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How to stop having crushes and/or stop feeling bad about them
May 12, 2014 3:18 PM   Subscribe

Single woman in her late 20's here. I am in the habit of getting a crush on a new person 3-4 times a year, or basically every time I venture out into a new environment (new job, new activity, etc). When I'm not crushing on anyone or dating someone, I feel content with being single. (Actually when I am done dating someone it is a relief to be single!) I know getting crushes is normal. But they usually just make me feel bad.

Most recently, I met someone through work who is attractive to me. I am a part-time musician and he is a "real" musician who hired me for a few gigs (so like most of my crushes, it's kind of an inappropriate one). I did not think he noticed me (our interactions have been brief and 100% neutral) but I found myself thinking, hey, maybe if I strike up a conversation we'll like each other, and was thinking about how to do that. Because what middle-aged man doesn't like the attention of a young woman? (Did I say inappropriate crush already?)

Of course, I looked up the guy on Facebook and in his profile photo he's wearing a wedding ring. I hadn't noticed it in person. Oops. There were also a couple photos of him with a very attractive woman.

That should be the end of it. And I am literally only going to see this person a couple of times before moving to a new city later this summer, so whatever. But despite the fact that I have not done anything embarrassing, I feel quite embarrassed. The whole couple of days it was on my mind, there was never any chance that he would notice me, and to top it off I'm not nearly as pretty as the woman in the photos. I am embarrassed for even having thought about it, embarrassed for thinking I might be in his league when I'm clearly not at all. Imagine how embarrassed I would be if I'd actually said something!

I always hear that crushes are supposed to be fun and harmless but they only leave me feeling bad. In general, I feel pretty good about myself but when it comes to the issue of whether someone could possibly be attracted to me I am quite sensitive. I have often hoped that I could stop having crushes altogether. Is there a way to do that? (Guessing the answer is no but if anyone knows of a way I'd love to hear it...) If there a way to have them stop being something that makes me feel insecure and embarrassed?
posted by picardythird to Human Relations (12 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I did a blog for a bit (now dismantled) that really helped me deal with this. I find this kind of thing intensely uncomfortable. It's one of those "I know that he knows that I know that he knows..." things where I am going "what if I am very wrong about one of those steps?"

I blogged one day about my thought process when I ran into a guy and my gut reaction was "He seems like he is flirting with me. No, he cannot seriously be flirting with me for X reasons." and, yuppers, he was flirting with me. Blogging about my uncertainty at each step of the interaction helped me feel a lot less crazy about my discomfort with these types of situations. Especially if you only just met, yeah, maybe he is married (and may be hitting on me anyway -- that stuff happens) and maybe I am stepping into something I don't know the parameters of and maybe he is gay and maybe he is just being friendly and on and on.

So I tend to find such things pretty uncomfortable. I don't get why other people think crushes are harmless or good clean fun. For me, they are very loaded situations and I find it stressful.

Journaling or blogging might help you pinpoint what your discomfort is about and why it occurs. I have made my peace with viewing these are potentially dangerous situations where I want more info before I take any action of any sort. I try to feel things out carefully. But I am also more okay than I used to be with crushing on a guy that I am pretty sure is not going to do anything bad even if he kind of likes me and is married. But I have to be pretty confident he is really not going to be more than just super nice if he kind of likes me back and is not going to try to turn me into the other woman. Then I can be okay with, yeah, gee, he's sweet. And it was nice to meet him. But any hint that he is, yea verily, going to try to turn this into an affair and I am quick to get my back up again with how icky this is and how not cool I am with it.

Then I watch tear jerk movies and try to put my feelings into other outlets and not dump on him, as much as I humanly can. Cuz feels happen. They just do. And that doesn't necessarily have to be a big deal.
posted by Michele in California at 3:30 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]

I found myself thinking, hey, maybe if I strike up a conversation we'll like each other, and was thinking about how to do that. Because what middle-aged man doesn't like the attention of a young woman? The whole couple of days it was on my mind, there was never any chance that he would notice me, and to top it off I'm not nearly as pretty as the woman in the photos.

These are a handful of mildly disturbing sentences. A boyfriend is not a merit prize you earn by being pretty. There is no dating league table. And the "there was never any chance he would notice me" thing sort of clinches the fact that self-esteem issues seem to be playing a big part of this. If the way you value yourself no longer rises and falls based on what you perceive others to think of you, your issue with crushes will no longer be an issue.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:35 PM on May 12 [5 favorites]

well, as the band "that dog" said in one of their great songs, "by definition a crush must hurt, and they do, and they do, just like the one I have on you."

For me, though, a crush makes me feel really alive. Anything I wanted to do but was too lazy to get started on would be done in a heartbeat on the energy of a crush. The self consciousness that comes with thinking about someone and hoping he's thinking about you, or seeing someone and hoping he sees you and likes what he sees can make every moment clearer and more savory, because your awareness is so heightened.

I wish I could give you the perspective to stop taking the emotions so seriously, knowing as you do that they are incredibly ephemeral, and just enjoy the ride. Don't be embarrassed for crushing on someone! As long as you're not creepy about it, it's a compliment, and if they never hear about it, then it's your secret and nothing to be embarrassed about! And if we didn't crush on men who are "out of our league," where would George Clooney be?
posted by janey47 at 4:32 PM on May 12 [2 favorites]

Girl, I feel you.

I have a champion ability to form crushes on unavailable people. You name it, I've experienced the humiliation.

Gay (dude)? Check.
Straight (lady) Check.
Married? Check.
In a relationship? Check.
Moving to Germany in two months? Check.
Way out of my league? Check!
My boss/teacher/mentor? Check, check check!
Way too old or young? Check!
Ex of a friend and it's weird? Cheeeck.
Current date of a friend and it's weirder? Jessie's girl wouldn't have been written if this wasn't part of the human experience, bud.

I laugh about it now, but a lot of these fucking hurt.

I think what helped me more than anything was actually getting some. That and staying really, really, really busy. A crush is sort of like a relationship or an ex you're trying to get over; it doesn't matter that the entire experience was in your head- the feelings were still felt. It was still real to you.

Crushes thrive on secrecy, shame, and fantasy. They live in loneliness and emptiness and shyness. Full your life to the brim with rotating activities and people and soon enough the next something will come along. Crushes aren't so bad at the very start- it's when you nurse them that they hurt.

I always try to keep a backup crush. When I really connect with someone emotionally, it's really hard to tear myself away. But that really hot guy who works Fridays at my favorite bakery and gives me free drinks sure as fuck helps, you know?

Ani Difranco's Untouchable Face helped me out a lot too.

They all stop hurting eventually, by the way. It took what seemed like forever, but I did forget them all in time.
posted by quincunx at 5:59 PM on May 12 [11 favorites]

Oh yeah and this is a thousand times worse in the arts. Just stay the fuck away from flirting with/dating people you actually want to be/have the talent of in your field, it never ends well.
posted by quincunx at 6:25 PM on May 12 [2 favorites]

What's emabarassing about feeling attracted to someone¿ The first thing you need to do is accept your feelings, and yourself. You can't control your feelings, but you can control how you deal with them.

You already seem to have a grasp on reality - ok, he's married, not interested, etc. That's really important.

The other thing is your self-esteem. Crushing on someone is a huge compliment, and you need to do a little bit of work to learn to see it as such.

Why are you crushing so hard¿ Well, probably your're lonely and wishing to meet someone, even if you feel fine single. So, go with it, enjoy the wonderful feeling, do some light Facebook stalking, then laugh it off. Just be like, oh, here we go again, with another crazy crush!

Love yourself, and love your crushing self, too. Ok, I know crushes can be uncomfortable or awkward, but you can really minimize that by loving that part of you, instead of criticizing yourself.
posted by Locochona at 4:02 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]

The whole couple of days it was on my mind, there was never any chance that he would notice me, and to top it off I'm not nearly as pretty as the woman in the photos. I am embarrassed for even having thought about it, embarrassed for thinking I might be in his league when I'm clearly not at all.

I'd like to point out there is zero evidence any of that is true. Focus on acknowleging you are having these types of thoughts without accepting them as true.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:41 AM on May 13

Locochona asked, what is embarrassing about being attracted to someone? I know it was sort of rhetorical but I gave it some thought.

Many people are embarrassed when their feelings are unreciprocated, right? Like if you ask someone out and they are not interested, it is embarrassing. Maybe it shouldn't be but it is.

I guess I just get preemptively embarrassed/feel preemptively rejected (like, I know how it would go were I to express interest, so...). It is also embarrassing because I am spending time thinking about them, but they are not thinking about me, confirming my I-know-it's-irrational belief that I am not good enough for whoever it is.

Also, there is the fear that I will say something. In the past I have asked people out even when really I knew they weren't interested because having the crush led to wishful thinking and messed with my judgment...and that really was embarrassing. (Even now! A little part of me that won't shut up is thinking, "well maybe it's an old picture and he's not married anymore." I mean, come on, right?)
posted by picardythird at 6:46 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]

You know, not everyone is mature and dignified in saying no to someone who is crushing on them (in fact, IME some men are very rude about it). It could be that you're overpersonalizing other peoples' unresolved crappy behavior.

I strongly agree with whoever said above that a crush is a flattering phenomenon -- not some kind of base insult (which is exactly how I've had some men respond to me before). Those crush experiences were definitely embarrassing and, well, "crushing" on what little optimistic feelings I have about procuring an intimate relationship with the opposite sex. But having entered my 30s, here's what I've come to believe about it:

- Men who react badly to my crushing on them have more going on with themselves in terms of self-esteem (sort of a, "I don't even like me, so that means if you like me, there must be something seriously wrong with you" kind of thing).
- Some men appear to feel easily smothered by any women expressing a feeling that has to do with them, let alone have the capacity to react well to knowing they are genuinely liked by a woman. It's almost like they don't understand they have a choice and that choice will be respected. So maybe because they don't believe they have choices, their solution is to shut down the whole operation as effectively as possible, rather than learn or gain anything positive from it.
- There's a lot of terrible media out there that supports the concept of a "woman in love" as being an unstoppable leech once she's "set her sights"... so when some men react badly I accept that they're reacting more to that cultural archetype rather than me as a person.
- Many men have poor boundaries when it comes to their sexuality, and so tend to react in a hostile manner when they sense their sexual boundary is being invaded by a woman's crushing feelings. Some men appear to want to enjoy the feeling, but at the same time fear that they don't have the self-control to manage it well (and go into cold or avoidant mode).

YMMV, but I think it's actually quite important and an invaluable lifeskill to know how to say something when you feel a crush is starting up. My crushes don't take much to mushroom cloud into a world of fantasy that does not necessarily align with reality, so in order to derail that process, I need to see and experience the subject of my crush as they really are (sooner, rather than later).

If I sense the crush is not reciprocated, in those cases I don't pursue it any further. Instead I use self-reflection and Jungian psychology (no, I'm not a dork, clearly :D) to try understand what this person symbolizes to me. In some cases, unraveling the mystery X factor this way will lead to the crush response naturally diffusing itself.

In cases where the crush MAY be reciprocated... What is helping now to cope with crushing feelings is to thoroughly believe that I am a very attractive woman (not just "pretty") who knows how to carry the whole of her feelings with grace. If a man reacts badly to me these days, I wholeheartedly assume it's on him for being so insecure/prejudiced/etc in the first place, and not on me for having the audacity to see something attractive or likable in him.

FWIW, my latest crush experience has been from a slightly older man, whose behavior suggests that he's probably crushing on me too... I'm working on the courage to be more proactive in these situations and say something... probably be along the lines of, "Are you married?", followed by, "Are you with anyone?" When I have been courted well, those are lines that communicated clearly to me what was the potential interest level of the person talking to me. If he is as mature as I think he is, he will be able to decline without insulting or embarrassing me, and I will understand clearly from hereon in that our friendly encounters are capped in terms of potential. However if he does embarrass me, I've got my "this shit is on you" face ready to go. I think the key to dealing with the rejection is to honestly believe that there's nothing hurtful, insulting or degrading in your intentions for this person (so if they overreact badly, it's on them for not being able to read you well in the first place). Anyhow, I hope this overshare was helpful for you! [/end wall of text]
posted by human ecologist at 9:27 AM on May 13 [4 favorites]

Like if you ask someone out and they are not interested, it is embarrassing. Maybe it shouldn't be but it is.

Try to reframe your thinking here so that it doesn't always = embarrassing. Examples: Just saying, you know... When you're crushing on someone, it's really easy to overestimate your own contribution to how the conversation went while glossing over theirs.
posted by human ecologist at 9:48 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]

Is it possible these crushes are aspirational in nature? The latest one is on a "real" musician, older than you & accomplished; meanwhile, you think: there was never any chance that he would notice me... I feel pretty good about myself but when it comes to the issue of whether someone could possibly be attracted to me I am quite sensitive, which indicates some low self-esteem (with regard to your suitability as an equal romantic partner, at least). Plus your crushes crop up reliably in new situations, as you make new acquaintances and perhaps find that they have talents/successes/confidence/whatever qualities you'd like to see in yourself. (If this is the case, you have my sincere sympathies -- I had to end a truly enjoyable correspondence with my "unattainable/aspirational" crush last year; if we'd worked together, it would have been so much worse.)

Identifying what you find attractive and admirable in these people (and find somewhat lacking in yourself, and worth developing) might go a long way in mitigating the effects of the crush and make things easier for you all around. Good luck.
posted by Iris Gambol at 12:23 PM on May 13

@ Iris Gambol: Maybe, in some cases anyway (I skew towards being attracted to older men enough for it to be a noticeable trend), but I get crushes on my peers too. And on people who are not at all "accomplished." Anyway, with this latest guy I am not interested in having his career, although it is certainly impressive, I decided a long time ago that music wasn't for me full time. I don't think there's any rhyme or reason behind my crushes, just the chemicals in my brain.

FWIW I did find out the beautiful woman in the pictures is not this guy's wife and, although it shouldn't have, it made me feel better...(even though, um, it does not make him less married!)

And I LOVE Captain Awkward. Almost two years ago reading her columns helped get me out of my ok-on-the-surface but lonely marriage. (And yes, my ex husband is older than me and super accomplished, why do you ask? :-) ).

And yeah, you are all right that self esteem is the big problem here. Thank you Metafilter, just getting these responses is making me feel better.
posted by picardythird at 2:00 PM on May 13

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