I find myself in an interesting position. I’ve just recently graduated from college, and in the morass that is post-school bullsh*t, I need some advice with regard to my (admittedly near-nonexistent) love life.
See, I have a friend – let’s call them Alpha – who I got reasonably close with in my last year of school, and we have a lot of the same interests (and issues) in common – we’re both tabletop nerds with heavily self-deprecating senses of humor, we both suffer from some pretty severe anxiety/stress/upwardly f*cked brain chemical stuff, and we both have a love of political-heavy sci-fi (we have a decently long-running inside joke about House Atreides).
In school, I acknowledged, “hey, they’re real attractive,” but any kind of feelings on my part were muted because A. They were in a very nice relationship with a really great guy and B. any kind of romance/sexual exploration was not on my list of things to solve in school, and my weight and self-esteem issues would have made dating in general unlikely anyway.
But things kind of changed on my part after a mutual friend (and my roommate for half of college) passed away during cancer, and Alpha and I interacted quite a bit and caught up in the aftermath. They and another friend who lives close by said they would be coming to my general area over their break, so we made plans to meet up.
The two showed up, and we had a lot of fun playing tourist in my hometown. I introduced them to my friends, among them a guy we shall call Bravo. Bravo is, shall we say, the flirty type, and so is Alpha; they hit it off pretty quick on that front, and while it didn’t really go anywhere, in the end, it was the kick in the nuts that said to me “Oh, sh*t, I’m really into Alpha. Like, a lot more than I thought.”
Things get even more complicated after the visit, when, afterward, we start confiding in each other over text. This is my real problem; you’ve probably gotten the usual “don’t want to take The Leap and ruin the friendship” line a quadrillion times, but I think in this case it’s justified – we’ve low key become something of a shoulder to lean on for each other and a confidant, with them telling me they have an easy time talking to me and confiding. A lot of the stuff is a bit heavy, but while I’m not going to share any of it, I will say that I don’t think any of it could be considered “flirty.” It is, however, something that I really do value, and has helped my depressed a$$ on more than one occasion, and I like to think vice versa.
They also accepted my invitation to come to hang out with me and my friends on New Years’ Eve, and when I was later in a bit of a self-loathing slump, they pointed out that they were literally blowing off their family to come to see me and my friends on NYE, which kind of shocked me in hindsight.
I suppose the summary of my issue is – I’m crushing hard on a friend who I really want to keep as my friend, and whose support and affection means quite a bit to me. They’ve also had a lot of troubles at school, and have been burned before, so I don’t want to accidentally throw any further fuel on that fire and accidentally “Nice GuyTM” them or something, I just want to be there to help provide emotional support when needed. What’s a nerd to do?
Badly Conflicted Atreides
Here’s the thing about crushes, BCA: they’re kind of like fire. Some of them burn like a star and some of them are a low flame. Some burn out quickly and some will continue to burn like smoldering coals until something causes it to flare up again.
But regardless of the intensity or the duration, all crushes and attractions need fuel to keep it going. Part of what makes a crush – especially an awkward or inconvenient one – linger for so long is that you keep dumping fuel on them. Sometimes that fuel is the fantasies about dating them – ranging from grade-school behavior like constantly doodling their name to thinking about what it would be like to be in a relationship with them. Sometimes the fuel comes in reinforcement, doing things like constantly checking their Instagram or Facebook feed and looking for thirst traps or evidence that they’re single again. And, paradoxically, sometimes that fuel comes from trying to squeeze those feelings away or obsessing about how goddamn inconvenient it is to have a crush that you don’t really want.
The commonality between all these behaviors is that you’re focusing on the emotions and the feelings of the crush. You’re letting it set up space in your head, rent-free. Even when you’re trying to force it away, all you’re doing is constantly reinforcing the idea of “I have feelings for this person.” And to make matters worse, we as a culture don’t really have any sort of narrative of “well, I feel this way but it’s no big deal.” Almost everything we hear about crushes and pants-feels for people are either “It’s awful and you have to repress them” or “yeah, you need to do something about this otherwise it will haunt you forever.”
But a feeling isn’t an obligation, any more than arousal is a mandate. Feelings are just feelings and you can choose to just let them be.
So here’s how you let that inconvenient crush go. First: stop obsessing. Part of what keeps it so at the forefront of your brain is that you worry about what this means. It doesn’t mean anything; it’s just a feeling. So… feel it. Let the sensations of it flow through you like a stream. Don’t try to dam it up, don’t try to divert it. Just… feel it. And as you feel it: note it and name it, like you were noting a plant or a particular scent on the wind. “Oh hey, looks like I’ve got a crush on Alpha. Ok. Anyway, back to what I was doing.” The simple act of noticing it, feeling it and accepting it makes it less of this monumental THING that looms large in your consciousness and more of just one more piece of sensory data. Giving it a name deprives it of its titanic importance. It gives you perspective and distance and allows you to shuffle it along without dwelling so much on it that it becomes distracting.
It’s like any sensation. Your brain has only so much bandwidth to process signals, so once it decides something hasn’t changed, you’ll quit feeling it in order to free up space. Just as you eventually stop noticing a smell or the way your chair feels underneath your body, the feelings of that crush will simply just… not be as immediately noticeable until you devote more conscious attention to it.
And because you’re able to just notice this crush without losing your sh*t over it… you deprive it of fuel. You don’t feed the attraction with your attention and you don’t intensify it by trying to compress it and lock it away. You just let it burn itself out in its own time and at its own pace. That may be a couple of weeks. That may be a couple of months. But it will fade. In time, it’ll just be one more quirk of your friendship with Alpha, something that the two of you can laugh about years down the line.
Previously published here and reprinted with permission from the author.
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