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Secret Crush by Guy Rohrbaugh

The most terrible thing about a crush is the secrecy. It sets up this terrible struggle in your heart between two exactly contradictory impulses, which it's impossible to decide between. The beginning of this is obvious. The straightforward content of having a crush on someone is that you like them. You really, really like them. They're suddenly the funniest, most attractive, smartest, most fascinating person you know. Having a conversation with the person totally makes your day. And naturally, you find every possible reason to run into them. Can you hear it? "I, uh, lent Angela this book a couple months ago, and..." Or like Hallie's restaurant plan, and all the conversations it requires. Or for that matter, the way Ricky seems to have supernatural knowledge of where, say, Jordan Catalano is right now. "He has gym this period." Senior year of high school, I discovered a book in the office with a huge computer print-out of everyone's schedule that you could just walk in and look at. Just imagine. Every time a certain person had a free period that I did, "Oh hey, how's it going?" What a fucking coincidence, week after week.

But there's this incredible pressure to keep your feelings hidden. You begin to monitor your behavior, making sure you never speak or act in a way that's out of the ordinary. Nothing is permitted that would let the person know, or even suspect, that you like them. You constantly ask yourself, "am I being too obvious?", "did that sound wrong?" or "did I slip up?" The coincidences start to pile up. Or worse, like Brian, you overcompensate. He's always acting like he's irritated at Angela, snapping at her, so as not to give away what he feels. And you know his heart breaks every time he does it. "God, why did I do that?" Or worst of all, as I recall, helping the person get together with someone else, by, say writing a letter. It's an awful skill, utter and complete repression, but one gets good at it. Eventually, you internalize these concerns and it all becomes sort of automatic. Brian will get it eventually. I know it. Didn't we?

But isn't this all incredibly perverse you ask? Don't you like the person? Well, yes, but we all know why we do these thing, why we feel that pressure. The reason, of course, is that you're afraid to know the answer to the question you're burning to ask, "Do you like me?" Because what if the answer is "no"? It's pretty much the worst fate on earth you can contemplate in the midst of a crush, total devastation. Oh, and maybe humiliation, but mostly devastation. And sure, I'm willing to go along and chalk some of this pressure up to poor self-image, but only so much. The rest is just realism. Let's just say you are fantastic. This is still no guarantee they'll like you back. And there is no odds-playing here. People with crushes aren't decision theorists. It's either possible or it's not. And this has everything to do with hope, and whether you have it or not.

So how do you face an event that might destroy the hope you've been tenderly nursing? And this hope is, at bottom, the life of the crush. The tantalizing possibility that it might work, that this person might like you back, is also what drives the secrecy. Because if the truth came out, it might end the hope and along with it the crush. And this is the secret engine of the crush: it lives in part to propagate itself. It keeps itself alive by keeping the hope alive. Why else do we become such diviners of signs? We find meaning in the smallest details, evidence that there is hope. But in part, we keep the hope alive by avoiding the final test at all costs, and this is what drives the secrecy.

But there's the other side too. You're also dying to know the answer to the question, because what if the answer is "yes"?! What if this terrific person likes you back. What if that person would look at you, the way Angela looks at Brian for that split second at the end? Not with surprise and displeasure or discomfort, but surprise and wonder? You'd die of happiness on the spot. And the underpinnings of that hope you're so busy keeping alive is possibility, that you think there is a chance. So the whole time, there's also this termendous pressure to let the truth out, to scream it. This is the part which not only always intends to say something and just ask, which you know you can't do, but the part that's dying to slip up. The part that's always tempting you to drop that hint, that double edged phrase, get a little too drun, to just fuck up your cover for once. This is the part that puts the edge on "Hardly" after Angela accuses: "Is this like a game to you?", the part that confuses you into saying, "I meant every word," when you should be saying, "He meant every word."

And so it goes, your heart divided between hope and fear, never really being able to decide between them. It's terrible being torn in two like this, but what if the answer is "yes." What could be more worth it?

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