Having a crush feels amazing — the butterflies, the newness, the way you find yourself smiling when you’re thinking about that special someone. But wait, what if all those warm fuzzy feelings are happening when you’re in a committed relationship…and they’re not directed towards your significant other? Depending on the nature of you and your partner’s relationship, you might have a bit of a dilemma on your hands.
There isn’t a concrete definition for cheating, because relationships aren’t one size fits all. One couple’s ground rules may vary greatly compared to those of another. Plus, when it comes to cheating, it isn’t just about having sex with someone who isn’t your partner. Enter: emotional cheating. Studies have shown that some people — particularly straight women in heterosexual relationships — are actually more hurt by emotional cheating than physical cheating.
Understanding Crushes Versus Emotional Cheating
It can be hard to distinguish between innocent crushes and emotional cheating. Feelings can’t necessarily be controlled, and crushes are notorious for popping up when it’s inconvenient. In this case, during a committed relationship. Plus, just because you’re “off the market” it doesn’t mean that you’re immune to finding other people attractive (that would make life way too easy).
According to Cynthia Catchings, LCSW-S, having a crush while you’re in a relationship is totally common and normal. “A crush with a small ‘c’ is harmless and it refers to the emotion we feel when we see someone cute,” Catchings explains. “A Crush with a big ‘C’ can be more dangerous, mainly if we act on it. If the situation starts escalating, and we spend more time thinking about our Crush and wanting to act on our feelings or desires, that might be a sign that we need to ask ourselves how happy we actually are with our current relationship.”
The Difference Between Little “c” and Big “C” Crushes
So how can you tell the difference between a little crush and a Crush that’s escalating to something more, entering the territory of emotional cheating? What’s okay, and what isn’t? Here are some basic guidelines.
It’s probably okay if:
- It’s a celebrity or “unattainable” person who you’ll likely never encounter in person
- It’s someone you fantasize about once in a while, but not on the regular
- You have no intention of acting on your feelings
- You’re able to block out thoughts of your crush while you’re with your partner
It’s probably not okay if:
- The crush is indicative of something you’re lacking in your current relationship (for example, if you’re using your crush to get attention that you aren’t getting from your partner)
- Your crush feels like escapism from your current situation.
- You’re fantasizing about your crush every time you’re getting intimate with your partner
- You find yourself seriously wishing you were in a relationship with your crush and not your current partner
- You’re communicating more with your crush than you are with your partner
- You begin to act on sexual impulses with your crush
- Your crushing turns into a full fledged affair
If you feel yourself diving deeper into a crush and moving into the “not okay” territory, it’s time to take a step back and assess the reasons why you’re crushing.
“If we start feeling something deeper for another person, something might be broken in our own relationship,” Cynthia Catchings says. “At that point, the situation is not normal and we need to evaluate if crushing on someone else is just the tip of our iceberg.”
It’s All Dependent on Your Relationship Health
When it comes down to it, whether or not your crush is “okay” is going to be very dependent on the situation, the nature of your relationship, and the standards you and your partner hold each other to. Catchings adds, “We have to be completely honest with ourselves and decide if we do not want to be with our significant other anymore. In the end, we owe that to ourselves and to the person we are with.”
If you feel this internal conflict has become problematic, try reaching out to a therapist, or consider relationship counseling as a couple. And if you just can’t seem to shake your crush, well, there’s always ethical non-monogamy.