What is a Crush and When Should You Act on It?

A crush is someone you’re infatuated with, whether it’s a classmate, coworker, or friend. They’re the person who makes your palms sweat, your heart race, and your stomach twist in knots just thinking of them. It’s the feeling that you can’t shake, and you desperately want to be around them.

According to psychology, it’s not uncommon for your feelings to intensify over time with a crush. In fact, one study found that people tend to have a crush for 18 months, with some lasting even longer. Depending on the severity, your feelings can be overwhelming and debilitating. Whether you’re crushing on your best friend or your crush is a total stranger, the emotions that come along with it can make life difficult.

But what exactly is a crush, and how do you know if it’s something you should act on? That depends on a few things like how (or if) you know your crush, and how acting on the feelings aligns with your current situation. For example, if you have a crush on your coworker, it’s best to take it slow so that you don’t ambush them with your feelings and scare them off. Instead, try to be more casual and friendly—maybe flirt a little and see how they respond, or talk outside of your usual shared setting.

If your crush isn’t already in a relationship, it’s safe to move forward with the feelings and start dating them (or at least, trying to). However, if you’re in a romantic or platonic relationship, this may not be the right time to develop a crush. For one thing, it could put a strain on your relationship or cause you to cheat. Plus, your crush might feel hurt by a sudden change in your mood or behavior, especially if you’re the one who initiates the change.

Crush, a new Hulu original starring Rowan Blanchard, follows one of the most familiar teen romance tropes: unrequited love. But predictability isn’t the film’s biggest flaw, as its progressive cast and screenplay by Kirsten King and Casey Rackham prove.

The word “crush” is derived from the Latin verb crucendo, meaning to press or smash with force. The word has been used in English since 1398, when it was first recorded in a poem by John Seymour Wood called A Tale of a Tub. Its usage has remained fairly stable over the centuries, with an increase in the 20th century as American teens were increasingly compelled to pursue academic and career success, leaving little room for romance or mischief in their lives.

Although participants in our studies reported that their crushes often felt romantic or sexual, the majority did not expect to become intimate with their crush. Instead, they seemed content to maintain friendly or flirtatious interactions with their crushes, and privately fantasize about a more intimate connection. It’s possible that this attraction is similar to play flighting among juvenile mammals, where attraction to other individuals doesn’t always lead to mating or conflict.