The other night I found myself flustered as I dressed to meet someone for a cocktail on the cool side of town. Flats or heels? I went with flats. I walk funny in heels and didn’t want to seem like I was trying too hard. Hair up or down? Down. My haircut was at its peak. A nervous glance in the mirror, a deep breath, and I was on my way.
The thing is, I wasn’t meeting a man. I was meeting a woman. My butterflies didn’t stem from sexual tension, but from a blossoming girl crush. It’s not my first, and it surely won’t be my last. It’s just the latest in a long line of such crushes: there was my brother’s high school girlfriend, the college classmate, the friend of a friend in New York, two of my sister’s friends, the other writer, the editor, and of course, Amy Adams and Parker Posey, among others. And I’m not alone. Girl crushes are the new boy crushes.
What It Is, and What It’s Not
Admit you have a girl crush in front of a man, and it will take less than a second before scenes of Denise Richards and Neve Campbell in Wild Things start dancing in his head. In a sense, a girl crush is romantic; however it’s not sexual. Without veering into Single White Female territory, a girl crush is about possessing admiration that borders on infatuation. You either want to friend her or you want to be her. At the very least, you want to spend time with her, and you want her to like you. It’s the female version of the bromance.
You can have a girl crush on someone you’ve just met, on someone you’ve admired from afar, or even on a celebrity you have no chance of meeting in real life. Of course, meeting your crush is not necessarily the point; this is the reason you don’t generally develop girl crushes on women you’ve already befriended—the allure of a crush is sometimes the person’s unattainability. Your fascination is with the image you’ve created, not with the reality. When I crushed on Dylan McKay in sixth grade, I had no delusions I would run away with Luke Perry (thank goodness). That didn’t make the crush any less fervent.
The parallel with celebrity crushes is a useful one, because these kinds of attachments often start when girls are in their preteen years—hence the use of the adolescent term “crush.”
“A lot of young girls fall in love with a teacher or coach,” observes clinical psychologist Elaine Ducharme. Ducharme connects these crushes with a girl's desire to be mothered; the holder of such a crush may not consciously realize that the object of her admiration possesses the nurturing yet assertive quality and the strength that she wants to be close to.
A friend of mine reminisces about her first girl crushes, which were on counselors at the camp we attended as kids. “All they had to be was older and pretty,” she says. “If they smiled at me once ... poof! I was in love with them and wanted to be just like them.”
The Platonic Ideal
We crush on women whom we admire, who elicit a sense of awe in us. But we don’t just admire them; we want to emulate them. “My girl crushes tend to be on women who are ‘better’ versions of how I perceive myself,” says my friend Lindsay.
They exhibit traits we wish we had. We wish we had her effortless style or her sense of adventure, her personal drive or her biting wit. “We think, ‘If I’m close to them, some of them might rub off on me,’” explains Ducharme.
Another friend of mine has even figured out her type: “I find myself crushing on the outdoorsy, athletic types that have committed themselves to that sort of lifestyle,” she says, “something I wish I could do but (can’t because) I’m stuck behind a desk in order to pay the bills.”
Some women are content to let their girl crushes simmer as they enjoy idealizing the object of them. Others take a more engaged approach. “I’ve befriended all the girl crushes I’ve ever had,” says my friend Amanda. “I guess I’m kind of like a girl-crush Black Widow—except I don’t kill them. We just get lots of drinks, and it helps if they like to shop.” Some girl crushes do, in fact, lead to fulfilling, long-term relationships, er, friendships. In these cases, the admiration may survive, but the crush often fades. The honeymoon, so to speak, is over.
It’s interesting that while some women whom we consider attractive, alluring, or successful in their careers or lives inspire crushes, others inspire only jealousy. It might have to do with the woman’s awareness of her crush-worthiness. If a woman knows that she’s got something on you and that she exhibits traits you wish you had, instantly her charm is gone. A girl crush requires modesty or, at the very least, graciousness on the part of the idolized. It also helps if the woman in question is not in direct competition with you, whether for a job or for the attentions of a male or mutual friend. Inherently, we are attracted to the weaknesses of our rivals, not to their strengths.
You’ve Got It Bad
Think you’ve got a girl crush? The signs are similar to a romantic crush, minus the daydreams of tangled sheets and baby names. You’ll likely recognize some of the symptoms here:
- You’ve met her only once, but have already friended her on Facebook.
- You sweat around her.
- You fumble your words around her.
- You make stupid jokes around her.
- You find yourself disproportionately caring about her opinion.
- You find yourself copying her: you shop where she shops, eat where she eats, read the same books, wear her perfume. (Okay, the last one is a little creepy.)
- You think of ways to “pick her up”: take her shopping or out to coffee, a movie, a concert, or drinks.
- You are excited to get an email, text, or call from her.
- You spend time crafting your communications with her.