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When a Crush Is the Primer for Love, the Life Lessons Can Be Rewarding


When I was in ninth grade, I had a crush on a gorgeous senior football player. As I made my way to science class each day, I would usually pass him in the hall. Sometimes he'd notice me and smile, which sent me into a tailspin for at least an hour.

Though crushes seem anything but natural when they cause our breathing to become uneven and our legs to shake, they are actually a normal part of growing up, says Kimberlee Hancock, a licensed marriage, family and child counselor with KAH & Associates in Tustin.

"When we have a crush, we admire someone for whatever positive characteristics we believe the person has," she says. "It's not unusual to have a crush on an older person, such as a teacher or upper classmates. Crushes on someone very different are also common. A bookworm may find someone who walks on the wild side intriguing and vice versa.

"Crushes are safe and generally not known, which means there's no fear of rejection," Hancock says.

As we age, crushes change in tone.

"When we are young, we often don't act on the crushes. But once we reach high school, we may start to verbalize our feelings and make a move of some sort," Hancock says.

Because they occur at a time when we are changing so rapidly, high school crushes carry a lot of emotional weight, she says. They are our first experiences with life outside of the family.

No doubt it's high school crushes that often lead us years later to class reunions.

"Once you leave school, life as it was is never the same," Hancock says. "When we think about crushes, it reminds us of that special time. Many of us go to reunions to rekindle those memories. We also go back genuinely curious to see what happened to someone we had a crush on."

At high school reunions, it's not uncommon for people to confess their crushes. Telling all can sometimes be therapeutic.

"When a person confesses, it takes the energy and emotion out of the crush and gives a sense of closure," Hancock says.

For the person who didn't know about the crush, it can be flattering.

Sherry, who is single, says she kept a low profile in high school and didn't think she was very memorable. Since then, the 48-year-old self-employed Orange word processor has been shocked to hear how many people had crushes on her in high school.

"At my 20th reunion, a former classmate came up to me and said that he and four other men would leave their wives for me; they all had big crushes on me in high school. My first reaction was, 'Why didn't you tell me then?' "

Recently, at her 30th reunion, Sherry was approached by a classmate who recalled seeing her walk in the door the first day of seventh grade.

"He said he remembers thinking, there she is, and he's had a crush on me ever since," she says. "We're going out for dinner after all these years."


It's not unusual that people don't tell one another about crushes in high school, says Hancock. "Because of cliques and the way rumors get started, high school isn't a safe place to reveal crushes," she says. "Once you are out of school, you don't have to see these people on a day-to-day basis, so it's much safer to tell."

Finding out that someone you had a crush on felt the same way can be a satisfying experience.

When Carrol, 48, who's single, recently went to her 30th reunion, she talked with a man she'd had a crush on during her junior year.

"He was on the football team and sat next to me in English class," says the Tustin graphic designer. "I thought he was really cute and an easy-going guy. I tried to flirt by making all kinds of eye contact, but he didn't seem to know I was alive--until I started dating a guy from another school. When I walked into class with my new boyfriend's ring around my neck, he was shocked and began to pay more attention to me," she says.

When she saw him at their recent reunion, they reminisced.

"It was really nice to know that he remembered me and thought I was attractive then and now," she says.

While some people like to visit reunions to see the person they had a crush on, others prefer memory to reality. Greg, 41, a married Orange County physician, doesn't want to see the girl he had a crush on in junior high. Part of the girl's allure, he says, was the fact that she came from the "wrong side of the tracks."

"She was from a community of bikers that lived in our area," he says. "It was exciting to think I liked her, especially since she was so different from me and ran around with the party crowd."

When Greg's dad saw him with her one night, though, he forbid him to see her. He and his family soon moved from the area, and he never saw her again.

"For decades I was mad that he had forbidden me to see her," he says. "It wasn't until years later that I understood why. Getting me away from that crowd was the best thing for me. Today that particular group of people have major drug and marital problems. The last I heard, things hadn't worked out very well for her. I prefer to keep my idealized image of her in the eighth grade."

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