I’ve written (rather extensively, really) on my lack of love life in Ireland, and further, the apparent lack of any eligible men (at all) in this country. Or, at least, the lack of eligible men in the places I’ve been going in this country.
I don’t intend to whinge about this anymore, however, I have become aware that this has had a further knock-on effect to my life and daily experience.
I have absolutely no crushes.
Not a one.
You probably don’t see the significance.
One might describe me as ‘romantic’. Despite an erstwhile desire that I someday I might be called ‘cynical’ or ‘witty’ or ‘ass-kicking’, I have to admit, ‘romantic’ is probably accurate. I was a reasonably early developer in terms of my awareness of all things romantic. The stories I wrote as a young ‘un usually revolved around girls getting into some sort of sticky situation and then being rescued by male woodcutters or the like. I never read romance books, and yet, somehow, as a 7 year old my creative writing pieces read as the latest Jackie Collins novel.
Not only did I write about romances between fictional characters, but I can remember spending a great deal of time developing fictional romances between myself and real boys. The first slight to my imagined romantic fantasies I can remember receiving was as a 5 year old, when I tried to talk to a boy in my class who I liked. He was sitting on a bean bag listening to a talking book on headphones and was ignoring me. After a good 10 minutes of attempted conversation, my teacher moved me away, pointing out that I was annoying him. I was devastated. In my mind, he was my one true love, if only he would take off his headphones and acknowledge me.
I continued to have crushes on and off for the boys in my primary school for the next few years until around the age of 10, when I developed a serious crush on one very lovely boy in my class. As luck would have it, he turned out to like me a little bit too and on a school excursion to the (romance) capital of Australia, Canberra, we had the audacity to dance together at a little ‘disco’ in front of the rest of Year 6. The problem with being so far ‘advanced’ in romantic feelings was that the rest of the children saw this is an opportunity to mock and tease. I was totally mortified and quickly started ignoring the poor boy instead, despite a very sweet attempt by him to make me feel better by giving me a gigantic packet of raspberries (the lollies, not the fruit). Going into adolescence I got the message loud and clear: your emotions and feelings are embarrassing and wrong and must be hidden at all costs.
So, during high school, instead of attempting to figure out how to get into relationships and maintain them, I spent all my time perfecting my crush technique. Crushes are much easier than relationships. They’re low-risk and yet provide hours of amusement in terms of fantasies, schemes and plans, days of dealing with unrealistic hopes and, later, devastating disappointments. Particularly if you chose your crush carefully, someone, for example, that is completely unsuitable for you (a teacher, perhaps, or, the most popular boy in school who doesn’t even know your name), and is in no ways a realistic prospect for a relationship. In this way, you can ensure that you never have to confront the possibility of an actual romantic entanglement: you make certain that the person you have a crush on will never reciprocate, but also that you are never going to be interested in anybody who might actually be interested in you.
I was very good at crushes. For all of high school, I was in a constant state of unrequited love with someone or other. Some boys I would love for a few weeks, others for months, and one or two for years at a time. My creative energies were caught up in creating imagined hideous deaths for girlfriends or rivals; in envisioning situations where me and my crush became the LAST SURVIVING PEOPLE IN NEWCASTLE or something else similarly ridiculously dramatic; finding ways of accidentally on purpose running into them at the shopping centre or something; analyzing and re-analyzing ad nauseum the actual interactions had by myself and my crush; and finally, creating long mental lists as to why me and my crush were perfectly suited to each other and were clearly DESTINED TO BE TOGETHER FOR ALL ETERNITY. The crush’s seeming indifference to myself only added to the wonderful drama of the thing, making it somehow all the more real and true. Didn’t Anna Karenina’s great love have corresponding pain and devastation? Didn’t Romeo and Juliet have to fight against all of their society just to spend a few days together? The fact that I had to love in silence only made it seem all the more obvious that my crush and I would eventually end up looking gorgeous together in a gorgeous house with our gorgeous family and talking gorgeously to some reporter about our gorgeous love for each other (my fantasies were also heavily influenced by my grandmother’s Women’s Day magazines).
I think many people eventually graduate from crushes. Either they’re not as good at choosing and keeping crushes as I was, or the imagined drama was not as satisfying to them as an actual romance, so they move on. I was just so darn good at the crushes: the choosing, the keeping, and definitely the associated fantasies. My teenage self could have kept Mills and Boon in novels for the next hundred years. No lie.
The other problem with my crushes, was that the scale of my love corresponded to an equivalent loss of social incompetence around said person. I would become like an animal caught in the headlights the minute my crush locked his eyes on me. I wouldn’t be able to remember my own name, let alone formulate some kind of witty sentence with which to woo my beloved. Most of my fantasies revolved around the crush stating their undying love for me (and me graciously, and mostly mutely, accepting), so were of no use in actual human conversation. I seemed to think that said declarations of love would follow if I could just managed to put together the right outfit or hairstyle, which would, without words, inspire my crush into realising his true feelings for me. Forget flirting with the crush to get him to notice me, an interaction that lasted longer than 4 sentences would have been an achievement for my 15 year old self. So, even if I might have had a chance with the most popular boy in school, my complete inability to show any sort of interest (in an appealing way) pretty much wiped any chance I would have that a crush would develop into a relationship.
I did eventually manage to fall into some relationships (not without some serious self-sabotage however), and miraculously keep them together. But the last 3 years has just been another long period of dead-end, embarrassing and increasingly frustrating crushes. I realise how pathetic I must sound if you have read this far, but its the honest truth of the matter. Believe me, I ain’t proud of it.
‘Loving’ in silence, or, at least, ‘crushing’ in silence has been so much a part of my person and my daily life as a ‘singleton’. They take up time, energy, emotional strength and self-esteem. Unrequited love may have inspired eloquence from some of the world’s greatest poets, but for me its been an endless loop of too much chocolate, ‘retail therapy’ and bursting into tears when Kristin Scott Thomas finally declares her love for Hugh Grant in ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’:
So, its been kind of interesting for the past few months to have absolutely no-one that I am crushing on. Crushes need time, and at least the hope of continuity, or they just can’t develop. So, if you meet a guy at a bar one night and you have a nice conversation, but you never see him again, you can’t develop a crush on him. Even I’m not that good at crushes.
Its been kind of nice to not have to worry about all that romantic shit. Its nice to feel like my personal happiness doesn’t hinge on a particular man turning around and declaring his love for me. Its nice to think that my personal happiness lies in something that I might create myself. I feel strangely stronger and more complete than I think I ever have as an individual before. I feel oddly free.
That’s not to say that I don’t like the idea of being in a relationship. Nor is it saying that I don’t sometimes get lonely and wish I could meet someone nice, or that I don’t still cry in Richard Curtis movies. But… I feel less emotional about it.
Less emotional about love.
Now, that is a joke.