My love career has so far consisted mostly of crushes, occasionally requited, and some light experimentation with commitment. That’s pretty much perfect for where I am right now. I’ve spent my prime crush years busting my ass at school and at work, growing up, learning stuff, and having a ruling life full of community and culture and so many different kinds of rewarding relationships. These life zones take up lots of time, and a lot of myself. Love does, too.
It reminds me of a passage from the Bible of Babes, from the section entitled “Luv and Stuff.” Chapter 4, verse 29, reads:
There is a time to admire, and a time to pursue; a time for flings, and a time to commit; a time for me, and a time for relationships; a time for snacks, and…actually all of the times are for snacks.
Now I don’t take this entire scripture literally, but there’s definitely some truth there (and not just the part about the snacks, which I agree with so heartily that I MYSELF COULD HAVE WRITTEN IT). There is, indeed, a time for crushing—a time to admire and dream but to leave it at that. Sometimes, crushing is enough. Sometimes, just crushing is perfect.
There’s an expected narrative to a crush. We’ve all seen a movie before, right? It goes like this: First you like someone, then they like you, then you love someone, then they love you, and then you become each other’s someones, more or less. But in real life, keeping crushes in that first phase—liking a person—and letting go of the rest of the story is, quite often, the best thing ever. There are billions of humans out there for you to crush on. Think of the possibilities! Filling up your life bucket with crushes—whether it’s a total-fantasy-celebrity-person or the babe who makes your coffee every afternoon—has distinct benefits, especially for someone like me. Maybe for someone like you, too.
I’ll put this out there to illustrate my point, though it’s not something I’m particularly proud of: During periods of extreme overtime at school or when I have cash-money-type worries, I can get realllll bummed. Unpursued crushes are one of very few things that can pull me out of one of these fun-voids, and, as such, have been small miracles of self-rescue in my life.
When all else turns to shit, isn’t it nice to remember that there are beautiful and extremely likable people on the planet? A crush can be a golden, glistening nugget of joy in your pocket, no matter what else is up in your world. Sometimes crushes flash into your life like bolts of lightning and sometimes they develop over time and you just can’t help it. When you’re open to having those feelings, and can lighten up enough to allow them to just exist, they can make you really happy. For me it’s almost always worth it, especially when life gets weird.
Most of my most important crushes have happened during times of transition. During one such period, when a lot of stressful change was doing a number on my self-confidence, I had a see-you-across-the-room-lock-eyes-weak-knees kind of encounter with a boy at a party. No grand romance ensued, unless you count some late-night Facebook chats and video-sharing on YouTube, but it’s exactly what I needed in that moment. Not affirmation via the attention of a dude, but a nudge to get out of my own head and remember that I’m not the worst, after all, and that life is really fun when humans actually make contact with other humans instead of sulking around solo-style!
More recently, there’s been a boyperson who dropped in from another town. He arrived right after my college graduation, a milestone that made me feel like I had busted open a pair of huge French doors overlooking an epic valley while wearing a silk kimono, declaring, “LIFE, I’M READY FOR YOU NOW!” while “I’m Every Woman” blared in the background. Crush Status: ongoing. It isn’t poised to go anywhere, though, because of a whole list of reasons, the most glaring being that we live in different states. But having him to think about (and listen to Spacemen 3 about) reminds me that having feelings about a person is, in fact, really nice, and those feelings can be a bigger part of my life now that I’m not constantly doing schoolwork. After all the stress and sleeplessness leading up to graduation, it’s rad to be newly available for adventures involving cute faces.
Because, as much as having a crush is submitting to a mind-consuming, phone-checking, Instagram-hunting obsession with another person, it actually has almost nothing to do with anyone else! It’s a hobby you pursue alone. I think of it as high-quality me time. It also gives me a reason to step up my game a little. Can we all admit to the process of self-checkout (not the grocery-store kind, yuk yuk, but also yes because Babe God says “snack on”) once a crush establishes brain residence? You check your hair game, internet presence, record collection, and personal accomplishments to convince yourself that this person might be impressed with you; and, by taking inventory of your own radness, you remind yourself what a baller you are. This is a great thing to do every once in a while, and crushes give us a nice little daisy field of time and focus to do it in.
I tend to come out of crush phases feeling a lot better about myself, like, “I may have spent all night internet-stalking him, and taken 90 minutes too long getting ready to casually run into him, totally wasn’t planning it, but nothing lost there, because IT WAS FUN, and that’s OK.” When I look at it that way, it’s next to impossible to have regrets about whatever weird crush impulses I experienced or whether they were mutual or not. Both self-love and other-love are projects and practices—not just feelings—and I like crushes for wedging open a block in my mind for such activities to go down.
When I look back on the party-crush I mentioned above, I think about the time I spent Facebook chatting this person on the regular, trading videos of favorite live versions and B-sides of glam-rock and power-pop songs from the ’70s. I was already low-key into that kind of thing, but the hours I clocked being into him turned into hours clocked trying to find things he, apparently well-versed in these subjects, had never seen before. I came away with a whole library of bookmarks of new personal favorites that now make up my DJ playlists and LP collections. While I definitely don’t credit dude with getting me into that kind of music, I do thank him for inspiring me to spend so much time on discovering new-old stuff, which was totally worthwhile.
My newest crush started during a mixed-feelings time. Following my graduation, I’ve been partly elated and confident about the future and partly self-doubtful and confused because, all of a sudden, nothing about life is certain or defined like it was in school. Who are you when a huge part of your life is over? When crush-of-late and I started talking, I, like always, dove deep into my social-media data: How was I coming across on Facebook? What kind of person did I look like in my pictures? Was I still slaying on Twitter? I found my answers real fast: I’m a bomb-ass lady with cool clothes, fly friends, and a whole a lot of awesome and promising things going on. And sometimes I’m funny, at least to anyone who’s into dad-type puns. Thanks for the reminder, self!
I know that not everyone gets a jolt of confidence from a crush. Sometimes, unrequited love is agonizing, frustrating, and just TOO consuming at times. I feel you, and can confirm that those vibes continue post-adolescence (sorry). But I’ve found that certain strategies help me make the most of any crush—or at least prevent them from crushing me like a little bug. Maybe they will help you too, tenderhearts?
• Let go of any and all expectations about the outcome. If your M.O. is to enjoy this phase, let yourself enjoy it. Easier said than done, I know, and how you accomplish that is a journey of personal discovery. What do you do if you can’t get there, if you find yourself stuck feeling like if this relationship doesn’t happen, all of LIFE is a sham? My advice in such cases is to…
• Ride it out. You are probably going to feel this way for a while. You’re already in the deep end of the unrequited crush pool, and in my experience, you don’t just pop out of there and dry off and run along your merry way. Last time I was mired in these waters, crushing on a person who had no interest in entertaining my heart-flutterings, I finally, begrudgingly accepted that he must be a big dumb-dumb, because why else would someone not want to get with me??? (Sometimes the pendulum has to swing to grandiose if you’re trying to offset utter miserable dejection.)
• Try to detach feelings of need and/or acquisition from the person you are obsessing over. Attempt to change the impulse of “MUST HAVE” to “JUST LOVE.” Focus on appreciating what’s cool about that person without the self-torture of wondering why they just won’t be yours. Instead of thinking, “This human is a perfect angel, and if they aren’t mine, then I give up, goodbye planet,” try, “This human is a perfect angel, and it gives me hope that there must be other perfect angels out there too, I can’t wait to meet them!”
It gets easier to maintain these perspectives after you’ve clocked some years pining for many a human (a really boring Older Than Thou statement, I know, but hear me out). You realize that, Hey—I’m going to have a lot of these feelings in my lifetime. Some are more light and fluffy, some are torturous, but they all come and go, thank goodness. Because in the end, isn’t it a special kind of fun to consider love in a million different places, with a million goofy faces? Crush feelings are always there for the taking, even if they last only five seconds. It night be all in your head and heart, but those are important places, and about as real as it gets. ♦