Attraction is not a zero-sum game | Savage Love | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

Attraction is not a zero-sum game

Crushes are normal: not always because our current relationships are diseased. Still, says Dan, your crush might just be the one you really want.

Q I am a 23-year-old straight female. A year ago, I moved across the country to live with my boyfriend of four years. He is in graduate school and the only person I really know here---I am working two part-time jobs and my co-workers are either much older or a very long commute away---so I have been hanging out with him and his friends. I've developed a huge crush on one of his friends and I don't know what to do.

I feel really guilty about it, even though I haven't acted on it and doubt anything would happen since I see this friend only when we hang out together in groups. I'm not sure if I should tell either my boyfriend or the friend about this attraction because it would possibly (certainly?) make my social interactions totally uncomfortable and I am basically friendless outside of my boyfriend's social circle. It's hard to get over a crush you see all the time and haven't been directly rejected by. Any advice you could give me about how to approach this? —Uncomfortably Ogling Friend

A Once in a great while, I donate the right to answer a Savage Love letter to charity. Grant Thornley was the winning bidder in an auction last fall, and the money he spent for the dubious honour of giving advice in this space went to organizations that support neglected children and the homeless. Grant is a Seattle-based career-management consultant and what follows is Grant's advice for UOF:

"It'd be one thing if you'd said, 'I've fallen head over heels in love with a friend of my boyfriend's, he's my soulmate and I'll die if I am not with him.' But you didn't say 'love,' you said 'crush,' which to me is something that is both surmountable and surely not worth fucking up more than one relationship.

"It's intriguing, UOF, that you don't give any indication of how things are between you and your boyfriend right now. Obviously, you're pretty committed---been together for four years, moved across the country to be with the guy. Yet, despite this pretty serious level of commitment, the primary negative outcome you see of admitting to your boyfriend and/or crush that you have these feelings is that it would make your social interactions uncomfortable? You don't mention your boyfriend possibly being hurt, or perhaps screwing up his relationship with your crush, or causing a rift between you and your boyfriend. You're worried about uncomfortableness. It seems like you almost don't care. I think there's something else going on.

"You moved far from home---do you feel isolated? Do you feel bored and/or lonely? If your boyfriend is busy in grad school, it could be that you're also feeling neglected. Plus you're working two jobs---and even if they're both part-time, that's still a pain in the ass. I think it might be that you're just not feeling great about life in general right now and this crush is symptom of that. But acting on an impulse that could make things worse for everyone isn't the way to fix any of this.

"If you're friendless outside your boyfriend's circle of friends, get some friends of your own, for fuck's sake. If you've lived in that new locale for a whole year and have not met anyone you could be friendly with, you're not trying. Look for people who have similar interests, whether it's fine art, tea-making, needlepoint, video games, rugby, animal husbandry or whatever floats your boat.

"There's a saying where I come from: 'Don't shit where you eat.' Do not crap in the only social circle you have right now, UOF. Walk the fuck away from this friend of your boyfriend's and find some friends of your own. Oh, and if you're so VERY susceptible to crushing on a friend of your boyfriend's, it sounds like you and the boyfriend need to have a talk ASAP, because you, my friend, are just not happy right now. Good luck."

Thank you, Grant, for your generous donation and your well-written response. And now, if you don't mind, I'm going to jump down your throat:

Whenever a married/partnered/girlfriended/boyfriended person wants to fuck someone who isn't her spouse/partner/girlfriend/boyfriend---when a technically unavailable person finds herself crushing on someone else---people insist that the crush has to be a symptom of something. UOF, for example, wouldn't be having this crush, Grant writes, if she weren't feeling neglected, unhappy and isolated. By implication, people who are content at home---people who aren't feeling neglected, unhappy and isolated---don't have crushes.

I don't mean to jump down Grant's throat...or not just Grant's throat. This is a point you hear people---advice columnists, couples counsellors, Drs. Laura and Phil---making all the time: Married/partnered people who are happy at home don't experience inappropriate or awkward crushes on others. The eyes of happily partnered people---to say nothing of their genitalia---never, ever wander. So if you're having a crush on someone you're not supposed to, well, that must mean something is very seriously wrong with your relationship. It's a symptom. Of something. Something dire. Diagnose the illness, treat it, and you'll be cured.

This, of course, is complete and total bullshit. Happily married/partnered/boyfriended/girlfriended people have crushes on other people all the time. Not because we're unhappy or because there's something wrong with us or because our relationships are somehow diseased. It happens because however attracted we are to our spouses/partners/boyfriends/girlfriends, other people are also attractive.

So it's entirely possible that you have a crush on this guy, UOF, because he's hot and you want to fuck him, independent of your feelings for your boyfriend. Crushes are normal and our relationships would be less stressful if we weren't expected to go around pretending we never find anyone else attractive. And our relationships would be more likely to survive the inevitable, normal, natural crushes-on-others if we weren't led to believe that attraction is a zero-sum game, that finding someone else attractive means you must find your partner less attractive.

All that said, UOF, while your crush doesn't have to mean something, it still could. The indifference you display toward your boyfriend's feelings, which Grant rightly highlights, could mean that your crush is the person you really want to be with. Sometimes, people meet the people they wind up with under awkward, embarrassing and painful circumstances.

This could be one of those times.

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