Sunday, June 14, 2009

Crush (June 2008)

I wrote last week about my flesh-and-bone physiological sense of monogamy with Mr. Black. And it’s true. He is the best, smartest, sexiest, kindest, Simpsons-quotingest, left-wing-bloggingest, dish-washing, enchilada-making former rock critic that ever helped me fix a toilet. Nothing you can say can tear me away from my guy. I don’t want anybody else.

That is…I don’t literally want anybody else. But I must admit, there are times when the mind does wander. It wanders on its own, with no intention of asking the heart or the body to follow. But wander, it does. Out of boredom, out of habit. It’s the hypothetical never-gonna-act-on-it crush. And I’m willing to bet these crushes are a lot more common than we think.

I was single for a long time, and lonely for much of that time. Crushes could be soul-consuming, but more often they were just a pleasant diversion from coping with an unsatisfying job, absentee friends, or the latest disappointing non-relationship.

It took me a while to understand that a crush is not necessarily a call to action. It’s not your soul’s way of telling you it’s found its mate. No, it’s just some baser part of the mind saying “mmm, donuts” as it catches a particularly gorgeous pair of hands working a stapler during a particularly boring mass-mailing session at your non-profit job. You can acknowledge the hands and still have nothing to do with the person. Might seem obvious, but I was well into my twenties before I’d grasped the concept.

So maybe that’s why I find it such an awkward, unpleasant challenge to negotiate a crush now, with no chance or even the desire to actually see it through. First of all, I’m still breastfeeding a baby and barely even have a sex drive anymore. When some unexpected zing comes at me from left field, it takes a minute to even recognize what that feeling is. And then, the cover-up. The physical feelings of attraction are there, but you genuinely don’t want anything to come of it. You certainly don’t want the guy to notice and think you’re some sort of Mel-from-“Flight of the Conchords” freak. Are my eyes dancing? Am I looking too long? Speaking with too much enthusiasm?

And it does show sometimes. I’ve seen it show. Like that time when a bunch of us took our kids out for a snack after a group playdate. One of the dads bumped into a woman he knew from work. She was so animated, so vibrant. Her eyes were sparkling like Japanimation, her hands fluttered with Annie Hall charm. I watched her surreptitiously with fond recognition. I’ve been there, sister. But as soon as she left, the other dads started in on the guy. “What was with all the eye contact? What’s going on?” He was visibly uncomfortable and breezily defensive; everyone decided best to just let it drop and the conversation moved on.

And I thought: Shit. They notice. They really notice. And they tease each other about it and bristle with embarrassment at a woman’s undeniable, maybe even involuntary adoration. Damn. Note to self: Stop. Adoring. Don’t talk, don’t look at all. Don’t even look up. Now he just thinks you’re weird, but at least he won’t think you like him. Did I mention that my current crush is the guy who was doing most of the teasing about “eye contact” that day?

He’s got nothing on Mr. Black, that’s for sure. But he’s quirky and obnoxious, nerdy and funny, shaggy and bespectacled. Not something you see very often on the playground. So, in our insular little playdate circle, he’s the cool kid. And this quirky geek-girl feels her heart speed up a little when she sees him, against her will and all her better judgment. Damn.

How to channel these feelings? No flirtation, obviously. As little contact as possible, really. Just acknowledge the feelings, feel them honestly for what they are. Don’t attribute any extra meaning to them. Suppress a little chill when we happen to speak, act casual. “Don’t mention the war.” Hope he’s oblivious or at least benignly flattered and leave it at that.

If you must fantasize, it can’t be about real-life scenarios under which we might hook up. That borders a little too closely on infidelity for my taste. So, any fantasizing has to be completely out of context or a complete projection of your own desire onto him. Imagine he’s the one fantasizing about you. Fantasize about what you imagine he’s imagining.

If this is starting to seem a little ridiculous, well, that’s because it is. I mean, what’s the point? The guy who lives in my house kicks playdate-guy’s ass. I already have the best one. This is just a crush for the crush’s sake; to satisfy that part of the brain that still looks, that still hunts. Just a little something to get you through the day. But is it worth the adolescent anxiety and the fine-line-walking?

I’ve often wondered if I could ever psych myself into this dynamic with Mr. Black. Could I somehow generate crush-level-excitement for him by imagining he’s some cute, quirky stranger I work with? I mean, we’re practically like co-workers anyway, taking care of Impy and Chimpy and trying to keep the house from falling apart. Why not?

But then I try it and it never gets off the ground. Maybe this works for some people, but my Mr. Black…I don’t know. He’s never been big on the whole flirtation/seduction thing. We didn’t have much prolonged unrequited yearning in our courtship. I was instantly attracted to him when we met, and I instantly tried to be clever and funny and dry and just ended up confusing him. He moved on to another conversation while I curled into a ball of shame. But then for some reason, he found me again and started another conversation. I did much better on the second take. We coupled almost instantly.

But there have been many, many times since then when he’s been less than enchanted by my particular brand of kooky charm. He twitches up his eyebrows in smirky adolescent bafflement at my mishaps and incomplete thoughts. And he’s a very straightforward “Gotta watch Wapner” / “Time to make the donuts” kinda guy. That is to say, sometimes “The Daily Show” comes first. Sometimes he will break away from a kiss to finish doing the dishes. (And yes, I suppose in the long run it’s better to be married to the guy who puts the dishes first. Or is it? Yeah, I guess it is.)

But getting back to my original point, all of Mr. Black’s lovable quirks make it impossible to imagine being in a crush situation with him. If I had a crush on a guy who matter-of-factly blew me off for the dishes, I’d figure he wasn’t the least bit interested and move on.

The thing is, though, Mr. Black is actually rather fond of me. His utter inability to be mushy is a chronic issue in our marriage. But it’s a benign one. Like mild seasonal allergies. He is sweet in a myriad of unconventional ways, and I know and trust that I am loved by him. As long as I keep my feet firmly planted in that reality, I don’t think an occasional foray into crushburg will do us any harm.

Viva la Mel.

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