As I’ve said before, I’m fast and loose with my crushes. I have had crushes since I was a little kid and for me they seem normal. Often, they are quiet, one-sided, and unrequited. Other times, it’s a mild, passing fancy and there’s really not anything adulterous in my mind (as far as I know, none of my crushes have been married, accept for a celebrity or two). Sometimes they are wild and long and heartbreaking. Sometimes, for me, a crush is just an interest and an attachment, but we won’t quibble with the details. I won’t embarrass or name my crushes, but in honor of a quickly approaching Valentine’s Day, here are a few stories of my crushes and some of the adventures of my heart.
1. The flirty high school crush. Throughout most of seventh and eighth grades, I had a crush on a certain boy who was a junior and senior in those years. Many girls in my class picked out an older boy for her crush. For some, they developed into real and long-term love. For others like me, it was an interesting diversion during the five minutes between classes and it made track season all the more enjoyable. My crush knew I liked him and he would seek me out to say hello or sometimes just toss his head back in that irresistible nod to me. Highlights of the crush include: a long conversation while I was helping decorate our class float for homecoming, his football injury when he asked me to come into the locker room to talk to him (yes, he was fully clothed and I was in the 8th grade), and numerous track practices where we’d chat while waiting to run 200s and 400s. He was popular and I was not, but he was kind and flirted just enough to raise my hopes, but not enough to break my heart. I enjoyed the attention and the thrill and the safety of knowing that nothing was ever going to happen. I learned that you can be kind even when you don’t return the feelings.
2. First kiss and long distance. I fell in love, not just into a crush, with the boy who gave me my first kiss. He was a good friend of a classmate and his grandparents lived in our small town, so he came to visit in the last week of summer before eighth grade. He was in town for our county fair and I met him at the parade. We spent the entire day talking, and despite the fact that he was introduced to all the other almost-eighth graders, he stayed with me. We flirted and got to know each other, sharing hopes, dreams, favorite music, and pet peeves. We rode a friend’s horse and we hung out all day long in the shadows of the fair grounds. He asked me to the carnival, and somehow I was able to convince my mother that it was not a date. He held my hand and we kissed in the mirrored fun house. Ahh, the delirium of late summer and first love. We hung out the rest of the weekend, holding hands and talking, sneaking in kisses and hugs like breaths of fresh air. It was a perfect courtship, other than the fact that we parted at the end of the weekend. He returned to the opposite corner of the state and summer ended. We didn’t have the day-to-day realities to deaden our young romance, just time and distance. He called me on Sundays, 10 minutes was the allowed length of our phone calls because of the expense of long distance (in the days before cell phones and constant connection), for a month. It ended sometime in November; it was sweet and sad for both of us as we said goodbye in junior high scribbled love letters. He was kind and cool and smart and funny and generous and cute and so polite. He came back to town, but we never quite renewed our romance. It was a lovely time and I’m so grateful to him for being the first love and one who never broke my heart. Years later, we found each other as Facebook friends. He’s still as cute as he was when we were 13. Yes, I’ve had fantasies that we’ll meet again as adults and that the remnants of first love will be the seeds of a long-term adulthood relationship. It might have to start with long distance calls on Sundays, as we live in the same state, but still in opposite corners.
3. College crush, crushing love. I developed a crush on the boy who was the leader for the outdoor orientation trip. I loved his wild ponytail and the way his skinny toes fit into his rubber boating sandals. He was loud and outrageous and then shy and funny and quiet and mellow. He knew more about natural history than anyone I had ever met then or since. He identified birds and lichen and worried about spring wildflowers after a late frost. He taught me the J-stroke for canoeing and the best way to stuff a backpack. The crush from autumn eventually led to a full-blown college romance in the winter, along with sleepovers and the sensitivities of big and deep love. His graduation meant sporadic long distance calls and letters in the halcyon days before e-mail struck the dorms like a disease. Timing was part of our demise, but probably also a lack of compromise. He was older with a degree and I still had three years of college left. Who would move? He hitchhiked across the country to visit me at Christmas, my mom playing chaperone to a romance that had grown unguarded and unbounded. We let each other go that spring a year after the romance had bloomed; he told me I would find something better. I longed for him for another year, partly because I liked the melodrama of a long-a-way love and because I didn’t want to admit that maybe he was right. We stayed in touch for years and I would get unexpected phone calls and post cards that served as punctuation marks throughout my twenties. His love and long friendship anchored me in ways that other relationships never did. He died a few years ago and I still mourn the loss of the outdoor adventurer and natural born teacher.
4. The professional crush. I teach environmental education and visit different classrooms almost every day. About six years ago, I was doing quite a few programs with a school and got to know a certain fourth grade teacher. This gentleman was amazing with his students and he worked with families of low-incomes and high needs. I developed a crush watching him teach, while I learned super easy and quiet ways to get the attention and affection of unruly fourth graders. He left me messages at work, telling me he admired my teaching. We talked during lunch breaks about students and learning theories, but I was too shy to ask him out for a cup of coffee or dinner. Maybe I was standoffish, or maybe his interest was only professional, but at the end of the school year, he got a new job at a different school. I never saw him again, but my crush lingered and I hoped to run into him in another teachers’ lounge. I learned that my heart wasn’t in hibernation and that crushes can develop in your thirties. Sometimes the benefit of a crush can be professional development. I also learned that maybe I should speak up when my heart skips a beat or I risk losing something.
Crushes can be healthy and a delightful escape from daily life. They can also be a way to disengage from real, meaningful love. Some crushes develop while others evaporate like raindrops on a sunny day. I look back at lessons learned and I look forward to new adventures and new love. Either way, I am grateful for the crushes and those special males who helped my heart to live and throb and learn and love.
Happy Valentine’s Day to all of us!