Crushes can be harmless fun but they can also threaten to up-end our lives. Here’s how to manage the difficult ones

Crushes can be harmless fun but they can also threaten to up-end our lives. Here’s how to manage the difficult ones
  • PublishedApril 15, 2024

Kate had a secret crush for 20 years.

The New South Wales woman was married when she first met her crush at a work function. After that, they would regularly bump into each other at different work or social events.

“Every time we met, there was that absolute spark,” she tells ABC RN’s Life Matters.

Kate’s crush had a particularly happy ending.

“Skip to 20 years later, we were both single … and one thing led to another and now we’re married.”

For Julie, another Life Matters listener, things haven’t worked out so neatly.

She’s been dealing with a difficult crush on a friend that has left her feeling confused and distressed.

She’s also married, and has been trying to work out how to protect both her relationship with her husband and her friendship with the object of her crush.

“I don’t want to hurt my husband. I’m sort of trying to hold on to that,” she says.

“I’m very confused about the feelings.”

She’s sought help from therapists and friends, and has ultimately decided to distance herself from the crush. She felt that, while she was trying to be vulnerable and honest, he wasn’t.

One of their final conversations ended abruptly.

“I just left really quickly. I put my cup of tea down and said ‘I’ve got to get out of here. It’s too intense’.”

From fun feelings that dissipate to enduring romances, crushes have infinite possible endings. So how do you know which should be pursued and which should exist unshared?

‘So glad I drummed up the courage’

Canberra business owner Gabe Trew ran a “secret crush” competition earlier this year, largely promoted through social media. People were invited to share their secret crushes for a chance to win a prize.

It started as a fun way to celebrate Valentine’s Day, and Trew thought he might receive 20 or 30 entries.

Within days, however, there were over 5,000.

More than a month later, they’re still rolling in.

“[The idea of] a secret crush resonates with so many people,” Trew says, of the competition’s success.

“I think it gave people an opportunity to share something that often there’s not really a forum to openly talk about.

“I think people felt seen.”

A man stares into the distance with his hand under his chin as if in thought.
If a crush is occupying all your thoughts, it might help to share it. Just be mindful who you share it with.(Unsplash: Kazi Mizan)

Crushes shared ranged from cute stories about meeting in the street or on a bus, through to being in love with a best friend who doesn’t feel the same.

“We had a lot of stories of hope and happiness and fun, a lot of stories of pain and anguish, and everything in between.”

Because many of the stories came via Trew’s social media messages, he could respond to them — and he did.

“I just met people where they were, really, and I didn’t tread carefully,” he says. 

“I’d offer up the same advice, not as a professional … but just as a human.

“We threw open the secret crush confessionals, it was all on the table. And my position in this was really saying to most people, ‘Just tell them. If it feels great, and it’s a fun crush, and there’s no kind of anguish, tell them. You never know what might happen’.”

One Life Matters listener shared how that approach paid off for her.

When she worked up the courage to share her feelings with the man she’d had a crush on for several years, he was completely taken by surprise. However, soon after that, the two started going for walks and coffees, and then eventually started dating.

“Several months later we got together as a couple and eventually moved in and lived together very happily, until sadly he passed away,” she says.

“But I was just so glad that I drummed up the courage back in the beginning. I would’ve missed out on all of that.”

Trew says holding in feelings about a crush can niggle away at you negatively — something he argues can and should be avoided.

“If you [reveal your crush to someone] they might say, ‘I’m not interested, I don’t feel the same’. They might say, ‘Let’s go on some dates’. They might say, ‘I’m in love with you’.

“I think, to change the entire course of your life, that’s a risk worth rolling the dice on, right?”

Well, not always

Psychologist Juniper Muller takes a slightly different position.

“I would probably be a bit more on the side of stepping lightly, perhaps especially considering what are the risks and benefits — and also the appropriateness of or the reality of the crush,” they say.

“What if a boss has a crush on an employee? That actually might be totally fine to have an internal fantasy of a crush there, but the reality of speaking that out loud, of pursuing it, might be completely inappropriate due to the power relationship.

“So, would I recommend that the boss pursue the crush and confess their love to their secretary who is relying on them for employment and for paying rent? No, I would not. Keep that one a fantasy.”

In other cases, whether to share a crush or not can be a matter of more deliberation.

There is vulnerability and courage in the confession of a crush, and there is also a weighing up of risks, Muller says.

“It’s OK to have crushes in different ways and maybe even pursue them.

“[But] also, there are so many situations in which there could be huge costs and destabilising factors … What would it do to their family if they up-ended everything [for a crush]?”

How to crush a crush

When a crush isn’t just a fun, enjoyable fantasy, you might want to exorcise it from your life.

That’s possible, but it’s likely to take a bit of work, Muller says.

“I would totally recommend doing a bit of therapy around it, perhaps if it’s been a hard one to navigate.”

Muller also recommends “taking personal responsibility around how you relate to your crushes” to reduce the power of a crush if, for example, you would like to stay friends.

She suggests trying to write out the faults of the person you have the crush on, or times when they’ve annoyed you, and giving “emotional space” to those points. 

“And then [think] through, all right, if this person were just a friend, a platonic friend, what would that mean? How would I act towards them? What would our friendship constitute? And what would I be hoping for?

“And that might mean some pretty significant shifts in hope and expectation, from when you’re deep in the throes of the crush phase where there might be big hopes for deeper intimacy or more connection or different things like that.”

Take it one step at a time — remember, Muller didn’t say it would be easy.

“[Do] some of that internal work first, to reduce the intensity of the crush … so that you’re seeing the whole person again.

“You’re seeing their boundaries, you’re seeing their humanity, rather than [an] idealised picture of them.”


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