Crush addict

Adult infatuations can be a life-enhancing thrill

My name is Rosie and I am a crush addict. At university in 1992, my first ever computer passwords were amalgamations of the names of my first ever crushes. There was no way I’d be forgetting them! Those names, and corresponding timetables, were emblazoned into my psyche. A deftly-organised “chance” meeting was … everything. Hours were spent waiting around corners, waiting behind bins, waiting, waiting, waiting…

And now, decades later as a happily married woman, I find myself waiting again…longing and hoping for Facebook likes from a particular fellow comedian. It seems ridiculous to think that something so trivial can radically shift the course and mood of my day. Yet a crush allows you a separate private space to put all the intense feelings that would send your real-life partner running for the hills. So recently I have come to think of these crushes as a healthy and useful addiction, one which has pushed me to be more curious, creative, ambitious and resilient.

I mean, how on earth does anyone get anything done if they don’t have a crush? Surely the greatest motivation of all derives from a knowledge that achieving something great will get the attention of the object of your obsession. You might impress them. You might annoy them. It doesn’t really matter. Momentarily you will exist in their world. What could be better?

One of the first names to be added to my 1990s computer password list was Kate.

The first time I saw her, she was in the college canteen ordering chips and a vegetarian sausage. She wore classic black Doc Martens with the addition of a tiny flower painted on the side in Tippex and had her hair pulled away from her dainty features in a quirky side ponytail. Assessing the company she was in, I figured that she was a feminist. On the spot I decided, “I want to be a feminist, too.”

Those painful, thwarted crushes stretch you intellectually and make you bigger and better

That was it. My student life was now rigidly defined around getting to know this elusive woman. I joined a collective that began to produce a women’s newspaper packed with controversial articles about body image, mental health, sexual violence, periods and wanking. I took part in Reclaim the Night marches and a same-sex mock wedding, staged outside York Minster on a frosty Valentine’s Day. We shivered with the thrill that we were suggesting something so radical, something that we would surely not see in our lifetimes. “Love is not a crime,” we shouted through megaphones. Although my naïve heart was breaking a little as Kate “married” her girlfriend Sharon, I was starting to come alive. I was interested in politics, equality and what was going on in the world.

When Kate stepped down as Student Union Women’s Officer, I decided to stand as her successor. My campaign, with a strong message of involving men in feminism, didn’t go down well with the separatists I’d been so desperately trying to impress. But if I couldn’t have Kate, it was almost as rewarding to irritate her. I was unrecognisably more driven than the feeble, directionless idiot who’d been frozen by lust in the canteen months before.

Reader, I won that election.

Perhaps it was then that I fell in love with the idea of being in love with someone utterly unavailable. Because those painful, thwarted crushes are the ones that stretch you intellectually and make you bigger and better.Psychologist and author Dr Meg Arroll says, “Just like a breakup, a crush can help us to develop psychological strength and resilience. We need to experience some little emotional scrapes in life to develop what I call the ‘psychological immune system’. Just like our physical immune system, psychological immunity needs challenges to grow and mature. Without such interactions, we do not have the opportunity to nurture the coping skills we will need throughout life. A crush or unrequited love helps us know ourselves a bit better if we take the time to reflect and examine what it was about the person, their values, beliefs and interests that was so attractive. Indeed, this is often a fundamental part of our own identity development.” Meanwhile, author and friendship expert Kate Leaver suggests that we should all “have several crushes going at all times” so long as we can hit the right level of intensity: “strong enough that it’s a life-enhancing thrill but not so strong that it becomes all-consuming and strays into unrequited love territory. Getting this right is difficult. But when you do, it’s magic.” She wholeheartedly endorses celebrity crushes too. Hers, on Harry Styles, Taylor Swift, Zendaya and Jonathan Van Ness, help her to celebrate and connect with her passions: “music, dancing, freedom, creativity, gentleness, self-expression, charisma, inclusivity, fluidity, emotional honesty and sequin jumpsuits.” Comedian Margaret Cabourn-Smith is such a fan of crushes that she recently launched a podcast about them. Hilarious and touching, Crushed sees her quizzing the likes of Dolly Alderton, Sara Pascoe, Marcus Brigstocke (and yours truly) about their early infatuations. She says, “I’m coming to the conclusion that fantasy is necessary for us to enjoy and accept reality.” Some of the most memorable stories on the show come from Chris Neill, who convinced his crush Paul to allow him into his bedroom to sit in on his oboe practice for homework, and from Jessica Fostekew, who wrote “I love him” a hundred times on her hand to waft in the face of her English teacher.

Comedian Margaret Cabourn-Smith is such a fan of crushes she recently launched a podcast about them

Is there ever a downside to these compelling unrequited emotions? My psychotherapist friend Liz warns that a crush could be a sign of avoidance, an escape from being present in the here and now and dealing with stuff that needs to be dealt with. Meanwhile many of us LGBTQ folk focused our early attractions on our heterosexual peers, which can exacerbate feelings of inferiority, internalised homophobia and shame… and then makes it tricky to feel comfortable in later life when a partner actually reciprocates our feelings.

Not all the actions I took to burst onto Kate’s radar at university were well-advised. At the end of the first year, I decided to gate-crash an exclusive barbecue by swimming across the filthy university lake. Instead of being hailed as a folk hero, I ended up soaking, stinky and dishevelled. I was escorted from the event very swiftly.

Kate, meanwhile, eventually got married for real… to a man. She now looks back on her time at university as her “political lesbian” phase. Confusing as this may have been, the positives I’ve taken from my painful crushes outweigh any negatives. In the words of Kate Leaver, “if your intention is simply to admire and enjoy someone’s existence rather than, say, to acquire or possess this person in some way, then it’s a gorgeous, harmless exercise in self-discovery and human emotion.”

Right, well, I suppose I’d better go and check my Facebook likes…

Rosie Wilby is the author and podcast host of “The Breakup Monologues” (Bloomsbury)

More Like This

Get a free copy of our print edition

February 2023, Life

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.
You need to agree with the terms to proceed

Your email address will not be published. The views expressed in the comments below are not those of Perspective. We encourage healthy debate, but racist, misogynistic, homophobic and other types of hateful comments will not be published.