Certain (annoying) people love to brag about how they tell their partner everything, as if a 100 percent disclosure rate is the key to a perfectly healthy relationship (it isn’t). There are some things you don’t necessarily need to tell your partner — like, for instance, how you think the guy who always spells your name wrong on your Starbucks cup is actually really cute. A spoiler: Having little crushes on people, even when you’re in the happiest relationship of your life, is both very common, and very normal. But if the feelings persist or you feel tempted to cross a line, those feelings are a sign that you need to ask yourself how happy you actually are with your current partner.
To ease everyone’s general concern about which feelings you’re allowed to have when you’re in a relationship, Rachel Sussman, a New York-based therapist and relationship expert, cleared up the air when it comes to the very messy territory of navigating extra-relationship crushes.
Drawing a line between crush and Crush
The definition of “having a crush” is extremely broad. A crush can be something as simple and light as a flittery feeling in your chest when you notice the cute barista is working at your local coffeeshop, or a deeper feeling of near-infatuation you feel for your “friend” in class who you’ve been studying with on a more frequent basis.
Sussman said the first definition, or having a light crush on a stranger or near-stranger, is perfectly harmless. “As human beings, we’re very visual,” she said. “We love a beautiful piece of art, we admire beauty. There’s nothing wrong with admiring a beautiful person on the street.” She even added that there’s nothing wrong with some mild flirting, as might be the case with the aforementioned cute barista. It’s fun to flirt! It’s a confidence boost! Go for it!
But, of course, flirting can cross a line if you’re in a monogamous, closed relationship with someone. Like, let’s say you start feeling like you have a crush on a coworker, or someone you know relatively well and see almost every day. It’s one thing to notice someone else is hot and want to flirt with that person almost as a sport, but it’s another for a crush to deepen into feelings that may cause distress in your relationship.
Sussman’s rule of thumb is that if it’s causing you distress, and doesn’t feel like a fleeting thing, you should take a step back and examine your relationship. Are you as happy as you say you are? Did something shift recently that caused the dynamic to change. Sussman mentioned things like a new job, starting grad school, moving to college, etc. can often cause a partner to feel neglected, or like they’re receiving less attention than they once were. Or if this is a relationship you’ve been in for a long time, maybe the crush that won’t go away is a sign that your tastes or personality has changed, and you and your partner are no longer fitting together like you once did.
“Oftentimes, the crush is just the tip of the iceberg,” Sussman said. “If you’re developing feelings for someone else, there may be something broken with your relationship.”
The case for not disclosing your crush
All this said, you shouldn’t rush home and immediately tell your partner about the cute barista (unless you’re in a relationship where discussing sexual fantasies like that is totally cool), or the actual crush you have on a coworker or someone more serious. Sussman’s advice is to figure out your own feelings before disclosing everything to your partner.
“Don’t go home and vomit this information unless you understand what’s behind it,” she said. “Oftentimes, these things can be very innocent, and once you put that out there that there’s someone you have a crush on, it’s very hard for the person that you give that information to to process it and let it go. You might be able to work it out and move on, but your [partner] might not be able to.”
If it turns out that the crush is actually something serious — like you have real feelings for someone else that you feel compelled to explore, or you realize that the crush is a sign you aren’t happy in your relationship — then that’s the conversation you should have with your partner. As Sussman said, the crush feelings for this other person are just (in some cases) the visible symptom of a deeper issue with your relationship.
Sussman also said these little crushes happen all the time — both with couples who’ve been together for decades, and with couples who’ve been together for a month. For the latter category, she would prompt you to ask yourself if you’re still in “singles mode,” and just aren’t yet used to being in a monogamous situation. Or maybe it’s that, a month in, you realize a closed relationship isn’t what you want. If that’s the case — don’t be in one! Her advice is to “play the field,” keep dating, and have as many crushes as your little heart can handle.