First Aid For Crushes: 11 Things to do other than “white knuckle it and try not to panic”.


November 24, 2014 by rebelwithalabelmaker

You have, overwhelmingly, said two things to me in the last month.  Firstly, so many of you have told me these amazing stories in response to the Fidelity post, about people dealing with this issue in their own lives.  Such inspiring stories about love and creativity and courage and kindness.  I wish I could print every one of them so people would know how incredibly not alone they are.

Secondly, you called me out for the incompleteness of my story.  You said (rightly so) that I called for tools but then I didn’t include any examples of what those tools could be.  I’m no marriage counselor, but I do have all these stories to draw on.  I have all these examples of beautiful ways people responded to the feelings and situations of their lives.  And so I offer this, to all the people who responded with YOU DIDN’T SAY WHAT THE TOOLS WERE TELL ME THE TOOLS I NEED THE TOOLS RIGHT NOW!!!!

Dear Person Struggling With a Crush,

1.  Remember that you are not alone.  You are not just in good company, you are in broad company.  You are in MOST PEOPLE company.  You must know stories and statistics about affairs.  But remember that MOST of the stories, you don’t hear.  The narratives that end well don’t make the gossip or the news.  Think about those.  I have been hearing story after story in the last month of people who had crushes and who worked it out.  People who spoke with their partners and worked out a strategy to not cheat, and it worked.  People who spoke with their partners and negotiated new ideas of monogamy, and that worked.  People who didn’t speak with their partners because they knew that wasn’t the right thing for their relationship, but who found someone or something they could find to pull them through.  People who had affairs, and who resolved it all in the end.  People who had affairs and it ended their marriage and they realized that it was for the best.  There are so many stories, and a few of them are tragedies, but the vast majority of them are not.  Having a crush outside your marriage is like getting a car.  It is part of life.  It usually ends well (especially if you keep your eyes open).  But when it doesn’t, that’s when everyone hears about it.

2.  Know that this crush probably doesn’t mean what you first think it means.  It doesn’t mean you are a selfish, inconsiderate person.  It doesn’t mean you don’t love your partner.  It doesn’t mean you are not cut out for long term relationships.  It doesn’t mean something is terribly wrong.  And it sure as heck doesn’t mean that this new person is “the one”.  Any of these things could be true, I guess, but the fact that you are having a crush doesn’t count as evidence for any of these things.  Crushes make you reptile brained, so some of your knee jerk reactions are likely to be, uh, mistaken.  Question yourself.  Ask if things are really true, or if it just feels like they’re true.

3.  Remember that this is fragile.  You may not think so right now, because it seems so strong.  Object of Crush scratches their nose, and you are aware of it from three tables away.  Intense, all-consuming attraction is not a sustainable thing.  Any married couple in their second year will tell you that.  But here is the thing.  Crushes are like the flu.  They are common like heck, they feel like they are your entire world when they are there and no matter what you do, they will reliably go away after a while.  Keep reminding yourself of that, do your best to ignore the fluttery stomach and the fever, and wait for the season to pass.

4.  Be aware that crushes make you stupid…  and take some control of that.  There are two things that make you stupid about crushes.  The lust and the fear.  Lust is kind of… there… you can try to use it in constructive ways—to channel it into your current relationship, to remind you of how you felt for your partner in the beginning, even to get your energy up to go clean the house or write a novel… but this only sort of works.  Mostly, you recognize it for what it is—intense, fragile, and not particularly wise.  The fear, you can negotiate with.  Hit it head on.  If it says you don’t love your partner, ask yourself if you love your partner.  If it says you are selfish, ask yourself if you are have a widespread pattern of being selfish.  If it says you are doomed, ask yourself if you have reason to believe this is actually true.  You can discredit the fear.  You can be logical right overtop of it.  And remember, you hold the trump card, because lust reliably dies eventually no matter what you do.  Love, though, has to be killed off or starved to death.

5.  Feed the love.  Draw close to your partner.  Thank them.  Do kind things for them.  Speak as honestly and openly with them as you can.  If you tell them about your crush (and I’ve got to tell you, nearly every person I’ve spoken to about this who told their partner was ultimately glad that they did) draw closer when you do this.  Make sure they know you are being honest with them because you love them and trust them, and you want their partnership and support in dealing with this.  Listen to how they feel—let them react however they need to react.  Appreciate the hell out of them.  Ask them what they want.  Listen to their answer.  Act on it.  Feed the good stuff.

6.  Look for meaning.  This is a good strategy for any situation of cope-ey-ness.  It is the number one task when you are planning a funeral, it is what Viktor Frankl credited for getting him through concentration camps, and it’s what draws people in droves to spirituality and religion.  We are meaning makers.  Why this crush?  Why now?  For me, I tend to get crushes on people who possess a quality I want to acquire in myself.  Another friend tells me that she realized her crush symbolized her need to nurture a wild, not-mother-ey side of herself.  Another friend tells me that he couldn’t find rhyme or reason in the who of his crushes, but did find meaning in the way he and his partner came together to creatively re-think the ideas of monogamy that they’d inherited.  Another friend tells the story of his struggle in almost spiritual terms.  I don’t believe that all things happen for a reason.  But I believe that we have the capacity to make reasons for things… to choose the second half of the sentence and make it a story that has meaning for us.  “I had a crush, and then….”   It’s up to you.

7.  Be an investigator.  Don’t stop at finding meaning in your crush.  Look at other things, too.  Ask if there are connected variables—are there times when the crush is stronger, or weaker?  Ask yourself about your partner—are there times when the connection there is stronger or weaker?  Ask yourself about your general life.  Ask yourself anything and everything, for two reasons.  First, you might learn useful things.  Second, being science-ey is distracting.  It gives you distance.  It gets you one step away from your feelings, which can’t hurt at the moment.  It calms the panic.  Investigative is a better mode to be in right now than fearful–because fear is crippling and sometimes a little erotic. Think about it.  Catwoman is sexy.  Darwin… not so much.  Nothing un-sexes a situation like making charts in your head.

8.  Be as honest and kind as you can.  If you can, talk with your partner.  Care Ful Ly.  At the right time, in the right way, with the goal of saying things hear-a-ble-ey and kindly.  If crushes are like the flu, it is true that you can’t control about getting them, but you can avoid puking on your partner.  Don’t share to unburden, share to protect and nurture an honest relationship in which it is both of you against the ups and downs of life.  If you can’t share your feelings with your partner—if you truly believe that they would be incapable of seeing your experiences as anything other than a betrayal—find other ways to be as honest as you can.  With yourself, with a trusted friend.  And don’t just talk about how you feel, talk about the whole picture… why you feel that way, what you are afraid of, what you are hopeful about.  Be gentle.  So, so gentle, with yourself and others, in this honesty.  Pair it with love and warmth.  Remember that you did nothing wrong in how you feel—but also that your partner did nothing wrong in how they feel about your feelings.  Protect both of you.

9.  Ditch the cultural narrative.  Remember when you would get off of the spinny ride at the fair, and the whole world would be whirling around you, and what felt like the ground kept changing?  Because your inner ear was all wonky?  The only way to keep from falling was to ignore the inner ear.  To just focus on the fact that you know what standing is and just do it.  You know what loving is.  Do it.  Society has stuff to say about who ought to feel what, about why things are happening, about what the ultimate options and potential endings are.  Ignore ALL OF THAT CRAP.  It is wonky inner ear confusion.  Here is what matters:  what works for your partner, and what works for you.  You guys choose.  You choose what the priorities of the relationship are, how it is defined, what is and isn’t okay, and how you care for one another.  If this is a story, it is not a story about the object of your crush.  It is a story about you and your partner.

10.  Look where you want to go, and steer there.  When you are driving and you hit ice and go into a skid heading towards a tree, there is one piece of advice that everyone will tell you.  Look where you want to go, and steer there.  Don’t look at the tree you are avoiding or you’ll hit it.  Look at the gap, and aim for that gap.  We are so much better at aiming for things than avoiding them.  If you want a strong, loving, and deep relationship, don’t worry about how much you do or don’t have a crush on someone outside of it.  Instead, think about having a strong, loving, and deep relationship.  Be strong, be loving.  Share deeply.  Build that stuff.  Focus on it.  Pour yourself into it until the tree is tiny by comparison.

11.  Exercise.  This is always good advice.  It is especially good advice right now, because a) all the chemical crush-ey soup make it somehow a little easier to get motivated, and b) exercising reduces the crazy.  It is good for impulse control, and focus and mood and not dying and really everything that is good.  You are a chemical creature—give yourself a leg up where you can.  You are an interconnected creature—your sexuality is interconnected with everything about you and the whole picture effects each of the parts.  Get happy with the parts.  Get happy with the whole.  Make this what it really is—one challenge in an overall story of strength.

The crush is not the story.  It’s not even one chapter of the story.  The story is not what happens to you, or what is handed to you.  The story is in what you do with what you are given—how you create meaning, make choices, and build what is beautiful and creative and loving.

The real story is about to happen.

5 thoughts on “First Aid For Crushes: 11 Things to do other than “white knuckle it and try not to panic”.

  1. OMG, Liz, I love you to the moon and back. This is so what I needed to read this morning!


  2. Sandi says:

    You should be the counselor. A person can read this, go away thinking, put steps into action and avoid alimony and all those meandering, time-consuming, painful and expensive marital rehabilitation sessions where children’s security can be on the line too. Often not much that’s funny in marital counseling. Such valuable, thought provoking, humorous and articulately said commentary that brings clarity to and can enable forethought for an otherwise confusing and frenetic, romantic nirvana. It seems our marriages somehow, someway can get grounded in practicality. Although long term commitments can be polka dotted by boredom and stress sometimes in a couple’s assuming high responsibility together, there are alternatives to being sucked in by what first appears to be greener pastures. This piece places hindsight in the front seat and allows thinking ahead strategically, and steering a relationship as opposed to being thrown into patching up a mess that truly hurts. We can become reasonable and develop insight looking into our marriage and learn how to hear, respect and support our love one’s feelings. What this approach does, is illuminate the need to understand and own a problem when it is still small without all the ramifications of what he did/she did/he said/she said. Such advice can mean avoiding dishonesty that leads to betrayal with a lack of ability to trust one another, thereby painting an unfortunate portrait of mum and dad for kids to have to cope with, as opposed to learning from constructive, innovative, committed, informed problem solving.

  3. Denise Brownlie says:

    Your wise, insightful words took my breath away. If only I could have read this post when I was thirty and spectacularly stupid. But that was in 1970 …. and my lovely children and I did survive.

  4. Anonymous says:

    These are all good, but alternatively you could have sex with that person, take a shower, and go home to your partner and kids and love them even more knowing that you gave yourself an outlet to the unrealistic ideal of lifetime monogamy. Done responsibly (which includes rarely), it can do wonders for a marriage.

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