Crushes are like the detritus of a crab dinner: everywhere. We’ve all had them. They propel the purposefully generic plot lines of countless movies; they’re the conscious decisions at the center of a bajillion songs used to satisfy a variety of tastes; they have been featured prominently in literature since at least 1597: “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.” I just wrote that from memory to prove that a crush is the driving force behind one of the most well-known soliloquies of all time. If crushes were the sun, our consumption of them would be the Earth, barreling along at 67,000 miles per hour, propelled by that yellow dwarf star of love’s gravitational pull, stuck in a loop. We can’t seem to get enough.
The first crush content I remember being truly impacted by is a bop from the 90s in which three members of Brooklyn hip hop group Junior M.A.F.I.A. rap about crushes for an entire four minutes and 32 seconds. “Crush On You” appears on Lil Kim’s 1996 debut album, Hardcore. (Fun fact: The originally-released version features only Lil Cease and The Notorious B.I.G. Kim is absent on the album edition of the track even though the album is HER album, but that’s an essay for a different day.) Luckily for Kim fans and hip hop heads alike, a remix was produced; this adjusted version is the number one search result when I type “songs about crushes” into the Google search bar.
It’s easy to write about “Crush On You” as a music critic — the deep lineage of call and response, the way Kim’s bravado slips in and out of pockets in the synth-y, strangely melancholic yet still confident beat — but that’s not why we’re here. We’re here because some of life’s most brilliant phenomena are simply inexplicable. Like why I sometimes find Oreo cake crumbs in my bra, or wake up thinking about that one time I listened to a Linkin Park song. Or why, despite the irrefutable truth that Biggie Smalls is not to be considered a relationship expert by any stretch of the imagination, he delivers Esther Perel-level life advice via the last line of “Crush On You”: “But I had to let you know that I got a crush on you,” he presses, nearly crooning, in his signature wheeze.
My voice is neither as plummy nor convincing as Biggie’s, but I, too, am here to advocate for admitting your crushes.
According to the second entry of the highly academic resource urbandictionary.com, “crushing” is “a fucked up feeling where u like someone and are to shy to say anything [sic],” a limiting belief to which Big and I say, poo poo. I can’t speak on how the rapper got so wise as to advocate for radical honesty (Ms. Voletta?), but it took me many crushes to get to this point.
Like a pubescent teen, I crush hard and often. I also make a lot of shitty jokes, which might be the extent of my charm and could explain why I’m often the one in this position. Although my cable-deprived childhood molded me into the kind of adult who’s comfortable with both yearning and putting in the effort to transform totally incomprehensible blurs into a clear picture, I have realized that just because I’m comfortable with something doesn’t mean I want to endure it.
For me, a crush feels like my heart is sending a 9-1-1 text to my brain that reads: “GET CLOSER TO THIS PERSON.” While no longer the case, a younger me believed that this meant physically closer… that having a crush indicated there was something me and said crush should do with our bodies. What else would I think in a world shaped by heteropatriarchy? That sex can lead to procreation is certainly a boon for the societal systems that rely on subjects like me to perpetuate them through participation. (Unfortunately for this particular regulatory mechanism, I am a queer wrench in the machine.)
“What do you mean, when you say ‘crush’ now?” my friend asked me the other day over lunch after I had spent some time explaining how my experience of crushing has evolved. “Do you develop a crush whenever someone hot has made an impression on you, or is a crush an indication that you want to do something… more with someone? Is it about being in a relationship?” This question caught me off guard because I didn’t have an answer that seemed sufficient enough.
“All of that,” I told her. “Any of that.” My friend looked puzzled. “A crush, for me, is a desire for intimacy divorced of any expectation.”
About a year and a half ago, I began hanging out regularly with a woman I had met through a mutual friend. We spent the summer salsa dancing and flirting on breezy Brooklyn rooftops and, while I was very into her, I couldn’t tell if we were simply building a friendship or if the crush was mutual. After a while, asking — and thereby admitting my feelings — seemed like a Sisyphean mission. I had kept quiet for too long. Instead of correcting this through communication, I resigned myself to replaying the events of drunken nights in my head and digging into the details as if I were combing nits out of a kid’s hair. I drove myself in circles, which eventually turned into frustration, which became an emotion that, over time, colored all experiences with my would-be, could-be paramour. The crush faded. I began seeing her less. And frankly, the whole experience sucked. The thing I missed most after we had grown apart was our closeness — not a specific form it could take.
I’ve since taken a cue from Biggie himself.
“Hi, I just wanna know how it felt when I told you I also had a crush on you?” I’m chatting with a friend via text. After they recently admitted to crushing on me, I promptly told them that I reciprocated. And then… we maintained a close and loving friendship.
“It felt fun and exciting and sweet,” they tell me. “And maybe what was also notable is it feeling whole just like that. Like, no expectations of that needing to be more… which I think is the point of telling your crushes.” I can’t help but agree.
“I like to tell my crush that I’m crushing,” says another friend of mine. “It’s choosing, instead of being quiet and cool about being sprung, to offer that to the other person — there’s no playing coy or power dynamic manipulating. It’s just actually saying ‘I like you. I like this about you,’ and leaving that as an offering to be accepted and built on or rejected.”
Like gassing, telling someone that you have a crush on them can be a gift. And if they don’t like you back, it’s okay — simply being honest is enough to deepen intimacy, and isn’t that the point of all relationships, no matter what form they take?
Illustrations by Chuva Featherstone.