Having A Crush Is The Best — It's Even Better When You're In A Relationship
Thirsting after unattainable people is a pillar of my personality, even though I’m in a committed relationship. For me, a crush is self-care.
Refinery29 is celebrating the long-awaited return of spring with Crush Day: A joyful look at the wonders of having a crush — on strangers, on celebrities, and even on stuff.
My first crush was a boy named Caleb. He had sandy blond hair and a goofy half-grin that felt grownup and mischievous, and all the seven-year-old girls in my class were defenseless to it. I was mesmerized. It was an innocent, uncomplicated crush: A sweaty palms, stuttering, heart-in-ears, joyous kind of fondness. Until the other kids made fun of me for daring to like Caleb — I was the Black girl (the only one in the class) they picked on — and he was, well, Caleb.
Then came my BIG high-school crush, Raymond, with his dimples and glasses and the same taste in old-school hip-hop. That was my hold a boombox over my head in the rain unrequited crush, the kind all the best teen rom-coms are built on.
Along with Caleb and Raymond, there was Gambit from X-Men the Animated Series, Zack Morris, and basically any other indistinguishable Prince Charming–looking white boy of the ’90s and early ’00s (Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Devon Sawa, Chad Michael Murray). There was Stefan Urquelle (only Stefan, never Steve), Taye Diggs, a young Channing Tatum in a Mountain Dew commercial, Pacey Witter, Boyz II Men’s Nathan Morris, Backstreet Boy’s AJ McLean, Romeo from Student Bodies. I COULD GO ON. To this day, I crush hard. There is evidence of my adoration for Michael B. Jordan all over the Internet. I will yell that Chris Pine is the Best Chris unprompted, at no one. I still think about Peter Kavinsky daily.
Thirsting after unattainable people is a pillar of my personality. And even though I’m in a committed, long-term relationship, I still love having a crush. For me, a crush is self-care. It makes me giddy and puts me in a good mood. It’s the equivalent of a hot bubble bath with Solange’s “Almeda” playing on repeat — sure, it may be a bit selfish to soak in a tub for hours ignoring my adult responsibilities but it’s my ME time. A crush feels the same. It reminds me of my independence from my partner and since I never take these insignificant infatuations seriously, they’re just plain fun. I would even argue having a crush makes my relationship better. You know the whole airline safety tip of putting your oxygen mask on first before you help someone else? It’s like that, except the oxygen mask is the breath of fresh air I inhale while ogling MBJ shirtless through the safety of my phone screen. If that reason doesn’t sound scientific, don’t worry: There are research and experts to back me up — but I’ll get to them later.
The Caleb Crush or the innocuous elementary school typeof affection is the kind I like to emulate as an adult in real life: simple, safe, captivating, and not bogged down by the pressure of, “When are we going to have sex?” It’s just admiration from a safe distance. I’ve been with my partner for seven years, and the butterflies and stomach-churning feelings of lust and longing have mostly been replaced with a deep love that’s comfortable and complete — but sometimes it’s nice to feel that spark in your gut again. My boyfriend knows I develop little meaningless crushes — some guy in the elevator, our Uber Eats delivery person, the hot girl on the bike beside me at spin class, the dude I used to pass in the hallways every second Monday of the month — and he doesn’t care. He knows that crushes are more about short-lived feelings than sinful action.
For most people, celebrities are unattainable so having an A-list “hall pass” is a safe way to give in to your desire. It’s pure fantasy. In my imagination, MBJ and I are on a yacht right now and the only thing that daydream is hurting is my productivity. But what if your crush is someone in your office? Or your barista at Starbucks? In-person flirty banter comes with a nice rush of endorphins that adoring a celeb from afar can’t give you.
Here’s where it gets real. You may be thinking, “No way would I ever have a crush on someone else, that’s cheating!” Of course, if you aren’t doing it right, a crush can go wrong. You can venture into dangerous territory if you take it further than mild flirting or if you start talking to the object of your desire consistently (texting or phone calls are a big no-no). Cynthia Loyst, sex and relationship expert and the founder of FindYourPleasure.com puts it like this, “All cheating begins with a crush, but not all crushes lead to cheating.” The distinction between crushing and cheating is in the actions you engage in with your crush. As L.A.-based sexologist Shannon Boodram says, “Crushing on Shawn Mendes and speaking to Shawn Mendes in your DMs are very much different things.”
Even if you’re not fantasizing about a celebrity every day like I am or if you’re not actively looking for your next crush in the produce aisle, you will still experience crush-like feelings for other human beings. “We are pair-bonding mammals, it's natural to look and even fantasize,” Boodram says. And there’s evidence that’s a good thing. Studies show that crushes can boost confidence and improve women’s desire for their partner. “What’s great about crushes is they are a safe way to explore your flirty side, without risk,” Loyst says. “It makes you feel alive, it makes you feel attractive, it makes you feel desired.”
We can’t ignore that other people are going to turn us on. “If you are alive, you are human, and you are attracted to people, you are going to, in the course of a lifetime, find many people that you find attractive,” Loyst says. The key is to let a crush be exactly how the dictionary defines it: “An intense and usually passing infatuation.”
I think having crushes, if you also have self-control, can actually prevent cheating and strengthen a relationship by opening lines of communication about what you want out of your current romantic situation. Loyst and Boodram agree that having a crush can reveal things about ourselves and things about our partners that we may take for granted or forgot about because they don’t know how to load a dishwasher or they leave their socks on the ground. If you examine who you’re crushing on and why, you might learn something. Like, when I was crushing on a friend of a friend, an artist with a posh accent and a questionable sense of style, I learned to appreciate my partner’s understated athleisure even more. In comparison to my crush’s gaudy clothes, my man seemed pretty fashionable. “It might just be something that's playful and fun,” Lost says. “The person that you find yourself crushing on is — if you actually stop to reflect on it — nothing like a person you would ever want to be in a relationship with.”
I think part of the reason why I like to be infatuated with strangers is that I’m trying to reclaim some of the melodramatic intensity of my youth, but it’s not like I actually want to be young again, trailing behind Caleb at recess or pining after Raymond in math class. I just want to capture a bit of the sparkle of a flirty wink and a suggestive smile, then go home and binge-watch Netflix in sweatpants with my cozy love.
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