. Is there a phrase to describe a two-way unrequited love? For example, where two people love each other, but both think it is not reciprocated, so both keep it a secret?

This is a very common plot line in TV shows. For example, in season 3 of The Office (US), Jim and Pam are both in love, and are not involved in any other relationships, but are both afraid to say something out of fear of rejection. Is there an succinct way to describe situations like this?

  • 1
    How would anyone else ever get to know? But if someone did know, why wouldn't he simply enlighten either or both of the "non-couple" - then he wouldn't need the word! Commented Nov 6, 2011 at 2:55
  • @FumbleFingers Sorry I didn't give an example. I'm talking about situations that are observed from a third party, such as stories, TV shows, movies, etc. Commented Nov 6, 2011 at 3:35
  • @FumbleFingers: A lot of people would not enlighten either one of them, for all kinds of reasons: they think it's none of their business, they feel like it's too risky to their own friendships with the not-quite-lovers, they want to be #3 in the love triangle, they're entertained by angst, or whatever.
    – jprete
    Commented Nov 6, 2011 at 3:51
  • 1
    oic - well, @daxelrod's TV Trope links should do you then. I think that's a great site for identifying standard tropes in movies/tv, which - as in this case - often don't particularly correspond to real life. But sadly, such tropes can end up being more "real" than the flesh-and-blood life some couch potatos aren't really living. Commented Nov 6, 2011 at 3:54
  • 2
    Sounds like a textbook case of mamihlapinatapai. Commented Jul 9, 2016 at 0:26

2 Answers 2


I haven't found a general-purpose term for this. However, it is somewhat of a storytelling trope.

TV Tropes calls this trope Twice Shy, with the connotation that the two people are either too shy, too awkward, or too afraid of the circumstances if their love were to be revealed.

They also list a variation, Belligerent Sexual Tension, in which each person refuses to admit their love (sometimes not even to themselves) and takes the energy out as aggression toward the other instead.

  • Although it isn't quite a descriptive "term", Twice Shy definitely fits the scenario I had in mind. Thank you. TV Tropes is definitely the resource I was looking for too. Commented Nov 6, 2011 at 3:40
  • 3
    Careful, it's easy to lose yourself in that site. :)
    – daxelrod
    Commented Nov 6, 2011 at 3:46
  • 2
    +1. One benefit of variants of "belligerent sexual tension" over "twice shy" is that the former is a well-understood phrase by many people, while the latter, I think, is of TV Tropes coinage. One of the hazards of reading TV Tropes too much is that you start to think and talk in terms of the tropes and then nobody else understands what you're saying unless they're also addicted. ;-)
    – jprete
    Commented Nov 6, 2011 at 3:53
  • 1
    TV Tropes lists both "Belligerent Sexual Tension" and "Unresolved Sexual Tension". UST is a good, common term that anyone should understand! Commented Nov 6, 2011 at 5:21
  • 1
    Twice Shy is nowhere near as obvious as the comments make it out to be. Most people understand its usage in Once bitten, twice shy which is a radically different meaning (although it could be the cause).
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Jan 27, 2014 at 1:37

Yes. It's called "Skinny Love":

when two people love each other but are too shy to admit it but they still show it.

[Urban Dictionary]

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.