The Guilt Just Ain’t Serving You, Sister

Dear Mommy,

I just started a new job, and I think I might have a crush on one of my co-workers. I don’t really know him and we have nothing in common, but I like him for some inexplicable reason, and I think he might like me too. I feel very guilty about it, because I’ve been with my boyfriend a long time, and I’m in love with him, and things are great with us. The guilt is a big thing, but the other part is that the crush takes up so much brain-space and I’m not focusing on work and other things in my life. Instead of contributing the way I want to, I’m thinking about how my hair looks and finding weird reasons to walk past his desk so I can “casually” bump into him, even though I don’t actually enjoy bumping into him! It’s an adrenaline rush, but I feel nervous the entire time and weird, self-conscious, and guilty afterward.

I haven’t had a crush like this since high school. It’s so overwhelming that I almost want to quit, but it’s my dream job and I don’t want to lose it because I think some guy is attractive. I just want to enjoy it and do the best work I can, and it weirds me out that I seem to care so much about what this random man thinks of me…even though I don’t want to like him, the fact that he seems to like me too makes me feel proud in a weird way? It’s like a gross patriarchal seal of approval on the least feminist part of my self-esteem.

I guess my 2 questions are:

1. What do you do when you have a possibly requited crush you can’t avoid?
2. How do I stop caring what men think of me?

Hi, my love! Ouch, the painful crush. I’ve had this crush. Your crushee walks through the door and your heart starts beating a little faster and you are instantly weirdly self aware and you start doing all these calculations in your head: how can I get them to come over here? What is the most interesting thing about myself I can casually slip into our next conversation? How can I walk by them but make it seem like I am not walking by them on purpose, and not even noticing them or aware of their existence, but also perfectly poised with an intelligent and thoughtful look on my face, a look that says, “Ask me about myself, trust me…you want to know.” It can be sort of fun and exciting, like a little private project. But it can also be SO annoying, particularly the way it makes you do things that feel beyond your control, like the constant checking of appearance when they are near or inconveniencing yourself so you can have an ultimately disappointing two minute conversation. And it can make you feel disillusioned with yourself, especially during the comedown when they’re no longer in your presence and you’re left standing alone thinking, “What the HELL was I just talking about? Who was that person, ’cause it sure as hell wasn’t me!” Not to mention the constant self esteem boosts and crashes! He seems to like you back? Boost. You are not being true to yourself? Crash. You think you looked good when he walked by? Boost. You think about your current relationship and feel like an asshole? Crash. You picture your future together? Boost. You realize you are being ridiculous ALL OF THE TIME? Crash crash crash.

I know it’s hard and overwhelming, but I think you probably just need to give it time. Crushes, especially the really obsessive ones, tend to have an expiration date. Sure, maybe you’ll always think they’re cute and have fun picturing what could have been, but I feel confident that as time goes on the obsession will at least wear off. That said, your current state seems a little dire. Thinking of quitting your dream job because of the crush?! That makes me suspect that it’s not just the crush itself – the annoying obsession and fuzzy-brain stuff that I’ve already mentioned – but that it’s the guilt you are feeling, both because you have a boyfriend already and because you aren’t living up to your own feminist standard, that is hitting you hardest. I urge you to be gentle with yourself. I admire anyone who holds themselves to a really high standard, and I am not advocating for lowering it. But the guilt just ain’t serving you, sister! It’s not making the crush go away, it’s not making you neglect to check your hair in your laptop screen’s reflection when your crush appears at your side. What if you tried to accept the crush? What if you were able to ride it out, do your thing, and accept it as a fact of life and not a reflection of who you are as a person? You aren’t a bad partner for having a crush, not for talking to your crush as much as possible, not for wearing a certain thing for your crush, not for fixing your hair when you are about to see your crush. You are just a human. Nor are you a bad feminist for getting a self-esteem boost because a man seems to like you. You can absolutely reach for the stars and try to be the kind of person who gets all of their self-esteem and self-worth from a deep, crystal clear well from within themselves. I totally want that for you! But if a dude likes you and it gives you a little boost, well…I don’t know. Maybe that’s ok? I’m trying very hard to stand on both sides of the line between validation and gentle suggestion that you give yourself a break. Stick to your feminist ideals, we NEED you in this world, but beating yourself up and racking yourself with guilt because a guy likes you and that makes you feel good? I must have missed that meeting, ’cause that doesn’t sound very feminist to me. As for how you stop caring what men think about you in general, this may surprise you as I put forth the image of having mastered all things, but honestly…hell if I know! All I know is that you have to practice it every single day. You have to start over every single day. And you have to listen to Bikini Kill.

Love, Mommy