Carry a Torch for Someone—Journey Through Unrequited Love

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

To carry a torch for someone means to harbor unrequited feelings or maintain a strong affection or love for someone, typically from a past relationship.

Idioms, like carry a torch for someone, are expressions or phrases whose meanings cannot be deduced from the literal definitions of their individual words. They often carry figurative or cultural significance and are used to convey ideas in a more vivid, expressive, or nuanced manner.

In this comprehensive guide, I will explore this English language idiom, covering its meaning, origin, modern-day usage, synonyms, and real-life examples. Additionally, I’ll offer tips for seamlessly incorporating this idiom into your writing. To reinforce your understanding, a quick quiz awaits you at the end.

Carry a Torch for Someone—Journey Through Unrequited Love

What Does the Idiom Carry a Torch for Someone Mean?

The idiom carry a torch for someone signifies having deep, enduring feelings for someone, typically unreciprocated. Collins Dictionary says, “If you say that someone is carrying a torch for someone else, you mean that they secretly admire or love them.” So, often, the fact that the adoration isn’t mirrored back is because the other person is completely unaware.

We’ve all carried a torch for someone at some point, whether it was a celebrity crush or a real-life situation with someone in school or at work. Growing up, I carried a torch for Devon Sawa after watching the movie Casper

I then went on to obsessively watch everything he ever starred in. Then I found out I lived in the same city as him, and teenage Candace lost her mind. I’ve since developed healthier ways of idolizing my favorite celebrities!

Literal Meaning vs. Figurative Meaning

The literal meaning of carrying a torch for someone is all about an actual torch and the precious fire that burns at its tip—the flame you work so hard to hold up and keep burning.

Figuratively, it conveys the emotional weight of ongoing affection and desire for someone who may not return those feelings.

How Is Carry a Torch for Someone Commonly Used in Context?

This common English language idiom is mostly used to describe a situation where someone just can’t seem to let go of their feelings for another person despite the lack of reciprocation. Delve into the nuanced applications of the idiom carry a torch for someone with the following sections:

What Are the Different Ways to Use the Idiom Carry a Torch for Someone?

Explore the diverse contexts where this idiom finds application, illustrating instances where individuals harbor unrequited feelings or maintain a lingering affection for someone.

  • Unrequited love: “Despite years passing, Clarke still carries a torch for her high school crush who never knew about her feelings.”
  • Longing from afar: “Even though he moved away, Bellamy continues to carry a torch for his hometown sweetheart, pining for her from a distance.”
  • Persistent feelings: “Raven confessed to her friends that she carries a torch for her co-worker, hoping that one day he might notice her affection.”
  • Secret admirer: “Murphy discreetly carries a torch for his neighbor, leaving anonymous gifts on her doorstep to express his feelings.”
  • Enduring affection: “Despite their breakup, Octavia still carries a torch for her ex-boyfriend, unable to let go of the deep emotional connection they once shared.”

What Are Some Tips for Using Carry a Torch for Someone Effectively?

  • Context matters: Consider the emotional context when using the idiom, ensuring it fits scenarios of enduring affection or unrequited love.
  • Tone and sensitivity: Use the idiom with sensitivity, as it often implies a personal and emotional aspect. Be mindful of the tone to convey the depth of feelings.
  • Narrative or conversational use: Incorporate the idiom seamlessly into narratives or conversations about long-lasting emotions, unfulfilled love, or lingering attachments.
  • Avoid overuse: Use the idiom judiciously to avoid overuse. Reserve it for situations where it aptly describes sustained romantic feelings.
  • Combine with descriptive language: Enhance the impact by combining the idiom with descriptive language to articulate the intensity of the emotional attachment.

Where Can You Find Examples of the Idiom Carry a Torch for Someone?

You can find the phrase used in classic and contemporary songs (torch songs), romantic literature, and everyday conversations about love and affection.

“Carrying a Torch” is the title of a single written and released by Tom Jones. Emmy Award Winning writer Christopher Lukas compiled a series of his short stories into one volume and called it “Carrying a Torch.”

It’s also been quoted in media throughout the years, like these examples:

And for anyone out there who might carry a torch for Paula Cole, there’s “John Wayne,” where Gaga wonders where all the cowboys have gone. (Rolling Stone Magazine)

It’s really the heifer aside that seals the deal in the fiery torch song about a man who done her wrong. (The Los Angeles Times)

What Is the Origin of the Idiom Carry a Torch for Someone?

carrying a torch Ngram
Carrying a torch usage trend.

The idiom carry a torch for someone originated from a Greek and Roman wedding tradition of the bride lighting a real torch from the flames in her hearth and then using it to light the fire in her new home with her husband.

The god Eros, aka Cupid, is also depicted throughout mythology as using a torch to ignite flames between lovers, so the origin of the idiom could likely have ties to that.

But it wasn’t until the 1700s that the phrase began to take on the idiomatic form we know today.

How Did the Idiom Evolve Over Time?

It evolved from a literal expression to a metaphorical one, capturing the sometimes heartbreaking essence of lasting, often unreciprocated love.

What Are Some Related Terms to Carry a Torch for Someone?

There are always other ways to convey a thought or emotion, and synonyms help us do just that! Here are a few alternatives to the phrase carry a torch for someone that might come in handy when you’re writing.

Carry a Torch for Someone—Journey Through Unrequited Love 1


  • Pine for
  • Covet
  • Hunger for
  • Deep desire for
  • Long for
  • Yearn for


  • Move on
  • Despise
  • Loathe
  • Get over someone
  • Forget

Carry a Torch for Someone: Test Your Knowledge!

Choose the correct answer.

What Have We Learned About Carry a Torch for Someone?

In wrapping up, the idiom carry a torch for someone signifies the lingering affection one holds, often unreciprocated, typically for a former love interest. This idiom, like many others, goes beyond the literal to express deeper, often more nuanced sentiments, enriching our conversations and writings.

The journey of exploring idioms, from their meanings to their origins and applications, is endlessly fascinating. If you found this guide insightful, we encourage you to delve deeper with our other idiom guides on our site. Each one promises a journey through the quirks and delights of English expressions, along with practical tips and quizzes to solidify your learning. Remember, the richness of the English language is waiting for you to explore and master.