It's 93 degrees today after a long, cold, felt-like-it-would-never-end wintery spring. My cheeks are flushed and my skin is all dewy and glowy with sweat. It's finally summer. And I want to wear strappy tank tops and sit at an outdoor café sipping on a cold bottle of beer wet with condensation, even though I don't really drink. I want to sit outside, across from a guy who makes my heart press up against my rib cage, sipping beer and sweating and adjusting the strap of my camisole that's slipped down my warm, tanned shoulder, or maybe just leave it there dangling.
The temperature is rising, I am filled with longing, and I want to have a crush.
Summer, with its heat and sweat and skin-baring clothing options, is a great time to have a crush. I haven't had a serious, hardcore, I'm-so-excited-I-can-barely-breathe-around-this-person crush in a long time, and I'm due for one this season.
The last time I felt this way was about Eric,* a year and a half ago. It was a fall/winter crush.
I'd known him as a casual acquaintance for a few months, but sitting in the diner that chilly October night with a group of mutual friends, everything changed. It was like the lights dimmed and we were in a scene from a slow motion montage in a rom-com, just the two of us alone as the music swelled, even though we were surrounded by other people at the table with nary a John Mayer song playing in the background.
Eric was 10 years older than me, a writer and editor, and with his salt-and-pepper beard, he could have been an English professor. I'd just thought of him as this nice, nerdy guy before, but that night, as he asked me about my career and expressed interest in my writing, which is like foreplay to me, I tilted my head and saw him in this whole new way.
My crush blossomed over the next couple of months as we ran into each other at group get-togethers and started to become friends. One night in December I said to him, "I've been trying to see the Muppet movie but no one will see it with me!"
I did this on purpose.
"I really want to see that movie, too!" Eric said. "I'll see it with you."
My plan worked! I thought, high-fiving myself in my mind.
On New Year's Day we went to see The Muppets, and sitting next to him in the dark theater, I just wanted to curl up into him and snuggle against his adorableness. But my crush was a secret and we were still just friends, so I kept to my side of the arm rest.
Walking home from the subway afterwards, I practically skipped to my apartment. Even though that night had just been two friends seeing a movie they both happened to want to see, everything about it felt like a date.
Soon after, when he asked if I wanted to go to brunch, I had to clarify what was going on. I can get stuck in vague, date-like situations, harboring fantasy crushes on men who are totally unavailable for years at a time, so I needed to know if my crushy feelings were reciprocated.
"Um, Eric?" I said over the phone, feeling like I was going to throw up. "That last time, when we went to the movies, that felt like a date and... I've had this crush on you so I have to ask... is brunch like, a friend thing or... how do you feel?"
In the seconds that felt like hours waiting for his response, I thought I might pass out from absolute terror.
"Jen," he began warmly, "you're a very attractive women..."
Holy shit, he likes me back! I thought, the way he said it and the tenderness in his voice telling me that this was more than just an objective observation, and meant that he was attracted to me.
"...And I feel exactly the same way," he finished.
Yippee!!! I thought, as fireworks exploded in our rom-com.
As to not jeopardize our friendship, we decided to take things slowly and continue getting to know each other as friends for a little while longer before going on an actual date. But from that moment of our mutual declaration, the flirtation -- and my crush -- intensified.
After that, we did fun, silly, crushy things, like text each other throughout the day to share small details, such as a photo of a peanut butter smoothie on an unseasonably warm day (mine), or pictures from a shopping trip to IKEA (his). We made up rapper names for each other. We scheduled specific times to talk at night so we wouldn't get stuck in endless rounds of phone tag.
When it was finally time for our first date, we both coincidentally made hair appointments at different upscale salons the day before. As I was getting my hair cut, he texted me a picture of himself in the salon chair, with his robe on and his new 'do. Every time my phone beeped to announce a new text from him, my heart leapt.
Having a crush on Eric made me feel awake and alive, seen and appreciated, and most importantly, not so alone. It gave meaning to my tiny, everyday occurrences, knowing that I could share them with someone who cared, and who shared his own daily details with me.
After six months of crushdom -- three months of friendship, two months of escalated flirtation, and one month of dating -- Eric called me as I was walking home from the grocery store on a Monday night in early spring. I thought he was calling to ask me out for that weekend, but instead, without warning, he told me that this "just wasn't working" for him anymore and he didn't want to continue dating me.
I was crushed.
As I held back tears, Eric said he still wanted to be friends, and told me that he had some leftover eggplant parmigiana that he'd made in his fridge and wanted to bring me some. I declined the eggplant parm and decided not to be friends.
A full cycle of seasons has gone by since then and I haven't felt that way again yet. But now it's summer and I'm hot and rosy-cheeked, missing that giddy excitement when a new text comes up, that can't-wait-to-tell-him feeling when something amazing or ridiculous or seemingly mundane happens in my day-to-day routine.
In the wake of painful romantic disappointments, I tend to shut down for long periods of time. Moving from task to task, I stay so busy I don't even notice that something is missing, that part of me -- the part that feels passion, that experiences fun and joy, that takes emotional risks -- is gone.
And then one day, it's 93 degrees out and I wake up from my shut-down slumber to the sharp ache for a man who ultimately didn't want to date me. I've learned that this is what I do -- attach my longing to a guy from the past -- when what I'm yearning for is not that particular person, but a meaningful connection in the present.
On these scorching days and muggy nights, what I truly want isn't to be wallowing in memories of long-gone crush, but to be spending time in reality with a brand-new one. Who will sit across from me or lean in next to me drinking sweating bottles of beer, our warm summer skin pressed up against each other? Who I can share my daily minutiae with and whose texts make my heart leap? Most importantly, I want a crush who will have a serious, hardcore crush-to-last-through-the-seasons right back on me.
*Name has been changed