“What is a crush?” is a question I’ve had since I was about eleven, and I’ve never quite got a satisfactory answer. I’m starting to wonder if what I call a crush is what others would also label a crush. The only way to know is to explain what this word means to me (in great detail), and then others will be able to compare and tell me how it matches or doesn’t match what they consider a crush.
So brace yourself. I’ve got a lot of explaining to do.
When I was eleven, my best friend began developing crushes on boys. She told me all about how dreamy this particular guy was. She was very involved in thinking about her crushes, almost to the point of distress. I was confused. “What is a crush?” I asked her and I asked my Mom. Well, they said, it’s when you like a boy and want to be around him and feel nervous around him.
I guess my first crush was Mom’s piano student [redacted] then. I always ran away nervous when he arrived, and felt kind of weird and fluttery inside. Like there was something I wanted but I was embarrassed I wanted it.
Then we moved to Canada when I was thirteen and I was still confused about what crushes were. Or how to act around guys, since I only had sisters. TV, movies and the culture around me told me that now I was a teenager, I had to look at boys differently. Because I wanted help, I started reading Purity Culture books like Before You Meet Prince Charming and Answering The Guy Questions.
These books didn’t really tell me what a crush IS, they just kind of assumed I knew. They talked about the results of a crush (daydreaming about him, attaching my last name to his, choosing the colour of my bridesmaids dresses) and what not to do (don’t talk about him with friends, don’t intentionally do anything that will stir up more thoughts of him, don’t tell him how you feel or give any indications you’re interested, don’t dwell on thoughts of him or get carried away by your dreamy imaginations).
So I developed my own definition of a crush from reading these books and listening to cultural messages in books and movies.
Having strong emotions related to a specific guy, and not being able to stop thinking about him, meant I had a crush.
I had no idea that I had ADHD, which often comes with hyperfocuses that can attach themselves to a person as well as ideas and things. I had no idea that there were different kinds of attraction: romantic, sexual, platonic, sensual, aesthetic, kindred-spirit.
ADHD hyperfocuses, the fact that I’m an Enneagram four, asexuality, purity culture and fundamentalism all make defining a crush super confusing, even now in my late 20s.
WHEN I HAVE A CRUSH
What do I want to do with a guy when I have a crush on him?
- I want to hang out with him for long stretches of time.
- I want to listen to him talk about the things he’s passionate about and interested in, whatever lights his imagination
- I want to hyperfocus on our areas of mutual interest. Music. Filmmaking. Acting. Fashion. Community building.
- I want hugs
- I want to stay up late talking about deep random bunny trails
- I want to snuggle with him on the couch or on the lawn
- I want to go for walks
- I want to laugh about lame inside jokes. I want that knowing look where the two of you know exactly what the other person is thinking without saying a word.
- I want to be surprised with thoughtful gestures that show he really knows and understands me
- I want to be kissed
- I want to hold hands
- I want him to pick me up and spin me around
- I want to go to fun events together
- I want to dance with him, both the wild ridiculous dance around the living room kind of dance, and the more romantic ballroom or slow dance.
- I want to create art with him
- I want to read books with him and discuss them
- I want to go cloud watching
- I want to send random facebook messages and get random messages during the day
- I want to sneak up behind him and give him random hugs
- I want to go on long road trips
- I want him to stay when I’m angry and upset and emotional, and just be still and steady, and then comfort me when I need it
- I want to play with his hair and have him play with my hair
- I want to admire him in a suit
- I want to do crazy things like run around in a rain storm
All of my crushes but one have been unrequited. So there’s a strong element of wanting to be seen and noticed. I want him to notice me, to come to me, to initiate conversations, to tell me he’s interested in me. To plan get togethers. When I look back at my past crushes, I didn’t so much want THEM as I wanted them to notice ME.
I look at this list, and my past crushes, and sex never even entered my thoughts. When I had a crush on a guy, their body rarely was as interesting as their mind or their talents and skills. I got excited when my only boyfriend thus far talked about musical theory and technical stuff, but I don’t think it was a sexual excitement. It was more of a “I love watching passionate people talk about what they’re passionate about” thing. I love learning stuff from knowledgeable people.
And now I’m completely doubting myself and just wondering if I’ve been so duped by purity culture that I unintentionally trained myself to completely avoid all sexual thoughts related to guys. But on the flip side, perhaps I was attracted to purity culture because I didn’t think about sex and I could relate to the sexless version of dating/courting they were talking about.
When I had a crush in the past, I’d also immediately start daydreaming about marriage (as in planning a wedding in my head). This is because fundamentalism told me being close friends with a guy outside of marriage is very Off Limits. So if I wanted to be close to a guy, marriage had to be involved.
I don’t daydream about weddings as much any more, but I do like the idea of a guy being there long term and not going anywhere and being able to share life experiences together and not have to EXPLAIN everything, because he was there for it and lived it with me.
When I have a crush, I want to be seen, known, loved. I don’t care about sex. Well, perhaps care is too strong of a word. I just don’t think about it.
THE QUALITIES OF A CRUSH
I’ve made a list of all the people I’ve had a crush on in the past. And I noticed something startling. Every crush had something that I wanted in my life at that time.
- Musical skill
- Acting skill
- Leadership position
- Sound skill/technical knowledge
- Emotional intelligence
- Authority from skill and experience
- Not fully fitting in with mainstream culture
Yes, there was a small aesthetic component too, they were all, in my eyes, good looking in some way. But not always conventionally attractive. (I tend to go for the tall skinny nerdy types, but not all the time. Hemsworths have never really attracted me.) But their looks were rarely, if ever the first reason why I was attracted.
THIS IS WHERE I BRING IT ALL TOGETHER
I’m now wondering if I’ve every legitimately been attracted to a guy. . . or if I was attracted to something he possessed.
It’s not so much that wanted the guy, but more that wanted TO BE the guy. Is it a crush, or is it jealousy/longing for certain character traits in my life that are then outwardly projected on to the young man? Every time I’ve had a crush, it lines up with what value/want in myself in that season. I think I wanted what they have, not necessarily THEM.
Is what I call a crush actually jealousy or yearning? I. . . think it might be. A longing for certain character traits or experiences.
It’s like when a friend told me yeah, he’s kissed girls. I haven’t kissed anyone (thanks purity culture) and I’m annoyed about it. And then, I felt myself feeling strong emotions as I thought about my guy friend. And I thought it was a crush but as I looked more at the feelings. . . I didn’t so much want to kiss him in particular, I just wanted the experience that he’d had.
The venn diagram looks like this.
See, I’ve had this yearning/jealousy/whatever the strong emotion is around women and married people (like that time I was obsessed with Lin-Manuel Miranda because I just wanted to make music and do theatre and listen to him talk about his love for both), but I never labelled it a crush. However, if this yearning emotion was directed towards a single guy, because it was a strong emotion and a young man, then I thought it was a crush — because Fundamentalism taught me that ANY strong emotions directed toward young men were crushes. When I had that feeling for anyone else, I didn’t label it a crush. Same emotion, different words depending on who is the source of the emotion.
Honestly this is a bit of a dismal thought, to consider that maybe all of my romantic crushes were just self-projections of things I wanted to see in my own life. It seems very self-absorbed. Like I’m saying to each guy, You are the positive to my negative. My negatives are attracted to their positives. My lack attracted to their skill or character. I wonder, would I still feel attraction if my negative turned into a positive? Or is it only the distance, the gap that determines the strength of attraction?
And throw in ADHD, where I hyperfocus on random interesting things, and often times that interesting thing is whatever area of my life I’m currently working on and want to get better at. So, hyperfocus on my negative as I slowly turn it into a positive. . . and hyperfocus on a guy who demonstrates the quality I want in my life at that point.
Remember how the purity culture books told me to recognize a crush? ‘Not being able to stop thinking about him.’ Well that happens with ANY of my ADHD hyperfocuses. Goldfish. Zero Waste living. Tiny houses. Somatic therapy. Lin-Manuel Miranda. I can’t stop thinking about them. But obviously I don’t have a romantic crush on goldfish soooo. . . “Not being able to stop thinking about a guy” makes it really confusing when I’m trying to differentiate a crush from an ADHD hyperfocus.
I’m an Enneagram Four. The Enneagram Four’s core wound expresses itself as a desire to be truly seen. I feel like what I call crushes almost always came out of that desire to be deeply seen, which culture told me happens in a romantic relationships. I also don’t have brothers, so I crave masculine relationships. Wanting to be seen, wanting to be seen by a guy, being told those desires automatically meant romance because a romantic/marriage relationship were the only ways to satisfy that. . . presto, we have a “crush”.
And so I’m left to wonder, what would a crush not from lack look like? What would it look like for me to develop feelings for someone from a place of enoughness, rather than a place of yearning and jealousy and empty space? I honestly don’t know.
But one thing I do know, I have a much better picture of what the word “crush” has meant for me in the past. I don’t think it lines up with what others consider a crush, though I’d have to read their breakdown of what “crush” means to them to be certain. So, what even is a crush? I’d still like to know. . .