What Does To Carry a Torch for Someone Mean?

Carrying a Torch for Someone Meaning

Definition: To have unrequited feelings of love for someone.

People who love someone who does not love him or her back are carrying a torch for that person. They are holding onto a one-sided love that will not be returned.

This idiom illustrates the idea that love is like a burning flame kept bright. People who continue to love without response are keeping this metaphorical flame burning brightly all by themselves. It is as if they are carrying a burning torch, or a burning love, all alone.

Origin of To Carry a Torch for Someone

The first written instance of this idiom is in a Vanity Fair piece, which includes this line,

  • When a fellow ‘carries the torch’ it doesn’t imply that he is ‘lit up’ or drunk, but girl-less. His steady has quit him for another or he is lonesome for her.

holding a torchGreek and Roman traditions may have inspired this phrase. Reportedly, one tradition included creating torches out of twigs to be burnt on wedding nights. The torches would be lit in the fire of the bride’s old home and then used to light the fire in her new home to symbolize the love of the new couple.

Examples of To Carry a Torch for Someone

Oftentimes, this phrase is used when pitying someone.

define carrying a torch for somethingFor example, someone might say,

  • Poor Alex. He has been carrying a torch for his friend Carrie for years, and she never notices how much he tries to get her to fall in love with him.

At other times, the phrase can be used to describe someone who will not leave another alone and annoys others with over-the-top shows of love.

For example, someone may say,

  • I get so annoyed with how Adam still carries a torch for me. We broke up months ago, but he keeps trying to call me to go on dates!

At times, people may use the phrase simply in place of the word “love.”

More Examples

  • It can be awful to carry a torch for a friend, but if you can relax and pull back a little from those “He’s my life, and he doesn’t even know it” feelings, then your head will clear and you’ll approach this more rationally. –Denver Post
  • But my acting heroes were the guys that men might not necessarily aspire to be because they already are them. That’s what [Hoffman and Lemmon] represented to me and that’s what I want to try to help carry a torch for in my career. –LA Times


To carry a torch is to love deeply, often in an unrequited manner.