Watching my married friends flirt with each other can feel a little icky sometimes. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s my inner adolescent response. Or maybe I’m embarrassed for them. But I think there’s a fair amount of envy there, too. As I’ve said before, I’m not above the occasional crush myself, though I try as hard as I can to never reveal it (so I never see much reciprocation).
It’s funny how those instincts I learned to mistrust years ago still make themselves heard sometimes. By the time I was in my mid-twenties I’d learned how to smell a relationship disaster a mile away and not go near it. But oh, honey, how the heart still yearns for a little disaster sometimes.
The summer before I met Mr. Black, for example. I was chatting with some gorgeous long-haired hipster in a bar. I asked him about his tattoo and he grabbed me by the shoulders, looked me right in the face with his ice-cold blue eyes and said “No. You’re too hot to talk to,” and walked away. But not for long. He was at my side all night long, equal parts scaring me and driving me wild. I slipped out of the bar when he wasn’t looking and hurried back to my apartment, catching a glimpse of him peeking out the door and looking up and down the street for me as I fled. I got away safely. But part of me still wished I was back there reenacting the honeymoon scene from Secretary with him in some alley. (Okay, so the movie hadn’t been made at the time. But you get the idea.)
Then there was the guy I met in another bar, out on the town for the first time since his divorce and obviously a shattered mess. Overweight, endearingly nerdy. His buddy who’d dragged him out was busy hitting on my friend, so we talked. He was enamored, mistaking my wing-woman friendliness for flirtation. That old metaphor about dancing eyes? This guy’s eyes had the Fred Astaire top hat and cane. He was visiting from DC and kept begging me to visit him there sometime, all but getting out a calendar to schedule the date. Pathetic. But intoxicating. I resisted, but the temptation was huge. This guy adored me just for showing up and talking to him. And who doesn’t love to be adored?
These potential hook-ups would have been instantly regrettable, and I’m glad to have avoided them. In real life, I’ve managed to pick a guy who’s just the right balance of exciting and sane, a guy who still tingles my toes after 11 years. I’ve avoided the angry ones. I’ve avoided the ones who need to be rescued. But in crushland, I still have the worst taste in men. Something in me still craves a bad relationship.
And a crush is a relationship of sorts. A very one-sided imaginary one, but a relationship nonetheless. You see the person now and then, have these little innocuous interactions, then go off to derive a subtext of yearning and closeness that may or may not actually be there. The romantic part takes place in your mind, but it doesn’t work without actual feedback; actual interaction with the person.
As I mentioned in my other “crush” post, I try to avoid flirtation (and sometimes friendly conversation or even eye contact) with my crush objects because I’m so paranoid of the little cartoon hearts and singing birds that surely must be flying around my head. How dreadfully embarrassing. Also, I don’t want anything to actually happen. It’s just a mild diversion rooted firmly in the imagination. A sort of “chick lit” role playing game.
So why even bother with it in the first place? It’s just fun to imagine being desired, I think. Not desired in a “honey I love you” way, but in a thrillingly dysfunctional “oh I need you desperately” way. All I want is to skirt around the danger zone for a quick thrill, but I don’t actually want the real drama, the real lows, the real business of another person’s neuroses and unfamiliar perspective muddying things up. I know. It doesn’t make much sense to me either. But there it is.
It’s like being a recovering addict trying to recapture the best, most transcendent drug-love moments in your life without actually putting the poison in your body. Impossible. Luckily, a sexy, super-smart, aging hipster geek of a husband is my anti-drug, as is my busy life among these tiger-cub children of ours. I barely need the hit anymore. But I need it a little bit, so I seek it in safe places where there’s no chance of it actually touching me.
My most recent crush was on the periphery of a circle of acquaintances. We’ve only spoken to each other a few times; I rarely even see him. But somewhere along the line, he captured me with his vague sense of loneliness and sad sense of humor. And those occasional TMI references to his missing sex life…kind of lame in itself, but so intriguing to see him clumsily seek an acceptable way to express some version of desire. I wanted to befriend him, but the opportunity never arose. Then one day he showed up and I just about died, suddenly plowed down by the speeding crush truck.
It’s been a lovely occasional distraction. But it’s over now. Even in crushtown, there has to be enough substance there to sustain the fantasy. There has to be a real possibility that this person might actually like you; that this could actually happen if only you let your willpower slip. And if you start to gather too much evidence that there’s no basis in reality for this crush, that it actually is 100% your imagination…well, that’s when the imaginary break-up has to happen.
My crush, it turns out, has a crush on someone else. He’s obviously wild about her. He looks at her with the tap-dancing eyes, the swirling cartoon hearts. The pitch in his voice goes up when he speaks to her and the lame jokes come at a rapid pace. I’d be deadly embarrassed for him if I wasn’t so crushed. Of course, she is just as oblivious to him as he is to me. It’s a regular freakin’ “Twelfth Night” around here. And it’s time for me to move on.
If you’ve been floating along on the dream that some guy likes you, and then you find out it was all your own fabrication – even if you never actually wanted to consummate the crush, even if you never actually liked the guy that much in the first place – it still feels like the rug’s been pulled out from under you and you’re hitting the floor with an ugly thud, shocked by the stark realization that you are not the one he wants. And no, it’s not that I really wanted the guy in a real life sense anyway. I really want the one I already have.
What hurts about this is something I can’t quite pinpoint. Even in imaginary crush world, it sucks to be passed over, I guess. And I will miss this one. It was so easy, so in-air-quotes, so dependably and conveniently in the background, so easy to imagine meeting him on the astral plane. Sigh.
But there’s no point anymore. And really, I ought to be getting over this whole “crush” business by now and just read some nice Twilight books or something. My husband kicks all these losers’ asses, anyway. That’s why he gets to have me in real life.
Take us out, Murray.