Behind the butterflies: When you have a crush

Thursday October 07 2021

Try not to crush on somebody who’s unavailable. PHOTO | NATION AFRICA

By Chris Hart

No one ever sees it coming. One moment you’re leading a perfectly normal life, and the next you can’t take your eyes off someone. Even someone you shouldn’t, like your best friend’s boyfriend, your boss’s boss, a new intern, or someone’s barely-legal daughter.

Everyone thinks it’s only teens who crush, but actually it can happen to anyone. Suddenly a vague acquaintance starts to feel like the love of your life. 

You have inappropriate dreams about them, stand taller when they’re around, can instantly spot them in a crowd, always know exactly where they are in the room, and position yourself so you can see them.

You ‘like’ all their stuff, and if they befriend or follow you it’s your best moment ever. 

You imagine talking with them, and the first time they notice you you’re over the moon. And totally miserable if they start paying attention to anyone else.

Crushes trigger huge changes in our most fundamental and powerful brain chemistry. So if a crush really kicks in, you’re powerless to stop it. 


The changes cause the racing heartbeat, poor concentration, dreaminess, desire, excitement, nervousness and despair that people call falling in love. 

They sweep away all your doubts and fears, and completely wreck your judgement. Which is why people start affairs, risking everything for something quite obviously irrational.

So what’s happening chemically? Your dopamine level increases, which feels so nice you’ll willingly do it all over and over again, even as your life falls apart. 

Your serotonin level falls, which makes you obsessive, anxious and jittery, so you endless check your phone and doodle your crush’s name in class. Increased norepinephrine heightens your energy, keeps you awake all night, and improves your memory. So you remember everything as vivid and awesome.

Try to cool off a bit

Epinephrine also increases, just like when you’re frightened. So people often start to crush if they experience something scary together. 

Cortisol’s released as you stress out, and that increases your dopamine levels still further. So instead of worrying that you’ll be caught sneaking around with your boss’s wife, it all feels totally thrilling.

So what should you do? First, try to cool off a bit. Your judgment is poor, remember? Try not to crush on somebody who’s unavailable. 

And if they are unattached, check for interest by glancing away quickly, then back at them. If they’re watching you, their eyes will automatically follow yours and you’ll end up looking at each other.

Talk to them. The worst that can happen is that they say no. That’s hard, but it’s better to know. Because crushes collapse as fast as they start after a no, and there’s loads more people out there.

Whatever you do, don’t start harassing someone who’s not interested. That might look good in films, but in real life it’s seriously weird.

Instead get out there again! It’s tough, and you’ll probably fail again sometimes. But sooner or later you’ll meet the one who really is just right for you.

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This article first appeared in Nation.Africa