A crush is that butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling you get when someone you admire or find attractive catches your eye. It often comes with a sense of giddiness, excitement, and maybe even a little bit of guilt because you know you probably shouldn’t act on those feelings. Whether it’s for a romantic partner, a new best friend, or even a co-worker, crushing can have an important role in a person’s life, especially when it happens early on in adolescence.
Crushing is also a central theme in many of our favorite teen movies, from Mean Girls and Titanic to Lady Bird and Will & Grace. These stories use the climactic moment when the crush is revealed to be the catalyst for growth and change in a character’s life. Often, the ending is bittersweet (like when the crush is rejected in Mean Girls or killed in Titanic), but other times it’s hopeful and empowering, like when the crush helps the heroine move on from a toxic relationship in Lady Bird or discovers their inner strength in Will & Grace.
Those in committed relationships have been found to rate potential alternatives as less attractive, but this may be because they are unable to completely let go of their current relationship or because the crush is just too different from them (Johnson & Rusbult, 1989; O’Sullivan & Vannier, 2013). In contrast, people who are not in a current relationship report a more balanced view of the positive and negative aspects of their crushes. They describe the positive aspects of a crush as physical, emotional/romantic, and intellectual, while citing negatives as a risk to their primary relationship in terms of loss of trust or jealousy.
For teens, the experience of a crush can be confusing and anxiety-inducing. Often, they want to talk about their feelings with others, but they don’t always have the vocabulary to do so. They can feel embarrassed and ashamed, which makes it difficult to express themselves. In addition, a crush can take over their lives, and the daily tasks of getting dressed or going to the grocery store become arduous. It can also make them feel depressed and sad when their crush is not available, despite the fact that the relationship might be unfulfilling.
A new study out of the University of California, Berkeley, examines the way that a crush affects our day-to-day lives. Researchers looked at the behaviors of more than 1,400 adults, including both men and women, over a six-month period. They found that, for both men and women, a crush was associated with higher levels of depression, anxiety, and stress than when they were not experiencing a crush. The findings suggest that the reason for this link is rooted in our bodies’ biological responses to the threat of a rival, which causes us to have a “crush” on another person.
While Hulu’s Crush has a few overused tropes and a mom character that could have been more nuanced, it succeeds in its main goal of normalizing queer teen romance. As long as parents watch the film with their kids and discuss its implications, it is a welcome addition to the growing number of films and TV shows that offer same-sex love to young people.