No matter who you are, you’ve probably talked about or at least heard about the fad* of girl crushes and man crushes. The terms are everywhere. It’s like any old crush except it’s different because it’s what straight people feel about people of the same sex. Totally not like how gay people feel about people of the same sex. So don’t feel ashamed! They happen to the best of us. You’re a completely normal heterosexual. (Unless, of course, you’re a completely normal homosexual. Whichever floats your boat.)
Now that homosexuality is becoming more mainstream and widely recognized as a thing, people feel they have to justify any kind of positive emotion towards someone of the same sex that goes beyond simple friendship. The terms “man crush” and “girl crush” are similar to the term “bromance”: they are labels which initially acknowledge the complexity of emotion and then immediately build a barrier between the labels and the feelings they represent.
Urban Dictionary defines a “girl crush” as, and I paraphrase: an overwhelming sense of awe one girl has for another girl, with deep admiration and adoration, without sexual attraction (but sometimes with, but not the gay kind, I swear), it’s really just like you wanna be her best friend or you wanna be her, and maybe have intellectual intercourse, but seriously, you’re not feeling aroused.
Similarly, Urban Dictionary defines a “man crush” as a strong and extremely complicated positive emotion that a straight guy feels for another man which is by no means homosexual, although it could possibly involve some degree of sexual attraction, but not the kind you pursue, merely a complex desire, like a fantasy born of jealousy or great admiration. It could be described not as a homosexual lust, but as a human lust.
Maybe I’m out of the loop, but that sounds like a plain old fashioned crush to me. Or at least, what a crush should be. Let’s check on this, shall we? Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines a crush as “an intense and usually passing infatuation,” with infatuation being a “foolish and extravagant love or admiration.”
Alternatively, Urban Dictionary defines a “crush” as, and I paraphrase: a burning desire to be with someone you find attractive and extremely special, someone who gives you butterflies in your stomach, a painful experience which involves being obsessed with someone of the opposite sex (or the same sex, if you prefer), a precursor to love, an amazing thing that gives you feelings of nerves and excitement whenever you see them, etc.
The fact that the definitions of “crush” fail to acknowledge the scope, variety, and potential for complexity in actual emotions is evidence of our culture’s over-simplification of and assumptions about love. What’s ironic is that the definitions of “man crush” and “girl crush” do a more comprehensive job of covering all the possible aspects of a crush, but they refuse to be seen as such. In focusing on denying the sexual aspects of a crush, they are able to better appreciate the other aspects, which makes for a much more well-rounded emotion (assuming a crush is more than just sexual attraction, which I think it usually is). With opposite-sex crushes, we often jump straight to the sexual attraction (pardon the pun) and other vague feelings of attachment, rather than articulating things like admiration, awe, jealousy, or respect.
My frustration with this new “man crush” and “girl crush” vernacular being used to re-define an already established experience is difficult to articulate, so here’s my amateur stab at explanatory diagrams:
These are the acceptable boxes we are permitted to live within. Inside those boxes, it is widely acknowledged that there are many different kinds of love experiences. We love our family and close friends; we admire our heroes and heroines; we have pure, unadulterated sexual attraction and nothing else; we have innocent puppy love; we fall passionately in love-lust; or we fall somewhere in between. The only difference between the love experiences in each box is the gender of the recipient.
Now, for some reason, we have two new names for a kind of love which has always existed within both boxes, called the crush!A crush is a complicated, relative experience that differs between every person and every unique experience. Some people have crushes on those they’ve never met; some people crush on their best friend; some people crush on their teacher; some people crush on their cousin. It is not always sexual, and sometimes a crush is based on attractiveness but does not include a desire to act on that attraction. This. is. so. normal.
The names “man crush” and “girl crush” are an attempt to re-name this normal gay experience, called so purely because of the gender of the recipient, from the gay box and carry it over to the straight box masquerading as a straight experience.
This both breaks my heart and pisses me off, not because I think straight people with girl crushes and man crushes are actually gays in denial, but because everybody is so caught up in their labels that they don’t know how to cope with any feelings which they worry might call those labels into question!
This new vernacular is widespread, though. TheCasualMafia have made a video about their various “man crushes.” Jenna Marbles has made a video about how she is not at all bothered when people think she is a lesbian, because of her belief that it is totally okay to be heterosexual and still have “big, giant girl crushes on girls!”
It’s not that I don’t appreciate Jenna Marbles’ pure intentions. She is clearly trying to help people embrace their feelings without worrying about social status, something I am always in favor of. That we are beginning to use terms like “man crush” and “girl crush” to talk about emotions that were previously never talked about is a sign that we are eager to find ways to be more honest in expressing our feelings. But this supposedly progressive vernacular is actually close-mindedness disguised as open-mindedness.
Sure, by accepting that you have feelings for somebody of the same sex, you are taking a step forward in self awareness and acceptance, but in re-naming those feelings to fit into your established personal identity, you are not acknowledging or accepting that there is a spectrum of love between all people. I’m not suggesting that everybody is bisexual. Love does not always have to be sexual in nature, and having loving feelings for someone of the same sex does not have to threaten your sexual orientation. You don’t have to give it a new name, like “bromance.” It’s okay.
By creating new names for crushes which attempt to reject the sexual attraction aspect (and sometimes fail), we are suggesting that a crush is innately sexual in nature, which is un-true, un-fair, and extremely limiting. We are also creating an even bigger wall between heterosexuality and homosexuality, and between those who identify as one or the other. I’m going to be radical and suggest that they are not all that different from each other in the first place. After all, the feelings are the same, it’s only the recipient of those feelings that is different.
In an ideal world, I would love to see people reject sexual orientations and their labels altogether and just love whomever they love. In a slightly more realistic world, I think holding on to whatever orientation we identify with will suit us just fine, as long as we remember that love is not sex, and we can love and admire anybody without having to feel like our identity is being threatened by those around us.
*Correction made 1/23/13