by SABRINA RICHARD - Oh no! I think I’m catching feelings!
We’ve all experienced them: crushes. Crushes come and go in so many ways, from that cute girl at Starbucks, to the boy in your English class or even your best friend. We keep falling in love through the wonder and horror of crushes.
What is a crush? Psychologically, having a “crush” comes in stages. The first stage is the immediate reaction. Love at first sight isn’t just for Disney princesses--this can last for a moment or a month, but after a month it is considered a “true” crush. The second stage is infatuation, where romance starts to bloom. Feelings are no longer immediate and are starting to develop. The second stage lasts up to two years, but after four months it’s likely that your brain will rewire to fall and stay in love. This is where you may be heading towards a world of hurt, or a lot of love. Finally, attachment. Attachment generally requires reciprocated feelings; if not, it can spiral into an unhealthy obsession for a crush. The last stage involves commitment and finally that “crush” becomes “love.”
Now that we know what a crush is, we’re left to wonder: why? Psychology offers many reasons and answers. Sometimes we just need variety in our lives, where the uncertainty of love is an exciting and new adventure. Sometimes it’s like impulsive shopping, where the immediate reaction of attraction is addictively satisfying, making it easy to have a crush. People who spend money impulsively tend to have more immediate crushes on people, while people who are less impulsive tend to have fewer, but stronger crushes.
Next time cupid hits you with an arrow, remember how beneficial crushes can be. People who have crushes have a better work ethic because the brain is happy and eager to impress their crushes, so they start working hard. Small-scale studies show that students score better in classes with their crush. (So how about changing around the seating chart?) Crushes, especially in the early stages, improve your mood, even just thinking about them for five minutes a day can lead to a better mood overall. Another benefit is that you can replace your morning Starbucks run with a little crush on that cutie in your first period. Having a crush can improve energy levels, turning even the grumpiest of night owls into morning people if their crush is in the same room.
However, crushes can become a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad thing if turned into an obsession, or unrequited. A common reaction to having a crush is changing to become more likable for your crush. Between men and women, women tend to change their look for a crush, which can lead to eating disorders and lowered body image. Men tend to change how they behave, which leads to less emotional control. If the feelings do fade or turn out to be unrequited, it can lead to deep feelings of self doubt, lowered confidence and depression. Crushes can also lead to anxiety, especially if it is someone you have history with. The prospect of ruining a relationship can trigger anxiety and destructive tendencies.
While stress is experienced by all couples, it is psychologically suggested that same-sex crushes can be even more stressful. However, because of a lack of research, it is not psychologically confirmed. From what I could find, one of the largest studies published on LGBT crushes is among 20 same-sex couples, while one of the smallest studies published on opposite-sex psychology is around 30 couples. The individual processes are the same, but the reinforcement and requited aspects of love are mostly unstudied. Generally being a person in the LGBT community is a more stressful existence, and as far as crushes go, we can’t say it with the same definity, as opposite-sex couples.
I am openly bisexual. I experience attraction regardless of gender. My same-sex relationships and opposite-sex relationships are different experiences within each other. For me, having female crushes is more stressful. Sometimes I can’t tell a “friendly girl” from “queer girl” and I end up catching feeling for straight girls more often then I care to admit. In past relationships, I’ve had partners worry about being out to family, friends, and others. Even an innocent crush can be a source of stress and anxiety. I also date and have crushes on males, which can be confusing for people who don’t understand what “bisexual” means. Many times I’m misidentified as “gay,” so when dating or crushing on guys, I feel like I have to reiterate that; I cast a wide net into the sea of attraction.
No matter if you have a same-sex or opposite-sex crush, you’ll maybe end up crushing on a friend. This is due to projection of romantic interests. We see someone we have an attachment to (which is the third stage of interest) and our brain tries to fill in the other stages. In studies, psychologists show that when we have feelings for someone, we start to initiate romantic behaviors when we think someone has requited love for us. We avoid relationships with someone who may not feel the same, and often our brain will fill in the patchwork to avoid infatuation if someone isn’t also in love with us.
Now you know you have a crush. Congrats, good luck, what’s next?
Psychologists say there are two definitive ways to “complete” a crush. One, grow out of the feelings. To prevent pain, our brain will stop crushing. It is a painstaking process and can be confusing, but it is very common to fall out of love. The brain can do it randomly, or it can be trained to stop crushing on someone. Two, shoot your shot. Let me say, I’m rooting for you. Slide into their DMs, give them flowers, ask them to dinner or to do a project together. Initiate the relationship. This is obviously easier said than done, especially when you’ve fallen for your best friend.
Being dramatic as I am, I determined there is only one way to admit feelings for a friend. Allow me to set the scene: It is 20 years in the future, my skin is cleared and our friendship has been going strong through high school, college and careers beyond. Yet, I still harbor feelings for you. The cost of our friendship played a tedious game of inflation with the wealth of my love for you, and still, I buried it inside. We both end up in New York, working amazing jobs and having meetings every Wednesday morning for coffee or tea. The drink never mattered, it was about the company of one another. Suddenly, I get a job offer. A promotion. It’s in Europe. I’m scared, you're scared, your mom is scared. I look to you, I look to our friendship and I know it will never be anything more because you would never love someone like me. I accept the offer. I pack my bags, give you my cat and most of my belongings (I was living in a shoebox Manhattan apartment, it wasn’t much). You drop me off at JFK, I have two hours until my flight. The goodbye is dull. We both know, but still, I go.
I’m at my boarding area, lined up with my bag. You come running up to me. You call my name, I step out of line. We give each other a proper goodbye. One with quips and maybe a few tears. I pull out a manila envelope from my purse. I hand it to you, you open it. Inside is a piece of paper, a drawing or doodle or writing project we work on. The John F. Kennedy International Airport intercom starts to play our song. I smile at you, you smile back. The flight attendant, curious but diligent to stay on time, calls overhead “Now Boarding B class for international flight from JFK to Paris International” (I’m too broke to afford A class, and it’s Southwest, so I start rushing). I make a final joke, one you’ve heard from me maybe hundreds of times. You let out a short laugh.
“You know,” I say, looking at you for one final time, “I’ve always loved you, and I always wondered if you loved me too. I wondered if our meetings would ever become dates. If my apartment would ever become ours,” I chuckle. “Goodbye,” I turn to leave, handing over my boarding pass. My best friend and longtime love calls my name one last time.
“Where should I meet you?”
“Anywhere but here.”
I get on the plane. Maybe you follow, maybe you don’t. That doesn’t matter. I fake my death and go by a fake name, probably name myself after a goddess or ancient being. I become a spinster, sheep farmer and local legend in rural England as I live out the rest of my life in a cottage in the forest. No matter how persistent you are, I ignore your calls, your texts and your greatest attempts to find me because you knew I’d fake my death. Yet, in that forest cabin, I drink tea and have you only as the faintest wisp of my memory. Slowly fading. Until you’re only a name in an old phonebook from the states.
Then, I go to Berlin. That’s where I stashed the chandelier.
Or maybe I could make the first move and see what happens. You know, slide into some DMs, do a really big dance proposal...do you like flash mobs? I don’t know, crushes suck though.