You will never be as close to your teenage self as you are when you have a crush. Falling for someone new can take you from full-fledged adulthood right back to your childhood bedroom—J-14 posters, drugstore mascara, embarrassing diary entries, and all. Suddenly every text feels make-or-break as you anxiously weigh the potential impact of every last punctuation mark and emoji, asking yourself that one question you thought you’d eliminated from your vocabulary post-middle school: What if they don’t like me back?
While a little nervous energy is all part of the excitement of a new fling, having a crush at any age tends to involve the same type of vulnerability it did back when you were trading “Do You Like Me?” notes in grade school. And unfortunately, that means that whether you’re 13 or 30, a crush can be just as gut-wrenching when things don’t work out.
“An unreciprocated crush can be particularly hard to overcome because you have an idealized picture in your mind of that person. You don’t know what it’s like to date them; you just have a constant loop in your head of the love story that could have been,” says Logan Ury, Director of Relationship Science at Hinge and author of the bestselling book How to Not Die Alone. “With a breakup, you know and experience the things that caused the two of you to be incompatible. But when you have a crush on someone, you’re not picturing them being rude when they’re tired or getting too drunk at dinner with your parents. You see an idealized (and unrealistic) version of them, and that fake version is the one that you’re mourning.”
It’s why getting over a short-lived flirtation can sometimes seem even harder than moving on from a more “official” breakup, or why a close friend of mine recently wailed, “They were just a crush!” over the phone when trying to figure out how the ending of a brief situationship could hurt more than the demise of her three-year-long relationship. I couldn’t stop thinking about the term she used: a “crush.” So middle school, so cheeky, yet so infuriatingly appropriate as a descriptor, even now.
But while “just a crush” might sound juvenile, romantic rejection is romantic rejection. Even if you never made it “official,” letting go of a crush can still feel like an actual breakup, and moving on sometimes takes just as much work. Lucky for you, we’ve been there—and, yes, we survived. Here’s our no-nonsense guide to crushing your post-crush blues and moving the hell on.
1.Ask yourself if this ever *really* would have worked out
Give yourself the gift of a realistic perspective on the situation. As we know, the driving force behind a crush is fantasy, so go ahead and kill that fantasy by acknowledging your crush’s flaws (you know they have ’em!) and the hundred-and-one ways this would have never worked out. You don’t have to become a total skeptic, but try to take a more realistic look at what this person really had to offer. Does the object of your unrequited affections have the same values? Would they get along with your friends? Sometimes it’s as simple as asking yourself, “Do I even like them? Or do I just want to win?” (As an Aries, so my answer is typically the latter, TBH.)
2. Say no to self-guilt
Shame is sometimes why we can’t get over that one thing that didn’t work out. Rather than playing the self-blame game, relationship columnist Jen Kirsch says to give yourself grace. Yes, you may have fallen in love with an idea of a person, but that fantasy was still real to you on some level. Kirsch suggests letting yourself acknowledge that, for whatever reason, you got attached to this idea of someone, and accepting that while that idealized version of your crush may not be real, your grief is.
3. Make a list (but not of the things you *don’t* like about them)
“List all the things that attracted you to [your crush],” suggests Andrea Dindinger, LMFT. “This exercise helps you narrow down specific traits you’re looking for in a partner.” And while documenting the things you like about someone who did not return those feelings might sound like an exercise in self-torture, this isn’t about wallowing—it’s about figuring out what you want. “If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you’re never going to find it,” says Dindinger. Hint: “Someone who is also crazy about me” should definitely be on that list.
4. Remind yourself those ‘special’ traits are still out there
Once you’ve compiled your list, make note of which traits you’ve seen in people other than your crush. BTW, they don’t even have to be people you could ever consider having romantic feelings for. Were you in a checkout line behind a mother in the grocery store who was patient with her child throwing a tantrum? Mark it down. Is an old friend thoughtful in the way you’d want a romantic partner to be? On the list, she goes! Remind yourself that just because your crush had those traits doesn’t mean they’re unique, and it doesn’t mean you can’t find them elsewhere.
5. Practice the no contact rule
There’s a reason why “don’t text him” is such common post-breakup advice. No contact with an ex helps you experience and process your grief without any distractions (like, for example, the distraction of that little ping! that sets your heart all aflutter when they text you). The same idea applies here with an unrequited or otherwise unhealthy crush. You already know that you’re not going to get what you want from this person. Cutting off, or at least pausing, communication isn’t cruel or overdramatic. It’s called prioritizing your mental health, babe.
6. And when you do want to text them…
When you get the urge to draft paragraph-style confessionals to your crush (been there!), Dindinger suggests texting a trusted friend instead. Not only will directing that energy to someone else’s phone help soothe the need for the dopamine hit we get from texting, but it can help let all those bottled-up feelings out, minus the potential disappointment of getting left on read, says Dindinger. When in doubt, phone a friend.
What can we say? A little self-love goes a long way when it comes to getting over someone. “Self-pleasure can be hugely powerful in restoring your body confidence and self-esteem. It can empower you to take control of your pleasure and get over heartbreak,” says Holly Jackson, co-founder of women’s sexual wellness box, SheSpot. Take this time to explore new toys, lubes, and self-pleasure techniques. What better way to keep your mind off your crush than by watching some ethical porn, listening to some audio erotica, and exploring new fantasies?
8. No revenge posts
No thirst traps in the name of unrequited love. Just none. Nope.
9. Unfollow! Do it right now!
“Studies show that specific and unique areas of the brain become activated when viewing the face of someone you feel romantic love toward. This kind of activation is even stronger than simply thinking about someone,” says licensed psychotherapist Brooke Schwartz. Translation: unfollow, mute, or block your crush on social media to avoid fanning old flames. You can thank us later.
10. Adopt an (actually helpful) mantra
Practicing positive self-talk can improve confidence and help reframe the situation. I’m not saying you have to shout “I AM BEAUTIFUL” at yourself in the mirror. (Unless you want to, in which case, go off, my friend.) Honest, legitimately useful positive self-talk is usually a lil less Self-Love Industrial Complex and more about eliminating self-blame. So opt for a more helpful mantra. Maybe it’s something as simple as, “They rejected me, and it hurts. I may still crave this person’s acknowledgment and love, but that isn’t a reflection of my worth.” (You can literally copy that, IDC.)
11. Don’t seek info you don’t actually want
No asking mutual friends how your ex-crush is doing. No showing up to a bar they frequent and “doing a lap.” No accidentally-on-purpose run-ins. “If you’re engaging in these activities, it’s probably taking a toll on your sense of self-worth,” says Kirsch. Her advice? Politely ask your friends to put this person on their “Do Not Mention” list, and make it clear that they are not, under any circumstances, to enable any kind of self-sabotaging behavior. Sometimes a little tough love is what you need to get over a crush, and a good friend will know when to give it to you.
12. Understand that what your crush does has nothing to do with you
If you were open and vulnerable about your feelings and your crush didn’t match your energy, what they do next has no bearing on you whatsoever. Thinking about who they sleep with, what they do, and literally anything else they could possibly be up to is like worrying about the stake of a game you never bet on. It has nothing to do with you.
13. Keep yourself busy
Yeah, we know. It’s the ol’ I Googled “HOW TO GET OVER SOMEONE” tip. But doing things you love, learning a new skill, staying present, and surrounding yourself with people who love you goes a long way, and can seriously help your self-esteem. More importantly, you should focus on staying busy with things you loved before you become infatuated with your crush. Re-investing in yourself can help bring back your sense of individuality and identity, something that can sometimes get lost along the way when you’re in the throes of all-consuming desire.
14. Process your feelings with a therapist
If the whole unrequited love situation still leaves you feeling overwhelmed, talking those anxieties out with a therapist can aid in your healing process. Digging deeper into whatever might be behind the obsession—your attachment style, fear of abandonment, etc.—can be therapeutic and part of the constructive work that will ultimately prepare you for a healthier romantic future.
15. A final word, if I may…
Remember: you literally don’t want to be with anyone who doesn’t want to be with you, because, hi, why would you? You want to be with someone every bit as wholeheartedly, nauseatingly obsessed with you as you are with them—whatever that may look like to you. Don’t settle for anything less than someone who’s just as sure about you, mmkay?
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