I think “crushing” on someone is a natural thing, and in the right place and the right time, it can lead to something great. Most of the time it’ll pass, as it’s meant to, and we can look back and laugh at the ridiculous amount of time spent mentally replaying the one failed conversation that we still twitch about in the shower. Crushes happen, and they almost never equate to a magical romance materializing out of thin air.
But the darker problem with “crushing” is that it occasionally turns a real live person into a trophy, a sort of non-independent rubber statue imprisoned on a pedestal, and if you ever finally reached it, you’d either squeeze it too hard or please it too much. In both cases, both people lose.
Relationships are hard work, and absolutely require more than the initial illusion of fleeting chemicals in our easily tricked brains. That rush of first feelings is overwhelming, but it doesn’t mean a whole lot in the grander scheme: and we could save ourselves a lot of trouble if we took up Taylor Swift to “count to ten, take it in, this is life before you know who you’re gonna be.“
Here are five types of romanticized crushes that require a heavy dose of self-awareness. I apologize in advance for the snark: I’m only so impassioned here because I’ve seen how badly it can get out of control.
1. Hate Crush (aka Freudian Defense Mechanism)
What it looks like: You like someone, but you hate that you like them, so there’s a lot of passive-aggressive, mean-spirited, hyper-critical gas-lighting aimed their way. This looks cute in movies, but is often awful and humiliating to an actual human being with, you know, their own thoughts and dreams.
Problems: This can be irreversibly destructive if you drag someone long enough through your daily catharsis. I understand the psychology behind this—we resent what we can’t have or we just hate it when we feel so vulnerable with someone—but displacing anger out of confusion when you can’t “have someone” is a really dark, desperate issue that might require real help, immediately.
2. Aspirational Crush (aka I Love The Idea of You)
What it looks like: That really good-looking teacher or singer or authority figure looks great from far away, like a Monet or the brand new ottoman on Craigslist, and this positional power is the sole force of attraction. The way he speaks! The way she leads! The way he knows how to open his jacket button when he sits down!
Problems: When you fall for a hologram and find the real person, it’s like a great movie trailer for a mediocre movie: except you can only blame yourself. Getting to know someone takes time and work, and so does making peace with their flaws. A person’s accomplishments only tell half their story. Part of love is about knowing how to live with the prickly, icky underside of a person, and to stay past inconvenience when the image is shattered.
3. Parasocial Crush (aka Pathological Celebrity Crush)
What it looks like: A celebrity crush is usually harmless and even a ton of fun. Fandoms are the closest thing to virtual high-fives; I’m part of a few and the camaraderie is second only to the military. But all this becomes downright insane when social media fandom-entitlement demands that celebrities (who have personal lives outside the fictional characters they portray) must be super-personal and respond to every tweet and do special favors, often by comments starting with, “I’ve never asked this of anyone famous before, but you owe me, because I made you.” Followed by the reliably manipulative, “You must be too big-time since you won’t talk to nobodies like me.”
Problems: The problem is everything. They’re not your family or your friend. If they reply, awesome. If they don’t, they never owed you that. If that sounds cruel, then I hope one day you can answer the millions of messages you get from strangers while constantly in fear that you’ll never satisfy a single one of them when you do.
4. You-Owe-Me Crush (aka The Friend-Zone)
What it looks like: “So I opened the door for her, right? And she wouldn’t give me her phone number and home address and mailbox keys and her Netflix password!”
Problems: Look, I think some standards are too high and unreasonable (and really, some of us don’t have a right for such high standards if we haven’t done much of anything in life, and we should become someone worth catching before we go “hunting”). But besides the fact that no one should have to change their standards to settle for less, the main thing is that friendship is usually better. And there’s no such thing as a friend-zone. Maybe “biding your time” is a good strategy to wait for old age to strike down your awful co-worker. But for a date? It’s mostly creepy. Being “forever single” isn’t a free pass for pity. Now imagine, if you could actually be friends with someone without the expectation of their naked body in exchange, and if you stayed friends with them even if they dated someone else. No one should ever be encased in a “In Case of Emergency, Break Glass” chamber. Romance isn’t something that can be forced by “nice-guy-ing” your way in (if you think so, you ain’t no nice guy). If romance happens, I hope it’s because it was explored with honest motives and a non-slimy transparency. And if you’re rejected: I’m truly sorry, but I hope it doesn’t turn you into a resentful, entitled, sour-grapes monster. I’ve been there, and even I hated that guy.
5. Apocalyptic Crush (aka Totally-Bad-For-You)
What it looks like: You know that he or she is bad for you. You know where this is going. Everyone has warned you. I even managed to package your future-regret into this juice bottle and you tasted it and you know how bad this will get. I know you hate this lecture for the third time and—hey, where are you going? Heed my warning across this long hallway as you walk towards your imminent destruction! I warned you with my pointing finger of danger!
Problems: I have a lot of sympathy for this, because there’s this wild rebellious streak in all of us that wants to strike out against conformity. But I guess it depends on what you mean by those words. Crushing on a person who only brings out the worst in you isn’t very rebellious. That’s actually conforming. Finding a person who loves you and respects you and gets to know you for who you are? That’s pretty wild. I’m not so much warning you as encouraging you, You can do way better. And you can.