The Upside of a Crush—Even If You’re in a Committed Relationship
Written by: the Editors of goop
Updated: July 26, 2022
Crushing on someone (at any age) can feel equal parts awkward and exciting, particularly when you’re in deep, can’t stop thinking about them for the life of you, and/or the subject of your desire feels like forbidden territory—i.e. he/she is a coworker or you’re already in a committed relationship and “shouldn’t” have a crush in the first place. But psychological astrologer Jennifer Freed, Ph.D. argues there’s no harm in harboring a crush; it doesn’t mean you’re reverting to your teenage self or that your current relationship (if you’re in one) is doomed. Freed says that crushes have a lot to tell us about ourselves—she sees them as rooted in our own unmet needs—and that they can actually serve to kick-start our mojo, even if we never act on them. Below, with her writing partner Melissa Lowenstein, Freed explores the meaning of an adult crush, and what to do the next time one strikes.
The Anatomy of a Crush
In the teen years, hormones—along with an intense need for mirroring—create the perfect storm for heart-wrenching attraction. But crushes aren’t just for high school; they have no age limit, and none of us are immune. Eros stretches his cherubic little bow, and, seemingly out of nowhere, someone becomes the object of our fascination—sometimes, to an unreasonable, insatiable degree.
If you’ve ever been in the throes of a crush, you may have come to see your crush as savior-like, and to believe that having this person in your life might solve all your problems. You may have violated your values to pursue your crush, or given more of yourself than is healthy to them because you were desperate to be in their company. Perhaps you neglected real-life commitments to be available for your crush, or you intruded upon others’ lives because your obsession careened out of control.
“Don’t panic, a crush doesn’t necessarily indicate that your current partner is wrong for you.”
These persistent and sometimes destructive infatuations are rooted in unmet needs: They are a forceful combination of the unconscious wishes and desires we have neglected and our desperation to be fully known and expressed. The upside of intense crushes is that they can be a creatively compelling source of growth and self-understanding. They can help us re-connect with a part of ourselves that we have been neglecting (or actively suppressing). They can awaken our libidinal selves or otherwise add excitement, and provide inner space for autonomy in highly relational, structured lives. This holds true even if you have a romantic partner when a crush strikes—so don’t panic, a crush doesn’t necessarily indicate that your current partner is wrong for you.
Let’s look at what constructive directions a lovelorn obsession can present:
You’ve Got a Crush…On Yourself
Crushes often signal a projection of a dormant part of our own psyche—a part that has been buried or suppressed. When we cut something off and compartmentalize it, or turn away from this dormant part to prioritize other aspects of the self, we don’t get enough of whatever that part craves or expresses. The more we try to move away from the unacknowledged part, the more deliciously alluring it becomes—like a freshly baked cookie placed before a child forbidden to eat sweets. The passion and obsession felt for the object of the crush is really a longing for that part of ourselves.
If there is someone in your life who you can’t stop thinking about, reflect intensely on the way you feel around them: What parts of you come alive, as if from a coma? What characteristics or behaviors of that person knock you off your feet? How are those things like you or unlike you?
The person who captivates your imagination and perhaps even sets your body on fire may be pointing to parts of yourself you wish you were more in love with/in touch with. The feelings of emotional arousal a crush evokes strike us like lightning, awakening us to repressed memories and longings—indeed, to our very life force. This is why we may feel like we literally cannot live without the object of our affections.
“Crushes reveal parts of ourselves that we have not courted for a long time.”
If we aren’t fated to find the right fit with the object of our crush (obviously, some crushes do evolve into actual relationships, but most don’t), or if you’re already in an intimate relationship, a crush isn’t a reliable indicator that something is wrong with your relationship. Far too often, when drawn like a meteor to someone other than their partner, people rush to the conclusion that the partner is not fulfilling them. More accurately: Crushes reveal parts of ourselves that we have not courted for a long time. They signal unlived aspects of our full and embodied expression.
Crushes can also help us play out and recognize our own not-so-healthy relationship patterns in ways that are not entirely destructive: In one friend’s case, the ups and downs of her unpredictable connections with her crush fulfilled her longing for someone who was inconsistently reinforcing and unevenly available—like, she realized, her father. Her other relationships were healthy, but some hidden part of her was fulfilled by the inconsistency she felt with her crush.
Adding Excitement, Possibility, and Passion to Everyday Life
Sometimes crushes serve the purpose of enlivening an otherwise committed, devoted domestic life. My friend Laura talked about her three-year crush; how a day was made euphoric if she had contact with him, and so dull if not. Looking back, Laura realized that the sheer energy of the obsession had animated her life with vivid color during a particularly challenging period in her family and professional lives. She was walking the safe sidewalks of home and family in the outer world…and riding the cascading rapids of lows and highs in her fantasy world.
“Being in the thick of a crush can make us feel sexy and beautiful, and can inspire us to enhance our self-care, which in turn makes us feel more appealing.”
In Laura’s case, her crush allowed her to secretly consider, “What if?” and “If only I could…”. A crush can provide a private space for vitality and excitement in a life full of responsibilities that rarely has a moment of complete autonomy.
Being in the thick of a crush can make us feel sexy and beautiful, and can inspire us to enhance our self-care, which in turn makes us feel more appealing. The world can seem more alive—music, nature, sex, and food all become more sensually stimulating when we are awash in the emotional high of a crush. It can point us toward parts of ourselves that want more attention and development. A crush can bring Technicolor to a life that has faded to more dismal hues.
Bring Your Sexy Back
There is no moral wrongdoing in harboring a crush; the problems come when we act them out, possibly against our own values or in ways that harm others. Let the powerful longing for the other turn you toward yourself. Gently allow the part of yourself that you project onto your crush to sit at the table with all your other parts, and to be more fully expressed in your life.
“You may find that your crush serves a purpose you did not predict.”
Entertain the libidinous charge and the heightened energy, but keep directing it back into your own self-exploration and development. If you have a committed romantic partner, bring your sexy back to them and fold it into your partnership. You may find that your crush serves a purpose you did not predict. In helping you live out all the valuable aspects of yourself and in getting your sensual and sexual selves to re-awaken, it may dramatically improve—even transform!—your relationship with yourself and/or a current partner.
Jennifer Freed, Ph.D., M.F.T., author of PeaceQ, is a psychological astrologer who has been teaching and consulting worldwide for thirty years. Freed is also the executive director of AHA! which specializes in transforming schools and communities by focusing on peace-building peer-led initiatives.
Melissa Lowenstein, M.Ed. is a parent of two, stepparent of three, parent educator, and an AHA! core facilitator. She has worked as a freelance writer and editor since 1997, and has contributed to, ghostwritten, and co-authored over twenty-five books on topics including health, parenting, nutrition, medicine, education, and spirituality.