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Sex & Relationships

How to deal with crushes when you're in a relationship

They're inevitable and mostly harmless. Here's how to harness the power of your crush for good

In this life, only two things are certain. One is death, and two is having crushes on other people even when you’re in a committed, loving relationship. While they might be more likely to sprout up during a lull or a rough patch with your partner, they can strike at any time. Maybe there's a cute barista at the coffee place down the street, or a sexy new person in your friend circle, and you find yourself looking forward to your future interactions with them a liiiiiittle too much, and bask in the rush from their attention for hours afterwards. It might feel special, but it's incredibly normal. Our brains are excellent at convincing us that sex with this new person will be extremely hot. Because as steamy as the sex you're already having with your partner may be, it's still the same steamy sex you've been having for the past four years. It's comfortable and familiar, and every so often we crave the thrill of something new. We’re persuaded of this despite plenty of evidence pointing to the contrary—the first time you sleep with someone tends to be fairly mediocre.

Regardless, our brains like having and cultivating crushes and research suggests that having outside crushes in and of itself isn’t harmful to a relationship, so as long as you keep it in check, there’s no point in spending your energy feeling guilty.

Keep it to yourself—definitely for now, probably forever

You might be tempted to tell your partner for all kinds of reasons. Maybe you believe it will help to end the crush. Or alleviate your guilt. Or because you guys tell each other "everything." Or you simply like talking about your crush so much that you can hardly help yourself from bringing them up in conversation. These are all bad, selfish reasons. Yes, you’ve got a thrilling new infatuation, but what is your partner gaining by learning about this? Nothing, beyond a newfound sense of doubt in their partner’s commitment.

Are there certain partners who would want to know? Sure! Are there people who have an open relationship of some kind to account for this very thing? Yes! Are there partners who totally get it and know that crushes are normal? Yeah, of course there are! You should probably assume, however, that no matter how much your partner may understand (and has likely been there themselves), they don’t want to know the sultry details of how you’re imagining life without them.

Crushes can actually improve your existing relationship

Having a crush is a motivator. When I have a crush, I tend to tack on an extra four sit-ups to my ab routine, I dress nicer, and actually do my hair. Not in an effort to be noticed by them necessarily, but because having a crush on someone can give you a renewed sense of how you come across to others, which both you and your partner will benefit from.

But it’s not just about dressing nicer or wearing cologne or buying better underwear that aren’t all stretched out. While your crush might simply be a reaction to another hot person giving you some attention (normal, healthy), it also might be a sign of something missing in your relationship, as cliché as that may be. Carve out some time to sit down and be honest with yourself about what this crush is all about. If, for example, what you really want is to have more exciting sex with your partner, or if you and your partner fight about the kitchen renovation every evening after work, then the issue is that, and your crush is just the symptom. Talk to your partner about whatever issue it may be before your crush starts to seem like the answer to all your problems.

But a crush can also be a wake-up call

Now, I’m certainly not suggesting that just because you realise Juanita in the art department is hot and fun to talk to means your relationship with your wife is doomed, but crushes do have a way of highlighting problems in a partnership. The missing piece might just be feeling young again (crushes make everyone feel like a teenager), but it also might be something bigger, harder to define, or something that isn’t solvable. Crushing on someone can be illuminating about what you need. Maybe it’s more excitement, or an open relationship—although, if you ask for an open relationship with the goal of sleeping with one particular person, that’s skeevy, and probably not a legitimate manifestation of desire for non-monogamy.

Maintain those boundaries

Simply having a crush on another person—fantasising about dating them, fucking them, and conveniently forgetting to fantasise about how they leave dirty clothes everywhere and have an annoying best friend—is safe and healthy and horny. A crush need not threaten your relationship. However, like suspicious moles and good soufflés, it’s risky if you don’t keep your eye on it. The crush is your sole responsibility to manage. One thing does not just lead to another.

Your job as the crush-haver is to refrain from altering your behavior in ways that affect your partner simply because of your crush. In case you need this spelled out: telling someone that you have a crush on them is acting on it. So is staying later at work than you usually do. Or texting someone more often than you used to. If you find yourself giving your crush extra time and attention that you could be giving to your partner, you’re crossing the line.

Enjoy it

The point of the crush is to enjoy it while it lasts. Back in college I had the worst, most agonising crush on a total idiot. But I was having the time of my life because, well, that’s how crushes feel. I told my best friend, “I hope this lasts,” and she bluntly reminded me, “It won’t.” At the time we laughed, but we also both knew that she was right. There’s always an expiration date for a crush. Either you’ll age out of it or they’ll casually mention they didn’t find Fleabag funny, and it hits you like a thunderclap: I don’t actually want to be with this person. They were just a body I projected a hot personality onto. And then, 19 months later, you’ll do it again.

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