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Birds & Bees

It's Only Human to Be Caught Under the Weight of a Crush

November 26, 2001|KATHLEEN KELLEHER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Susan Rome's crush on writer Rick Bass erupted spontaneously when she heard his voice on National Public Radio while driving in Glendale eight years ago.

"I literally had to pull over and compose myself," recounted Rome, 37, who is single and lives in Baltimore. "I had to go immediately to the bookstore to buy the book he was talking about."

After reading "Platte River," Bass' 1994 collection of short stories, the prose so intensified Rome's crush that she was compelled do something she had never done before--write a gushy letter to the author care of the publisher.

"I wrote, 'I have a writer crush on you and I have never done this before ... haven't even seen your picture, but I just liked the way you talked about writing,"' said Rome, a development director for CollegeBound Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps inner-city children attend college.

Crushes come in many varieties, according to psychologists who study love and romance. There are romantic or sexual crushes, complete-stranger crushes, famous-people crushes and same-sex, nonsexual crushes (the kind you might have on a new friend or college roommate). The tingly thrill of a crush is often experienced clandestinely, the secret kept for fear that revelation might invite ridicule or rejection.

A distant crush is, for the most part, fantasy, an unrequited love that thrives in a vacuum of information, said Pat Love, an Austin-based marriage and family therapist. "A crush is distinct from an affair or infatuation because a crush does not require chemistry," said Love, author of "The Truth About Love" (Simon & Schuster, 2001). "A crush is usually very early interest based on limited information. The crush often goes away when we get more information because it blows the fantasy."

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Some crushes are based on a physical look, but many are because of something more elusive, an inexplicable emotional or intellectual quality about a person that matches our psychological template, said Janice Levine, a clinical psychologist in Lexington, Mass., and co-author of "Why Do Fools Fall in Love." "Think of the professors that you get a crush on who are not attractive at all," Levine said. "Crushes are involuntary and very primitive. The objects of crushes represent someone or something to us, and [the object of the crush] may possess attributes we aspire to or that we feel are less developed in ourselves. We project onto a crush what we need them to be."

Preschool-aged children develop crushes on each other. Adolescents are especially crush-prone.

The zap of a crush can happen in the grocery store produce section, at the dog park or while standing at a kids' soccer practice.

Or while watching TV. Susan Hayden, who is married to a tall, conventionally handsome actor, has had a crush on the unlikely Tim Russert, a Washington bureau chief for NBC and moderator of "Meet the Press." This is a subject about which Hayden good-naturedly takes endless ribbing from friends and family, and especially from her husband, who likes to say he is "too young and too in shape" for his wife's quirky taste.

"Initially, I was repulsed by [Russert's] weight, his attitude, his posturing," said Hayden, a 38-year-old Santa Monica novelist. "Then one day when I was feeling sleep-deprived, everything changed. I turned on the TV and I saw that he was a great interviewer and he had a humanity about him. It's not an obsession. I am just real glad to have him on Sundays."

The antidote to most distant crushes is an actual meeting. One Toronto writer's intense crush on Richard Gere in 1980 compelled her to write him a letter requesting an interview while he was performing in the play "Bent" in New York. A typed letter denying the request, bearing his signature, was the response. The woman, 23 at the time and persistent, bought tickets to the play anyway.

She tossed a rose to him on stage with a note saying she was the writer who had wanted to interview him. Then she went to the stage door after the play and asked to see him. To her surprise, he agreed to meet her. "It was completely anticlimactic," said the woman, who asked to be anonymous because now, at 45, she finds the story embarrassing. "He was in prisoner-of-war garb. He had a shaved head and he was hyper after the show. He was the diametrically opposed look of 'American Gigolo.' That got me over it."

Rejection can also be a death knell for a crush. So it was for Clark Benson of Hollywood Hills who in 1998 had crushes on women whom he mistakenly read as receptive.

"I had a couple of experiences in a row where I was interested in someone who was a friend, and I thought there was some interest, and when it came time to make a move, it was complete shut-down, complete surprise," said Benson, 33. "It was painful. I thought, 'I have not a clue what the other side is thinking."'

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