Realizing that the actualization of desire comes with a certain loss of innocence
This summer, I watched the Netflix romantic comedy du jour “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” with some girlfriends. The movie evoked pure giddiness in all of us, save a few truly cement-hearted cynics. It revolves around the charming and introverted 16-year-old Lara Jean, who pens secret love letters to all her crushes, which then get leaked. Chaos and romance ensues. We watch the will-they, won’t-they dance between Lara Jean and the absolutely delicious lacrosse player Peter Kavinsky, as she struggles to articulate her true feelings of infatuation.
“It all feels so innocent,” one of my friends relayed wistfully. “Having a real crush on someone.”
It got me thinking — when was the last time I had a crush?
I don’t have crushes anymore. I have crashes. I have had a few relationships. I have dating apps and countless unremarkable dates and drunken dance floor make outs. I have many doubts about everything. I have some knowledge of how men think and act, and it is enough to not be overly optimistic.
Crushes in high school were numerous, fantastical and rarely came to fruition. I wasn’t picky. Fueled by unrelenting teenage hormones, I developed voracious crushes on every genre of boy: boys from nerd summer camp, boys from journalism conventions and math competitions, boys on the football team, boys who were secretly gay, the boy with curly hair who gave me tennis lessons, that Chilean one who played guitar, the Mormon who wasn’t allowed to go to second base.
Every night I’d pour my sad little heart into my locked diary — lamenting my plight of a not-so-cute nerdy girl destined never to be noticed by the boys she adored, writing thoroughly unsophisticated but nonetheless passionate sonnets about the color of their eyes or the way they brushed past me in the hallways. I would lay in bed staring at the ceiling, listening to The Strokes, and making out with my hand. “I think you are mathematically flawless. I think everything about you is the perfect square root.” I once wrote about a certain blonde-haired, blue-eyed football player who smiled at me in the hallways occasionally. I was locked away in the glittering chambers of my imagination, where I could love these boys as I wanted to.
The last true crush I had was in the early years of college. He was a beautiful, tall athlete of the all-American boy variety. He eagerly talked to me about international politics at his frat parties, sat behind me in art history and would tap me on the shoulder with his chewed pen just to say “hi”. Nothing I said to him ever came out eloquent or cool or cute because I was too nervous and too awkward. For two years, I admired from slightly afar until I finally asked him to a sorority formal with the help of some liquid courage. A heroic feat. He accepted.
Formal that spring was at a quaint New Hampshire inn, held outdoors while we danced under a grand white tent, drank cheap wine and spilled spaghetti sauce on our nice clothes. The setting could have made for an idyllic love story à la a Taylor Swift music video. Instead, after what I considered a romantic night, my date disappeared into the night without explanation when we got back to campus. I waited up in my dorm until 2 a.m. before falling asleep, realizing only then in a half-drunk sleepy stupor that he wasn’t interested, and he wasn’t coming back to find me.
I expressed my dissatisfaction to him some days later with the night’s turn of events over text, hoping he would apologize profusely and possibly confess his love for me.
He texted back, “I’m sorry this wasn’t what you thought it was.”
We never spoke another word on the matter.
I wasn’t heartbroken, really. Only hampered with an odd, unfamiliar feeling of disillusionment. For what was a crush when you finally confronted it and were rejected? It was nothing. Boys could be so disappointing. Maybe they were better off existing as stylized creations in my head, where they never said the wrong things, and the possibility of what could happen was bountiful and endless and magical.
For the first time, at age 20, I felt a bit jaded. I was suddenly burdened by the reality I had steadfastly avoided in all my secret crushes.
Crushes were borne out of things like secrecy and fantasy. They thrived in imagination and a certain kind of innocence, and they couldn’t exist without these pre-conditions. Moreover, crushes necessitated inaction. It was the unfulfillment — the possibility, the “what could be, if only” — that created a crush.
But adulthood teaches you to be forthcoming with your feelings and desires, and to ask for what you want. If you think a guy is cute, you swipe right. If you want a pay raise or a promotion, you ask for it. You want Indian food tonight, you order curry and naan from Uber Eats. Ask and you might receive. Action.
How could we ever get what we want if we just stewed and never did anything about it?
In the movie, Lara Jean eventually learns to voice her emotions and actualize her crush on Peter. The pair kiss on a lacrosse field, and that’s where the film ends. In the real world, this is where crushes end. They end at the moment your desire is voiced, and you fall into the reality of it, whatever outcome that may mean. We can feel nostalgic for these innocent times of giddiness and fantasy, but we shouldn’t miss them, because what we gain — our own voice, strong and determined — is greater than what we lose.