An Essay on Crushes

By Kay Augustine

“Crushes. That’s all they were.” This
is how I once dismissed them, but now
I see crushes as the impulse to love, a gift
perhaps, from the Source of Love, or from
mysteries buried deep in one’s psyche.

I’ve probably had more than most, perhaps
because of my emotional makeup, which has
swung lifelong between highs and lows.

First there was Harry–was that in fifth grade?
We danced the minuet in the Villa Louis
pageant. And Curtis was in seventh, and John
in ninth, and Eli all through high school. I
loved them all, but always from afar.

There was also Mary; we sang tenor in
our high school choir. At first I didn’t see
my feelings as a crush, despite the shyness
I felt in her presence. She was so much fun!
We were friends! But then, standing
one moonlit night outside her house,
I realized I wanted a hug, and fearing a
word I had not yet heard, I drowned my
love in one wave of shame, backed away
from the innocent warmth of a hug, for
god’s sake, just a hug!

I was shy around crushes. Eventually,
desperate, I married someone I did not
have a crush on. Probably not a good idea,
but we both, it turned out, had done the
same, and we set out to make our marriage
work, to act as if from a place of love. Many
I know have done the same.

My mother, at 93, clearly depressed, asked
me for advice. She had, I learned, a crush on
her doctor, but that wasn’t what she told me
at first. “How do you stop loving someone?”
she asked. “Well, why should you?” I answered.
“But he has a wife and children,” she explained;
“they go to our church.” So I told her it wasn’t
her loving that was wrong; it was hoping that
he loved her back the same way. Could she
stop doing that?

And she did. She saved jokes to take to her
doctor appointments; he laughed with her.
And nine months later, knowing she was
dying, she asked if he’d be the son she
never had. He kindly agreed. On her death-
bed, my mother went right on loving.

Mother also once said she had, in her life,
had crushes on three different women: one
before marriage, one during, and one after
Daddy had died. “But Kay,” she protested,
“I never wanted to have sex with them!”
“Exactly,” I said. The impulse is love; sex
may follow. Or not.

Now nearing ninety myself, I admit
delighting in a friendship with someone
I once had a crush on, and that was a
challenge at first. But why lose a good friend
because of a crush? Why not, instead, learn
to quiet my excitement, transform my
expectations? It took time, but I did. Love,
after all, includes the desire to make the other
happy. If I am not the one who can do that,
so be it. While my mostly-email, long-time
friend is a decade-plus younger than I, he has
never rejected my friendship, but has made it
quite clear, in always kind ways, that my crush
was one-sided. So I say, good for him!
Who knows why or when or with whom we’ll
fall in love? I am blessed by his friendship,
blessed by his existence. He is one of many
reasons I’m still glad to be alive.

So. Crushes and romance: How do they
differ? As I said, I have come to believe that
a crush is the impulse to love. It carries
all the joys that attend romantic love with
but one exception: It is singular, solo.
Romance must be mutual, shared; and the joy
of shared love is our deepest desire. Which
may go unfulfilled.

A crush is the same as unrequited love, which
has a bad name because too many people just
don’t understand what to do with their crushes.
Things can go south, with disastrous results.

The desire for sex, while related to a crush,
is not the same thing. Romantic love leads to
the urge to merge, which may lead to sex, but
the urge can be mastered. There is sex without
love and love without sex. The former can be
rewarding; the latter deeply felt. And romantic
love often serves as a beginning, later replaced
with a lifelong commitment of mutual caring.

My longest, and strongest, most deeply felt
love began with a friendship. Joe and I shared
rides to our choir rehearsal; we both had a
crush on Richard, our director, a gifted musician.
My crush was hopeless; Richard was gay.
Joe’s crush was not, but he also wanted marriage
and a family, wanted that long before gay folks
could marry; his marriage to a woman was
annulled days after when he couldn’t perform.
We’d been friends for a year when he failed to
appear one night for a concert. As I sang and
worried, I finally admitted what I could no longer
conceal from myself: I had fallen in love.
Two days later I learned that Joe had tried and
failed to take his own life. For seven more years,
I sought to be a good friend; we shared warmth
and trust. But I couldn’t save him. In 1983 he
was hoping to marry a female co-worker and
friend when a fear of failure again overwhelmed
him. Hopelessly lonely, he succeeded in ending
his one precious life, leaving a chasm in the lives
of his friends, including mine.

The impulse to love, flowing out of a mystery,
defies intervention: We cannot control our
impulses to love. Loving is not an act of will,
which is why vows to love are prevarications;
no wonder they’re so often broken. We can
strive to be loving, but we cannot decide to
fall or to stay in love. It just happens.
Or not, after which we may learn a
more down-to-earth love.

While most of us fall for the opposite gender,
we now know that many fall only for those
of their same sex, and some will fall in love
with either. Should every romantic love
lead to the altar? That’s not what I’m saying.
Even when two people fall in love, there may
be good reasons to stay apart, to question or
even reject the attraction. But I can’t believe
some are born with the curse of being denied
any hope of romance. Thank goodness, if
someone falls only in love with one of their
same sex, today they may marry, may raise
a family with their beloved. Praise be!

It grieves me to know there are still some
churches who say they believe in a God of
Love, yet, rather than question the Bible’s
few words about sex, some of which have
been said to be mistranslations–the original
Greek referenced violent assault or self-
serving perversion, not sex between two
loving people; and rather than wonder about
St. John saying that he is “the one Jesus
loved;” or rather than explain how David,
grieving Jonathan’s death on Gilboa, called
his love “more wonderful than the love of
women;” and, finally, rather than follow the
Bible’s exhortation to “love your neighbor
as yourself,” some churches make sex more
important than love, call some love “un-
natural,” while claiming to love the sinner
but not the “sin.”

How can one love one’s neighbors, yet deny
them the gift, the rare and precious gift,
of falling and living in love?