Hump Day Crush: On the Receiving End

It’s easy to tell when you have a crush on someone, even if it isn’t easy to admit it.

What’s nowhere near as obvious is when someone has a crush on you. We’re all very good at being distracted by our own crushes (or just totally oblivious, like I usually am) to notice when that crush vibe is coming our way. Looking back, I can point to more than a couple of times I must have been blind to not notice right away–but blind I was and blissfully ignorant of a number of people who were crushing away on little old dorky me.

High school would have been quite different if I had known then what I know now.

Recognizing that someone has a crush on you doesn’t necessarily make things any easier. In fact, sometimes it makes it a whole lot more difficult. Especially if you’re a bit confused about who you are and what you want.

In late March of 1992, I was in my Junior year of high school. I’d just come back from one of the more amazing New York District Key Club conventions of my high school days and was in rehearsal for the school’s production of the musical Mame, my second show for that year.

March always seemed to be a strange time back then. A lot of things happened or started to happen around that time. It may have just been the confluence of conventions and plays, or the change in the weather or any number of other things. Strange things always came of it.

That March wasn’t any different. That was the month I realized I was the object of someone’s crush. That was the month that my own desires and expectations turned on me and sent me into one of the worst depressive spirals I’ve ever experienced.

The realization was simple enough. To quote myself from back then:

I do believe (and this isn’t ego talking) that one of my fellow thespians likes me. Wend [nope, no last names here], a nice girl from what I’ve seen, is showing all the same signs that I picked up from Tracy [the girl I had a bit of a thing with at the recently passed convention]. The laughing at everything I do. The looks. The playful little slaps. Stuff like that. Hey, maybe when I have free time again I can take her to a movie.

Seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? She likes me, I’m not seeing anyone else, we should just go out.

Ah, but in matters of the heart–especially when one is aiming for honesty and self-awareness, things are rarely that simple. Or, at least, they weren’t for me. Four days after that entry quoted above, on 30 March, I realized how much trouble I was in.

The question was asked today whether or not Wendy and I are going out. Now I have to give her an answer tomorrow! Now it’s not that I wouldn’t like to answer “yes” but something in my head is saying “no” and the rest of me seems to be in agreement. I just don’t want to hurt her. I’ve got to think hard…

And so began my appreciation for what it’s like on the other side of a crush. There’s really nothing more difficult that trying to let someone in full crush mode down easy. At least if you’re trying to be a decent person and not hurt them like you’ve been hurt yourself. And back then, I was still stinging from being hurt a lot before by girls I had been crushing on. It was long before I learned how to separate fantasy from reality and accept things as they are.

When I first tried to explain things to Wendy, it was backstage during our Hell Week–the week leading up to our first public performance of the show. Stress levels were high to begin with and I was terribly confused as to what was going on in my own head and heart.

Needless to say, the explanation wasn’t clear. It was further complicated by one of those rare movie-like occurrences that crop up in my life every now and then. As I stood there stammering about how I would love to go out with her but just couldn’t, not able to look for too long at any one time into her eyes as she looked up at me, she closed the distance between us in an instant and kissed me. It was a full-on, all-out passionate kiss. For an instant, it stopped the torrent of noise in my head.

And in that instant of silence, there was a moment of clarity. I knew, without a doubt, that I had no choice in the matter. There was no way in the world I could ever date her. And I was going to have to convince her of that no matter what I had to do.

As I awkwardly extricated myself from the surprise tongue-attack, I tried again to explain that it just wasn’t going to happen. Then I realized I was about to miss my cue on stage and rushed to make my entrance line, head still spinning.

Things didn’t get any less difficult from there on out. She pulled out ever cliche in the book to try to convince me dating her was the right thing to do. “Decide with your heart, not with your mind,” she told me, looking at me with those sweet and longing eyes. I tried as gently as possible to explain that it wasn’t just my mind telling me what to do. I’d explain every day for most of the week that it just wasn’t going to happen.

And then, on the night of the first public performance, things went from bad to worse. As is too often the case in matters of the heart, other people thought they knew best. Someone in the cast told Wendy that I was interested in her. In that instant, any progress I had made to letting her down easy was washed away in a new wave of hope.

It all came to a head after the final performance at the cast party. I was trying to ignore her, hoping her crush would just fade and I wouldn’t have to take any direct action. But, again, other people got involved and tried to force us together.

So I did the only thing I could.

I broke her heart and dashed her dreams. I was mean. I could see the hurt in her eyes, I could feel it echo back at me as I heard my own words. She cried. I walked away and cried myself later. I did other things later, too. I was miserable and not at all happy with myself.

It was one of those nights I’m lucky to have survived.

For the next few months, I couldn’t even look at her without feeling like a terrible person.

But I had learned a lesson in that week, a lesson it took me a few years to fully process and accept.

I learned what it was like to be an unwilling object of a crush. I learned how hard it was to dissuade someone who is in the throes of a crush. I learned to look at my own ways of crushing on others in a different light.

Whenever we begin a new crush–if we want it to be healthy and useful–we need to remember how severe the difference between our wants and reality can be. We may desperately want the other person to love us, to want us as badly as we want them, but we can’t make them feel that way.

In a real, worthwhile relationship, the deep feelings come from somewhere beyond our heads and our hearts. In a real relationship, the part of the Universe within us calls out the part of the Universe in the other. When that happens, there is little we can do to stop it. And if it doesn’t happen, there is little we can do to start it.

Sure, you can have a relationship without that. But I wouldn’t lay odds on it lasting. And if you force yourself into it, you’re not just hurting yourself.

If I hadn’t been hurt before, I would have never tried my best to not hurt Wendy. It was in that attempt at kindness that I realized a lot of my own pain. I learned a lot about myself during that hellish Hell Week. Without taking the time to try to explain to her why I was doing what I was, I wouldn’t have realized it myself.

Sometimes, you have to break a heart so it can become stronger.

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  • fiferjanis

    Completely(?) unrelated to crushing: “Sometimes, you have to break a heart so it can become stronger.” – this is one story about how my fife & drum corps’ logo became a broken heart.

    At one point in the early 90’s, they were at a turning point where the band could really BE something… or just another average parade unit. However some “dead wood” would need to be trimmed if they were to get better.

    There was a huge split in the band that nearly ripped it apart… but we survived and are now arguably one of THE best fife & drum corps in the world (not that there are a lot of us, but there are professional units like Colonial Williamsburg and The US Army 3rd Infantry Old Guard to contend with).

  • Pingback: How to Crush Without Being Crushed » Dealing With It()

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