Everyone we have ever known has been able, without fail, to either name or describe their first crush, no matter how long ago it was. Whether a neighborhood friend or a classmate from primary school or even a high school relationship that somehow seemed different, everyone remembers their first real crush.
There's a lot that we're left with after our first crush and there's a lot that we learn very quickly. No matter what age we are, we suddenly start becoming aware of what we find attractive. We also suddenly become very self-conscious about our appearance, about what we say, about how we act. We feel seen in a way that we haven't felt before.
And when our crushes stay true to their ephemeral nature and bruise our hearts, we hurt in a way that is completely unfamiliar to us. The pain of that, however brief, helps ensure that our earliest crushes are never really forgotten.
As we grow up, we gain a little more confidence, but every crush or relationship will carry in it the bittersweet shadows of our first crush: a touch of self-doubt, the memory of rejection... but also the feeling of newness and wonder and possibility.
Here are some of the things that make our crushes so memorable.
1. Falling in love and not understanding why.
It's so odd to suddenly find a classmate attractive when, in general, you don't really think of any of your classmates as being anything other than classmates. So why can't you wait to catch a glimpse of that girl or that boy? What is it about them that creates such a volatile clash of feelings? Why does life feel a bit like a movie?
Why those eyes? Why that face? Why this voice? What is it about her that makes you ache? What is it about him that makes you dizzy?
It's not for you to ask why. But you will.
2. The agony of unrequited love.
And it is love, though naysayers are always quick to label it as "immature love" or "infatuation" or something equally condescending.. Those things may be true, but that neither negates nor invalidates the pangs of an affection that isn't returned... or at least doesn't seem to be.
They like someone else. They think of you only as a friend. Whether they've let you down gently, dropped you on your head, or seem so remote that you cannot possibly fathom them ever returning your affection, unrequited love always stings, but never like the first time.
3. The horrible awkwardness of trying to communicate.
We're not sure how far removed from the "DO YOU LIKE ME? CHECK ONE: Yes [ ] No [ ] Maybe [ ]" note, but if we had to guess, we'd say probably not very. The fact of the matter is, declaring your affections or trying to ascertain whether or not they are reciprocal is one of the most agonizing things about a crush. Even something as simple as sending a text or an email can become an exercise in crippling self-doubt.
You feel like they don't really know you exist.
To see them and not be able to say what you're actually feeling, to sit in mute awkwardness as they attempt to make small talk, or worse, to say the wrong thing and feel an acute blast of self-criticism as your inner monologue shouts "did you actually just say that?" is a sharp reminder of just how impossible it is to really communicate anything as tender as affection under a cloud of doubt.
And when it comes to their words, it turns into a mental game of "but what did they really mean?"
Sometimes the greatest loves are undeclared.
4. The inability to think about anything else.
Want to disrupt your sleep, friendships, work schedule, classes, homework, and eating habits? Fall in love. It's amazing how much energy our brains can expend on simply thinking about another person. Day-dreaming, wondering, hoping, longing, missing, imagining, analyzing. Things remind you of them. You look at your phone far too often. You re-read their texts. You're drugged on a crush.
But what makes it all so much more painful is how other people treat you...
5. No one takes you all that seriously.
When you're a kid, you can basically count on your parents, teachers, and even your friends to find your heartbreaking saga cute, at best, and completely ridiculous at worst.
You end up feeling misunderstood when you need to feel most understood. And that sucks.
What sucks worse is when they tease you mercilessly.
6. Paralyzing self-consciousness.
A crush, as we've mentioned, will make you aware of two things:
1) The utter unblemished perfection of the object of your desire and
2) Your total unworthiness, highlighted by your self-consciousness.
Try to play it cool and you'll look awkward. Try to be slick and you'll feel clumsy. Try to look disinterested and you'll wonder if you've gone too far. You second-guess everything you say and do when you're crushing. Pretending you don't care only makes it feel so much worse.
7. The incredible feeling of being liked back for the first time.
It might be a check in the [ ] Yes box. It might be a note. It might be a text. It might be spontaneous, love-drunk declaration. It might be a kiss. However the reciprocation comes — and it does come, even if it's not in your very first crush — you'll always remember the first person who returned your affections as fully as you gave them.
8. How quickly a crush can end and how devastating it can feel.
First crushes seem to end as quickly as they begin, though some might argue that because they imprint so much on us, they never really end. Everyone can remember, with some wistful nostalgia, the first time they had their heart broken. It's easy to laugh off the times that came later: We should have known better, seen the signs, the red flags, the none-too-subtle hints. But the first time? It's one of the few parts of life where we treat our younger selves gently and with the kind of compassion that we often forget to extend to ourselves.
The heartbreak of those early crushes may have only lasted a week or two, but they seemed like forever then and we remember that all too well.
The worst thing about youth is that it we only have to be young once. The best thing about it is that we never have to be young again. A big reason for that paradox, the ambivalence that we have when it comes to thinking about youth, has to do with our crushes.
We revisit the best and the worst of it in every person we love and in every person we've ever loved. That alone is reason enough to look back and remember, perhaps recalling the wisdom of the poet Pablo Neruda, that "Love is so short. Forgetting is so long."