Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Ghost Of Crush-Mas Past

Years ago, when I still read Vice magazine (is that still a thing? I feel like its moment in the sun has passed a long time ago, but like with Teen Vogue, just because I move out of something's sphere of influence or interest doesn't mean it just, like, ceases to be), they published a great piece called "The VICE guide to being Totally Crushed Out!!!" I just re-read it, and while the whole dirtbag/cocaine thing is totally played out, they raise some great points. For example, cunnilingus? Terrific! Telling all your friends about your silly crush? Golden! Dammit, Vice, sometimes you get it right. But I'm still mad at you for teaching my generation of women that the best we could do for boyfriends were bassists with questionable hygiene who would eventually cheat on us, and that stability, respect, and not living in a flophouse was somehow for losers.

But crushes, man. I wasn't very awesome at high school - I made the mistake of loving every single boy except for the ones who were a) nice to me or b) into me, so I spent a lot of time crushing on unattainable dudes. They were unattainable for a number of reasons - no common friends, no common hobbies, no interest in dating a shy, squirrely weirdo like myself. I ruled at having crushes - thinking about them all the time, imagining talking to them, imagining dating them. None of this ever came to any kind of fruition: I was shy and weird and so unconfident that I was basically radioactive. I had to watch as my crushes dated other girls, girls that I still think were badly matched to these guys, but seventeen year old boys are easily seduced by pretty girls, even if they're dumb or mean or both. Some forty-seven year old guys are like that too, but thankfully, most men grow out of it.

I eventually grew my shyness and started talking to boys, and to my everlasting surprise, they talked back. I've dated, seduced, been seduced, and had boyfriends. I'm happy to admit that, even though we've been dating for months, I'm still totally crushing on my boyfriend. Even though I like him, and love him, there's a small corner of feeling that is reserved for what's commonly known as SQUEEEE! The excitable part of my brain that lights up at sugar and videos of kitties on the internet also goes bananas for my boyfriend. Go figure.

I recently saw one of my high school crushes, and by "saw", I don't mean the grown-up usage where you chat idly for a few minutes and then say how nice it was to see each other and move on. I mean "saw" as in, I saw him through the plate-glass window of my favourite burrito joint, but did not work up the emotional stones to even say hi. I stayed outside, fussing unnecessarily with my bike, and watched as he jotted down some notes in a Moleskin (pretentious!) and waited for his dinner. He was wearing wire-rimmed glasses and a wedding ring, and when I lurched inside to pick up my burrito, it was as though I was a teenage kid and all my confidence was gone.

I felt ridiculous as I pedaled away, but the truth is, I wasn't a confident young person at all, and sometimes, ghosts can be too weird to process, especially in the moment. I had no idea he even lived in Toronto, let alone had some proximity to my lifestyle. Oh god, what if my burrito joint is his burrito joint? Horrors. I would want to be all smooth - oh, so you're married? How's that going? He dated pretty, skinny, fragile-looking, artsy girls in high school, and part of me wants to know if he married some thick-ankled farm girl from Manitoba who could hoist him above her head without even unraveling her braids. I know he didn't.

Now that we're older, wiser (?) and definitely some of us are married, "the crush" has taken on a more fraught meaning. Does the presence of both a partner and a crush mean that one negates the other? Can we have crushes on people we're not involved with? Isn't that, like, cheating? Or doesn't it necessarily lead to cheating?

No. Idiot. Crushes are normal and healthy - it's not like I expected my boyfriend to quit talking to females when we started dating, and there are interesting, magnetic women out there. Fantasy is a normal thing - we do it when we're dating (what if we move in together someday?) and when we're settled (what's the story with the barista with all the tattoos?) Crushes allow us to examine things we like about our partner - for example, most of my crushes are into music, and it turns out I like music too - and what we wish we had. Crushes on marathon runners speak to a desire for your girlfriend to be dedicated; crushes on comic book inkers highlights a wish that your boyfriend was more creative. But real, grown-up love accepts our girlfriends, boyfriends, husbands and wives for the people they are, and also acknowledges that crushes are idealized. I can crush on the bearded, burly bike mechanic because hey, I'll never have to see him after he's downed nine shots and thrown up in a cab, or when he's been petty with a waiter. I'll never have to break it off or fall out of crush with him - I'll just be distracted by a new crush.

We all grow out of our crushes - either because we start dating them and that crush becomes filtered through other emotions (love is basically 100-proof crush, right?), or we get to know them and find out they're unbearable wankers, or we befriend them and their dorky human nature outshines the imaginary weddings we've planned in our crazy heads. Seeing old, stale crushes is like trying on clothes that used to fit you, years ago, but that aren't really your style any more. They're slightly unpleasant, because they can bring back that taste in your mouth; the taste of being young, shy, nervous and lonely. Who needs it? Crushes are best served fresh. Some of them might stick to your ribs, but they're usually the romantic equivalent of fast food: cheap, easy and best quickly forgotten.

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