Reframing a Crush: Distilling the “like” out of “like like”

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When I was a kid, I was moved by the idea that love was a powerful force. In the media, people did ridiculous things in the name of love; worse still when love was unrequited. I was terrified of feeling completely and helplessly vulnerable for someone who could not or would not reciprocate. It not only felt like a loss of power, but also a waste of emotional energy that could just as easily be spent on someone who reciprocates.

I decided that I would never let myself develop feelings for someone who was unable to return them. This first showed up as an inability to develop a crush on someone who was already in a relationship. As I grew older and learned more about myself, I realized also that this is why I didn’t develop a crush on a girl until I became very close with one who was openly bisexual. It also meant that as soon as one of my childhood crushes came out to me as gay, my torn up confusion on why he didn’t reciprocate my flirting transformed into an appreciation for the fact that he trusted me enough to tell me, and hope that he’d find someone good for him.

Now, I’m not saying that this is something everyone can or should do. For years I struggled with whether this was an adaptive cognitive trick or a suppression of emotion. It’s probably a bit of both. But in breaking down the way I turned crushes into friendships, I discovered some mental micromoves I was making that can easily be used in other situations as well. These techniques work well for me, but your mileage may vary.

I refer to this trick as reframing in the title because the base skill is similar to cognitive reframing. This can be used on a negative thought, to turn distress over getting an answer wrong on a test to pride at getting 99 questions correct. It can also be used on a feeling, like reframing your petrified anxiety over a big event into motivated excitement. I suspect that some level of experience reframing thoughts and feelings is a prerequisite for reframing a crush, since feelings for a particular person tend to be much more complex.

Another prerequisite is the ability to notice why you like the person. Of course, you don’t need to list out every single reason, but reframing the strongest ones can do wonders. Personally, I find traits I look for in a romantic partner to often be similar to the traits I look for in a close friend: kindness, humor, understanding, etc. So it becomes easy to turn “their cleverness is so hot” into “they always know just how to cheer me up”.

This also employs a bit of positive psychology, but with a focus on the positivity of the situation. The example I gave earlier, focusing on my childhood crush’s trust in me when he came out, might be a little easier than convincing yourself that your crush’s new partner is good for them. In focusing on the positive, we are not denying our own feelings, but instead drawing our attention to the world around us. You are allowed to be sad when you get rejected. This is not a replacement for that. Just as focusing on how well you did on the test doesn’t mean denying the fact that you didn’t get full marks or bubbled a wrong answer by mistake. It’s about letting those emotions be temporary rather than letting them control your life.

A lot of this tends to look like distilling feelings into facts and thoughts. Reasons you had a crush on someone become reasons why you want to be friends with them, or reasons you care about them generally or platonically. After a break up, you might reframe things that went wrong in the relationship as facts that point at underlying issues in the dynamic or incompatibilities, rather than reasons why one of you is a bad person. These skills help preserve the friendship when romance is rejected or falls apart.

I hesitate to say that this is something that anyone can do, because it does require a healthy relationship with the idea of being in a relationship. Someone who cannot be happy single would struggle with this, as would someone with severe self esteem or attachment issues. This technique may also rely on abundance mindset, so that you are not convinced that it’s necessary for this person in particular to like you. It is much harder to reframe a crush if you are convinced your interest’s new partner is better than you, or that nobody else will ever be interested. If this is the case for you, you probably have to work on reframing your feelings for yourself before reframing feelings for someone else.
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