Why can’t adults have crushes? Matthew Rozsa explores this semantical question.
Let’s talk about crushes.
I recently noticed that when adults discuss their romantic feelings, the term “crush” is almost never used. When it does appear, there is almost always an apologetic undertone to it – people will qualify their crushes with adjectives like “schoolboy” or “schoolgirl” (as in, “I have a bit of a schoolboy crush on you”), or will in some other way indicate that they feel the emotion they’re displaying is childish.
To understand why this might be the case, I decided to break down the two opposite extremes of romantic sentiment:
- Love: There is no emotion more meaningful than this one. Love can come in many forms and be directed toward all types of people – family members, friends, teachers, colleagues, and so on – but romantic love is particularly special because it’s the most intimate and vulnerable connection two human beings can form with each other. My personal theory has always been that love, at its core, is a human being’s attempt to cope with the inevitability of death. No one can know for certain what happens when we shuffle off this mortal coil, but the knowledge that there is one person who chose you to be their ultimate partner in life alleviates the terrible loneliness that accompanies a true appreciation of our finite conscious existence.
- Lust: When you get right down to it, this is basically just a craving. Like hunger or exhaustion, it is the human body’s wave of indicating that one of its primordial physical needs isn’t being met. The main difference between lust and hunger or exhaustion, of course, is that the former isn’t technically required for survival (you can theoretically spend an entire lengthy lifetime as a virgin), whereas you literally need food and sleep to remain alive. Nevertheless, we are programmed to want sex, and the felt need is a very real one.
Having a crush, to me, is the exact middle ground between these two poles. Unlike lust, a genuine crush entails deep affection for the other individual’s personality traits – their interests, sense of humor, ability to carry on a conversation, various life philosophies, etc. There is an intangible but unmistakable chemistry that two people develop when one or both have a crush on the other, a mixture of bantering and more direct expressions of endearment.
By contrast, love only exists when two people have known each other deeply for a very long time. It is possible to be in love with someone who doesn’t reciprocate that emotion, but I’d argue it isn’t possible to love someone “from afar.” If you don’t know that individual as well as you know your best friends – and through qualitatively and quantitatively substantial interaction, rather than mere speculation as to what they’re really like – than any legitimate affection is at best a crush and at worst mere lust gussied up through rationalizations to seem like more.
The best part of a crush, though, is that you can do anything you want with it. If you’re in love with someone, the sheer intensity of the emotion usually compels you to some sort of proactive gesture – or, barring that, an existence of terrible internal torment. By contrast, if what you feel is merely lust, then you probably shouldn’t pursue a romantic relationship; consensual sexual encounters are fine, but anything more involves deluding yourself into believing that horniness is interchangeable with love (an assumption that rarely ends well for either party in a relationship). When you have a crush, though, you are on the fence about your feelings – and that means you can either ignore them without fear of subsequent regret or act on them without worrying that you’re being insincere. When you think about it, having a crush is the best place to be if you’re single and looking.
In short, it seems like the term “crush” has an obvious application to adult dating life. It isn’t used particularly often because of the juvenile association, but that doesn’t mean we don’t still need it. That’s why I’m going to continue using it whenever I feel it fits (and like most adults who date, I’ve developed many crushes over the years), and hope others will catch on.