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Swipe Left: When does a crush become an obsession?

Where is the line between liking someone a lot and developing a reliance on them?

28 Oct 2021

Welcome back to gal-dem’s monthly dating column ‘Swipe Left’, bringing you Shanice Dover’s latest musings on love, sex and relationships.

I went on a date recently that went pretty well. He was cute. We got on. There was lots of smiling and a little kiss on the way home. After updating the group chat, I put on my bed-time ASMR and let my body relax. Naturally, I replayed some moments from the date in my mind, reconfirming that I’d had a nice time and was definitely interested in seeing him again. But an hour later, still awake and wired, I was running through every tiny detail from the date, and my thoughts had even drifted into made-up scenarios about the future. 

My eyes snapped open and I scrambled to put on a different ASMR video with more intense sounds to pull me out of my head. After years of stumbling into dating pitfalls, I recognise that, for me, drifting into thoughts about my romantic pursuits can quickly spiral into obsessing. So where is the line between having a crush and turning into Joe from ‘You’?

It all started in primary school with Ade*. We must have been about nine years old. He joined the school late, so already had an air of mystery about him. It’s also worth noting that I’d convinced myself he looked exactly like Usher (despite the 15-year age difference). Considering the singer had just dropped 8701 and was nearing the peak of his career (and hotness) at that point, it goes without saying that my pre-teen crush on this boy was in serious overdrive. 

“Drifting into thoughts about my romantic pursuits can quickly spiral into obsessing”

Mimicking the role of a lovestruck teen in American films and TV shows, I stole his phone number from the register at school and would call and hang up several times a week. Scribbled in scented gel pens, I’d write pages and pages of double-sided letters to a friend in another class, with declarations of my love for Ade. 

But worst of all were the daydreams. Night after night, I’d lull myself to sleep by imagining my life as Ade’s girlfriend. I was a child, so my mind didn’t wander much beyond what it would be like to hold his hand in the playground or sit next to him at lunch, but these thoughts occupied my mind for two whole years. Eventually, Ade fell off his bed and the resulting chipped tooth shattered the Usher illusion. Turns out, my love for him wasn’t strong enough to defeat my childish shallowness — my crush evaporated almost instantly. Sadly, my tendency to obsess didn’t go with it.  

There were many, many more crushes I obsessed over as I got older. It got even more intense throughout my hormone-filled, angst-ridden teenage years, and ramped up once I actually started dating as an adult.

Scribbled in scented gel pens, I’d write pages and pages of double-sided love letters”

Recently at an event, I got speaking to a woman who also admitted to falling asleep every night thinking about the guys she liked, and even confessed to making Sims characters for all of her boyfriends, which she’d then symbolically kill off once the relationship ended. I also stumbled across a TikTok of someone saying they go to their room in the middle of the day to create fake realities in their imagination. So it’s safe to say I’m not alone in my tendencies.

Encountering something that sparks excitement within us – so much so that we can’t help but let our imaginations craft endless realities inspired by it – feels special. It is full of hope and the thrill of possibility, and whether you’re nine or (nearly) 29 years old, that feeling is enticing. Why wouldn’t we want to feel that… all the time?

Yet while warm and fuzzy bedtime thoughts are all well and good, like any sneaky habit, incessant thoughts about potential partners can quickly become difficult to control. It creates a romanticised vision that overshadows reality – to the point that when red flags arise, they get brushed off because the picture we’ve built up of how great things could be is so vivid. We’re so invested in the idea of the person that we’ve created in our heads, that we convince ourselves the potential we’ve dreamt up is worth hanging around for. 

Outside of the more dangerous associations with the word, for some people being ‘obsessed’ with someone can mean developing a reliance on them. And that’s not comfortable for anyone involved. It injects unnecessary pressure into the situation and hinges all of your hopes and dreams on a completely made up perception of someone, which can easily lead to disappointment. So the question remains, how can we allow ourselves to get excited about a potential partner without creating fantasies as intricate as Game of Thrones? 

“There’s simply nothing fun about lying in bed at night wondering if the other person has spent as much time as you have deliberating which centrepieces you’ll have at the wedding”

What’s helped me so far, is constantly reminding myself that dating is simply the process of getting to know someone. It’s gradual and takes time. While it’s not uncommon to get a great impression of someone after a date or two and yes, instant chemistry and attraction is worth celebration, at the end of the day, a good date is pretty much just a few hours with good company. We all love good company, but being able to have a decent chat and a bit of a laugh with someone doesn’t automatically mean we’re destined to fall in love. 

It’s also liberating to remember that dating is meant to be fun! But there’s simply nothing fun about lying in bed at night wondering if the other person has spent as much time as you have deliberating which centrepieces you’ll have at the wedding. I’ve been burned jumping into things too quickly before, so taking it slow can only be a good thing and will hopefully help me stay away from compulsive liars

I can’t promise that I won’t lose my head and find myself in a giddy daydream again after the second date, but the main thing is, I’m trying. 

*Names have been changed