Do you remember when you were a teenager, and you liked someone, the lengths which you went to in order to let them know? I mean, I wrote a letter to Jonathan Taylor Thomas one time, telling him on no uncertain terms, incredibly explicitly, exactly how crushing my crush on him was. He never wrote back, but still; the point is I went to pains to tell him how I felt. And I sprayed the envelope with Tommy Girl and filled it with glitter as well, so there’s that.
Between the ages of 12 and 15, at least amongst my peers, telling your real life, non-celebrity crush you liked them was a fairly routine affair. Forget for a second that said crush often changed from week to week; everyone was fairly up front about their tiny, stupid, teenager feelings. There were of course many occasions where one would solicit a friend to tell said crush how they felt on their behalf, but the outcome was exactly the same; crush would either crush you back, or not.
I’m in my late 20s, and I’m not sure what happened over the course of years, but crush-telling has become an altogether stifled affair. Where once you’d mumble something about going to the movies under your breath at the bus station after school, or covertly huddle around a phone while one friend spoke on behalf of another, now we bluster about awkwardly, speak in riddles, and ultimately fail at making our feelings known. In terms of forthcomingness, we’re Benjamin Buttoning.
Take, for instance, this all too common example: you’re at a bar, and you’ve met someone to whom you are attracted. Said person appears to be attracted to you in return. Their hips are facing yours! They are mirroring your movements! They are genuinely listening to you and engaging in your conversation! They are focusing on you, out of everyone else at the bar, for the majority of the night! You are doing cute smiles at each other and then looking coyly away! Huzzah! It is happening! You are doing romantic flirting with this person!
But then; nothing. Neither party broaches the topic of this new crush, or the potential for it to blossom. Why is this? Is everyone that pathetically scared of rejection they can’t even follow very blatant signs of attraction? Or is everyone so brazenly idiotic they don’t notice the signs? Is it a pride thing, neither person wanting to be the first to admit something that could ultimately be seen a weakness? Or has technology seriously made us that brain dead we don’t know how to ask for things using words from our mouths any more?
If you manage to make it past this initial tip-toey, arms-length dance and get to the dating stage, often the communication doesn’t get much better. I remember as a teenager, if you wanted to kiss someone, and felt like they wanted to kiss you too, but nothing was happening, someone would just ask, “Should we kiss now?” and then everyone would have sloppy, teeth-bangy mouth intercourse with each other. As any teacher would tell you, if you have a question, chances are someone else in the room is wondering the exact same thing. Same with sex, “I think we should have sex!” is a common thing a lot of teenagers say.
Not so with adults. No, adults end dates standing uncomfortably three feet apart one another, not knowing what to do with their hands, small talking into an awkward oblivion that would make kissing after it feel like a complete violation, so deteriorated was “the moment”, and indeed the esteem the two of you had come to hold each other in over the course of the evening. I mean, try being sexually attracted to someone who’s just weirdly forced some tidbit about switching to almond milk into conversation in a desperate attempt to idle at your front door. Or try feeling sexy after you’ve pondered what shade of blue you would call the other person’s shirt–is it royal or sapphire, do you think?–while neurotically sort of swaying from side to side, your last-ditch effort at hanging around long enough that one of you might initiate a situation that could lead to sex. Between all the almond milk and shades of blue–rather than one of you just slapping the elephant between you on the ass–you’ll both manage to undo all the hard work you put into making yourself appear sexually appealing during your date.
Do we really see these simple desires as so shameful we can’t express them? “I like you” is not a life sentence. It doesn’t mean you’re in love. It doesn’t mean that, even after only one date, you can’t change your mind. It’s not a damn blood oath. It makes the simple statement that one person would like to hang out with another, possibly more than once, for the reasonably foreseeable future. We knew this in highschool, when “I like you” generally meant “Let’s smoke cigarettes behind the train station after school, ogle each other from across the room at parties (boys on one side, girls on the other) and hold hands at the movies.” Maybe a revolving door of crushes gives you some perspective on what liking someone really means. Likewise, expressing that you’d like to kiss someone isn’t crazy–kissing is great, everyone wants to do it at some point! Ditto for sex. Maybe we’d do a better job of this dating thing if we took a leaf from the glitter embossed pages of our 13 year old selves, and singing a Jennifer Paige ditty, because after all, it really is only just a little crush.