There’s a quote I think about often in relation to my love life: “I have a crush on every boy.”
Anyone who’s well-versed in the 2000s-era dialogue of Teen Girl Squad is nodding in recognition. The bit (part of the Homestar Runner empire) saw four stick-figure teens navigating the ins and outs of late adolescence for a minute or two every few weeks. There was no rhyme or reason to character trajectories, there were no actual plot devices and the series likely wasn’t created to instill a life mantra into the mouldable minds of its youngish audience. But, alas, here we are. At 34, I still explain and justify my approach to guys with the enthusiasm of a sensationalized teen character: I’m happy to fall in like constantly, and I wear that simple ethos on my sleeve. Even yesterday, I had a brief exchange with a guy named Jared in the elevator at the movies, and I’m still thinking about whether or not we are meant to be. (We’re probably not, but who knows? Romance!)
Of course, this type of crush isn’t a problem. A harmless, fun and exciting distraction that’s in no way an infringement on anyone’s day or psyche is the best type of crush in the world. Especially because I (like most people on earth) am quite busy. A crush only becomes a problem when your time is devoured by incessant text-message analysis, Instagram creeping or going out of your way on a regular basis to maybe walk by them like you did on that random Monday three weeks ago. As a living person, I’m pressed for time and usually stressed and always extremely tired, so when I finally begin dedicating my time to the goal of morphing a crush into The Guy I’ve Decided To Officially Like™, I hope for a little bang for my buck—though not literally. (What a terrible joke.) Ultimately, I’ve come to the point where I’d like to know that some thought exists in The Guy I’ve Decided To Like’s world about how cool I am and how much I’d appreciate a screencap from I Think You Should Leave. I’d like to know that he’s fluent in engagement because banter and conversation rule all. I like men who I can talk to and make me laugh and don’t leave me to do the conversational heavy lifting as if I’m auditioning for a one-woman show. (Especially since the men who tend to skew that way aren’t even funny to begin with.)
Or at least this is what I remind myself of when a crush threatens to break away from its harmlessness and tread into “I really like this guy” territory. Especially since I’ve finally escaped the cycle of terrible dynamics I entertained throughout most (read: all) of my 20s, when I’d actively hand the men I liked my time. They took it from me, and I let them, convinced that if I just did my part and put in the work, I’d win them over and it would all be worth it.
Perhaps shockingly (just kidding), it never, ever has been.
In high school, I prioritized the boys I liked over everything. Sure, I made it seem like I was dedicated to friends and work, but I knew that should Mark (or whomever) pop up on Messenger and ask me to hang, I’d be over there instantly, happy to neglect everybody but him and his abundance of West 49 hoodies. And that set the stage for the next decade and a bit: If a guy I liked wanted to make plans on a day when I was already busy, I’d rearrange my schedule. If he texted me, even days after our last exchange, I’d get back to him promptly, worried he’d forget about me if I let him wait. Which, for the record, I did plenty of: I’d wait for them to respond, wait for them to call and wait for them to confirm whether or not we had plans so I could tell my friends I’d be seeing them later, thank you. I operated on a one-way street of attention, common courtesy and general interest. And I was terrified that if I stopped, I’d end up all alone. As if I had nothing in the world to do but pursue men who forgot when my birthday was. As if I didn’t have friends or family or exciting projects or books to read or movies to see. As if we all don’t end up alone regardless. (I mean, technically, anyway.)
But at some point this past summer, crush-free by fluke and ready to go into my mid-30s with a healthier perspective, I began to think about when I feel my best. Because, sure, I feel amazing when a crush reciprocates anything, but I feel even better when I’m around people who genuinely want to spend time with me. I leave hangouts with my family knowing how fortunate I am to have been born into a group of people who love and really know me. And I feel incredible when I’m working on something that brings me joy or makes me feel smart. I feel good when I thrift-shop. When I bake a pie. When I set up my balcony to look like a retiree’s backyard in Miami. When I finish reading something I loved or when a friend and I walk for hours, catching up and laughing at our stupid jokes. Hell, I feel wonderful writing this, sipping on a lukewarm pumpkin-spice latte while intermittently scrolling through Instagram.
And I don’t feel that way at all when I’m checking Instagram obsessively for his likes or DMs, when I’m stifling disappointment over his lack of response to my text or when I’m funnelling so much of my brain power into trying to figure out how to make him like me. What matters most in my life tends to find a way into my heart without demanding anything or taking advantage of my kindness or generosity or ability to make a very good joke. And no guy who was worth my time (because there have been some) has ever been a time-suck or made me feel less than. They’ve been additions to my life, not the framework I base my life around.
Which is a pretty big revelation for a weeknight after too many episodes of Top Chef.
Of course, I know that I’ll inevitably slip up and fall into time-consuming “analyze everything” mode the next time I meet some dude and decide to brand him as more than just a simple crush. And I know that I’ll have to check myself to make sure I don’t put so much pressure on myself to make something happen. (Or any responsibility, honestly. I need a break.) But cruising into fall and being another year older, I think I’m finally ready to ask myself whether a man I like is worth my time before I give it to him—whether he’s worth the hour I could spend making a pie or the two hours I could pass watching a movie. Which may sound harsh, but I think this new standard is overdue. My time is worth something. So is my heart. And as a grown-ass woman in charge of her own life, I get to dictate the terms under which I divide up myself and my schedule. I always have a crush on every boy (read: I absolutely will), but my true love will always be whatever makes me feel whole and happy.