Two people like each other or are in love but neither one has expressed it openly, so they each wonder about the other and consequently frustrations might begin to build... What's that called?

EDIT: March 3rd, 2012
The word I'm looking for describes love in such a fashion where two people love each other, but frustrations build because neither has acknowledged loving the other.

  • 8
    It is simply called love. Commented Feb 25, 2012 at 3:27
  • @Hans-PeterE.Kristiansen The word I'm looking for describes love in such a fashion where two people love each other, but frustrations build because neither has acknowledged loving the other.
    – trusktr
    Commented Mar 4, 2012 at 0:24
  • This word is Yaghan rather than English, however, it seems applicable to your question: Mamihlapinatapai: "a look shared by two people, each wishing that the other would initiate something that they both desire but which neither wants to begin." Unfortunately, this word neglects to explicitly incorporate the aspect of frustration that you are asking about. Furthermore—unlike French—it is an awkward word to attempt mixing with English.
    – Peter
    Commented Jun 14, 2017 at 20:06

10 Answers 10


The most common expression is "unspoken love" (8960 written instances in Google Books). You could also call it "unacknowledged love", but some people may miscontrue that love as only "unacknowledged" by one of the two "would-be" lovers.

  • unrequited is the more common term
    – mgb
    Commented Feb 25, 2012 at 4:47
  • 15
    @mgb: unrequited love is love that is not returned at all. That is different to love that is returned but not explicitly acknowledged. Commented Feb 25, 2012 at 5:06

Depending on the context, you could call it a crush, particularly if you are talking about two adolescents.

A crush doesn't necessarily imply unbeknownst reciprocation; it's often one-way, and directed toward someone who is not in a position to share the attraction. Still, there would be nothing wrong with saying:

Dave and Jill both had a secret crush on each other.

I can't think of a noun with the inherent implication that neither is aware of the other's feelings, but I can understand your aversion to the word love, since love sometimes encompasses a devotion that goes beyond the initial stages of infatuation. Still, there are plenty of ways to convey the idea, without finding a single word for it:

  • Unbeknowst to each other, Dave and Jill shared a strong attraction.
  • Unbeknown to both, Dave and Jill were nursing a deep passion toward each other.

Unbeknownst and unbeknown both mean "without someone's knowledge." Perhaps that's the key adjective for the feelings you're trying to capture and express?

  • I don't think "crush" applies. It usually implies only one party is "smitten", plus if you said "Dave and Jill both had a secret crush" this would normally be taken to imply they both knew how the other felt, but were keeping the mutual attraction secret from everyone else. Including the word "both" doesn't really overcome that conventional interpretation. Commented Feb 25, 2012 at 14:01
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers: I agree; I thought the examples in my two bullets did a better job of capturing what the O.P. was seeking. Nonetheless, I still think "secret crush" could work, assuming the sentence was put into context where the potential ambiguities you describe were not problematic.
    – J.R.
    Commented Feb 25, 2012 at 18:35
  • J.R. and @FumbleFingers I agree that "Unbeknownst, unbeknown, or unacknowledged love" are very close to the word I'm looking for. Many years back I encountered a single word that means exactly what I'm looking for and along the lines of what you guys suggested except it also includes the frustration that builds from such unacknowledged love.
    – trusktr
    Commented Mar 4, 2012 at 0:22

Not a single-word but "mutual unspoken love" works well.

  • that's certainly succinct enough! Commented Dec 17, 2014 at 16:50

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



I am unable to recall or find a "single word" which describes an unexpressed, mutual love while making explicit the 'frustration' ensuing from that lack of expression, however, the word 'LATENT' or the phrase 'LATENT LOVE' comes awfully close, does it not?

Merriam Webster Online: LATENT: 1) la•tent adjective \ˈlā-tənt\—used to describe something (such as a disease) that exists but is not active or cannot be seen. LATENT: present and capable of emerging or developing but not now visible, obvious, active, or symptomatic — la•tent•ly adverb.

Origin of LATENT [First Known Use: 15th century] Middle English, from Latin latent-, latens, from present participle of latēre to lie hidden; akin to Greek lanthanein to escape notice.

Synonyms of LATENT latent, dormant, quiescent, potential mean not now showing signs of activity or existence. Latent applies to a power or quality that has not yet come forth but may emerge and develop . Dormant suggests the inactivity of something (as a feeling or power) as though sleeping <their passion had lain dormant>. Quiescent suggests a usually temporary cessation of activity . Potential applies to what does not yet have existence or effect but is likely soon to have .

Online Etymology Dictionary: LATENT (adj.) mid-15c., "concealed, secret," from Latin latentem (nominative latens) "lying hid, secret, unknown," present participle of latere "to lie hidden," from PIE *laidh-, from root *la- "to be hidden" (cognates: Greek lethe "forgetfulness, oblivion," Old Church Slavonic lajati "to lie in wait for"). Meaning "dormant" is from 1680s.

LATENCY(n.) 1630s, "condition of being concealed," from latent + -cy. Meaning "delay between stimulus and response" is from 1882; computer sense (latency time) is from 1954.

While you might object to this word's medical connotations, in general, and it's psychological connotations, in particular, I would argue that nothing so resembles a physical disease as the symptoms attendant upon an unrealized romantic love, which are frequently somatic. And from a purely psychological perspective, romantic love shares many of the symptoms of acute obsession, when realized or fulfilled, and sheer psychosis when unfulfilled.

'Unrequited love', is exclusive as opposed to mutual;'Platonic love' is traditionally, one-way and lacks an erotic element; 'Unconditional love', is love that doesn't ask for or expect ... anything; 'unacknowledged love', fails to make explicit the arising frustration you describe; 'mutual, unspoken love' is pretty good, but again, doesn't make the frustration explicit. I am unfamiliar with mutual 'crushes', although such is certainly conceivable; 'skinny love' seems quite close to what you're looking for but is slang (nothing wrong with slang when the situation is appropriate), which I can only assume is not satisfactory since that answer hasn't been accepted.

I hope LATENT, or 'latent love', is more acceptable then the other offerings (no disrespect is intended to the various authors of those answers as your question asks much) because I want, I need, those bounty points so badly.

I'm just now coming to the realization that I may be a latent, certainly a frustrated, bounty hunter!


It's funny that this has become such a common plot device in modern American television, and yet there isn't a single word answer for it that I can think of. I believe the phrase "sexual tension" is often used for this. This despite the fact that the relationships that finally result (not until at least season three!) are almost always more than merely sexual in nature.


You could call that love.

love is defined as A deep, tender, ineffable feeling of affection and solicitude toward a person, such as that arising from kinship, recognition of attractive qualities, or a sense of underlying oneness.

So whether the love is acknowledge or not it's still love. If you still need a word for it you could call it unconditional love or unacknowledged love.

  • 1
    Unconditional love has implications way beyond what the O.P. is trying to express. It is love without conditions or limits; it is a self-sacrificing love, such as the tender devotion one spouse might give to another during a long battle with a debilitating disease, or the steadfast acceptance a parent might show toward a rebellious child. In Christian theology, it's a term often used describe God's love toward mankind.
    – J.R.
    Commented Feb 25, 2012 at 9:52
  • Thanks for that nice definition, John. I agree with @J.R. though about unconditional love. Also, the word I'm looking for encompasses more than just love. The word I'm looking for describes love in such a fashion where two people love each other, but frustrations build because neither has acknowledged loving the other.
    – trusktr
    Commented Mar 4, 2012 at 0:23

The word I'm looking for describes love in such a fashion...

Frustrated love

tackles the issue of their frustrations.


Afar love

MacMillan says

from afar (=from a distance): He could only admire her from afar.


The word I'm looking for describes love in such a fashion...

Disengaged love

would create an interesting cross-implication with the common use of engagement for highly committed couples who have revealed their affection to one another. It's as if the engine is running and the transmission is ready to go, but the clutch between them is disengaged.


Emotionally detached:

In view of their long friendship, John and Judy were oddly disengaged.

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