We start with discussions about whether we will still be podcasting in 30 years time, how much MJ likes Red Dwarf, Derby County winning a game of football and then how to deal with crushes.
Today we’re talking about having crushes on people when you can’t do anything about it. For example if you work together, or they (or you) are in a monogamous relationship, or where there is a power dynamic for either of you which would make it impossible for it to be consensual or if one of you is a dead hologram on a TV series and you are a school kid.
We’re also going to talk about the idea of crushes too. The feeling of a crush can feel really nice. It’s enticing, intoxicating and tingly. But we are being a bit down on them — why?
What we are taught about romantic relationships is that they always start with these kinds of crushy feelings. In fact we are taught then when we are ‘really’ in love that we should have these feelings — see the expressions ‘madly in love’ or ‘head over heels’ or ‘falling in love’ or ‘I can’t help falling in love’ etc. This takes us away from the idea of relationships being intentional which we think is probably not great.
So this means that people can pay more attention to these ‘crushy’ feelings than actually whether this relationship is one they want to be in or whether it is healthy or consensual. Justin talks about the number of young people who have said to him IRL or online via Bish that they are deeply in love with someone but also being treated really badly.
Because these crushes are so powerful and we are told that this is ‘real love’ we are encouraged to act on them — either to get them out of our minds or to make a relationship happen by seducing or wooing them. This means that we can treat people super non-consensually, like in rom coms, such as going to someone’s house with a stereo, some placards and pretend to be a carol singer.
This stuff comes up in seduction communities but also in awful advice books like The Rules or Men are From Mars (I can’t even bring myself to type the rest of that). Where in order to win the person over we have to change ourselves to be what the other person wants. bell hooks talks about this and says that the one thing that gets in the way of love is when people are not able to be authentic, real, consensual and equal with each other and just become what the other wants.
This crush idea overlaps with concepts like ‘the honeymoon period’ or ‘new relationship energy’ which is the fizzy exciting bit at the beginning of a new relationship. That in itself is the script for romantic relationships that we need to question. People can be under so much pressure to keep that fizzy period alive that it can put extra pressure on the relationship. However if we were able to have more slow burn, big gear, low cadence relationships (cycling reference) then we can actually keep a nice sustainable level of excitement and newness all the way through — particularly if our relationships are spacious.
The idea that crushy feelings can only happen in romantic relationships is kinda sad too. MJ talks about their crushy feeling from meeting their mate and wonderful co-author Alex (as heard in our gender podcast) and how amazing that is.
So it’s not the crush in and of itself that is the problem — but it’s the foregrounding of the crush feelings above everything else that is the issue. And of course, it’s society (and rom coms) that are to blame for this.
But let’s also unpack what a crush is psychologically and biologically
If we think about who people have crushes on: it might be someone that they are physically attracted to; they might have a moment of chemistry that reminds them of someone in a past relationship; or we may have a crush on someone that reminds us about a side of ourselves we might be suppressing; it might be a celebrity. It’s worth thinking about the place that that crush occupies for us psychologically as well as socially. Really the crush is about the person having it, rather than the person they are crushing on. This might give us some useful ideas about why we may be holding onto a particular crush and how that makes us feel.
Crushes may also be about filling a gap that isn’t there in your own life right now. What is it that you are yearning for at the moment; to be more creative, to be supported, for excitement? If you think of all the reasons that people might have crushes and then ask ‘which of these can only be achieved by having a crush’ then it may start you thinking about why you are holding onto a crush and how you might find other, more valuable, ways of having these feelings.
There’s also the biology of what a crush is. The work of Barbara Fredriekson is useful here as it really shows how quickly love can come and go. The oxytocin (not the love hormone but more of a tuning in hormone) kicking off in the brain which helps our: vagus tone (regulating heart beat), pupils dilating, adjusting to the frequencies of the other person. All of this helps us to be in that moment with someone, to tune into them. Interestingly this can mean that we can feel tremendous love or hatred to them. Also it means that we can ‘fall in love’ (or hate) several times a day (if we wanted to).
As Ed Yong writes here, there’s a lot more research to be done in this area before we really understand what oxytocin does and doesn’t do. However, for the purposes of this piece, this forms the bio of the biopsychosocial and thus our jigsaw is complete. We have:
- society telling us the importance of these feelings in relationships,
- we have our own sense of lack or yearning which means we may hold onto them,
- and we have a series of biological processes happening which actually happen all the time without us having to act on them.
So how to deal with having a crush? Just practice feeling the feelings rather than act on them. Experience and enjoy the nice feelings of having a crush and then waiting for them to just go away (like waves). If you can accept what a crush is rather than make it happen then it’s a lot easier to deal with.
If you like having crush feelings you can do this in a more sustainable way with people you are already in relationships with. Try it with a mate, sitting over a drink or food, being really present and enjoying their company. Telling stories about each other or talking about how you met.
© Meg-John Barker & Justin Hancock