Your cheeks flush. Your stomach flips. Your heart races. No, you’re not having a medical emergency — but you do have a pretty serious case of the crush. If your feelings are reciprocated, this can be an intoxicating experience. But an unwanted or unrequited crush can leave you feeling confused, miserable, and helpless. To put it plainly, it can crush you.
Luckily, there are ways to quell a crush! If you want to stop feeling the feelings, it helps to understand the psychology of crushes.
Love and the Brain Psychology
Crushes are defined as temporary but powerful feelings of attraction that often incite a fair amount of yearning.
If you’re wondering which part of the brain controls love, your anterior insula might be the culprit. This small area of the brain has a big impact on emotional experiences like love — but it has less of an impact on attraction. When you’re attracted to someone, your brain releases oxytocin, dopamine, and other feel-good hormones that make you feel excited, flustered, and eager to form a bond.
When developing a crush, people often project their values and sensibilities onto the person they find attractive. You're more likely to view your crush positively and to believe they have a personality similar to your own, whether or not that's true. That’s how you’re able to feel so romantically connected to that barista with the great hair who always remembers your exact drink order, even though you’ve never had a real conversation.
If this sounds senseless to you, don’t worry — humans have an innate biological desire to find a mate, and crushes are a natural part of that process. The combination of idealization and infatuation is exhilarating for even the most levelheaded adults.
Although they’re often associated with twitterpated teenagers, it’s possible for people of any age to form crushes. This is because, for better or worse, humans don’t outgrow the ability to imagine an attractive person is their perfect match regardless of actual compatibility. And even if you know it won’t work out, overcoming a crush can be tough.
Getting Over a Crush
There are a few common reasons you might want to get over a crush, and your reason will determine your recourse.
- Reason: You’re in a committed relationship. Someone strikes your fancy when you’re involved with someone else. This doesn't make you a bad person or partner — in fact, it’s quite common and unlikely to jeopardize your relationship. One study found that nearly half of committed adults reported having at least one crush during their relationship.
Recourse: Evaluate your relationship. A crush doesn’t necessarily indicate that anything is wrong with your relationship, but it can mean you’re not as invested as you once were. Maybe you hope your crush can offer things missing from your current relationship. If that’s the case, try to identify areas where you feel dissatisfied within your relationship and clearly communicate your needs to your partner.
- Reason: Your crush is an unsuitable match. Maybe you have a crush on your married boss, or your therapist, or your ex’s sibling (hey, it happens). For personal or professional reasons, sometimes you just can’t go there.
Recourse: Set boundaries for yourself. If you know you can’t act on your crush, remind yourself that a crush is harmless until acted upon. If you have to see the person frequently, keep the conversation light and try not to flirt. Do your best to maintain a healthy distance from your crush and take comfort in the knowledge that this too shall pass.
- Reason: Your crush doesn’t return your feelings. This one stings, but you’re not alone. One survey found that 8 out of 10 people have experienced unrequited attraction at least once before turning 20 years old.
- Recourse: Don't take it personally. Once you’ve established that your crush doesn’t feel the same way, your first step is to accept this fact. Second? Don’t take it personally. Unrequited love is not a reflection of your worth.
If you’ve developed a crush on a good friend and don’t want to risk your platonic bond, you do have options.
How to Stay Friends With Someone You Love
If your crush is impacting your ability to behave normally around your friend, consider confiding in them. Confessing your crush can be nerve-racking, but it's possible to stay friends afterward.
You’ll have the most luck in this department if:
- You had a solid, long-term friendship before the crush developed.
- Both you and your crush accept your feelings and value the friendship.
- You’re able to resume your regular friendship patterns and tone down any flirting.
- You’re OK with hearing about your crush’s romantic interests.
Once you’ve shared your feelings and heard their thoughts, focus on moving forward. That means dropping the issue, staying in touch, and not awkwardly avoiding them at parties.
How Long Does It Take to Get Over a Crush?
Mild crushes can fade within a few weeks. Serious crushes are generally limited to the early stages of a relationship, or two years if no relationship develops.
If your crush lingers for longer than two years, it’s technically classified as limerence. Limerence is defined as an involuntary, acute state of longing accompanied by obsessive feelings, intense idealization, and a dependency on the object of your affection.
You probably won’t get over a persistent crush overnight, but there are steps you can take to manage your desire and hasten your recovery process.
- Get some perspective. Instead of drifting into a daydream every time your crush enters the room, focus on things you don’t like about them (in the nicest way possible, of course). Taking an objective look at the object of your desire might help you see through the head-over-heels haze.
- Distract yourself. If you find yourself thinking about them, distract yourself with a fun activity. This won't make your crush disappear, but it can make you feel better.
- Communicate with your friends. In situations where confessing your crush isn’t an option, discussing your feelings with a friend can be a great substitute. Talking to people who have experienced similar issues can reduce your stress, so choose a friend who’s recently gotten over a crush themselves.
- Be kind to yourself. Remind yourself that crushes come and go, and many don’t turn into anything more. Give yourself time to process your feelings while focusing on yourself, your hobbies, and things that bring you joy.
In all likelihood, you’ll be over your crush within a couple months — and ready for the next one before you know it!