Is This Love?
When we are young we have crushes. When we see a cute guy or girl, our hormones fly, our heads spin, and the appropriate part of the anatomy gets either stiff or wet. We want this person—sometimes not exactly knowing what it is that we want from them—and we want them to want us, even if we aren’t mature enough to grasp the real-world differences between wanting and having. As much as we wish the objects of our desire were aware of our feelings, often, the words to express them never come. Though the relationship is only a fantasy, the feelings are real, tangible. That is the definition of “a crush.”
While some girls know what they want from an early age and are not afraid to go after it, others inhabit a more nebulous terrain of make-believe and self-doubt. “Because of the way I was raised,” says Evelyn, a 26-year-old, two-time divorcée, “if you were like me, you probably ran, scared of the new feelings you were experiencing, and not knowing how to deal with them.” Evelyn’s religious parents drilled it into her head that sex was something to be shared between two married people; anything other than that was unacceptable.
Even though she tried to toe the line, Evelyn didn’t feel compelled to curb her sexuality until she had a ring on her finger. “These feelings wouldn’t go away,” she recalls.
“The needs…the desire, it was like a drug.” Evelyn says once she opened the floodgates, there was no turning back. “ I was like an addict,” she recalls. “I couldn’t get enough. I actually felt accepted for once in my life. Sex made me feel good about myself; it made me feel really wanted.”
Sex became like a drug, whose side effects were the shame and guilt she felt every time her parents’ admonitions echoed in her head. Evelyn believes her parents’ no-sex-before-marriage strategy totally backfired. “I was kind pushed into thinking about sex in the opposite way,” she says. “I was supposed to be restraining my mind from even thinking dirty thoughts, but I couldn’t stop. I wanted to think the way I did. I almost had to. It’s like telling your child ‘Don’t touch the stove, or you’ll get burned.’
“I’m hardheaded, I guess. I was young. Sometimes I look back and I think I was pretty foolish,” she admits, “but you can’t tell your body, ‘No.’ If your body wants something, it usually gets it one way or another. If you’re dying of thirst, you drink a glass, don’t you? When you’re aroused, you usually find a way to please yourself. It’s a need, and you can’t just turn off a need.”
Evelyn wonders if it was the influence of her parents’ one-sided views on sex, dating and relationships that rendered her incapable of navigating the waters of mature relationships. She had no trouble consummating her crushes when she was younger: “Usually when I saw something I wanted, I didn’t have a hard time getting it,” she says. When she set her sights on her first crush, she was not long in making her dream a reality. “There was eye contact—a lot of it. He would smile. I would return the favor. I would wish, hope and dream of being with just him. When that day finally came, when he actually asked me out on a real date. I was exhilarated.” However, when it came to forming healthy adult attachments, she was unprepared.
Evelyn’s initial happiness was short-lived. With a romance rooted purely in the physical, the relationship soon went south. “I got what I had been wanting, but in the end, he cheated on me,” she says. After that experience, Evelyn went on a sexual spree, unwilling to make any more lasting commitments. “It was just sex,” she says. “Fulfilling the physical want, but not the emotional need.” In her own way, Evelyn had turned the tables, making herself into the object of other peoples’ desires, leaving a trail of discarded lovers in her wake. “I had switched roles, but I felt in control because I wasn’t giving my heart,” she recalls. “It took about 10 years to finally feel loved by one man.”
Evelyn acknowledges that when you’re older, crushes are on a whole different level. “You’ve most likely experienced more and you know what you want,” she explains, “but it’s just…can you ever get it? You may have imagined what it would feel like to be touched by this person, to be kissed, to be loved. Maybe love came to mind, but what you really wanted was simply to be fucked.”
Figuring out the differences between a crush, sexual desire and love is tricky enough. Toss a little obsession into the mix, and it’s a Gordian knot that can be almost impossible to unravel. “A crush is usually something that we fabricate that never really happens,” Evelyn notes. “We can wish, we can want, but we usually don’t ever get with the person we are crushing on.” Obsession can lead to dangerous consequences. “Crushes are desires than can turn painful,” she says. “You’ll do anything to obtain the object of your desires.”
Anything can include risky behavior, such as seeking out inappropriate sex partners (violent, married, etc.), or putting oneself in harm’s way to catch the attention of those from whom we seek affirmation of our feelings. While she’s sure she still has more lessons to learn, Evelyn believes her understanding of healthy love, versus unhealthy infatuation, has come a long way. “Love to me is the constant want, need, desire of a person,” she says. “Love is that high—acceptance, understanding, and being able to communicate on the same levels.”
That doesn’t mean she is limiting her options. While Evelyn now appreciates that grown-up emotions can be good for you, she doesn’t ascribe to the “one true love” paradigm. “I’m not narrowing myself down to one person. I believe we can love more than one person,” she says, adding with a laugh, “but I hear I may have a kind of whacked out view on it.”