Why It’s Actually Healthy Not to Tell Your Crush Your Feelings

I’m currently working on getting over two different women I’m friends with. Both of them are the type of people I could see myself being in a relationship with. I also know for a fact that both are attracted to me and have had feelings for me in the past. So why am I not plotting an elaborate plan to woo either, you might ask?

The reality is that having a crush on people you’re close to and admire is a common part of life, especially for queer women. I also know that it’s actually best for each of these women and for me not to say anything. Telling either of these friends about my feelings would probably hurt the solid relationships I already have with each of them, and confuse us all about what we actually need.

While this line of thinking might seem contrary to popular opinion or understanding of how to handle feelings for someone, I’ve had enough experience with telling people about my feelings at the wrong place and the wrong time to recognize that the only thing that telling either of them would actually accomplish is feeling less alone with my feelings and passing the responsibility to someone else. If what I truly need is someone to help me process my feelings, I can talk to my therapist and other friends to work through these crushes.

In my session yesterday, my therapist gave me an appropriate metaphor. “Don’t go looking for oranges at the hardware store,” she said, explaining that sometimes we think we need some form of validation or attention from one place when it’s actually not the place to go for it at all.

From a psychological perspective, it’s actually much healthierthan you might suspect to experience crushes and positive romantic or sexual feelings for someone that you don’t take action on. “Crushes are not only normal but also good for your health,” says Sex Therapist Dr. Shannon Chavez, PsyD, CST. “Having a crush can activate imagination and fantasy, both important components of sexual and mental health, while releasing feel good chemicals in the brain that boost your mood.” When you have a crush, the stress and reward systems in the brain are activated, so it’s kind of like taking a mini dose of drugs. You’re not necessarily thinking things through with a clear head, and you’re just trying to get another hit of dopamine.

Having a crush is one of the most common feelings no matter someone’s age or the phase of life they’re in, so it’s just another part of healthy social development and learning, Dr. Chavez explains. That means experiencing intense feelings doesn’t mean that there’s also the need to communicate them with the person you’re crushing on, unless you’re absolutely sure that it will go somewhere, you’re both on the same page and want and need the same things, or saying something won’t cause issues. Instead, it’s good to look at having a crush as an opportunity to learn to process your emotions in a healthy way and become more self-aware about what your sexuality is, what turns you on, and what and who you’re attracted to.

When I was younger, I was deeply dramatic about crushes. In elementary school, I got up during a class talent show and sang “Everywhere” by Michelle Branch to my crush as a public display of affection. In middle school, I started e-mailing love letters to my crush from summer camp. And in high school, I started an extremely embarrassing blog that, at least at first, was solely about all of the things I wanted to say to and about my crush but instead put it on the internet for thousands of people to follow. You’ve gotta love being a teen.

Looking back, high school was when I finally started to learn how to work through my feelings and desires on my own, and how to talk about them with friends or my therapist instead of needing to act immediately. I realized that telling someone else about my feelings was often a way to ask to be relieved of responsibility, in hopes that the person I had feelings for would know what to do with them better than I did, which, when I think about it, is selfish in such a specific, hurtful way.

While that might not be the case for everyone, and I’m certainly not calling anyone who chooses to tell someone their feelings selfish in a villainizing way, I do think it’s important to consider what the point of telling someone you have feelings for them is. I’ve certainly had people come to me with their feelings in hurtful ways and have been left confused about why they chose to tell me instead of dealing with it on their own.

Processing is normal and healthy, and it’s good to be able to process things on your own. The queer trope is that we spend lots of time processing with one another. We just have a lot of feelings. However, many people fall into the trap of putting our feelings on someone else because it seems romantic, when it can actually be truly disrespectful or unnecessary. From books to romantic comedies and other forces in pop culture, declarations of love or lust are the thing to do—boomboxes outside windows at night, chasing down someone who dumped you and enrolling in Harvard, meeting a woman at a department store and leaving your husband to have an extremely gay affair with her.

Those messages have a serious effect on how we process our feelings and what we do with those feelings. Recently, I read Mandy Len Catron’s book “How to Fall in Love with Anyone,” in which she explores where our cultural values and ideas about having feelings for people and starting relationships come from. She calls out the meet-cute as unrealistic, and discusses how our desire for a romantic story often keeps us in patterns and relationships that aren’t good for us.

After analyzing the messages that some of my favorite movies instilled in me, I’ve realized I used to be caught in an unhealthy pattern of confessing feelings for people and starting relationships that weren’t good for me just because it echoed pop culture portrayals.

The real question is how to figure out if you should pursue a crush or not, and the truth is that there’s no catch-all answer for every situation. It can be helpful to think about what telling the person you have feelings for will actually accomplish. If it would be helpful for you and might even result in something pleasurable or fun for you both, then maybe it’s an okay idea.

However, if there’s any reason that confessing these feelings might complicate either of your lives more than staying quiet, it might be good to reconsider saying something. If confessing your feelings might hurt or confuse someone, it might be best not to say it out loud. It might even just not be the right time in your own life to pursue something. To process your own feelings, instead of just wallowing in them, I’ve definitely found it helpful to take time apart from the person and make a pros and cons list, so that I can respond to my feelings instead of simply reacting to them.

Reflecting on the way I handle confessing my feelings to people now versus how I used to act on them, I can see I’ve matured a lot, and understand that having feelings for someone doesn’t mean I need to act on it at all. After talking with others about what not taking action on crushes has taught them, as well as speaking with Dr. Chavez, I feel even more confident in my stance that it’s good to experience strong feelings for someone that you don’t act on or need to express.

The pressure to always turn feelings into actions or having an attachment to specific outcomes like dating or hooking up can often lead to disappointment or shame, says Dr. Chavez, who explains that fantasies can put more meaning on something that doesn’t need to be a big deal. If having crushes is a normal and frequent part of learning to explore our feelings and learning about who we are, then it’s healthy to have lots of them to get to know ourselves better. In turn, it probably doesn’t make sense to confess every single crush we have so much as it makes sense to learn more about what we like.

Dr. Chavez explains that having feelings for people without taking it to a next level can be one way to encourage yourself to have positive feelings for more people without placing the expectation or responsibility on someone else that they “owe” us anything for that, as well.

I personally experience crushes for people all the time now that I never do anything about, whether it’s because I don’t think that particular person would work well as a partner, it’s not the right time, or I just don’t feel the need to. It isn’t a negative experience for me just because I don’t get a relationship out of it, though. For however long it lasts, I get to experience the wonder of all of the awesome things about someone—their passions, the foods they like, the way they dress, the way they speak—and it makes me happy that wonderful people exist in the world and I get to know them. It also helps me to appreciate myself, thinking about how someone else could like me too because of my best features and qualities.

Carissa, a 22-year-old queer woman I spoke with, says she’s also the type of person who develops crushes easily. “I know that most of the time, if I develop feelings for a friend that it will pass eventually and I would much rather keep someone as a friend than lose them because I tried to pursue a romantic relationship,” she says.

While actually hooking up with or dating someone you have feelings for can definitely be fun, Dr. Chavez explains that simply feeling positive emotions for someone else can be exciting enough to give you a surge of energy and confidence. If you’re not tying your self-worth too heavily to someone reciprocating those feelings, a crush can be good way to boost your endorphins and even feel gratitude, because crushes “provide awareness of what a person wants or is looking for in any partner.”

The flip side of having a crush that you aren’t acting on is learning how to process those feelings on your own, which takes a lot of emotional work and patience and can be frustrating as fuck. Sometimes you want someone so much it drives you wild, and it can feel like you can’t handle that restless energy or desire on your own. Still, it’s not just your burden to bear and there are ways to channel any negative or difficult emotions into something that actually benefits you in the end without acting on them.

When I have crushes on people I don’t intend to tell, I find constructive ways to process my emotions. I add to my playlist of songs I listen to when I have intense feelings for someone. I write poetry and short fiction. I talk to my therapist. I figure out what these feelings I have for someone else can reveal to me about myself and the way I navigate life, as well as what kinds of energy or people I want and need more of.

To work through your feelings for someone and cope with the intensity, Dr. Chavez says it’s important to allow yourself to observe your feelings without judgment or anxiety. If you allow yourself to enjoy the reward and joy from having a crush and simply acknowledge any anxious feelings that arise from it, it won’t feel so overwhelming. To process your feelings alone, it might be good to take space from the person you have feelings for, or talk about it with other people who aren’t your crush.

Emily, a 37-year-old non-binary trans woman says they also have many crushes all the time, most of which they never act on. “Sometimes it’s a Twitter crush, sometimes it’s someone I know in real life. At a certain point, there are all sorts of things to consider: power dynamics, monogamy status, queerness, mental health, practicality,” they say. In particular, Emily says they’ve had to be more careful about confessing feelings for someone than, say, even a cisgender queer person might because of harmful stereotypes and narratives about trans women. “Trans women combat these allegations all the time that we’re all sexual deviants. So I feel like I have to be way more cautious than most people, which is bullshit, but it’s just a page in the bullshit codex that is being trans in this world,” they explain.

For Cleo, a 22-year-old lesbian who practices polyamory, it’s completely normal to have feelings for various people they never tell, but it’s not attached to avoiding negative stereotypes. Sometimes feelings don’t add up right with what you need and want in your life, so it’s good to acknowledge your feelings without needing to hand them over to the person you feel them for. Recently, when they developed feelings for a girl that they’re in a friends-with-benefits situation with, Cleo chose not to tell her because they knew that the feelings developed quickly and were likely intensified by the amount of time they were spending together. “Because I am polyamorous and have been in a serious, open relationship (as is my FWB) for the past two years, I knew that she wasn’t looking for another romantic relationship and after some reflection and physical distance from her over the summer, I realized I wasn’t looking for that, either.”

While I know that it would be simple enough to tell either of the women I have a crush on about my feelings and easily land myself in an intense L Word subplot, I also know that making my life more complicated than it needs to be isn’t worth it. There are myriad people I could like or lust for whose lives and feelings I wouldn’t at least partially be tearing to shreds and messing with by putting my feelings first. In the end, I know that having their friendship in my life and getting to enjoy them platonically is much more important to me than causing confusion for a few moments of adrenaline and potentially some bad decisions.

Tonight, I’m going to get home, say hello to my vibrator collection and have some fun, while keeping my fantasies to myself and fulfilling my own needs. Then I’m going to make myself my favorite dinner and drink tea on my fire escape—because I can give love to myself better than anyone else ever could, and when the time comes, there will be someone worth telling my feelings to—but for now, I don’t need to go looking for oranges at the hardware store.

Elly Belle is a journalist and writer who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York, where she’s the borough’s primary Pun Enthusiast. She has a passion for advocacy, culture, and media, with a focus on bringing stories of restorative justice and healing to the spotlight. Most of all, she’s committed to storytelling in many forms as a means of spreading hope and progressive social change. Her words can be found in outlets including Teen Vogue, Playboy, Bitch, Thrillist, InStyle, Publisher’s Weekly, BUST Magazine, and more. Follow her on Twitter.

Elly has written 1 articles for us.

24 Comments

  1. Yeah, my life would have been better with fewer people telling me about feelings I didn’t reciprocate. I’m a picky dater and have lost friends over it. I’m pretty blunt too, so even when I try to let people down easy it’s FINAL.
    Keeping secrets is my hobby so no one knows who I like mwha ha ha

  2. I like the ideas behind this article, and I do think it makes sense in certain cases. I do feel like expressing your feelings can be a positive thing as well.

    It’s something I have trouble with, and I feel like I need to work on because communication is important for relationships to evolve.

    Sooo I guess my question is: how do you decide whether to reveal your crush or not?

    I have crushes on my friends a lot, and it’s a blurry zone – not knowing how you feel about each other and not wanting to compromise your friendship. Also, add to that, that the crush in question has never been with a girl, but has said she is open to it.

    Anyways this is just me sharing my current struggles, advice anyone?

    • I would say that the writers suggestion works pretty well. Examine the circumstances, is your revelation going to bring something positive and good? Or is it going to end up in a difficult situation? How important is for you this friendship? What do you plan to obtain with the revelation?
      In my case I just have decided that it is not worth it.

    • I think that if the following things are all true:

      -With the information you currently have, you think you’ll actually want to date this person if they’re interested
      -You don’t feel like you’d be better off continuing to have false hope than getting a polite “no” if they’re not interested, and you think you’d be able to handle rejection okay.
      -You’re not aware of any obvious dealbreakers (i.e. extreme differences in preferred monogamy status, future plans involving children, etc, not just “they might not be into you”)
      -You’re not aware of any reasons why being told about your crush would be particularly disturbing to them or feel especially inappropriate
      -You’re not aware of any reasons why they’d be unable to say no if they wanted to
      -You don’t expect them to behave in a cruel way if the confession makes them uncomfortable

      …then most of the time, it’s probably better to just go for it. My personal opinion is that a lot of worries about harming friendships are misplaced – friendships can be damaged by people going for it, by people trying not to be weird when they don’t go for it, and by a million different little things that have nothing to do with the crush at all. If a friendship’s strong, it’ll recover, and part of what can make it strong is being able to be open with each other about what you want for your relationship even when it’s inconvenient.

      (I don’t think it’s always a bad idea to tell someone about an incompatible or inappropriate/disturbing crush, it’s just something to be a lot more careful about if that’s the case.)

  3. This comes at a time when I was questioning myself about the same matter. I happened to have developed a crush over a teacher of mine. I am an adult (long past the college age) and the age gap wouldn’t be a problem. But everything else is… so I talked myself out of it. And this just reinforced my idea that it is the right choice, here and now. Although, I cannot shake the goosebumps that I felt some weeks ago after a casual touch. I guess I can live with it anyway.

  4. About a year or two ago I took a chance, for once, to _not_ tell my (straight) crush how I felt, and our friendship just blossomed, uncomplicated and full of trust.

    I’m still crushing on her but like you said, it brings joy and wonder instead of dread and humiliation. Plus I have lots of other little crushlings that have developed over the summer and they are awesome ! This all keeps me young and glad to be alive.

    This is all Autostraddle’s doing and I’m soooo grateful.

  5. I don’t think I’ve told anyone I had a crush on them since…2010? I don’t get that many crushes to begin with, and it seems like there are always ways things could go wrong. Usually we’re already friends or work closely together, so there’s that to consider, and then there’s the whole “I’m asexual and do I even really want to date? I don’t know!” issue. Feelings, man…

  6. I had a lovely experience this summer where a good friend told me about feelings for me, and we talked about it and then kissed and then talked about it more, and over the course of a few weeks we decided not to act on it at the moment but just enjoy each other’s company and work on other stuff going on in our lives. It was a mini-emotional rollercoaster at first, trying to figure out what to do, and I think we both felt a little rejected at some points, but we are still close and we can hang out and keep talking about it very openly. Because we both want the best for each other and have accepted that these feelings are there, it feels really safe, even to admit times when the feelings are less strong, which I’d have trouble with usually because telling people things they might not want to hear is hard… I feel like I levelled up on the Feelings Meter or something, it’s definitely something I would not have handled so well before.

  7. This was an interesting article! I definitely agree that it’s sometimes better to process your feelings separately from the people they’re about, and that people who have the tendency to be impulsive about romance or the tendency to avoid accepting negative emotions can benefit from stepping back and thinking hard about whether this is something they should keep private, especially if mutual crushes aren’t hard for that person to come by. I trust the author that the situation described in her life is one of those situations where it really is better to aim to keep things as they are.

    On the other hand, I feel like some of this is being presented as more universally applicable than it is. It can be good for your friendships if you keep yourself from sharing things you know will just hurt your friends, but it can be bad for your friendships if you keep your friends in the dark about things that affect them – all else being equal I’d rather not know that a friend liked me but didn’t intend to pursue it, but I’d rather know that my friend is avoiding me because they need to get over a crush on me than think they’re avoiding me because they like me less than they did before. There are also a lot of people who use being practical and not wanting to burden their loved ones as a way to avoid taking even relatively gentle risks on even extremely persistent crushes, and that can also go to some really unhealthy places. (That are ALSO generally portrayed by the media as more straightforwardly noble and romantic than the real-life versions of those things tend to be…)

    The mindset that people should always confess isn’t really good, but in queer communities it generally comes about as a reaction to the habit that many closeted people develop of falling deeply in love with someone they’re close to and then continuing to stay in a state of unrequited love with that person and never doing anything about it. For me, it was very much tied up in having disabilities that would be a dealbreaker to a lot of prospective partners, and it was definitely really important for me to learn that confessing to people is okay (and because I was able to confess, I’m now in a happy relationship with someone who has the same disabilities). Then again, I was absolutely hoping to actually date that person and I was willing to rearrange a lot of life stuff to make that doable, which definitely doesn’t describe every crush situation, so… it’s probably just really, really context-dependent?

  8. This article brings up so many overlapping and conflicting thoughts, as someone who has a history of crushing very rarely but very hard, and has been on both the giving and receiving end of uncomfortable crush revelations, but also believes that sometimes you just have to shoot your shot no matter what even if you don’t really know for sure what might happen.

    It’s definitely worth trying to consider what the fallout might be, not just between you and the other person but also any other potentially affected people. But really, my overriding feeling is that if everyone had fewer expectations and less ego investment in end results (I include myself in this and try my best to live this way), it wouldn’t be such a big deal in the first place. Then maybe telling someone you have a crush on them could be as casual and delightful as complimenting their rad taste in socks or whatever.

    • “Then maybe telling someone you have a crush on them could be as casual and delightful as complimenting their rad taste in socks or whatever“

      Yess! This is a very thought-provoking article but also you said what I was trying to clarify in my head!

      I feel like a lot of this article does apply to me but not all of it. I don’t tell people I have a crush on them primarily to give up responsibility. I tell them because I need to get it off my chest. Not telling them can be even more damaging than telling them. Both can suck. But it doesn’t have to suck to be rejected or not reciprocated any more than it has to suck to tell someone, I think. As the author says, they crush on people all the time now due to processing it on their own. Well, in a similar (inverse?) vein, you can make it Not A Big Deal to tell someone your feelings if you do it all the time, especially if you do it right away as opposed to waiting. This is what I’m working on currently.

      But I totally find this article valuable too. I think there is truth and value in both perspectives. For me, I’d like to know what to do with a crush I have on someone I already hooked up with (the crush actually developed when we hooked up).

      Btw I do think it absolutely can be healthy to give away some of the responsibility of dealing with our feelings, but it also can be unhealthy. It’s the entire point of communication, though. Any time you share any kind of feeling you are seeking something from the other person. So I’m interested in learning how to decide when it’s healthy vs unhealthy. And I like the self-processing strategy described in the article.

  9. This is very validating! Thank you!!!

    I struggled for a long time with conflicted feelings about having not confessed my feelings to a girl I was attracted to. I felt guilt mostly because I questioned whether I just hadn’t been brave enough to pursue a queer relationship and then started dating a guy, even though I logically know that this had little if anything to do with the genders of these people!

  10. Thank you very much for this very good article that opens a new perspective. As someone who doesn’t have crushes very often but if yes it is on a straight woman this is very helpful for me. In fact it just helped me to process through a new crush I had on a straight work collegue. Because crush feelings can be quite strong and sometimes come quite surprisingly I always still feel a little helpless about them. To actually know it is me to choose if I want to tell or not gives a lot of freedom. And if I have a look I also realize that with my last crush a lot of the intensity of the crush is probably due to my difficult work situation at the moment which made me feel the connection to my collegue as more important. So observing is good and taking some distance first. Thinking a lot about a crush will also just nurture the crush even more. And when I have a crush I usually always get the feeling that it is reciprocal even if it is my mind playing the same old trick on me. Actually crushing on straight people gives me a good observation on how the crush develops from my side which is very helpful.

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