I’ve been thinking about crushes a lot lately, and about the nature of platonic, romantic, and sexual relationships. I’ve been through a string of small heartaches lately—heartaches that involved the ending of potential relationships of varying descriptions. Each one ended a slightly different way, but at the end of the day all I am left with is the simple fact that they ended, regardless of how the post-mortem would be characterized from different viewpoints.
This morning I had one of those famous shower thoughts. As I was waking up with the hot water pouring over me, it occurred to me that each one of my breakups (we’ll just call them breakups for the sake of ease of explanation) could have been the result of me not being a good fit for the person who ended the relationship. That’s completely understandable and normal. However, as I thought about it more, I realized that in each equation—if it was the case that I was not the right person—that maybe it was because we are taught that the only way to be in a relationship with a person is to be in a relationship with the whole person—body, mind, and soul as it were. That we are supposed to look for “the right one”, and that we are looking for them to fulfill all of our checkboxes. All you have to do is look on a dating app to see the checklist, written in various forms: the right look, the right personality, the right habits, the right lifestyle, the right philosophy, and so on. If you don’t meet any of those requirements, well then, it’s just not going to work.
But what if we started looking for relationships that just tick some of the boxes?
It can be easy to see non-monogamous people as “wanting it all”; in fact, I have faced this very accusation from people whose opinions I value. You polyamorous people are ridiculous, it was said; you want it all. You aren’t content with finding the right person, no. You have to find more right people for you.
Any ethically non-monogamous person will tell you that it doesn’t work like that, that this is not what it’s all about, but it’s hard to explain why.
Friends? Or more?
A few hours after my shower thought today, a friend posted something on Facebook that got me thinking. It was a screenshot of a Tweet (something that often happens on Facebook). It reads “i think we subconsciously undervalue platonic love and intimacy from our friends bc society puts so much emphasis on finding and having romantic love. like idk about you but i wouldn’t be shit without the unending love and support of my friends.” This was posted by a user named necromanclng back in July of 2021.
I think this sentiment, that we don’t value friendships as much as romantic partners, is directly a product of toxic monogamy culture being the default (ownership, possessiveness, the “ideal” relationship being marriage with kids, and so on). Part of why I’m so relieved to finally have come to terms with ethical non-monogamy is because you start to deconstruct all of these things, and I think it’s possible to have, for example, a relationship with someone you only like to go to the movies with, and that’s all you do; and maybe you hold hands at that movie, or get butterflies when you get a drink afterwards and talk about the movie you just saw, but it ends there; or a drinking buddy who you make out with once in a while, or even on the other end of the spectrum someone who is purely a fuckbuddy and not someone you really want to like, go shopping with, or discuss world events… I think all of these things are okay and all of them are valid forms of relationship. Is it platonic? These are the situations where the language we use feels inadequate. The ENM and poly communities just end up using “partner” which is more inclusive, but does the other person feel that way? If you introduced someone you went on a couple of dates with as ‘your partner’ would they raise their eyebrows? The more and more I think about the few people I know who are true relationship anarchists, the more I start to get it (even though I feel that relationship anarchy is still a bit too unstructured for me). It’s all a lot to think about.
Later on tonight, after my friend’s Facebook post got me thinking, her sister (this is a family of great thinkers) Zoë posted something in the same vein: She simply said, “Tell me about your crushes, dammit”. My instinct was to just glibly and quickly fire off the response “Everybody, dammit! I have a crush on everyone!’ but of course that’s not true. I do have crushes on people (quite a few if I’m being honest), so I responded a bit more thoughtfully, saying simply that many of the people I have crushes on are, to the best of my knowledge, either unavailable or uninterested. But that got me thinking about the nature of those crushes, so I’ll say this: Thanks for the writing prompt, Zoë.
You asked, Zoë …
I have a crush on a former coworker right now; she is a writer and a fitness coach and a travel blogger. I’ve found myself inspired by her consistent output of quality content, and recently told her how much she has driven me to stop procrastinating and start writing more. I actually did tell her that I have a crush on her, because I’m at that stage in my life where I just put it out there and don’t play games. Is the feeling mutual? Doubtful; I really don’t think I’m her type, and besides she is across the entire country living in a conversion van and going on serious hiking adventures almost daily. That is not a person I could keep up with, but it leads me to wonder: if I did tick any of her boxes, which ones would they be? Would there be even one? It’s an intriguing thought.
I also have a crush on another person; a non-binary sex worker who lives states away and is a lot younger than me, and who is also in a relationship. The age factor is such that I should not have a crush on them, but we all know how this works by now: can’t tell your dumb heart nothin’. They know how I feel and they know which boxes they tick. Do I tick any of their boxes? Maybe some. Is it enough to be considered a ‘relationship’? Maybe by some definitions, not by others. It’s complex and fun and strange, and I think that’s the best part—the journey and all that.
I have a crush on a model; in the past I would use the term “out of my league” but I think that term is also rooted in toxic monogamy. I recently decided to try an experiment where I paid her for an online version of what’s called “GFE” or “girlfriend experience”, and she is very good at it. She messages me daily, she asks about me, she shows me genuine attention. I think online GFE is very interesting, because it removes layer upon layer of pretext that one would normally experience with traditional dating, and just sweeps it all away and just jumps straight to the “Good morning! I hope you slept well, what do have going on today?” level. The transactional nature of it is, in some ways, conducive to more intimacy than “vanilla” dating because there is a level of roleplay involved, but it’s not fantasy, and it quickly becomes genuine. When I ask her how her day is going or what projects she has coming up or what struggles she is facing, there is nothing fake about that. I genuinely care. And I know she does too. It’s very strange territory, but it’s a wildly fun experiment and has given me a lot to think about (and to write about!). The interesting part will be to see where the GFE “ends” and what comes out of that. Platonic friendship at the very least, but who knows? Maybe there are some more boxes to be ticked at the end of this particular journey.
I know this is going into cheese territory, but I also have a crush on my wife. I think that it’s important to draw the distinction between being deeply in love with her but also having a crush on her because I think those aspects of our relationship are genuinely different, and this goes back to my checkbox ruminations. I recently experienced those tingly crush sensations when we bought a new car together. Her childlike glee, and barely contained “I’m trying to be cool here but I love my new car” facial expressions have been so cute and fun to experience. I’ve also been watching her navigate some of her own relationship stuff and it’s so fascinating to me that two people who know each other as intimately as we do can suddenly shift gears into talking about each other’s love lives as two close friends would. I have a crush on her when she goes hiking and pushes herself beyond what she’s comfortable with because it inspires me to want to push myself so that I could maybe do those things with her someday. Also she’s so damn cute. Ugh.
I have several more crushes, but they are all in various states of potential energy; some exciting, some absolutely hopeless, some wistful and full of happy memories, some bittersweet, some legitimately painful. Much of my emotional energy lately has been spent on my various crushes. The kinetic poetry of all of this is delightful, exhausting, and thoroughly invigorating. Zoë’s plea to her friends to tell her about their crushes is completely understandable because this is the most human we get. We’re beautiful when we’re in various states of love, lust, like, vibe, crush, whatever you want to call it. When even one of those boxes gets ticked, we’re at our absolute best. I think ultimately that’s what we’re all after, anyway. We’re all just looking to see if maybe, just maybe, we can put a sly grin on someone else’s face.
There’s no point in hiding it; you likely have a crush on someone out there. Go ahead, tell them. You never know where it could go or what boxes you might check.