Red cheeks and butterflies: Why your office crush is good for you

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The Stylist web team
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Crushes. We all get them, whether we’re in a relationship or not. But what do they mean? And should we worry? Here, Alice Purkiss investigates what’s really going on. 

You can feel the colour creep up your cheeks as your face begins to blush. Your knees are weak. Your palms are sweaty. You’re not recreating the first lines of an Eminem song - but that guy you see every single day just glanced up and smiled straight at you. His big, brown eyes lingered for just a second as you returned the gesture, then looked sheepishly away, convinced your face is now a fetching shade of magenta.

Despite how it might sound, you’re not in high school. Nor are you planning on embarking on a flirty foray into a new romance. But one thing is for certain. You are crushing on this guy and you are crushing hard.

We’ve all had them. From the cute boy we pretended was our boyfriend in reception class, to the teen heartthrobs we papered our bedroom walls with in the late 90’s or the woman we’ve been eyeing up at the gym every day for the last three weeks.

We have crushes throughout our entire lives. While some may say they dwindle when we hit adulthood, that’s not entirely true. Tell us you didn’t have a crush on Idris Elba in every single Luther episode, or perhaps the brooding blue eyes of Jesse Williams in Grey’s Anatomy are more your thing. Don’t try and deny that the only reason you initially tuned into Taboo on the BBC was because you wanted to watch Tom Hardy be a badass – or that you listened to his bedtime story ‘for the kids’.

Whether a celebrity or a star of your own reality, crushes happen, they’re not just limited to single people and often, they strike when you least expect it. They’re so natural, in fact, that science suggests they’re actually hard-wired into us, stemming straight from the limbic part of our brains.

This area of the brain isn’t just responsible for keeping your heart beating and your lungs breathing – it also craves dopamine and is believed to be responsible for drug addiction, too. It’s pretty primitive, too, as it hasn’t evolved that much in the history of mankind: it’s sole aim is to fulfil your main needs of food, water and survival.

But it’s a balancing act. And one that takes time to adjust to.

While your limbic brain is going nuts with its dopamine cravings, which you get from pleasure, it’s telling you the guy you’re eyeing up will be able protect your Neanderthal needs of providing sustenance and protection. Eventually, your cortex catches up and allows you to think rationally, overriding the thoughts of your limbic brain. When it does, you realise that you are in fact either a) in a very happy and fulfilling relationship b) you’re actually not that interested in the bank manager or c) your limbic brain is not solely responsible for the tingles you’re feeling and you’re about to take this to the next level.

Jason Hughes - Founder of Leicester Centre for Psychodynamic Counselling explains that crushes are good, natural and healthy, as well as being a tool to help us feel better about ourselves.

“We all want to feel good,” he adds, “[and] crushes are our imaginative and creative way of identifying those things we prize in others, which we struggle to see in ourselves.”

Hughes continues: “Crushes help us to feel alive, help us to feel, and help us to imagine – this is especially important when we might feel that we are trapped in a routine, stuck in a job or relationship where there is little new and vibrant – they highlight what we might want, what we might be missing – who we might want to be rather than (just) who we might want to be with.

“Don’t ignore them, but pay careful attention to them and what they might be saying about you…”

So when does a harmless crush become more of a problem? When do you need to really need to start paying attention to what these feelings are saying about you?

If you’re in a relationship, Clinical Hypnotherapist Dipti Tait identifies a number of warning signs that can indicate when a fleeting feeling has gone too far. If you find yourself thinking about your crush more than your partner, if you’re drawn to them when you’re down, you purposefully seek out interactions with the object of your affections, or you find yourself craving contact from them, Dipti says it’s time to think about what’s really going on.

More often than not though, crushes really are harmless - a grown-up form of daydreaming about school break time or what you might do over the summer holidays. They’re unavoidable, part of our internal hardwiring and something we shouldn’t beat ourselves up for, regardless of our marital status. So whether it’s a weird and fleeting flight of fancy directed towards Ruby Rose or a temporary titillation towards someone on the tube, put it down to your neanderthal needs, draw a line under it and move on.

You’re only human and the limbic brain wants what the limbic brain wants.