Is It Okay to Have a Crush While in a Relationship?
01.24.18

Hello and welcome to our advice column, “Ask MR,” where we answer your burning questions in the hopes of being the ointment to your life rash. Ask us questions by emailing write@manrepeller.com with the subject line “ASK MR A QUESTION,” or leave yours in the comments.


Hey Man Repeller,
Is it okay to have a crush when you’re in a relationship? I have one and I’m stressed/don’t know who to talk to about this.
Thoughts?


A crush can be a lot of things: an appreciation for your barista’s charisma, an exchange of curious eye contact with a stranger on the subway, a jokey obsession with a celebrity figure, a flirty undertone to a platonic relationship going nowhere, straight-up romantic interest with intention to boot. Human affection is an expansive, complicated thing, and it’s not something that turns off the moment you enter a relationship.

Of course, it’s a little more complicated than that, and there are a few ways to read your question: Am I allowed to have a crush while committed elsewhere? Does my crush mean something’s wrong with me or my partner? Is having a crush while in a relationship morally objectionable? I think the answers are yes, no and no, at least at first blush, but at the heart of all these lies a larger question of loyalty and what it constitutes inside a modern monogamous relationship.

In other words: How monogamous must I be for this to work? It’s a relevant and prescient question given how quickly the definition of commitment is evolving. As monogamy becomes a purely emotional choice rather than one rooted in tradition and practicality, must my every emotion be ALL IN? Is anything else betrayal?

In my view, that’s a hell no, but that’s not to say I think crushes don’t matter.

It’s easy to get swept up in the romantic idea that true love stops the clock on your heart. I only have eyes for you, babe. You’re the only one for me! It’s comforting, especially when used as a tool to explain away the squirmy idea of a partner being attracted to someone else. I’ve used it myself. But imposing those kinds of boundaries on human emotion do nothing but blind us and rob us of our agency. Banning attraction would be tantamount to banning masturbation or sex altogether — the rule would be followed for as long as it took to break it. But can’t two people choosing each other in spite of other attractions be romantic in its own way? And further, can’t their appreciation of each other’s rich inner lives make their shared one even more expansive?

Attraction is a weird beast. I understand the impulse to want to frame it and control it. But it takes a lot of self-exploration (and self-permission) to understand yourself well enough to untangle your desires, and none of that can be done if you’re too busy denying yourself the full spectrum. There are times I’ve entertained romantic thoughts about someone while in a fulfilling relationship as a fun hypothetical, a daydream. Other times, I’ve fostered crushes and let them grow in my mind because I was dissatisfied with a partner. Neither was wrong, per se, but the former taught me something about myself, and the latter showed me something important when I was ready to listen. Wasting time on parsing the rules did nothing for either.

In my recent writing on relationships — about good sex and mystery and cheating and bad sex and exes — I’ve put a lot of emphasis on agency. It’s a concept I came around to a little late in my romantic life, but it’s really transformed my relationship with myself and others. It’s much easier to put everyone in boxes (I’m monogamous, therefore I look at no one else; he’s in love with me, therefore he sees only me) but I’ve learned that appreciating someone’s wholeness and courting their inner life with respect and curiosity — and doing the same to yourself — only stands to deepen and strengthen relationships.

If you have a crush, the more important question than “Is it okay?” is: “What does it offer me?” A playful sense of fantasy? A temporary mental escape from a rough patch? A self-esteem boost? A window into something that’s truly missing? A peek into your lizard brain? Crushes can show and tell us a lot, not just because our subconscious sometimes knows things before we do but because crushes are hypothetical — they’re unbound by the grounding principles that make relationships live and breathe (hard parts included), and in that they offer soaring insight in the abstract.

Don’t rob yourself of that insight. In the emotional realm, black-and-white rules constrict us to black-and-white thinking. They take the emotionality out of the reason we behave the way we do. A crush isn’t inherently good or bad, but a good hard look at its impetus and context might prove enlightening. Only you can find that answer within yourself — just give yourself a little time and space to sift it out.

Photo by Fairfax Media/Fairfax Media via Getty Images.

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  • Lucy Kurtz

    Gosh, this is good contemplative stuff. I have another question- can you draw the line between crush and lust? And does that mean anything different?

    • Haley Nahman

      I think of lust as a crush straight from the lizard brain — a kind of raw/sexual desire that may be heightened by whatever circumstance happens to turn you on (aka if it’s forbidden stuff you’re into, a stranger might have extra appeal). Lust, like a crush, can teach us about ourselves, and that’s an energy you can bring back into a relationship, if you want to. I suppose my answer, then, is the same as above.

  • Monika

    I once asked a couple of my friends who are in commited relationships if they ever get crushes on someone. I myself am single, and get crushes on random guys — it can be a bartender, a receptionist at a hotel, a colleague, you name it — and I don’t think that would change if I were in a relationship. But they just gave me these weird looks and said that that never ever happens with them and that you shouldn’t let yourself crush on someone if you are in a relationship. I don’t think that’s very healthy since I didn’t mean pursuing an affair or something, but they made me feel weird and as if my morals were weak? Idk. Glad to know I’m not the only one (I’m not, am I?) out there who thinks there is nothing wrong with having a crush on somebody who is not your boyfriend/girlfriend.

    • Haley Nahman

      Yes I don’t think it’s weird! Although I will say (and I commented this above) that a happy relationship will tend to quiet the part of my brain that’s “looking” and as a result I’ll often fail to develop those little fleeting crushes I get more when I’m single.

      • bamboodread

        “Quelling” any part of your brain is not healthy. Repression is not healthy

    • Hanna Lane

      Just my 2c – I have been dating my boyfriend for almost 4 years and I really just am not attracted to other people. I can certainly admire a person, enjoy spending time with someone, and recognize when someone is attractive, but I myself am not attracted to them.

      That being said, I totally recognize that this is a personal characteristic and it would be silly for me to think everyone should be like that! I have friends who talk about celebrity crushes, mention a cute guy at the bar who isn’t their SO, etc. and their partners are totally fine with it. I think that’s great, and can actually be a sign of really healthy communication and security in a partnership.

      The only people who have any business evaluating boundaries in your relationship are you and your partner. There’s no one way to love.

  • Mo

    The way in which you craft your words and prove your points straddles a skilled line between poetry and constructive thinking. It’s not just your argument about the complexities of the human mind and the nuances of our emotions that soothes a reader into your article… but I can read the very pathways your own commitment to an advice column must mingle and coexist with that of your written voice. It’s so good. You flirt with abstract thoughts and tangible references. As an advice column if I were to begin reading and finding that you’d stuck to some rigid ideal of absolute advices – then I imagine I wouldn’t feel the connection or have seen to these truths. Much alike a relationship we share with another person … there’s no monogous self-adhesive that will bind us to the binary thoughts of yes’ and no’s regarding internal monologues – regardless of who our hearts have chosen. Our mind must remain our own.

    • Haley Nahman

      Thank you for this!

      • Gisèle

        Skilled writer you are! I was just going to say.

  • Renee

    I think crushes exist for you to take pause and evaluate your relationship. Some crushes fade, some endure because maybe something isn’t quite right. I was in a relationship for 4.5 years, getting crushes all the time, continuously writing them off, and in the end that relationship ended in a blow up. In retrospect, I should have taken a minute to think about why I was developing crushes on so many other guys (I was obviously unhappy in a long-distance relationship!)

    • Haley Nahman

      Yes! For me, a serial-crushing mindset is evidence of a problem in my relationship. When I’m fulfilled romantically I tend not to have those antennae up.

    • bamboodread

      Or maybe it is just normal to lust

  • Adrianna

    Dear Sugars had an episode about crushes. They theorized that we either crush on the unattainable person, or we crush on someone who (seems) to have a crush on us first.

    I think the best “crush”/eye candy I’ve had during a relationship was with someone who was in the same type of relationship as me. I think we both got the same thing out of the situation – it was nice that someone we found physically attractive found the other person attractive. I didn’t feel any stress or pressure about if things would escalate. I also knew that we wouldn’t be compatible personality-wise if we were single.

    Though I will add this set up seemed to end on his part after it was public that I moved in with my boyfriend…

    Work crushes in the age of social media – things get really interesting when you meet your coworker (who likes your selfies and bikini photos on Instagram) when you meet the wife…

  • June

    This is something I’ve been struggling with a lot lately. My anxiety and abandonment issues keep spiking over small things – like wondering if my boyfriend has a crush or who he finds attractive. I’m working really hard on this and it helps to realize that finding someone other than your partner attractive does not mean you’ll leave your partner for that person. Sounds simple but fear/anxiety is so powerful.
    On the flip side there is an attractive guy at my gym. I don’t look at him, definitely don’t make eye contact with him or go out of my way to be near him. I’ve been in relationships where my mind would have run away with this guy, project a personality upon him and fantasize about us together. I’m really happy with the boundary my respect for my current relationship has created and I can only hope that my boyfriend has the same boundaries.

  • Jennifer

    You done done it again, Haley! Great fucking article.

  • AG

    In my last serious relationship (we were together for 7 years, engaged and then he ended the relationship), somewhere around the 5 year mark, I developed a work crush hard. My crush had no idea and nothing ever came out of it except for a huge amount of guilt on my behalf. I felt like I was betraying my then fiance. (I’m not saying this next part would work for everyone’s relationship) but I knew jealousy was low on our list of problems. So I decided to tell him about the crush and how much it had been bothering me, that I knew I’d never act on it – nor did I even really want to – but that I wanted him to know what I’d been grappling with and that I was sorry.

    His reaction? He laughed! With the most sincere look in his eyes he told me that it was normal to develop a crush in a relationship. He actually told me he felt bad at how torn up I was! Now, this is a man I will never speak to again because of how our relationship ended but I think back to this conversation often and commend him on his trust in me and confidence in our relationship (at the time). After that conversation my feelings for my crush disappeared and I had a deepened love for my fiance.

    Great article once again.

    • Hannah Laub

      This is almost EXACTLY what happened to me. I wasn’t crushing hard, per say, but it was enough to make me feel horrible. My boyfriend just said “It would be weird if you ONLY were attracted to me for the rest of your life.” What a man. I also talked it over with my therapist which allowed me to understand WHERE my crush came from. It had nothing to do with the guy and everything to do with me, and my personal needs which I wasn’t prioritizing. Once I understood the crush, it literally vanished. Just POOF, gone. And I think it made my relationship stronger because it proved that there was space in it for me to be flawed and to grow.

      • AMEN. omg I literally had a convo with my therapist about this as well because it was causing a lot of self doubt, doubt in the relationship, guilt, and just overall anxiety and she basically said the same thing. you hit the nail on the head!

      • Azoula

        > My boyfriend just said “It would be weird if you ONLY were attracted to me for the rest of your life.” What a man.

        I am just shocked by the number of boyfriends who are totally cool with thier girlfriends being head over heels for other men.I just sound too unrealistic .

    • Olivia Lauren Hawk Moore

      Love this! My husband and I have had a lot of similar conversations lately. When/If your SO is truly someone you share your life with or your best friend, it does such a disservice to the relationship to leave parts of yourself out.

      • Azoula

        Yeah I don’t know how I would feel listening to my husband talking about a woman at work he is head over heals in love with her.

  • Kate

    My husband and I both found attractive strangers on the street a bit more interesting in the weeks and months right after we got married, because it’s like, oh I *really* can’t have this now. And we told each other about it. It was actually kind of hot.

    • My relationship is kinda the same, sometimes we creep on attractive people together. It’s fun. But I wouldn’t call it having a crush.

  • Rosemary

    just came here to say I felt so attacked by the descriptor tweet that linked to this article. (and also this is an intriguing, open-ended exploration of such a complex topic! you rock, Haley!)

  • Frenchmochi

    This comes at such a perfect time. Since yesterday evening at work I’ve been crushing so hard on a boy I have now known for like 24 hours. While being in a happy, fulfilling relationship. I am now daydreaming about this boy and am counting the hours till I see him again. Tbh I am on the verge of relating to Nicole Kidman in Eyes Wide Shut when she talks to Tom Cruise about that captain guy she was fantasizing about.
    What disturbs me is that I would be so incredibly mad if my bf was feeling the same way about someone else; yet there would be nothing I could do, just as there is nothing I can really do about my current infatuation, except not say anything to my bf (I feel you just can’t tell your partner you’re attracted to other people, but what do you think?) and not act upon it.

    • I find that I grapple with this a lot because I feel like there is such a fine line between having a crush and having more than just a crush on someone. Sure, if you go as far as to cheat on your S.O. I would definitely re-evaluate your situation, but it gets a little cloudy when you start to question why you have a crush on someone when you’re also happy in your relationship.

      I’m in a relationship and I love my boyfriend, but I have this friend who shares a lot of the same interests I do and I find him attractive. I feel like-as dumb as this sounds- I wouldn’t be questioning myself at all if I didn’t find him attractive. I don’t know if that makes a lot of sense but it does in my head. hahaha

      • Frenchmochi

        Haha I get what you mean! This boy I met is also super attractive, so yeah we’re in the same boat. I think what saves me is that he doesn’t seem attracted to me, so if something were to happen it would be me initiating. And this is where I’m drawing the line.
        Having a crush on someone else while in a relationship has actually never happened to me before, and it’s pretty destabilizing. But I think the best you can do is stick to some guiding principles and maybe listen to Esther Perel again, haha (“Why happy couples cheat”).

        • Azoula

          >Having a crush on someone else while in a relationship has actually never happened to me before

          How long have you been in your relationship.You keep saying you are happy,but are you really in love with your boyfriend?I ask because sometimes we are happy with an idea of a relationship rather than the person we are with themselves.How would you describe ypur attraction to your boyfriend?

      • Farah

        >I’m in a relationship and I love my boyfriend, but I have this friend who shares a lot of the same interests I do and I find him attractive

        I know it’s late,but whatever happened to your crush on your friend .Are you still struggling with it?

    • Azoula

      > While being in a happy, fulfilling relationship

      Do you still feel very in love woth your partner?if so ,maybe you are just missing a little excitment in your relationship

    • Farah

      >Since yesterday evening at work I’ve been crushing so hard on a boy I have now known for like 24 hours. While being in a happy, fulfilling relationship.

      I am sorry this is 4 month late,but I am finding myself really curious to know what happened.hehe
      Do you still have the crush on the other guy?are you still with your boyfirend or did you pursue the crush ?

      • Frenchmochi

        Haha no problem it’s an interesting discussion, 4 months late or not 😀

        What happened is we made out once, at his place. I managed to suppress the impulse to do more and went home. We were meant to see each other again but both got super busy with our lives, and my bf came to see me; I was really happy to see him and it took that other guy off my mind. Then 2 months ago I flew to another country for my current internship.

        I’m not very proud of making out with that guy, but it actually helped diminish my crush on him (made him less of a fantasy and more of a human).
        I think this crush was due to my anxious feelings about my long-distance relationship with my bf. Now that I’ve left Paris (honestly living in this city can be hellishly stressful, believe me) and am doing a great internship in a beautiful city, I’ve stopped being consumed by those negative thoughts.

        Anyways I’m still with my boyfriend 🙂

        • Farah

          I am very happy that it worked out in the end. You were strong .

    • Farah

      >What disturbs me is that I would be so incredibly mad if my bf was feeling the same way about someone else

      Wouldn’t we all be ??who wants to hear that the person they love is having strong romantic feelings for someone else .No one wants to hear about how a big part of the person they love most in this world craves and longs to be with someone else too even if we trust they woundn’t act on it.

      So I don’t think your feelings are strange .They are natural

  • nicolechan

    I always look forward to reading your columns. Keep killing it!

  • tiabarbara

    Having crushes while I was in relationships has taught me so much about myself. In my last relationship I was in total denial that we were going nowhere because we loved each other. About 6 months into us doing cross-continental long distance I found myself crushing on this guy so bad, and even though it never went beyond flirting I was struck by how badly I wanted to abandon my relationship for this new guy. My relationship wasn’t bad, per se, but that crush helped me realise that I didn’t want to be in it and was starting to resent my boyfriend for my loneliness. The guilt was torturous but it really opened my eyes about what I needed for myself. I’ve never seen or heard from that crush since then (although he did pop up my Linkedin as having looked at my profile) but I’m thankful for it for helping me realise I was in a fruitless and futile relationship.

  • Néo Bourgeois — Christum

    Why do you say you’re a lie?
    You’re a lie?
    Why can’t you say who you are?
    Who you are?

  • G De Siena

    Just here to say it shows that Haley has been reading Esther Perel and that she should start her own podcast on relationship advice <3

  • Emily

    I think it’s normal to feel attraction, and even develop a ‘crush’ at times, and it doesn’t mean you’re not in love or that your relationship is doomed. It can be good to notice why you’re feeling that way though. The one time I experienced this in my relationship, I was feeling like I was not connecting with my bf due to long distance and long working hours (little time to talk). ‘The crush’ came out of a feeling of wanting connection, I think. My boyfriend and I had an open and accepting conversation about it, started making more time/seeing each other more, and it totally vanished. So I do think it’s ok and normal, but also a good moment to step back and think about if there’s something you can do to work on your current relationship that you haven’t been doing.

  • Questinia

    A crush may be seen as the lost idealization of one’s partner now projected onto another. The word *crush* implies it’s own life span. A crush cannot last forever as it doesn’t permit for the crushing reality of contending with day to day life. A crush is a rush. Some of us need more of a rush than others.

    • Gogo

      Good points! My explaination for crushes is easy: feeling this is highly enjoyable, I admit often it doesn’t have that much to do with the dude I crush on but what I project on him. Not that I can develop a crush on any random bloke, no, it does take a special thing.
      À crush makes your day a little more fun, as someone said on a previous comment. And it’s a scientific fact that love / attraction / these feelings are a boost for your brain, much like drugs! It’s an antidepressant..
      In my experience, last year I had a huge crush on someone but also I still felt aware that it was entirely my imagination, and that if I really got to know the guy I wouldn’t feel so attracted. It was fun. Then the feeling disappeared two months later all of a sudden. end of the story. Now with distance I realize how much it didn’t matter and how much my guilt by then wasn’t necessary.

      Crushes are gr8 m8!
      They can obviously be a big sign that you’re not satisfied w something in your life though it is so true, it’s an escape from reality. For me it was.

  • Jane

    I’m very happily married to a man that I’ve been in a relationship with for over 10 years. Still very attracted to each other and genuinely enjoy each others’ company. That said, I think it’s my personality but I always have crushes! Usually someone at work, nothing serious and have never, would never want to act on it, but it’s the same as how I always had crushes on boys at school. A crush just kind of makes the day a little more fun! I think I’m just a Pisces that likes to daydream? And it’s not a secret I keep from my husband. We’re both human, he finds other people attractive but we’re secure in our relationship and we choose to be together because we have so much more than just bare attraction.

  • bamboodread

    Fidelity is it’s own punishment. I choose pleasure over rules anytime. I am not into self denial unless it is worth it

  • Ana Maia

    i wouldnt call it a crush neither flirting, but i occasionally think about a guy in my yoga class – hes taller and older than my boyfriend, and i imagine this man is also more mature than my boyfriend is. i dont see this as a threat to my relationship, it just points out issues i want to see differently (issues i wish hed solve himself). i see this as a challenge and therefore an opportunity to improve my relationship

  • www.walkthestyle.com

    Crushes are inevitable as long as we are humans, but how we handle a crush is important for not only ourselves but the people around us. I am in a fulfilling relationship n if I find something interesting in someone to develop a crush, I acknowledge that n take it as a fleeting feeling n move on. Sometimes, I even talk about it with my partner who also happens to be my best friend n laugh about it together or just tease him. Ofcourse this depends on the chemistry n understanding I have with my partner.