Crushing...just as painful as it sounds.
September 11, 2011 6:29 PM   Subscribe

I have an embarrassing, painful crush on someone in my tiny grad school program. How to stop thinking about them in this way?

I am in a very small liberal arts doctorate program, and I have developed a crush on a classmate. The problem - well, one of the problems - is that I'm in a committed relationship, and I feel like I'm betraying my partner with every impure thought I have about this person.

I find myself thinking about them all the time, getting nervous around them, getting butterflies - just total, full-on, crush mode. When I think about how I would feel if my partner dwelled on someone else to this extent, it makes me feel terrible. I would be really angry and hurt.

Avoiding this person isn't really an option because my program is so small; also, I would really like to be friends with them. They are one of the few people I like at school.

What should I do?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Some of the advice from a few days ago might be useful to you -- maybe even this response in particular.
posted by gnomeloaf at 6:40 PM on September 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Consider telling a trusted close friend about the crush. Crushes are like cockroaches - they thrive in darkness and disappear when exposed to light. Don't let it fester inside you.

Look for the person's flaws. I guarantee they have at least one or two. Focus on them.

Decide 100% that nothing is going to happen. Don't allow yourself to even think about, "What if?" Give yourself a nice mental cold shower and then stick to it.
posted by ohsnapdragon at 6:41 PM on September 11, 2011 [6 favorites]

First things first: Get good at forgiving yourself for having crushes while in a committed relationship. Either that or get over feeling bad about it in the first place. Crushes happen. Your partner is going to have crushes, too. That's why you have to trust each other. Crushes do not equal infidelity. Did you really think you'd never find anyone attractive or interesting ever again after you got with your partner?

Secondly: Crushes go away without doing anything. Acknowledge it for what it is, enjoy it a little bit (it's kind of a fun feeling), but don't act on it. YMMV, but I tell my partner when I have a crush. It helps to get it out in the open and it builds trust.
posted by dchrssyr at 6:42 PM on September 11, 2011 [7 favorites]

Nothing. Carry on, be polite and respectful to your classmate. Don't worry, crushes do happen, even in the most committed of relationships. It is how you react when this occurs that is a test of your character.
posted by smithsmith at 6:43 PM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

One easy way to desexualize the situation is to talk about your partner to your crush. For example, you're talking about your plans for the weekend and you can mention that you're seeing your partner and you're really looking forward to spending some quality time with them. It's not over-the-top mushy, but it gets the point across.

Another way is to get the crush to talk about their partner or love interest.

A third way is to purposely be gross in front of the crush, effectively rendering them not attracted to you. That way, you can just start acting like your cool, calm self instead of getting fluttery and nervous. (You've already "spoiled" yourself in your crush's eyes, so you can stop wondering if they're interested in you.)
posted by cranberrymonger at 6:55 PM on September 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

That previous post on crushes is great, but to add an academic take --

You're going to have to interact with this person for years, maybe decades. Nip the crush in the bud.
posted by k8t at 6:57 PM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Erm... if you want to nail someone, you can't be friends with them. Even if s/he is the only person you like in your grad program, getting more emotionally entangled with them right now is only going to add gasoline to your crush. So frankly, I'd try to keep my distance as much as I could manage if I were you. Do not hang out with them "as friends" or anything beyond whatever is required for school, at least.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:58 PM on September 11, 2011 [9 favorites]

Agreed with jenfullmoon. Its not like this person is missing out on something by not being able to hang out with someone who is crushin on them, but is still in a committed relationship with someone else.

Stay away and don't try to be friends. Its school...and you probably are MAKING excuses for being near this person more than you actually need to be near this person.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 7:06 PM on September 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Feeling the crush is fine--inevitable even. Acknowledge the feelings when they come up. Do not seek them out in times of stress, but when you have them, accept them, realize they are not representing any truth, and allow your mind to move on until they come up again. Repeat as they come up.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:13 PM on September 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Nthing the second link that gnomeleaf posted. I crush so hard on people, and I'm a married lady. There's always a reason!
posted by two lights above the sea at 7:21 PM on September 11, 2011

Greg Nog's advice from a few days ago is the trick I use. Take something they do (eat in class), expand it into something negative that might be true (thinks only of himself and not how it impacts others), then mentally reject them for it (man, he's so funny, it's too bad he's so self-centered because I just can't deal with that). Works for me. Plus, the truth is that there probably IS some dealbreaker, and it probably IS being hinted at by his current behavior. So just pretend you've figured out what it is, then go back to feeling grateful for your current good relationship.
posted by salvia at 7:32 PM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I think about how I would feel if my partner dwelled on someone else to this extent, it makes me feel terrible. I would be really angry and hurt.

Maybe it's just me, but I'd think that instead of feeling angry and hurt, if the tables were turned, you'd feel empathetic and maybe even a little relieved, since you'd know first-hand that it's possible to have a fleeting crush but still, presumably, be very much in love with (not just "in a committed relationship with") your current partner, and it'd be helpful to know that your partner is human just like you.

So... it makes me wonder, are you, in fact, very much in love with your partner? So this is merely a "wow this new person makes me feel a-tingle," temporary crush?

There's lots of good advice above about how to manage a crush (particularly in close quarters), but you might want to consider whether your core question is actually less of "how do I quash crush-y feelings on someone" and more along the lines of "how can my current crush help me better understand where I am with, and what truly I want from, my partner?" I mention it only because of what's NOT in your post: affirmations of the deeper level of love you have with your partner (which you value and want intensely to preserve), or admissions that this crush is detracting from your emotional/physical/romantic connection with your partner, or analyses of why your crush wouldn't actually be a better match for you than your current partner, etc.. If you were not anon, I'd love to hear more on that front.
posted by argonauta at 7:34 PM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Consider telling a trusted close friend about the crush. Crushes are like cockroaches - they thrive in darkness and disappear when exposed to light. Don't let it fester inside you.

Disagree completely. Telling someone something like this in a small, incestuous grad program is a recipe for disaster.

I dealt with occasional crushes in college and graduate school while in a committed relationship. I dealt with it by normalizing these feelings within myself. Even when you're committed, you're a sexual creature, and it's normal to feel these things. It's nothing worth stressing over or even talking about.

Today, I'm married to the same partner, and I've never been unfaithful. So it worked for me.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:40 PM on September 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Sometimes I find myself getting into a repetitive thought loop of some kind. Perhaps a misinterpreted action by another person or simply some slight real or imagined. The person is not really the problem, it's the thought that persists in my head building up energy and traffic. Quick way to delete this kind of thought: heavy boot comes down on the visual representation of the thought, crushing it into nothingness. Kick the fragments to the curb. Repeat until free. Usually only takes 1 or two crushes. Works amazingly well. It's just the thought you are crushing, not the person. If you give your crush the boot, bet it disappears pretty quickly.
posted by diode at 7:56 PM on September 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm betraying my partner with every impure thought I have about this person.

This is silly. Thoughts cannot betray. You do, however, have a responsibility not to put yourself in situations where things can take on a life of their own. Which brings us to this...

I would really like to be friends with them.

Does that really sound like a good idea to you? Make a decision about your priorities rather than trying to have your cake and eat it too.
posted by spaltavian at 8:20 PM on September 11, 2011 [5 favorites]

In addition to jenfullmoon's well taken point about not being friends because it will add fuel to your crush, right now the crush is 100% of the reason you want to be friends with this person. You have no way of knowing whether you'd be drawn to him as friends in the absence of the crush.
posted by J. Wilson at 9:04 PM on September 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

One easy way to desexualize the situation is to talk about your partner to your crush.

Agreed. Just mention your girl/boyfriend to the crush, effectively friendzoning that person. So you're sexually attracted to someone else, big deal. Either it'll pass and you'll get used to having a nonsexual relationship with the person, or it's a symptom of something seriously lacking in your existing relationship in which case you'll become aware of it sooner or later. It's normal, there's nothing wrong with it.
posted by anigbrowl at 9:31 PM on September 11, 2011

Do not hang out with them "as friends" or anything beyond whatever is required for school, at least.

I can't disagree with this strongly enough. Keeping distance just encourages a sense of mystery. Acknowledge the crush, enjoy the warm feeling, and treat the crushee like anyone else in your program.
posted by auto-correct at 9:35 PM on September 11, 2011

wow, lots of mixed advice. I have been down a very unfortunate similar path and did not handle it well.

What I would do differently:

1. Get out of your department. Make some friends in another department, find some activity to do outside of school altogether...stress and proximity to this person will make it so you're stuck in a rotten cycle of thinking about them, then feeling terrible about thinking about them. Find an activity to make yourself feel good just so you can have a mental break.

2. Mention your feelings about this person to your partner, to help put things in perspective and increase your own accountability. Make a little more time to spend with your partner, if possible.

3. Don't talk about your feelings with the person you're crushing on, because that will probably just lead to drama. Likewise, best not to tell anyone else in your department.

4. When possible (while still being collegial), keep your distance from this person, at least for a while. If this is someone you can be friends with, in the long run you probably will be friends, once you cool off on this person and get some distance. But chances are, right now you're not really able to separate "friend feelings" from "crush feelings" and that will just lead to a messed-up, distorted situation. Any future friendship with this person will be better served by you settling your feelings NOW.

5. Don't beat yourself up if you haven't done anything. Try to see this from an imaginary perspective of many years down the road, when both you and your crush are wrinkled and middle-aged and run into each other at some conference somewhere, and all these feelings now seem trivial.
posted by daisystomper at 11:57 PM on September 11, 2011

Don't mention it to your partner, don't mention it to your crush, don't mention it to anyone else in your department. Jeez. Don't add fuel to the fire.

It's a crush. It's not an affair. It's all in your head and it should stay there unless you're seriously considering pursuing it.

You're allowed to have crushes as long as you don't a) act on them, b) embarrass your crush in any way by being really obvious, c) create drama where there is nothing.

Don't bring up your SO all the time either - I have had it happen to me and it's like a great big neon sign that says: Brain-panic - I have been thinking about fun-sexy-time with you and I have an SO who I forgot about five seconds ago, but here she is now, see, see, see - I am in a committed relationship, everyone! (everyone crawls under a rock).

If you can converse normally with this person, preferably without tripping over your tongue or without constantly reminding everyone that you're partnered up, continue to hang around her. You feelings could go anywhere if you do this - they may disappear (do you want them to?) or they may intensify or they make change entirely (you two could become great friends).

If you feel you cannot behave normally, stay away from them. You need to be in control of yourself to be in control of what happens.

If your thoughts persist, question whether they're about the person at all or whether this person is an escape from your life/current relationship and evaluate what you want to do from there.
posted by mleigh at 12:23 AM on September 12, 2011 [5 favorites]

Just popping in to disagree about remaining friends. Some of my crushes have turned into really good friends in time - perhaps the crush was my brain's dysfunctional way of telling me OMG FRIEND THIS PERSON NOW THEY ARE SO AWESOME.

Remember that if/when you achieve this, you will be heinously embarrassed when you wonder if they ever guessed that you had a crush on them. Consider this now. It will save you some blushes once you've overcome the crush. I still redden a little when I wonder if mine knew :)
posted by greenish at 4:00 AM on September 12, 2011

They're just a cool person. Sometimes, it's hard for your brain to deal with a person who is of your preferred sex, cool, and slightly attractive. It's even harder when you're under a lot of stress in your program and you're bonding with someone who is also under a lot of stress. It'll go away in time. Don't provoke it. Do talk about your significant other occasionally--if they ask you what you did over the weekend, talk about what you did with your partner. If they talk about their love of something, mention how your partner also likes that. Don't do it too often, but make it known that you're off the market. When you do this, you're reminding your primitive brain that you're in control. Your partner has much higher 'status' than this tiny attraction. Position yourself as alpha. Of course this person is appealing, but your partner is 1000000x better and that's why you're with them. Nobody can't touch y'all--y'all rawck solid!

You should also text your partner a few times a day. The key is to keep them in your mind as being the best. Plan activities with your partner to associate good, new things with your relationship. You should take this crush and use it to make you work for your partner. You say that you feel guilty, and that could be good. Channel that guilt into your relationship. You got this!!
posted by 200burritos at 6:42 AM on September 12, 2011

Telling someone something like this in a small, incestuous grad program is a recipe for disaster.

Which is just one reason out of oh-so-many to have friends outside your program, and if the OP doesn't have any (or any local, as happens when one moves for grad school), cultivating some outside activities could be helpful on the crush front and every other front as well.
posted by endless_forms at 7:00 AM on September 12, 2011

A perspective on why you're getting so much conflicting advice:

A crush isn't "real"; it's basically your brain chemistry telling you all kinds of crazy lies. It tells you you're in love (and you're not) -- that's why you feel so guilty. It tells you all kinds of wonderful things about this person that just aren't true. I'm not saying this person isn't wonderful, just that the crush isn't really about their true wonderful qualities, but about the lies your brain chemistry is telling you. A crush is like a hallucination, or a dream.

The different strategies people have for crushes are their own ways of "pinching themselves", of convincing themselves that the crush isn't reality. For different people this takes different forms -- distance (to give the crush less to feed on); closeness (to jolt ones perception of the crushee into reality). Tell your partner (to bring the banality of the crush out into the light); don't tell your partner (because you only tell your partner about real things, and the crush isn't a real thing.)

I find listing the things I don't actually know about the crushee and how s/he actually behaves in romantic relationships helpful. Imagining being romantically smothered by the crush helps me a lot.
posted by endless_forms at 7:17 AM on September 12, 2011 [5 favorites]

If I find myself thinking about a person more than I should, I do the following:
*Avoid any contact with them that I can
*Ensure any interaction I have with them is around others
*I tell Mr. BuffaloChickenWing. It is amazing how the crush disappears when your significant other now knows about it.
*Continue to work with the person in group settings. Once I get to know the person in this fashion I usually start to find them annoying and realize that we would never work out - ever.
posted by BuffaloChickenWing at 11:46 AM on September 12, 2011

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