Handling Crushes as A Married Person?
July 16, 2009 6:52 AM   Subscribe

How do you handle your crushes as a married person (or someone in an LTR?) Do I have a problem?

Please give me some healthy ways for dealing with the occasional crush. I tend to get infatuated with occasional men I meet. I love my husband (of 15 years), and would never do anything to hurt him, but damn, for the past 5 years it feels like life is toying with me and putting me through some test of will. Sex is good with him, and I am happy with the relationship. Still...

When it comes to the crushes, I feel a mixture of guilt, overwhelming desire, and entertain a various number of fantasies in my head. What really worries me is that I lately seem to move from crush to crush, and they never fully "die" down unless a new guy replaces it.

Does anybody else feel this way? Does this crushing ever stop? Has anybody ever done something about it other than just try and let these crushes pass?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (32 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Alas, I have acted upon these and more than once. For you, it may be different but I do know that experience tells me that they are better left uncorked.
posted by bz at 6:57 AM on July 16, 2009

bz, by 'uncorked' do you mean that she should act on them? Or not? Your wording seems a bit ambiguous.
posted by twirlypen at 7:01 AM on July 16, 2009

This has happened to me three times in my 20+ year marriage. The only way to handle it for me has been to openly acknowledge the situation to the person involved. "If this were a different time and place something might go forward between me and you. This isn't a different time and place. This can't/won't happen in my world today." I have found this acknowledgement to be respected and understood and it allows me to go with my life with no guilt at all.
posted by Xurando at 7:04 AM on July 16, 2009 [4 favorites]

You're married, you're not dead. You notice people. Everyone does.

What I and my husband do is talk about it and laugh about it. And then you imagine the person picking his or her nose or something equally obnoxious.

A lot of times the crush is on an idealized version of an individual, anyway, not the reality.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:06 AM on July 16, 2009 [14 favorites]

It happens. The familiar becomes mundane, the new is exciting. But if you truly love your husband as much as you say, you have to do everything you can to quell the crushes and never act on them.

The first thing to do is distance yourself from the person on whom you're crushing. If they are friends, make the friendship less close, talk less often. If they are co-workers, try to avoid them in all non-business situations, and if you have to even look at switching jobs.

You'll find with these crushes two very important things: 1) The more you indulge them by being with the person, flirting with the person, etc. the more the crush will consume you until you do something that WILL hurt your husband. Conversely 2) Out of sight = out of mind in a very short time span.

Now you mention that you move from crush to crush, and you say you're happy in your marriage but I have to wonder what is making the crushes all so desirable to you. It's normal to crush on someone who meets specific attributes, it's dangerous to crush on just whoever happens to be around because they are around. Analyze what it is these crushes have in common either physically or personality-wise and see if that is something your husband lacks.

Then again, perhaps just the "wrongness" of it, the sense of danger, is turning you on. In which case maybe you can find that with your husband as well through exhibitionism or some other "forbidden" play.

Also, and maybe I'm reading too much into this, but you never state that your crushes are all male...so perhaps there is another desire there that you need to come to terms with.
posted by arniec at 7:07 AM on July 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, and it's wise not to dwell on the fantasies. Take that energy and focus it on your man.

You aren't bad for noticing other people but we married folks do have a responsibility not to dwell on it.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:07 AM on July 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'd search for stressful events or issues which would provide an incentive to think about something else, something dramatic. Things as small as a project at work which you don't want to think about, or as large as childhood trauma left unprocessed.

The trick is to think about those things when you have the crush feelings. Because the problem isn't having feelings that a person is attractive, it is obsessively engaging those feelings. When that happens its a sign that you are focusing on those things to avoid thinking about something else. My aunt, a psychology professor at a teaching hospital told me that 15 years ago and it has been the single most helpful thing ever.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:09 AM on July 16, 2009 [15 favorites]

twirlypen: I thought my response obvious from the context but yes, I think it is best if crushes are left un-acted upon.
posted by bz at 7:12 AM on July 16, 2009

Do you have any male friends? If not, maybe you're just missing hanging out with someone other than woman-friends, and this is getting warped into a romantic ideal.

I think it's important for people to have friends of both sexes, so that there's no powerful taboo or appeal to merely social encounters.
posted by rokusan at 7:13 AM on July 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

(I also thought bz might be advising against bottling it up, so it's good s/he clarified.)
posted by rokusan at 7:14 AM on July 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Psychologically, it's almost inconvenient when your physical and emotional needs become satisfied -- the instincts that have always point you toward striving and struggling and seeking become restless with disuse, and it's easier to find new pursuits to justify the existence of those instincts than it is to examine them or lay them to rest.

When it comes to other people, I have always been a hunter. When I got into a relationship, I expected all that to fade away, and was a little confused when it didn't. Many years later I actually have relaxed a whole lot, but in certain situations those instincts come right back, and I find myself looking around for new faces and craving for those feelings of discovery and infatuation. This is why I don't really drink much when I go out -- alcohol makes it worse. I'm not really missing out on anything, but there is a very old part of myself that has never gotten over being implacably lonely.

If you're anything like me, I think this is a personal issue that predates your husband. You can create all sorts of interesting situations by indulging your fantasies, but trust me when I say that it will never be enough, you will still repeat the same dance over and over trying scratch that itch. Better to figure out where that itch really is and how it got there than ineffectively scratch it -- especially when your marriage might hang in the balance.

If you can't do this on your own, then I do recommend therapy or at least talking with someone you can trust and feel entirely comfortable with. You have to shed light on these things or they will stretch out and put down roots in the shade.
posted by hermitosis at 7:19 AM on July 16, 2009 [16 favorites]

A lot of times the crush is on an idealized version of an individual, anyway, not the reality.

This. If you wait long enough, the crush will invariably do something that will make you realize he/she is not the one for you.
posted by Lucinda at 7:20 AM on July 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

I tend to get crushes on men who have certain qualities (is that the right word?) that my husband doesn't. We have sort of a cross-cultural marriage--a solid and happy one, though. I feel similarly to you: I luv him, don't want to hurt him, etc. But sometimes I meet someone who has a background more like mine that enables him to make/get cultural references that Mr. Scratch doesn't, knows about neato obscure stuff before I tell him, things of that nature. So what do I do? Nothing. I enjoy talking to Mr. The Other Guy during the party or at the bar or after class, and then I go home to Mr. S, and maybe we do it while I think about Mr. Other Guy (though it's never solely physical--Mr. Scratch is hot) and the next day Mr. Scratch and I have a really nice day together doing whatever, and I think about Mr. Other Guy occasionally, and life goes on, and sometimes I wonder what would have happened "if," and life goes on, save for the occasional startling dream. And life goes on.

(This may or may not be helpful, Anon, but you just happened to post this question while I'm having a Mr. Other Guy phase.)

(on preview: Ironmouth's auntie's point is excellent!)
posted by scratch at 7:21 AM on July 16, 2009 [5 favorites]

What I do is try to spend as much time with that person as I can. Invariably, they will do or say something that more or less ends the crush then and there. So, the more time I spend around them the sooner that point is reached.

Which is another way of saying that you are probably idealizing the crushee to some extent, and the sooner you lose that idealization the easier it will be to get over the crush.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:23 AM on July 16, 2009

There was a This American Life episode called Monogamy that had a great 26 minute piece on how one couple dealt with a wife's crush within marriage.

Essentially, the married couple in question had become extremely emotionally transparent as a way to keep their marriage alive, so they both discussed the crush, accepted it as the "animal" thing that it is, and they both sat and wrote letters from the woman to the crush. It did go a bit further than that, but I wouldn't want to ruin the story.. One side effect, however, was that it rejuvenated the passion and sex in their marriage.

BTW, I think if you approach it properly, your husband won't go nuts (unless you know he's emotionally fragile) if you tell him about this stuff. It's not universal, of course, but men are generally always checking women out. My monkey brain can't help but ask "Would I have sex with that woman?" if I see an attractive woman - the trick is in how you deal with it.
posted by wackybrit at 7:24 AM on July 16, 2009 [4 favorites]

If you think that your partner can handle it, maybe turn it into something you tease each other about. Years ago I saw Sigourney Weaver on some late night talk show, and during the interview she talked about how she and her husband had an in-joke they called "The Exempt List." This list, she explained was the list of people with whom each was allowed to break their fidelity to each other -- "I love you a lot, hon, but look, if I ever get trapped on an elevator with Robert Redford, well then...." part of the joke was that for these people to be truly exempt, they had to inform each other of it well beforehand, just in case.

I've adopted that and used it with almost all my SO's for the past ten years. I think the reason it works is that we both treat it as a great big goof -- and because I've been with guys who haven't been all that jealous. (My most recent ex introduced me to "one of his oldest friends" at a party, and that "friend" happened to have been a guy I'd had a one-night-stand with two years prior. My ex teased me about that for WEEKS.) If you think your partner can handle it, maybe just each agreeing to treat these kind of things as a big goof can help -- nothing can shake you out of a crush faster than someone who keeps giggling and making kissy noises at you like a twelve-year-old.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:25 AM on July 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

20 year marraige without straying and I'm still a dog with its tongue out. It never goes away. My stepsons grampa name for me is 'dirty old coot.' But I make my wife laugh, and she'd rather have me as too juicy than all dried out.

I tend to stay away from porn, since I'm very impressionable and images tend to stick with me; I don't watch horror for the same reason. Those are sensate impressions which have a perspective I don't want to overlay on my own private reality. Remember what Morpheus said about reality (yes I'm talking about 'Matrix'). I find my eye is attracted to curved shadows, which are rare in trees and such but very prevalent in the female body. My brain picks out those shadows and tracks my neck to look; it's an automatic process.

The point being, those are sensations, my wife is real. One marraige got pissed away wondering whether the sensations were worth manifesting in reality. My own experience says, it's very nice to watch the pretties playing, some of them are well worth knowing, but they can't hold a candle to my Janet.
posted by dragonsi55 at 7:29 AM on July 16, 2009 [11 favorites]

Dwight Lee, an economist at SMU, wrote an interesting piece a long time ago explaining (a) why people have affairs but also (b) why they don't marry their mistresses, from an economic perspective. (see here). His explanation is simply that when thinking about spouses, we think in terms of total benefits vs total costs, but in thinking about mistresses (or in your case, crushes), we think about marginal benefits vs marginal costs. Spouses are selected based on the total benefits - they are a good parent, a good provider, a good friend through thick and thin, etc. But, like everything, there is diminishing returns to love, and so the marginal benefit of a spouse will in equilibrium usually be very small - even though the total benefits are themselves very large. Just like water, which also has huge total benefits but small marginal benefits. These crushes provide, on the other hand, large marginal benefits. They are usually based on superficial things, like certain qualities that may not be all that important for a spouse, but are interesting for a crush. Maybe how he says certain things, or the kind of clothes he wears, or the kind of music he likes, etc.

My personal advice is old-fashioned. I think you need to really believe that crushes are a violation of your marriage vows so that everytime you have a crush, you realize how horrible even these "white lies" are. You have to constantly argue with your brain and heart, in other words, and show it that these are not benign. The other thing is that these kinds of things typically grow from small seeds into trees, and before you know it, your crushes have sprouted into and borne an affair.
posted by scunning at 7:39 AM on July 16, 2009 [5 favorites]

Scunning, interesting post, but since IANAeconomist it's not completely clear what you and Mr. Lee mean by "at the margin." His article seems to assume I have that background. Can you fill in what that concept is all about and how it applies to marriage, etc.?
posted by JimN2TAW at 7:58 AM on July 16, 2009

I had a crush, that metastasized into an affair (neither of us were going to leave our partners) which then transitioned into leaving our partners, but then when I became fully available, I got dumped by this person. In a small community, all this pretty much played out publicly. It was not a good time in my life, nonwithstanding some great sex at the outset.

I would humbly urge you to project your imagination over to the other side of this desire, and make some hypotheses about what your life would be like if you acted on one these crushes (assuming that the subject of the crush reciprocates).

I went the secrecy route, at least at first, and from my experience, here is what you can expect, if you should go beyond the crush stage:

1. It's a logistical nightmare, the arrangements which need to be made. The secrecy involved.
2. The mental work of *presenting* normalcy to your partner will drain you dry.
3. You will start putting your needs third, in just about every area.
4. The endpoint will be misery for all three parties involved, however it falls out.

So, initially, it will likely be the best sex you have ever had, and it will also energize your sex with your partner (for awhile) but then inevitably it will blow up.

I still get crushes all the time. I fantasize as much as the next horny guy. I enjoy the company of the crushees, whether or not this buzz is mutual. But the pain (and shame) of the above experience is always with me and I just can't go there.

(I have shared this story before and I feel like the Ancient Mariner of love, sometimes. . .)
posted by Danf at 7:58 AM on July 16, 2009 [6 favorites]

I think that it's good that you move from crush to crush instead of wanting one person. If it was one person for a long time then you might be more tempted to cheat, but if you know all of them are temporary then you know it's only a problem until you find someone else to crush on.

Try not to let yourself get close to the crushes. If you're friends with them I'm not saying to stop being friends with them, but try to pick group activities instead of ones with a more tempting situation. If it's not a friend yet then don't try to get closer to them as a friend - avoid the trouble.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 8:14 AM on July 16, 2009

I wouldn't be so secretive about your crushes. I think they are probably becoming bigger deals than they are or should be because you are making them so illicit.
posted by chunking express at 8:19 AM on July 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

Everybody has crushes and I just remind myself that the reality is never as good as the fantasy. I have no problem with Mr. Future checking out other women - in fact, I'd be more concerned if he didn't.
posted by futureisunwritten at 8:26 AM on July 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Crushes are neat and fun as long as you treat them as crushes, light and essentially meaningless, like a craving for a sweet.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:32 AM on July 16, 2009 [6 favorites]

JimN2TAW: "The margin" is a weird but useful bit of language that's very common in economics; it simply refers to the effect of one additional unit of something, or looked at another way, the slope of a curve at a particular point. So if I have five apples, and I would pay $1.50 for an additional apple, then the marginal value of an apple would be $1.50. The concept of marginal analysis allows us to succinctly phrase useful concepts; for example, imagine that I'd pay $2.50 for the first apple, $2 for the second, $1.90 for the third, etc. We can say that the value of apples exhibits "diminishing marginal returns."
posted by kprincehouse at 9:39 AM on July 16, 2009

It might be useful to think about what it is about those people you have crushes on that stimulates you.

Do them seem dangerous, adventurous? Maybe you should look into doing something adventurous in your own life -- caving, bungee jumping, etc.
Do you feel intellectually stimulated when you talk to them? Join classes or discussion groups instead, in a context where there's no opportunity for private interactions.

There might also be the component that you can't act on these crushes because they're wrong, illicit, etc. Something being "forbidden" adds a lot of sexiness to any dynamic. So instead of focusing on how your crushes are "wrong" and can never be, accept the crushes themselves as normal, and frame the idea of following through on them in terms of how they will hurt the husband you love and your marriage.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:19 AM on July 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

Those crushes can be pretty exciting stuff. This is especially true if you keep it to yourself. It is like you're holding onto something that the more you look at it and the more you stroke it, the brighter it gleams.

If you and your husband trust each other, then I strongly advocate telling him and having him tell you. DH and I were advised to do this in our premarital counseling (married 15 years too) and it just seems so counter-intuitive. However, if you tell your partner and your partner can hear the statement without feeling threatened in your relationship, it takes the crush and brings it out in the open. You don't have to quietly and secretly look at it and make it seem brighter than it really is. It really neutralizes it.

We do tell each other, frequently making a joke about it. At this point, it pretty much goes down like this:

Me: Hey Honey. You know I'd totally go after (insert name of friend) if I had the opportunity, right? He's cute, funny, smart, blah blah blah...
DH: Really? That's good to know. Have you considered (insert name of other person)?
Me: Nah. I'm not crushing on him at the moment.

Recently, we went on vacation and I met the executive chef of the resort where we stayed. Total and instant crush hit. I had several opportunities to chat with him and was all twitterpated. At one point, I announced to DH that the chef was my newest crush. The other people at the table who were vacationing with us were a bit caught off guard. DH pointed out to them "What do I care? As long as she gets on the plane with me tomorrow, I'm good. If anything comes of this encounter, she'll be swapping recipes with him. I stand to benefit."

Now, this is a two way deal. He's told me about his crushes when he develops them. It is great to know that we're comfortable enough with each other to say "I love you AND I'm finding this other person interesting/exciting." It acknowledges that we're still human. It allows us to feel sexy or youthful. It brings a bit of a new color into our daily palette. That's it. It doesn't lead us to having an affair. By acknowledging the attraction to each other, we're able to put it in perspective and move on.
posted by onhazier at 11:47 AM on July 16, 2009 [7 favorites]

Maybe try adding something new and exciting to your life to daydream and fantasize about, something you can actually have without hurting anyone. Have you always wanted to get into hang-gliding or skydiving? Have you fantasized about a trip to the Great Barrier Reef? Or taking up a new sport or language? Even if you don't have the money, starting to save and plan or take lessons towards a goal or a trip or new skill that you're really into. That way you'll be googling airfares or equipment or saving techniques rather than your crush's facebook profile. Sometimes it's the drama in our lives that we're missing, and that can be pretty adequately replaced by a new goal or project that we are genuinely excited about.
posted by np312 at 12:04 PM on July 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Darn. I meant "corked." No wonder there was bewilderment. Sorry.
posted by bz at 4:14 PM on July 16, 2009

JimN2TAW: kprincehouse beat me to it. At the margin is mainly a way of identifying the point where incentives matter. People respond to incentives, be it the stick or the carrot, but only when the stick or carrot is presented to the rational actor "at the margin." The margin is that point where the person makes the decision. He decides to go to class or skip it. He decides to buy that new book or decides not to. He decides to check his email or not. We say that when rational people make decisions, they do so by comparing the "marginal" benefits against the "marginal" costs, and if MB>MC, they do the action, otherwise they do not.

To borrow from kprincehouse's example, he is willing to pay $2.50 for the first apple, $2 for the second, $1.50 for the third, $1.00 for the fourth and $0.50 for the fifth (and $0.00 for the sixth). If someone gave him five apples and he ate all five, he would've gotten $2.50+2.00+1.50+1.00+0.50 worth of "benefits" from eating them, or $7.50. If each apple cost him $0.75, he would've bought the first four apples (b/c for each, the marginal benefit of the apple exceeds the marginal cost, which is $0.75), but he would not have bought the fifth apple. When he ate that fourth apple, he would've looked at the fifth and thought to himself "This last apple is worth to me $0.50, but costs $0.75, so I won't buy it." That's all that "at the margin" means.
posted by scunning at 9:11 PM on July 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

This has happened to me three times in my 20+ year marriage. The only way to handle it for me has been to openly acknowledge the situation to the person involved. "If this were a different time and place something might go forward between me and you. This isn't a different time and place. This can't/won't happen in my world today." I have found this acknowledgement to be respected and understood and it allows me to go with my life with no guilt at all.
I'm not so sure about this. I was apparently the object of someone's crush and they told me this in similar terms and it pretty much made me seriously uncomfortable around them. My problem with it is that implies that there was some kind of potential relationship that might have evolved in a different time and place, when in fact that was all in her mind. I would not have even thought we were particularly friends, much less potential love interests. If you are sure that the one you are crushing on shares your feelings, this talk would be fine. If you have just worked up some one sided imaginary relationship, it might be seriously odd.

If you are able to discuss it with your spouse, that seems good -- I'm always of fan of increased honesty and shared feelings and experiences. You might also find that discussing them reduces their power.
posted by Lame_username at 10:40 AM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

For me, one of the big problems with crushes is that I idealize the person that I have a crush on. I suppose that's one of the hallmarks of crushes on the whole. Anyway, it helps me if I focus squarely on the question of "would I rather be with *crush* than with ladyfriend?" So far, the answer has been a clear no. While crush is undeniably cute, crush is also either (1) neurotic or (2) annoying at times or....... the list goes on.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:31 PM on July 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

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