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How “I Love Lisa” Portrays Unrequited Love

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Conn chapter.

Yay! Valentine’s Day is almost here! A day to celebrate love, exchange cards, flowers, and chocolates, and also a day to ask out your crush and find out if they like you back or not. There is a more embarrassing side to this though, what if you ask out your crush and they don’t feel the same? What if they reject you, in a really embarrassing way? Or what if you’re the crushee? How do you (gently) let the person who’s crushing on you down without hurting them, especially if they can’t take a hint? These are all explored in the Simpsons episode I Love Lisa.

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It’s Valentine’s Day in Springfield! Everyone is celebrating Valentine’s Day, exchanging valentines with their family, friends, and lovers. At Springfield Elementary School, Lisa’s class exchanges valentines with each other, after constructing paper mailboxes for the valentines. Amid all the excitement, Ralph Wiggum finds nobody has given him any cards and begins to cry. Lisa can’t help but feel bad for Ralph and gives him a valentine, a little card saying “I choo-choo choose you!” which immediately cheers up Ralph. Unfortunately, this act of kindness has unforeseen consequences for Lisa. Because of the valentine, Ralph develops a crush on Lisa and wants to walk her home. Lisa must endure an awkward walk home with Ralph, where she regrets everything.

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I can’t help but feel bad for Ralph here. Poor Ralph is not the brightest crayon in the box and is usually the butt of the joke. Nobody wants to be friends with him, or even give him valentines, which is just mean! They see him as something to laugh at, and that’s it. They never think that he’s a person with feelings. So when Lisa gave him the valentine, due to the fact that he hardly ever gets reached out to socially, and his social ineptitude, he ended up developing a crush on the one person who did reach out. I also feel bad for Lisa. She just felt sorry for Ralph and wanted to cheer him up, nothing more. She had no idea that he’d take it so seriously. Now, she is in the unenviable position of having to let him know she doesn’t like him like that.

When Lisa gets home, she tells Marge about the situation. She asks Marge what she should say to a boy to let him know she’s not interested. Marge starts to answer, but Homer butts in, saying he’s heard them all, ranging from “I like you as a friend” to “I’m married to the sea” to my personal favorite “I’m not gay, but I’ll learn” (Dang, poor Homer has been through it). Marge interjects and advises Lisa to tell Ralph that she’s very flattered, but that she’s just not ready for this kind of thing. The next day, Lisa tells Ralph exactly that, and he says he understands. Later on, however, Ralph asks his dad, Chief Wiggum, how to get a girl to like him. Chief Wiggum says the key is to be persistent.

The conversation between Ralph and his father reminds me of how many boys think, due to what they’ve seen in movies, that when a girl says no, she just hasn’t been convinced yet. All they have to do is keep at it and be persuasive and eventually, she’ll fall for him and they’ll live happily ever after. This is not even remotely true. When a girl says no, she does not secretly mean “yes,” she does not mean “convince me,” she means “no,” nothing more, nothing less. And no amount of persuasion will get her to change her mind or see what a great guy you are (it’ll probably get you a restraining order though). No means no and she just doesn’t want to be with you.

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After that, Lisa gets the role of Martha Washington in her school’s President’s Day Pageant, and much to her dismay, Ralph gets the role of George Washington. Lisa is quite nervous about this, knowing Ralph’s feelings about her, and she’s worried he’ll embarrass her in front of the whole school. She’s venting about this to Bart, when, all of a sudden, they both hear a knock at the door. When Lisa opens the door, she finds a package from Ralph waiting for her. She opens it with Bart and finds it contains a Malibu Stacy Convertible, with tickets to the Krusty Anniversary show in the trunk, which both Bart and Lisa have been dying to go to. She comes to the unfortunate realization, however, that he gave her the tickets expecting her to go with him. Lisa ends up reluctantly joining Ralph and Chief Wiggum for the show. Lisa is uncomfortable the entire time, but the final straw comes when Krusty begins interviewing audience members. Krusty interviews Ralph, and Ralph wastes no time in declaring his love for Lisa. Lisa snaps, yelling at Ralph on live television that she doesn’t like him, she never liked him, and the only reason she gave him the valentine in the first place was because no one else would. Definitely not one of Lisa’s best moments.

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Despite the fact that Lisa was definitely not at her best here, I can understand how she got to this point. Lisa didn’t know this was going to happen, she didn’t mean for it to happen. She just gave Ralph the valentine because she was feeling sorry for him, and thought it would cheer him up, and that would be it. Now, she is in a very frustrating and uncomfortable position. Ralph won’t leave her alone, he can’t take a hint, and she can’t seem to shake him off, even after she tells him she’s not interested. Then, when he tells everyone on live television that he’s in love with her, which she definitely doesn’t reciprocate, all her built-up frustration on the situation comes out at the wrong place and the wrong time. However, I feel really bad for Ralph here. After being rejected and laughed at by everyone, he finally thought somebody actually liked and cared about him. So he got excited and put himself out there, only to be rejected in such a brutal and humiliating way.

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Finally, the President’s Day Pageant comes. Lisa, who feels terrible about what she did to Ralph, attempts to apologize, but Ralph wants none of it, saying he just wants to play George Washington. There are many performances based on many different presidents but Lisa and Ralph’s is the main feature. At first, it appears as though Ralph has forgotten his lines, but actually, he is sadly staring at the valentine Lisa gave him, before he tosses it into the fire on the set, symbolizing how he is letting his feelings for Lisa go. Then, he gives a surprisingly touching and emotional performance as George Washington, which impresses literally everyone. After the show, Ralph is signing autographs, while Lisa watches him from the swings. He spots Lisa and joins her on the swings, and she compliments his performance. She says she has something for him, and she gives him a card that says “Let’s bee friends!” Ralph laughs at the joke and accepts. Then they swing together, as friends do.

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There is a lot to unpack here. Let’s start with Ralph letting Lisa’s original card burn. Ralph letting the card from Lisa go shows that he is coming to terms with the fact that Lisa will never like him the way he wishes she would, and is letting that fantasy and his feelings for her go. When you realize that the person doesn’t like you the way you like them, it is quite a sobering realization. You try to hold onto that fantasy at first, to some hope that they could possibly like you back. Unfortunately, however, some people are never going to be the person you want or need them to be, and the sooner you recognize and accept this, the better off you’ll be.

Another thing to talk about is that even though Lisa isn’t interested in Ralph romantically, she still wants to be friends with him and hang out with him. I like this because even though they are clearly not meant for each other romantically, they seem to get along well as friends. I’m glad they were able to put what happened aside and just hang out and be friends, which is something many people much older than them cannot do, to be honest. Also, I give Ralph a lot of credit for being able to forgive and be friends with Lisa after she humiliated him.


All in all, I really like this episode. The reason why it is such a good depiction of unrequited love is because it sympathizes with both characters and you are able to understand why both of them feel the way they feel. If you’ve ever had a one-sided crush, you can relate to Ralph, and if you’ve ever been the subject of one, you can relate to Lisa. You can understand that Ralph got attached to Lisa because he was lonely and looking for a connection. You can also understand that Lisa feels uncomfortable because she didn’t intend for this to happen, nor can she reciprocate Ralph’s romantic feelings. This was something I liked about classic Simpsons episodes in general, that they were able to take a neutral stance on whatever topic their episodes were covering and explore both sides of the topic equally and fairly.

To sum things up, unrequited crushes are quite uncomfortable and awkward. It can be hard to figure out how to let the other person know that you’re not interested in them. But equally, when you have an unrequited crush on someone else, it can be hard to come to terms with it and let your feelings go. The Simpsons did a really good job exploring both sides of unrequited crushes, and for that reason, I choo-choo choose this episode.

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Nicole is a senior at the University of Connecticut studying communication and gerontology. Her hobbies include crocheting, writing, playing the flute, and biking. Her favorite TV shows are Bob's Burgers, Bluey, and The Simpsons.