There is a folder on my computer containing screenshots of the messages people I’ve liked have sent to me. Housed within that folder are feelings, or pictures of feelings, snapshots of times where someone has said something I decided was The Nicest Thing Anyone Has Ever Said To Me. The folder is a living thing, and it’s a real thing; just as real as a diary entry or a message to your group text about The Hottest Person You Just Saw In Real Life.
Throughout our short time in the endless darkness we call life, we develop feelings for the people we meet along the way. The objects of our affection could be friends, baristas, celebrities, or even fictional characters, but we turn them into glorious concepts, figureheads for the lives we could totally be living in five years. In other words, they’re crushes. Or, as the premier manual for decoding the English Language, Urban Dictionary, describes them, they’re “burning desire” made manifest, like a ravaging parasite on our poetic brains, sucking up our dreams and regurgitating them into the fires of passion. (Okay, that last part was me, not Urban Dictionary.)
The great spiritual leader Mindy Kaling once said, “A small, impossible crush is the best gift you can give yourself.” There’s something so seductive about them. A crush is automatically no strings attached, yet a subtle devotion is fostered, our minds are taken over. It’s human nature to want this. David Foster Wallace wrote, “Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.” Or, you know, who to worship.
The danger in crushing is that, since a crush first initiates in your head and is therefore not yet literal in nature, we inevitably compare our real-life feelings to familiar, fictional reference points in popular culture. In other words, suddenly the will-they, won’t-they romance of Blair Waldorf and Chuck Bass feels relatable, and it’s possible to think that your own crush might one day, when the time is right, come running into your arms with a bouquet of roses and an apology. Or you might watch Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and think it’s totally normal to tell someone you will probably marry them the first time you hang out. And then there’s that horrific moment in Gilmore Girls where Rory’s best friend Lane runs her hands through the hair of a boy she has a crush on because she’s not thinking clearly at all and is blinded by lust. Don’t ever do this. Hands and feet should remain inside the vehicle that is your tortured soul.
I can very vividly remember watching the video for Jesse McCartney’s “She’s No You” in fifth grade and feeling legitimate love and wonder toward him. He was my first foray into celebrity crushes, a very deep, very dark hole of fantasy and magic from which I might never actually escape. He was the first boy I ever kissed in a dream (this is a huge landmark, people), and for a few years Jesse McCartney was surely going to be the man I married. At the time, I was a chunky kid leaving third period to go learn about Rube Goldberg in TAG, but Jesse McCartney was my escape. He told me he didn’t care about a pretty face, what he wanted was a Beautiful Soul™.
As the years went on, I developed plenty of other crushes, mostly on boys I actually knew, but also, still, a few on celebrities, musicians, and fictional characters. Last year my longtime best friend and I drew up a list of all of the boys we’d ever liked and attempted to pin them down astrologically so that we could truly understand ourselves. We called it “manalyzing.” It was a completely cathartic experience to relive the wide variety of men (or should I say boys), I’d taken interest in throughout high school and college. I got to pin them down into little categories, taking away the subtle but lingering pang of unrequited infatuation, and reliving the positive side of crushes—that sometimes they end up quite nicely.
I recently surveyed some of my closest friends to ask them about crushes, and an overwhelming number of them pinged me with texts saying “Nooooo” or “NEVER CRUSHES ARE EVIL” which honestly shocked me. To me, crushes are nothing but positive. Let me explain.
- Crushing makes you happy. The lust of a crush is potent. It seeps into your day-to-day life, infusing it with a kind of positivity you don’t feel when you’re not in the throes of endorphin release. Suddenly you’re thinking about flowers and the inevitability of death, but also how maybe one day you want to settle down somewhere far far away from where you are now. With someone. Maybe even that person you met last Saturday at that party. Who had on the world’s most clever shirt. Man, you’d like to take off that shirt…
- You can idolize someone to the point where they’re really just a shell of the person they truly are, thus making them the perfect person for you! You can stalk them on social media to find out their true interests, and excavate your communications for clues that they really do like you. Well, it’s possible.
- You can avoid all awkward communication if you so choose. You don’t actually have to hang out or watch sports with them that you don’t care about. You can just enjoy them from afar and feel relieved that you don’t actually owe them anything.
The point is: Crushes give us someone to worship temporarily when we are in the throes of an existential crisis or a big change in our lives. Again, as Wallace said, “Everyone worships.” We love to give ourselves something to covet. For some people, it’s athletes (or whole) sports teams, for others it’s musicians. We all like to believe that perfection can exist somewhere, so we often create and manifest it ourselves where we don’t naturally find it.
Crushes are an escape from reality, which can sometimes, if you’re lucky, actually convert into your new reality. You don’t have to commit to a crush, but you can if you decide you want to. You’re totally in control. You can have a crush roster of eight people who you exchange in and out throughout various short- and long-term life fantasies (I highly recommend this). You can imagine your white comforter and the natural light coming in through your ranch house master bedroom, but then not actually have to think about the implications of a suburban lifestyle on your freedom and what if you’re tempted to cheat on your spouse because you can’t handle the mundanity of the PTA and the soccer practices that plague your futuristic dreamscape! Crushing is a low-stakes, high-reward system that can be both beneficial to your sanity and just plain fun.
Also, crushes allow you to be slightly neurotic in one realm of your life so that you can keep it together in the other parts. When I have a crush, like now, I am inspired to get my shit together. I recently bought a sewing kit because I figured it was time to be a goddamned adult and mend my own jeans. I am eating healthier, and I try to walk 40 blocks a day. I am actively trying to evolve into my ultimate form. I don’t love myself because of a crush, but because I feel so damn giddy all the time I actually just love myself because it’s nice. Seeing life through rose-colored glasses can be a highly positive experience. A moderate crush is the best kind of crush, just enough to occupy your time, but not enough to take over your life. Some people do yoga for mindfulness, some people go to their local shooting range, and I find a crush. And I encourage you to do the same.