CRUSHED: On Finding the Difference Between Having a Crush and Being in Love

I choose the mess of love over the easy selfish revelations of a crush.
Publish date:
December 23, 2014

Zay is the last crush I’ve had worth mentioning (with all respect to Robert Downey Jr, Gillian Anderson, and of course, Michael Keaton). We were best friends in grad school though he’s nearly a decade my senior (ha ha ha, roasted, dude).

Once, I had this stupid necklace with a harmonica on it, and he leaned over and blew it. I turned bright red. He noticed I turned bright red. Zay notices things or he is oblivious. When he is oblivious I’d make the argument that he’s doing it deliberately. This might irritate him or it make him chuckle his wonderful chuckle. It depends on a lot of things including our tone, and our respective moods. Zay is smart and kind and anxious and fascinated by people. He’s also emotional and earnest and self-actualized to the point where I, a repressed WASP from New England, doubted that people like him existed. He is from California.

Zay’s a writer, like me. Our writing is very different, but I’d take out the knees of anyone who’d speak ill of his writing, and I think he’d do the same for me. We’ve had fights. We’ve also had magical smokey nights and heads on laps in cabs and walks in terrible conditions and quiet total understanding of the other when it was desperately needed and seemed impossible to find. Is it any wonder I crushed out on him hard? Is it any wonder that he resented my confession and it took us a long time to build our friendship back into something different but storied and strong?

One of my first memories of Zay is him loudly proclaiming that he wanted his work to become a recognized part of the American canon. One of my second memories of him involves him coming straight up to me and saying that I must be another writer because I was being so quiet. Zay believed in me, and, I can honestly say that his goals for. let us say. canonization (SAINT PUN!) don’t seem at all ill-founded. He’s a good man, and while he’s complex and knows what it is to feel sadness and despair, he’s got a lightness of spirit to him whether he recognizes it or not, and that makes him unique.

Zay was almost not a crush, because I loved -- and love -- him. We have not always been kind to each other, but we have pushed and challenged and goaded and supported each other and, I am beginning to think, kind of always will. It’s love if it keeps going. I think that’s probably the simplest definition of the world’s most loaded four-letter word, right? Love -- when it doesn’t just stop.

I haven’t seen him since Halloween. We tried to make plans for this week, but I am notoriously difficult to pin down. He is one of three people who calls me out on it. He’s also probably one of five people I’d consider leaving my hermit hole to go see. Zay provided a bridge. His fervor for the stories of other people, his insistence upon us knowing each other, those are both ways in which he challenged me and helped me grow. I don’t know what I did for him, but it must be something, because here we are five years out from grad school and we are still in the other’s orbit. Zay made me begin to realize that relationships were different from what I’d thought. He started the process, one that my most recent whatever-it-is brought to fruition.


I started this column with naive and goofy expectations. After years of relationships that failed to capture the majesty of the unrequited crushes of my youth, I had met someone, who, against all odds, inspired those same rush of emotions, and he liked me back. I wanted to give him a special present. I thought this, the slow build to revealing that he is the end, might be nice. If we were in a Shakespeare play I’d have run around a forest slapping our names on trees. Thankfully we are not in a Shakespeare play.

And life is complicated. I’m a storyteller. The fact that I tried to write our ending so many different ways (and all of them badly) is proof of that. I can’t put a bow on this. I can’t end the story because it’s happening, because we’re in it, because I’m living it with other people and so it isn’t mine to tell, not really, not like I have been here.

That’s what makes a real feeling different from a pants-moistening, self-indulgent, awkward unrequited passion. If it’s real, it’s not yours to tell, not totally. For a person who loves telling stories, that’s a tough nugget to swallow. But, it’s a trade-off that, from what I can tell, is worth it, difficult and surprising as it may be. I choose the mess of love over the easy selfish revelations of a crush.

Because, I believe in love. No, I am not high. Would that this were the case. Ha. It’s the final installment, I’m allowed to stand on a soapbox and scream about love, right? I’m gonna. I believe, simply put, that there are people who mysteriously sync with each other. I add the word mysteriously, because while I believe in love, I don’t necessarily believe in people by and large. I think human beings spend ninety percent of their waking life disappointing each other -- and then an additional five percent being deliberately cruel.

The mystery of love is that it exists at all. It’s a rare thing, and it’s funny that me, a person who doubts almost everything else on the planet and the conceivable universe would be unable to shake this deeply rooted and sincerely felt belief in connection; in recognition.

I don’t think love is sex on rainbows or wedding rings or matching sinks or even, at times, very much fun. I think it’s a complicated but complete recognition -- a true seeing -- of another person. I think that if you can find another human being on this globe and really see them, then together you’ve witnessed universes, together you’ve caught a glimpse of what the fuck it is we’re supposed to be doing.

Love is when you freeze or take a step back or say the pretty words instead of the right ones and a voice says, “Bullshit. Keep going,” and you do, you do, until it is your turn to remind them that the meaningless fight of waking life may not be something conquerable, but it is survivable. It’s the day after the battle’s over. No, it’s the heat of the battle and looking up over a dead body, your own bloodied and aching and locking eyes with a person covered in dirt and other horrible streaks of life. Yeah. It’s a scene from Braveheart. It’s terrible. it’s exhausting. It is not a crush, it’s a war. You may survive, but if you’re doing it right, neither of you will be the same.