How do I deal with the crush-induced awkward?
September 5, 2012 7:59 PM   Subscribe

Have I done something wrong, and if so, how will I know? I haven't had a crush in so long that I'm not sure whether I'm behaving normally or not, and I don't know how to deal. Long, involved, and socially awkward inside.

Ok, so, I have a completely unrealistic and inappropriate crush on someone who is respected, married, probably old enough to be my father, and in a position of leadership in my world (yes, I know, I know, I have a therapist, I am working on my daddy issues). I know that my crush is absurd and silly and I have no intentions of trying to make it go anywhere other than AWAY.

I've never really spent time with this fellow, I don't know him well personally- this individual is sort of a "personality" in my circles, which is how I came to know of and develop said crush on them. Anyways, I and a group of my peers had the privilege of having lunch with this person.

I fluctuated wildly between avoiding speaking to/making eye contact with this person altogether and hanging raptly on their every word. (I am kind of like that with everybody but it was to the nth degree with this fellow, and far less than usual with everybody else).

Aside from the whole "ignoring people is rude", I don't believe that I said or did anything inappropriate, and this person was incredibly pleasant, charming and gracious.

I am typically an awkward gal. I don't think I was behaving especially weirdly, for me. (I mean, it was probably obvious that I was slightly in awe of/ crushing on this person, but it's not like I was hitting on them or something).

I regressed pretty badly in terms of my awkward/ bashful/ selfconscious/ childishness, but I wasn't actually doing anything awful, or so I thought.

A little while later I was by myself at another venue, and I happened to see this person. I tried to make friendly eye-contact/nodding gestures, but they did not respond. I am trying to choose to believe that they did not see me rather than believing that they were avoiding me. However, that was when I had my first inkling that maybe I said or did something wrong after all.

That person had invited me to add them on facebook, which I did, and they accepted my add and sent a polite and friendly "thanks-for-adding-me" standard type message. I know that nothing on facebook matters in real life but it's part of the scenario so I'm including it.

What I don't understand is why I have been a tense awkward anxious mess since that encounter, which was several days ago, and why, every time I think about that encounter or even that person, or read their facebook message, I am so painfully overcome with embarassment and shame that I almost cry (and I did actually, the day of).

If I'm this embarassed, I must have done something wrong, right?

And so I keep going over this encounter, looking for clues, and also trying to gauge the situation by completely ridiculous markers (i.e. nobody who was there has contacted me since then! That must mean I did something horribly embarassing and none of them want to be seen with me! I hate myself and I never want to go outside again! Those people don't actually like me and now they have a reason not to pretend any more! What am I going to do!?)

What am I going to do? I feel afraid to go and be around these people and I don't know how to behave or function and I want to either stop thinking about this or know what I did wrong. And I want to know how you're supposed to behave around someone that you have an unwanted crush on. What's the protocol? I'm going to talk to my therapist, but I thought y'all would have some insight.
posted by windykites to Human Relations (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You didn't do anything wrong. Your anxiety is causing you to overthink the situation.

Is there someone you can confide in who can be your observer? "Look, I have this pointless crush on X; can you just nudge me if I act like an idiot around him? I'm trying not to embarrass myself or him by these unexpected emotions."
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:06 PM on September 5, 2012

What am I going to do?

Keep on keeping on.

I feel afraid to go and be around these people and I don't know how to behave or function and I want to either stop thinking about this or know what I did wrong.

If you did anything wrong, it wasn't anything preventable.

And I want to know how you're supposed to behave around someone that you have an unwanted crush on. What's the protocol?

Act as normal as you can.

I'm going to talk to my therapist, but I thought y'all would have some insight.

No one could possibly tell you what happened with this person - not you, because you are biased, and not the person you have a crush on, because social norms make it impossible to be truthful with strangers. Your therapist can maybe tease out what happened with the reaction you had. Beyond that, there is no insight to be gained. There is something else going on here, not related to the person you crush on, and you know that there is something else and you have a vested interest in finding out what that is and you are going to ask a professional about it. You are doing all you can. This is good. It is good.

In the meantime, when dealing with this particular luminary, do not overcorrect and do not overthink. Smile when they walk by and laugh when they joke in front of you and do not stare. That is that.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 8:07 PM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

For these type of situations I find David Burns' exercises really helpful. They help you to re-frame situations so that you don't automatically overreact.
posted by bearette at 8:09 PM on September 5, 2012

Odds are just overwhelmingly high that this person isn't thinking about you nearly as hard as you're thinking about them, which means that whatever you said and did when you saw them either time probably didn't even get on their radar.

My universal advice for a crush is to cultivate other friendships and minimize contact with the object of the crush. The one gives you some other people to latch onto (in a less intense and potentially awkward way), and the other just extinguishes the behavior.

I also think that they're extremely common, at least at some level. It's just that people don't talk about it, and usually don't act on it. So don't beat yourself up for feeling that way.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:34 PM on September 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

wow, no, you didn't do anything wrong at all. having crushes on people is a wonderful, natural part of life. the only thing that's gone wrong in this scenario is that you're being terribly hard on yourself. bearette's suggestion to check out david burns' exercises is great. and i would very highly recommend a book called there is nothing wrong with you, by cheri huber. fantastic resource for learning to be compassionate and gentle with yourself.
posted by facetious at 8:38 PM on September 5, 2012

I'd hesitate to define what you describe as a crush. It sounds more like respect and great admiration for a leader in your field. That happens all the time.

The best thing you can do is cut yourself some slack and view your behavior through a fair lens. You didn't do anything untoward. Relax.
posted by 26.2 at 9:34 PM on September 5, 2012

You're in a state of crush-driven hypervigilance right now, and it's causing you to sense your world improperly. Tiny events (or the absence of events) are striking you as hugely important, and most likely, they're not. If the crush object detected any twitterpation on your part, he was likely no more than flattered, and by far the most likely scenario is that he detected nothing at all. You did not, in any way, bring shame and opprobrium down upon yourself.

And so what if you seemed a little awkward? Awkward's allowed. Have you ever found yourself developing a seething hate-on for an acquaintance because they didn't quite seem comfortable in their own skin? I'm guessing that you haven't. The vast majority of mature, decent people won't. The idea that this whole set of people might have decided to shun you because you seemed a little bit stiff, or a touch mooney, is totally absurd.

That isn't to say that your -feelings- are absurd. Your feelings are real, and they're yours, and I'm in no way trying to denigrate them. But unless you're omitting a part of the story wherein you squeezed this guy's thigh under the table, told a string of offensive jokes, or snapped your thong at him, I can't imagine from these facts that you could possibly have done anything to make this guy spontaneously decide to loathe you, much less the rest of the group.

In fact, the folks in the rest of the group were probably way too busy trying to make a lasting impression on the fellow to notice a single thing you did or said.

As far as the lingering embarassment goes: I've had that. Sometime stressful situations come with pre-programmed release points that tell you it's time to let go of the tension: You find out how you did on an exam, or whether the client liked your pitch, or whether you got the job. If things went your way, you get so celebrate. If they didn't, maybe you get mad or depressed for a bit, but at least you get to stop waiting on tenterhooks for the result. But with stuff like that lunch, there's no preset capstone event to tell you to switch off the anxiousness, so the anxiousness can just go on and on and on.

So give yourself permission to let it go. Take a bath, or go for a run, or order your very favorite kind of take-out and then chow down while watching movie that you love. The idea here is to craft yourself a little self-pampering ritual that will inform the overstimulated, lizardy bits of your brain that It's All Over Now, and that it's okay to chill out.

Like so many things in life, this stuff will get easier with advancing years. When I was your age, I was basically just a wad of fishnet tights, art theory, and blind social panic. It totally got better. All of it.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 10:15 PM on September 5, 2012 [5 favorites]

Wow. I skimmed your question and went eeeek, how did windykites manage to break into the inner recesses of my mind? Then I read it again more carefully and thank goodness you used certain phrases like "daddy issues" that don't apply to my situation, because so much of the rest of it eerily does. I even checked your location, but we're in different countries, phew;-)

Anyway I relate to this so much, EXCEPT I have not even met my version of this guy (MVOTG), so I'm in the very strange and silly position of wondering if I'm acting awkward around mutual friends and acquaintances when he's mentioned. Which is often, because he's a big deal in a small geographical area and there's so much overlap of social circles, etc. I know I'll meet him sooner or later and I can absolutely see the same thing happening to me that happened to you. I just know I'll be a crying mess. But since that hasn't happened yet, here are my thoughts.

One, it seems you acted fine. Yes, you may have come off as awkward. But that's not so bad, and it's not a give-away of your crush. Think about it. Some people are a bit awkward in general and most people don't make too much of it. Lots of people are awkward when they meet new people. And if he's important or famous in any way, he's probably used to meeting all kinds of people including those who are nervous to be meeting him. He probably also meets all kinds of people who are not all that impressed with him. So your acting interested and then looking away, etc. could appear to be any or all of those things. Finally, he probably meets so many people that meeting you was not as momentous of an event to him as it was to you, so your behavior (even if it was truly odd, which it wasn't) will not occupy a big space in his memory.

At the second meeting, he probably didn't see you. Or he didn't remember/couldn't place you, or just didn't think it was a big deal to not say hi. Those are the most logical interpretations, and they also go with the assumption that he meets lots of people.

Re: your worries about your other friends, I feel like that sometimes too, even when no crushes are involved! All I can say is that practically every time I've had those thoughts, it's turned out to be fine. Seriously they were just busy doing something else and they contacted me like normal later. I've learned that "freaking out over nothing" is just something I do, and once you know that about yourself you can judge the situation a little more objectively.

Now I'm going to go out on a limb and guess why you're so messed up over this and I hope I'm not projecting too much. I think crushes like this can start fun, but without you even noticing become something much more serious in your head. You may have had in your mind, consciously or not, a fantasy about what would happen when you met him. Maybe that he'd feel the same and it would lead to something. I know, he's married! and it's totally inappropriate! and maybe you would never really do anything or it would never even come to that in real life, but the mind can really fuck with you about this stuff. So when you did meet him and acted, honestly, just normal--like a person who was sort of glad to meet him but sort of shy, or who wavered between interest and boredom, or whatever he thought of you, if he thought anything--none of that came to fruition. When you saw him again and there was no contact it only confirmed that yes, you are just normal kinda-awkward you and this meeting had not somehow lifted you out of that state as you imagined or hoped it might. (Or, more G-rated version, you hoped he'd respect you as much as you do him, and it wasn't apparent that that had happened, almost like blowing a job interview.) That is exactly the letdown I think I'll feel when I get to meet MVOTG, at any rate.

I would seriously bet that you have not disgraced yourself here. And I want to thank you for asking this because as it happens the night you posted it I found out some things that (ridiculously) depressed me over my own crush--yeah even though I've never met him, sad, right? But your question kinda made me feel less crazy about the whole thing and I wanted to say I think you're doing fine.

(Oh, and about the Facebook part, FB etiquette confuses the heck out of me, and it's hard to tell because you were understandably vague about his position, but if his FB is a fan or business type thing in any way, it may be he's not even managing it himself.)
posted by ocksay_uppetpay at 3:49 AM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I absolutely hear you on this type of agonizing horrible anxiety! I have so been there.

From your description, it sounds like this is all anxiety talking. No one at the lunch or any other time was paying especial attention to you because they were paying attention to Important Guy. Even if you were acting noticeably weird, which you probably weren't since it takes far more than one would think to be noticeably weird, people will put it down to "she was shy because he is important" or "she had a migraine". One average interaction with you in normal circumstances will absolutely wipe out any concerns, if there are any, which I doubt.

Here is the thing I have learned: even if someone acts weird, people forget - and pretty quickly. If you just carry on as normal, everyone will be so relieved that you are just being your usual self than any weirdness will get totally pushed aside. Unless you are pitching a screaming fit or yelling insults, it is virtually impossible to torpedo friendships with just one day of being a little off.

Also, Mr. Personality meets bashful young people regularly, I am sure. I have met bashful young people and I'm in my thirties and have no fame and only a certain dapper style and glibness. When someone is bashful, my immediate impulse is "how can I be nice to them so that they feel at ease?" I bet that's all this guy was thinking.

Also, it's okay to have and get over silly impossible crushes. Everyone has them - everyone! It's absolutely normal.

You do not need to worry about this at all, although clearly some therapy for the anxiety would be awesome.
posted by Frowner at 4:07 AM on September 6, 2012

Ok, so it is anxiety. Still getting a handle on differentiating actual problems from anxiety-induced panic, so thanks for helping me get my head on straight! I wanted to mark each of them "best answer" so I just abstained altogether.
posted by windykites at 8:13 AM on September 6, 2012

If I'm this embarassed, I must have done something wrong, right?

The definition of pathological anxiety (and I know whereof I speak) is that you can't trust your internal signals. When you try to engage with those signals as if they were reliable you actually reinforce them - you're telling your brain yes, clearly something of significance must have happened in this social encounter because look how much I'm thinking about it!

Actually dealing with anxiety is a process of adjusting those signals (you can get them more in line with reality through relaxation/meditation, medication if that's where treatment ultimately goes, and lifestyle adjustment - sleeping enough, eating properly, being judicious with drugs/alcohol, especially stimulants, avoiding avoidable stressors in everyday dealings), and learning to develop reason-based and expedience-based narratives (optimism, for example, is not always a reason-based narrative but barring true counter-indications it is often a very expedient attitude) and practicing inserting those narratives to break the cycles of anxiety-thinking.
posted by nanojath at 10:18 AM on September 6, 2012

I am trying to choose to believe that they did not see me rather than believing that they were avoiding me.

I wonder whether he recognized you. If you were kind of bashful in the first meeting and there were several people there, he may not have realized who you were when you nodded to him. Or maybe he was pre-occupied with something else.
posted by Doohickie at 10:20 AM on September 6, 2012

If I'm this embarassed, I must have done something wrong, right?

No, sometimes situations are just kind of awkward, due to circumstances, personalities, etc. If you're embarrassed, it may be simply a manifestation of your anxiety. It's hard to do if you get anxious, but the normal reaction is just to chill and not dwell on it too much. I would say everyone gets embarrassed with awkward moments with new acquaintances. Until you develop a rapport and understand the more subtle aspects of how the two of you communicate, you may wonder whether you sent the signal you intended to send, whether he received the signal you thought you sent, and vice-versa. It's all pretty normal, unless things like this make you anxious.
posted by Doohickie at 10:27 AM on September 6, 2012

Oh my god, are you me? Because I totally do that. Not so frequently as I get older, but it still happens. One thing I did learn with time is what other respondents have already mentioned: I've learned to assume that 90% of all this anxiety-inducing meaningfulness is in my head. This realization doesn't remove the anxiety completely, but I've noticed I can get back to normal after barely two or three days obsessing about an event, which is a huge improvement.

The thing to remember is: people notice you less than you think, and remember even less. That's because everyone is preoccupied with themselves. So no need to feel like everyone hates you because you didn't hear from them. Most probably, they have their own problems, their own crushes, their own self-esteem worries.

I wouldn't use the term "daddy issues", either; I find it offensive without being explanatory. Perhaps it's a more general need to gain approval and respect from an authority figure, plus a very specific tendency to hyperfocus on one thing/person at a time? The labels you give it don't really matter in the end; what's more important is trying to understand what exactly you'd want to get from it, what needs you're trying to meet. Try an exercise: what would you want to happen with this guy - in an ideal situation, in the privacy of your own head, not caring whether you're being realistic or not? What needs are you trying to meet? Can they be met in a different, more realistic way? It's okay if they can't; that's what we have imagination for.

But I would second ocksay_uppetpay's warning that a crush like this, especially fueled by imagination, might get out of control and become much more serious in our minds. This is something I've learned the hard way, and I'm trying to avoid repeating that experience, and to be honest, I'm still not quite sure how to counteract this. Meditation comes to mind. And the suggestion from palmcorder_yajna seems very good, to let know your "lizardy bits of your brain that It's All Over Now". I wonder if this would work for continuing encounters, though.

Sorry, not much help, just wanted to let you know that you're not alone, and you haven't done anything wrong.
posted by Ender's Friend at 7:46 PM on September 6, 2012

Other people have answered this, so I just wanted to add that If I'm this embarassed, I must have done something wrong, right? is a textbook example of emotional reasoning, see here:

It might be a good idea to ask your therapist to talk about cognitive distortions - just a suggestion.
posted by namesarehard at 8:38 AM on September 8, 2012

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