Sex + Love

He Was Eating a Chicken Patty and He Smelled Like the Woods

The power of secret crushes.

Illustration by Olivia

I started racking up crushes in the first grade. Most of them were on fictional characters or celebrities, like Disney’s Robin Hood or Donnie Wahlberg of New Kids on the Block. I wanted to marry all of them, or, at the very least, to accompany them for a slice of Cosimo’s Pizza at the mall. I didn’t really know anything about love except that I desperately wanted to be in it.

By second grade, I’d developed a crush on a boy in my class, which was quite different from my typical crush M.O., as he was neither a cartoon fox nor the “badass” member of a boy band. His name was Zack, and he sat across from me in class. He was quiet and nice and had no idea that I was planning our future together for the majority of 1989. We would be married at age 25. We would have two children, Francine and William. We would own a limousine, because we’d be millionaires. We would have an ice cream parlor in our basement. We’d be totally in love and nobody could tear us apart. 2 people + 2 gether= 4 ever.

Of course, in order to get to this future, we’d have to fall in love. And for that to happen, I’d have to tell Zack I liked him. This, to my second grade self, was the equivalent of throwing up in front of the entire class (which I would go on to do)—totally embarrassing. What if he didn’t like me back? No, I decided, it was better to crush from afar, and then make my move in, say, 20 years, after I’d grown up to be a glamorous billionaire inventor-slash-actress, which I was pretty sure was going to happen.

My crush on Zack was the first of many secret crushes, loves that lived only in the margins of notebooks, in doodles and daydreams, in imaginary plans and playlists. Most of my elementary school crushes played out the same way, with no particular endgame. I didn’t actually want to kiss or date these boys, I just wanted to like them. I just wanted to be in love, or to try to figure out what love might feel like, so that I’d be ready when I did actually want to kiss someone or purchase a crystal mansion with them.

As I got older, I shared these secret crushes with my friends, who had secret crushes of their own. We’d all swap stories of our crushes, vowing to never tell anyone else how we felt, for fear of being humiliated by our less kind classmates, who liked to take nerd-girl crushes and turn them in to easy targets. We’d laugh at ourselves for lusting after the most popular boys in school, who’d waltz right by us while we were picking Dorito mush out of our braces, but it didn’t make our crushes any less real. We fell hard, staring across aisles, watching wistfully at school dances, gushing after chance encounters in the cafeteria: “Oh my god, Neal let me borrow his pencil, and I am never, ever giving it back. He was eating a chicken patty and he smelled like the woods.”

I don’t think anyone gets through high school/life without a few secret crushes. Sometimes your secret crushes will be on friends, or on people who are, for whatever reason, “off limits.” Sometimes your secret crushes will be on people that eventually turn into girlfriends or boyfriends. Sometimes your secret crushes will be on Ryan Gosling and your husband will find out and get all annoyed whenever a commercial for a Ryan Gosling movie comes on even though he should totally get over it I mean whatever the kid is charming deal with it. In any case, all of the crushes will help you understand how you feel about love and lust and all that good stuff. At the very least, they’ll provide excellent terrible-poetry material.

All of the people you fall for that you keep to yourself, whether they’re in your life, or on a screen, or in a book, are pieces of a romantic part of yourself that continually builds, breaks, and builds up again until you find what it is you’re looking for. There is a lovely security in a secret crush: you get to imagine all of the good things that can come of love without having to put yourself out there and risk rejection. It is all rainbows and butterflies and dreamy soundtracks and perfectly executed daydream makeout sessions, all from the safety of your own mind.

You get to practice for the real thing. You get to imagine every beginning, every middle, every ending. You get to fall in love with possibilities, and the possibilities are endless. ♦


  • Amberrr October 11th, 2011 3:10 PM

    “There is a lovely security in a secret crush: you get to imagine all of the good things that can come of love without having to put yourself out there and risk rejection. It is all rainbows and butterflies and dreamy soundtracks and perfectly executed daydream makeout sessions, all from the safety of your own mind.”

    oh my gosh. <3

  • Naomi Morris October 11th, 2011 3:39 PM

    disney robin hood and ryan gosling <3

  • vivian October 11th, 2011 3:42 PM

    this is so relate-able and cute and true!

  • Nylorian22 October 11th, 2011 3:50 PM

    I loved the article in was very true I think everyone can relate to secret crushes :)

  • arriving October 11th, 2011 3:51 PM

    i had my fair share of secret crushes but secret crushes get scary when you never leave your head. i had secret crushes, secret relationships, even secret fights with my crushes, in my head all through high school (and university) and all it got me was a deep disatisfaction with people when they somehow went from being secret crushes to real live crushes. it was never as good as it was in my head, and i thought that meant that i would never be good enough in real life as the person i really desperately wanted to be in my head. what i’m saying is that i went through a lot of heartache until i met someone that gave me that real good warm exciting feeling my imagined crushes gave me, and if it weren’t for that person bringing me out of my head i’d still be trapped thinking that the reason secret crushes were better than real crushes was because i was an over-analytic loser and no real live person could ever love that. (i may still be both of those things but at least i don’t really care as much about them anymore.) everything in moderation i think.

  • meghan October 11th, 2011 4:00 PM

    reminds me of the one boy i could neither speak to nor stop thinking about when i was in seventh grade. i loved him so much i named a neopet after him. and it was a rare pet too. poor thing has to live as a reminder of how embarrassing of a twelve year old i was.

    • Marguerite October 11th, 2011 6:15 PM

      NEOPETS! I always wanted a rare one, I used to go on it every day trying to get one…

  • puffytoad October 11th, 2011 4:20 PM

    I had secret crushes that would last for years. In third grade I decided to tell my crush how I felt but I ended up just walking up to him and opening my mouth without any sound coming out. Then I think I decided it was a better idea to keep crushes to myself. Actually, I never told any living being about any of my crushes until I was 17 and was directly asked about it. The things I imagined in crushland had no relation to how things went in real life with relationships.

  • Dylan October 11th, 2011 4:21 PM

    Ryan Gosling’s clone goes to my college and god knows that’s how I get through!

  • asleeptillnoon October 11th, 2011 4:24 PM

    first crush was Tuxedo Mask from Sailor Moon. first real life crush was my first grade classmate, Jimmy, who ate paper, lol! He was an odd one but boy could he draw horses!

  • spacemadness October 11th, 2011 4:25 PM

    This is so great! Of course I instantly think of the current boy I fantasize about as I walk through the hallways…and this authors writing reminds me of my best friend! :D great job :)

  • Flower October 11th, 2011 4:38 PM

    This is brilliant to read.
    A George Harrison crush is both ruining my life and making it amazing. Hmmm, obsessions can be fun. Except when you repeatedly dream he is in your room at night and leap up you smack your head on the ceiling and constantly have a black eye :F

  • WitchesRave October 11th, 2011 4:48 PM

    I used to have a crush on Sonic.
    The Hedgehog from those video games.

    I worry about myself sometimes…

    • Brittany October 11th, 2011 8:10 PM

      That’s really funny. I did/still do have a bit of a crush on Hey Arnold!

  • Whatsername October 11th, 2011 4:50 PM

    I had an obsessive crush like that too in second grade, but sadly I didn’t have the sense to keep it SECRET. I wrote the kid a mushy lovey poem that made him ignore me the entire rest of the year.

    Oh well, my luck’s gotten better over the years.. somewhat. 8D

  • moonchild October 11th, 2011 4:55 PM

    This is so sweet! I can totally relate!

  • madelaine October 11th, 2011 5:03 PM

    This is my life. I love it. And I am 22.

  • kittenmix October 11th, 2011 5:24 PM

    Louis Theroux, around the thirty year mark. Too handsome and Hearst now.

  • julalondon October 11th, 2011 5:26 PM

    Haha i can so relate to this! When i was in 7th grade i had a crush on a boy; he was in 9th grade and sooooo unbelievably cool. He just had to look at me for no reason and i was happy the whole day and telling my best friends all the time: “omg this morning he smiled at me; do you think that means he likes me??” god i was looking at his picture in the yearbook evry day and writing letters to him (but never send it of course). i remember me and my best friends having loads of fun talking about what could happen if he eventually would like me and omg he may kiss me then. haha i was 13 i think and i felt sooo grown up. seven years later all this sounds just cute and silly…=)

  • kittenmix October 11th, 2011 5:27 PM


  • Loudandproudmag October 11th, 2011 5:46 PM

    Ryan Gosling is my prince too! I saw my future, it was bright cause I know i’m marrying Ryan! LOOOL

  • Marguerite October 11th, 2011 6:13 PM

    My first crush was in preschool… we played Harry Potter together… I was Hermione – he was Harry – he would save me from the monkey bars… ahhhhhhh what a weird kid I was…

  • Ruby B. October 11th, 2011 6:39 PM

    I had a giant crush on the disney Peter Pan. For about 2 or 3 years. You, Rookie people, are the first ones I’ve ever told!

  • Nomi October 11th, 2011 6:51 PM

    before middle school if I liked a guy, I couldn’t even say one word to the guy i liked without, I don’t know, fainting? I couldn’t say, because I never did. By middle school, I was able to treat my crushes like guys that I had absolutely no interest in and barely even knew. Half of them found out eventually, and were stunned and often disgusted or blase. None of them ever returned my affections. That’s my love life. I’ve never had a boyfriend, but I’m only in 9th grade and I’ve come to terms with the fact that I won’t be single forever, but I still am.
    About completely unrealistic crushes: In my high school, which is very very large, homerooms meet every Thursday for ten minutes for handouts and forms and such. There is a boy in my homeroom who has these really big blue eyes and he’s actually quite attractive and I’ve never said a word to him. There are plenty of other guys I’ve befriended and even flirted with, and I know that nothing will ever happen between me and this kid because there’s no reason anything ever would. But I don’t care, at all. Every time I see him in the hallway or anywhere, though, I think, “ZOMG THERE GOES PHILLIP.” Yeah, I even know his name. Totally not creepy. But I think it’s nice to have an out-of-reach crush every so often, because you’ll never be disappointed, and in your daydreams they will do whatever you want.

  • Tavi October 11th, 2011 7:15 PM

    GOSLING PEOPLE, you’ve seen this right?

    • jeepsterbear October 13th, 2011 10:41 AM

      Just saw it yesterday and now my boyfriend gets even MORE annoyed when we see Gosling’s charming face on the TV box.

  • darksideoftherainbow October 11th, 2011 7:32 PM

    2 peope+2 gether = 4 ever might be one of the sweetest things i’ve ever seen. i’m close to your marrying age and still have secret crushes! they’re great bc they’re so easy and you can pretend and have fun with it. it also makes it super fun when you talk to them and in your head you’re thinking about how you’ve been daydreaming about him for however long. i loved this! thank you!

  • rhymeswithorange October 11th, 2011 7:44 PM

    and yes I’m sixteen (almost seventeen) and have never had a boyfriend and it won’t be that way forever but it really really feels like it sometimes. like pretty much all teen girls depiction in media is defined by their boyfriends. so this is really awesome for looking at REAL girls. thanks :)

  • insteadofanelephant October 11th, 2011 7:57 PM

    sometimes i wish crushes would be as easy as 2nd grade. so many crushes…so little time for coffee dates!

    instead of an elephant

  • daydreamsofdancing October 11th, 2011 8:07 PM

    This definitely brings to mind a few of my own secret crushes… Including Simba from Disney’s The Lion King. But it especially brings me to the now… I fell for him over the summer he’s a year ahead of me in high school. I saw him sifting through a stack of Vonnegut novels at the local library book sale. He had on a tshirt for one of my favorite indie rock bands and even though I had this intense urge to tell him how much I liked his shirt… I didn’t. I assumed I’d only ever see him from afar in the hallways or whatever until we wound up being in the same class together this year. And we talk sometimes!! He likes art type stuff… He told me so… And im an artist. Oh geez. I’m hopelessly over the moon about it. And I have no clue what to do… So I just sit and muse about the him and the me that I wish could exist.

  • Brittany October 11th, 2011 8:08 PM

    Man, I am in college currently, surrounded by a seemingly never-ending supply of secret crushes. All of whom, I feel a sort of fantastic, absurd love for. They will all be everything that I want, and I hope that I never meet most of them (unless they are awesome), so that they can remain perfect in my imagination. Grade school crushes don’t go away in college. Hopefully they never do.

  • diny October 11th, 2011 8:16 PM

    oh my. crush! i never make next-step-into-date. that’s why being shy is not good sometimes.

  • Altericka October 11th, 2011 8:23 PM

    All of this is happening to me but he knows that I like him and he likes me.But I do agree I do think of all of the make-out sessionsI wnat to have with him. Great job as always Rookie!!!

  • moist_panties October 11th, 2011 8:45 PM

    I have a secret crush on a boy in my english class but he sits behind me so I can’t even stare creepily at him during class lol

  • Laia October 11th, 2011 10:49 PM

    i LIVE for secret crushes.

  • Jenny October 11th, 2011 11:19 PM

    Ohh, I love this! And Olivia’s drawing is AMAZING! <3 I was a lonely only child who went on a lot of long road trips with my parents and all I would do in the backseat is take naps, have little tea parties with my dolls, and daydream about my secret crushes. In one daydream the GREEN POWERRANGER tries to steal me away from a boy named CAR in my class that I secretly loved, and that daydream had a plot that got me through all of fourth grade!

  • ReneeRevolution October 12th, 2011 12:49 AM

    This really took me back to my crushes. One that particularly stood out was the one I referred to as Secret Boyfriend, named because of a joke my 4-H adviser had made about another boy I’d been crushing on.

    I can still hear my one friend yelling, “Secret Boyfriend!” at me.

  • samhatt October 12th, 2011 7:31 AM

    Thank you for addressing the multitude of benefits with secret crushes :P
    I’m more comforted now : )

  • pwcorn October 12th, 2011 6:22 PM

    like morrissey sang in “half a person”:

    “the was the story of my life, that’s the story of my life.”

    YA YOOO.

    boys who smell like the woods are the best kinda boys.

  • doloreshaze October 13th, 2011 2:49 AM

    This reminds me of my first crush- Christina Ricci’s father in ‘Casper’! (Bill Pullman, lol…) ahh those were the days. I must’ve been like seven or something! It was always actors for me– I don’t think I moved on to crushes on actual real-life people til age 13 or so. Crushes are the best. ;)

  • danzelbanzel October 13th, 2011 4:37 PM

    i have so many secret crushes but the thing is whenever i tell the person it always lessens and it is no longer fun to have a crush on them :)

  • somebunny October 13th, 2011 8:15 PM

    awww…. i love this!!!!! comments and all!

    currently there is a boy a daydream about all the time… hee hee hee
    i love all those giddy fluttery feelings… weak knees and when we interact i have to pretend that everything is fine, and that we arent practically married in my mind. :D

  • maggiemadge October 16th, 2011 10:29 PM

    This was an amazing article (so is the rest of Rookie!) There is something magical about daydreaming about that special someone from afar. It reminds me of one of my favorite songs from Belle and Sebastian. (P.S. When I was a freshman in high school, I daydreamed that I would run away to Glasgow and met and eventually marry Stuart Murdoch. We would both live in this adorable house and I would get preform alongside the band. sigh…)

  • Taylor October 20th, 2011 5:46 PM

    Falling in love with the possibilities. Story of my life.

  • tremulously October 23rd, 2011 1:30 AM

    yeah but what about the fact that EVERY TIME you tell one of your RELIABLE TRUSTWORTHY BEST FRIENDS FOR E A E A EA about your crushes they promptly tell crushed-on person in question?! LIKE when i was absent from school one day in fifth grade and three of my friends went up to nick and told him, and i quote, “she drools at your feet and she thinks you look soo hot when you wear that red hawaiian-style button up shirt.” it went so well with his gelly, spiky hair…

    OR in tenth grade when my friend harli and i were both in love with the most ravishing beautiful creature that ever lived and had a grand old time writing a love letter to him about how i was deeply, madly, in love with him and how it all started with his perfectly perfectly hairy eyebrows and his too small tshirts and went on for about three pages..

    and then she sent it to him.