With a name like “crush,” you’d think it’d be crushingly (ha!) obvious that you have one. But when it comes to feelings, things are rarely black and white.
A crush usually refers to romantic feelings for someone that go unexpressed. Thing is, crushes don’t have to be romantic at all.
Christie Kederian, PhD, a psychologist and licensed marriage and family therapist, explains that crushes aren’t always romantic in nature. But they do reveal a desire to connect with another person on a deeper level.
Turns out we can have crushes on potential friends, colleagues we want to be work buddies with, or even friends or co-workers we want to be potential romantic partners.
Kind of. There are some signs, which, according to science, are linked to attraction, but no absolute telltale sign that someone’s crushing on you.
Keep in mind it’s easy to mistake kind or respectful behavior as interest when looking for signs through the rose-colored glasses of someone in the throes of a crush.
If you consistently notice any of the signs below from someone, it *might* indicate that they’re crushing on you romantically or platonically:
Their pupils dilate
Pupils grow larger when we see something that excites us, like a person, a puppy, or a snazzy pair of shoes.
It happens when your sympathetic nervous system kicks, but can also be caused by stress, fear, or booze and drugs.
If they’ve got dilated pupils every time they see you, aren’t running screaming or obviously under the influence, they might be crushing.
They want to be around you
We’re talking going out of their way to be in close proximity to you. Think: taking the empty seat at your table in the break room or joining your group for happy hour.
If it happens consistently, they probably want to get to know you better.
They’ve got mention-itis
“Mention-itis” may not be a recognized medical condition, but we tend to mention the object of our crush a lot.
If you’re on their mind, chances they’ll mention your name in conversations to mutual friends and anyone else who’ll listen.
They ask and reveal
According to a 2014 study, asking questions and revealing information are signs of attraction.
Bonus if they’re doing it sincerely and with attention, which anyone who has a genuine interest in you — romantic or otherwise — will do during conversation.
They mirror your behavior
Mirroring is believed to be a sign of interest. A person who has a crush on you may subconsciously adopt your behaviors and mannerisms when with you because they’re genuinely engaged in the interaction and want to feel more connected.
For starters, you’re probably doing a lot of what we just covered, like incessantly thinking and talking about them.
You’ll probably also find that you feel strange around them. By “strange,” we mean that people often describe being around their crush as a combination of excitement, nervousness, happiness, and awkwardness.
You might imagine different scenarios around interactions you could have with them. Things like what you might say next time you see them, or ways that you could take your interaction to another level, like getting together for coffee or collaborating on a project with them.
You might also find that your usual confidence waivers and you become shy, or your usually eloquent self gets tongue-tied when they’re around.
There’s no foolproof way to determine someone has a crush on you without directly asking them.
The best you can do is pay attention to their behavior and how they interact with you. Are they flirting? Do they seem to go out of their way to be near you?
Nope! Not unless you want to. And if you have to ask, chances are you’re not sure you want to or should anyway.
If you’re not entirely sure that you want to pursue your feelings, take the time you need to figure it out. No pressure.
That depends on things like how (or if) you know your crush, and how acting on it aligns with your current situation — like your partnerships, if any, or your job if it’s a work crush, and so on.
If crushing from afar on someone you don’t know personally
Whether you’re hoping for a romantic relationship, new BFF, or a business collab, you want to take it slow. Avoid ambushing them with your feelings and wants.
Give them a chance to get to know you, assuming they want to, of course. This is also important because it gives you time to get to know the real them — not the version of them you know based on creeping their socials.
If you already know them IRL
If you know each other and your interest isn’t coming entirely out of left field, you can be more direct.
If they’re receptive, you can be as direct as is comfortable for you. Flirt and see how they respond, ask them to get together outside your usual shared setting, or just put your feelings out there, if you’re so bold.
If one of you is involved with someone else
You need to consider your partnerships, if any, before you act on your crush. If either one of you is with someone else, acting on your feelings is going to leave some collateral damage.
Regardless of the type of partnership you’re in — whether an open arrangement or monogamous commitment — acting on a crush without considering your partner and honoring any mutually agreed upon boundaries or commitments is a jerk move.
Be upfront about your feelings and intentions before acting on them.
Cut yourself some slack; you’re only human. You can’t help how or when you feel the feels and who you do or don’t feel them for.
How to deal with a crush you don’t want depends on whether you’re the one with the crush or being crushed on, and why you don’t want it.
If you’re already in a relationship
If you’re already in a relationship and develop a crush, Kederian recommends not judging your feelings. Instead, try to understand where the feelings are coming from.
If you feel like you might be more attracted to your crush than your partner, she suggests that it could be a case of the-grass-is-greener and fantasizing about what you don’t have.
If this is the case, Kederian recommends working on increasing the connection and attraction in your current relationship.
“If you feel your crush gives you attention, discover how your desire to be connected and affirmed in your current relationship is lacking and start working on that,” Kederian explains.
She adds that a crush could also be “a symptom of a deeper unmet need that the crush allows you to fantasize is possible without the hard work of being in a relationship.”
Her recommendation? “Release yourself from that negative thinking, and empower yourself to create the kind of relationship you desire.”
If you don’t reciprocate someone’s feelings
This is a tough one for all involved, but if you don’t reciprocate their feelings, it’s OK to be honest about this in a kind way.
Kederian explains: “For example, if someone reveals that they’re interested in you romantically but you only view them as a friend, let them know what you appreciate about them, and that although those feelings aren’t the same as theirs in nature, you value the friendship with that person.”
Who knows? Love hormones like oxytocin and dopamine definitely play a role in crushes.
And the point of crushes? Valuable lessons we need to learn, for starters. Crushes help us learn about the type of mate we want when we’re young. They can also alert you to unmet needs or a fear of rejection and vulnerability.
The downside to crushes, says Kederian, “is that you can tend to romanticize someone to be something that they’re not, and rather than creating a real connection, you can become attached to the fantasy in your mind about how it would be to be with that person.”
It’s not all soul crushing, though.
It can also awaken feelings that may have been dormant, i.e., in a rut.
Crushes can be amazing and agonizing at the same time.
No matter what, they’ll teach you a thing or two about yourself if you pay attention.
Adrienne Santos-Longhurst is a Canada-based freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and lifestyle for more than a decade. When she’s not holed up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddle board.