Anatomy of the Perfect Harmless Adult Crush

Recently, some of my friends have been lamenting the lack of good crushes in their orbit as of late. All in their thirties, the majority married, they found themselves longing for old crushes who’d faded from their social circles or workplaces, taking their crushability with them. Which got us thinking: What makes for the perfect crush, anyway? And are they really harder to come by as you get older?


To answer the second question first: Probably. Much like making friends when “old,” finding a good crush becomes, if not harder, at least a different game. When you’re younger, there’s a virtually endless conveyor belt of possibilities for crushing and befriending, because you tend to be in the same place for many hours day in and day out for years. That stable yet constantly rotating cast of people—classmates, new friends, new friends’ older brothers and sisters, at least one good-looking teacher—eventually gets whittled down to the people you’re actually friends with, work with, or see in your everyday life when you go to the same coffee shop, post office, grocery store, bar, dry cleaners, etc.

Gone is the rich, endless brook of crushability babbling past your daily existence. Your current circle of potentially fresh crush meat is so much more limited. As is, hopefully, your tolerance for the phrase “fresh crush meat.”

That said, let me address some things here in an attempt to define a good crush:

Can you crush on anyone?

Technically the entire world is yours for the crushing. If you live in a city with a reliable public transportation system, I’m told the appeal of subway stranger crushes is limitless. I glimpsed this truth recently on my first trip to London and Paris, when every four minutes the universe offered up subway car after subway car full of people, just sitting there, ready to be rated, many of them exceptionally crushable and with very good hair. As someone who grew up in the car-obsessed South, I must say that while you could presumably pluck just as many stranger crushes from a freeway traffic sprawl, it’s not exactly the safest activity to participate in while driving, not to mention nowhere near as fun as the hands-free experience of simply looking people over and deciding to love them fully and completely for a good three minutes.

However, this one-time crush sighting has a short shelf life. It won’t get you through boring patches in a relationship or a dull day at work, because by the time you get to the office you’ve probably forgotten all about that one dude sitting across from you on the train.

What about celebrities?

Celebrity crushes are great, safe, and easy to nurture, as they are ubiquitous in the world. But therefore, they are the “bowl of oatmeal” of crushes. Please, you think Chris Pratt is hot? Yawn. Tell me something actually exciting, something mildly inappropriate, something strangely uncomfortable. Plus, it’s hard to imagine that a crush shared by millions is very satisfying.


Are you talking about single people crushing too?

Of course! But also, when single people crush on each other, that’s a much more likely prelude to actual dating—or it at least has the possibility. The perfect crush is always a little bit out of reach.


That being said, if you are a single person crushing on a taken or otherwise inappropriate person you actually know—someone that can’t know your real feelings or else you’d get very embarrassed—keep reading.

The perfect crush is, therefore:


I know, that sounds redundant, but it’s not. The perfect crush is perfect, or, more accurately, seems perfect because you don’t really know them and don’t know what they are really like, which is probably “as irritating as everyone else.” In fact, crushes often fade in direct proportion to intimate knowledge. Who hasn’t watched your crush vanish before your eyes after one too many work lunches hearing about their baseball card collection?


You can’t know the perfect crush too well, because if you do actually know them really well and still have a big crush on them, then the truth is: You don’t have a crush, my friend, you are in love. Sorry. Go home, you’re drunk.

In Your Daily Path

You gotta see your crush at least once every two weeks, and that’s pushing it. You have to see this person enough to keep your crush fed. Anything less than a fortnight frequency creates a crush that will die on the vine. And any amount of time spent with your crush is workable if the interaction is limited enough by lack of intimate knowledge, actual friendship, or the necessary boundaries (say, at work) that will keep it in check.


Possibly Incompatible

A perfect crush is good and safe and harmless if the person would not be compatible with you in real life. That keeps it in the land of the impossible, and not the possible, which is good for everyone. Have you ever had a crush on someone and gotten together with them only to realize the best part of them was the part you made up? Yeah, I thought so.


Good incompatibility includes if they are super hot but too dumb for you, not hot but too smart for you, hilarious but unattractive, or really into Dave Matthews. I consider the latter a crush killer, but hey, I try to stay open to possibilities, and I’m aware that embarrassing (even mortifying) crushes can be a lot of fun.

And of course, too compatible and suddenly you’re in actually dateable territory, a.k.a. trouble. Bonus points in this category if you crush on someone so good looking, so kind, so smart, such a good person, that it actually would make you uncomfortable to be with them in real life, because you would feel like you were pulling some kind of con, being the garbage person you are.



It shouldn’t ever work out with your crush. That’s the whole point of the crush—to not destroy it with reality. Or at least it should never work out while it really shouldn’t work out, which is to say, while you’re otherwise taken, committed, or unavailable.


But again, if this is just someone you want to date later after you break up with what’s-his-face, this is not a crush. It’s the beginning of love. It’s Real Like. Real Like can start with a crush, but once it’s Real Like, it’s over. You’re back in the land of the living. Sorry. RIP, crush.

Not Too Intrusive/Relatively Harmless

Thoughts of your crush should occasionally drift through your mind like a spring breeze. Sometimes you can focus in, enjoy the view, look from a couple different angles A crush must entertain you in moments of boredom or listlessness, but not to the extent it ever infringes on your actual life or relationship.


This is a fine line, and no one can draw it but you, but at the point where the crush becomes something you’re thinking about all the time to an intrusive, distracting, maddening, pop-song-y degree, it’s a problem, isn’t it? Don’t be this guy.


While the crush is stuck in crush purgatory, it should remain anonymous. If you tell someone you have a crush on them, run away. Immediately. See that thing above about Real Life.


Not Totally Unrequited

An unrequited crush is a fact of life at some point or another—we’ve all had them. Ideally, though, there is a little something at least that keeps the perfect crush going—a shared interest, a similar sense of humor, an appreciation of the same terrible movies, a notion about their persona you connect with. Crushes should be joyful distractions, not torturous longing.


But Not Too Into You

Your crush would ideally crush right back on you with equal fervor—but not too much that they actually think you would be with them. Because you wouldn’t.


(Of course, what you imagine, and the impending fallout of that fantasy, is up to you, as it resides safely in your head with all your other weird, gross, irrational, indefensible thoughts.)

In conclusion, you are never too old or too committed to have any old crush. But good crushes are hard to find. Perfect crushes are even more so. This is why when you find one, you should honor and preserve it with the proper parameters, and care for it as much as you would a real relationship. Except not at all. Because it isn’t.


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Illustration by Tara Jacoby


Do commenter crushes count?