Life After Dating: Dealing With Crushes When You’re In A Relationship

Wendy Stokesby:

Love & Sex

So you’ve finally found The One (or at least The One For The Foreseeable Future) and you’ve committed to a serious relationship. Now what? In our new weekly column, Life After Dating, we’ll discuss the unique joys and challenges of coupledom.

I’ve been with my boyfriend, Max*, for five years now. We are completely committed to each other and about as happy together as real-life couple can be. I don’t question the fact that we will be together forever. I don’t want to date anyone else. And yet, I still get crushes on other people.

I’ve always been the crushing type. I tend to fall in love with 10 different people a day, for one reason or another. I toss my feelings around pretty freely, and the result is frequent, fleeting crushes on everyone from my favorite barista to the guy who came over to set up my wireless internet to about one-third of the contestants on “The Voice.”

“I briefly fell in love with the cable guy today,” I’ll tell Max over cocktails. He laughs it off. Luckily, he loves this quirk about me.

Max doesn’t seem to crush at all, but honestly, I think that’s more because of our different personalities than an indication of our levels of commitment. Max is shy, more reserved, and has a very stable, steady personality. I’m more gregarious, outgoing, and naturally flirtatious. Despite my frequent crushes, my feelings for Max have never wavered.

But I will admit that over the course of our five years, some of those fun, flirty little crushes have morphed into something bigger, something worth worrying about. I wasn’t just joking around about that hot flight attendant who gave me free wine; the thought of slipping him my email address crossed my mind. I once went so far as to fantasize about a male friend — to the point where I got goosebumps every time I thought about us getting naked together. These crushes felt very different than my casual crushes on say, the cable guy. It was in these moments that I wished Max did get crushes. If he had ever so much as glanced at another woman, I might have felt less like a villain fantasizing about joining the Mile-High club. It would have balanced things out a bit.

An intense crush doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care if you’re in a relationship. It doesn’t care if the person in question is TOTALLY wrong for you. It will still keep you up at night and convince you to touch up your lip gloss more often, just in case. The worst of these crushes was one I got a few years ago on a guy I met in a writing class I took. He was the brooding sort who drove a motorcycle. So cliche. We sent a couple flirty emails back and forth under the guise of “essay feedback.” (I’ll show you my notes if you show me yours.”) I dressed up for class. I got butterflies every time our eyes met while our professor was reading Raymond Carver excerpts. I found that when I tried to stifle my feelings for him, they only grew stronger. When I mentally beat myself up for these feelings (“WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?! You’re already dating an amazing guy!”), I felt even shittier than before, and my crush still refused to wane. I felt helpless and trapped in a crush I didn’t want to have, neglecting a relationship I didn’t want to leave. It never got to the point where we made plans to hang out alone, although there were days when I wanted to ask him to have a drink after class. Even if it did, I’m not sure I could have or would  have ever cheated on Max, but just the fact that maybe it was kind of an option set me on edge.

After many sleepless nights, imagining the dude-with-the-motorcycle’s O face while Max snored next to me, I had a realization: the only way out of the crush was through it. I decided to give myself permission to feel my feelings, to explore some of my fantasies about my crush, to let myself answer all the “What ifs?” swirling around my head. Not with my crush himself of course — that would have crossed a line — just with myself. I made a pact never to act on my feelings and I let myself “go there” mentally. I thought about what my life might look like if I broke up with Max and ran off with my crush.How long would the  thrill of riding on the back of a motorcycle with an emotionally distant guy last? (Not long.) How annoyed I would get by the way my crush says “Hella” 50 times a day? (Very.) Would his fondness for strip clubs affect our relationship in the long run? (Most definitely.) What would I miss about Max if I actually acted on my crush and ended my relationship? (Too many things to list.)

I paid attention to how I felt when imagining these scenarios. I forced myself to consider some of the harsh realities that most crush-y daydreams don’t include. After all, anyone can doodle their crush’s name on their day planner; it’s significantly harder to confront the practical ramifications of actually leaving your relationship for him.

In addition to imagining the consequences of acting out my feelings for my crush, I asked myself deeper questions about it: What did this crush represent for me? What void was motorcycle dude filling? What was missing, in my relationship, in myself, that made him seem like such an attractive alternative?  I forced myself to answer these questions.

At the end of this process, something crazy happened: indulging in my crush actually affirmed my love and commitment to Max. Within a couple of weeks, my feelings for motorcycle guy had passed, and I was left with a relationship that was better than ever.

For some people, asking these tough questions and going down this road might have led them to end their relationship. Sometimes a crush is a way out of a relationship that’s not working. It can be a wakeup call. That’s what makes it such a scary proposition. But in the grand scheme of things, the only way to approach a crush while you’re in a relationship with someone else is to face it. For Max and me, my crush served as a warning for totally fixable problems. By looking it right in the eye, I could figure out exactly what those problems were and how to tackle them. My crush reminded me of exactly why I chose to be with Max instead of any other guy. It reminded me that no matter how many cute waiters might catch my eye (and I’m sure many more will), that my fleeting crushes on them, or my more tenacious ones, will allow me the opportunity to continue to choose to be with Max.

*Name has been changed.

[Photo from Shutterstock]

Original by Carine Miller-Shelton

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