Unlike Jimmy Carter, the former US president, I have not committed adultery in my heart many times. But only because I have never been married. Over the course of my life, I have had more crushes than a Florida orange. As a child, I fancied everyone from a medieval cartoon fox to a noodle-haired wrestler to a student physics teacher. I was lusty before I even realised what lust was. And I know I’m not the only one.
The brilliant podcast Crushed by Margaret Cabourn-Smith has delighted me for three months with stories of hapless supermarket flirtations, hopeless workplace infatuations and helpless attempts to make various band members notice you. Listening to an episode featuring Shaparak Khorsandi, I remembered with a flash of shame hiding in a woodshed with a family friend as part of a game of hide and seek, and being so desperate to touch him that I pretended to stroke a woodlouse off his back just to feel his skin. I was six years old. It was on Crushed that I also learned, somewhat encouragingly, that Gary Numan is married to a member of the Gary Numan fan club, while Sara Pascoe’s parents met because her mother camped outside her musician dad’s house with a gaggle of other teenage fans. If it worked for them, you reason, there is hope for us all.
But what of the adult crushes? Or the crushes that relight, like those trick birthday candles, in adult life? In my debut novel, Square One, the protagonist is forced to move back to her home town, only to bump into the boy she had a crush on at secondary school. She is swimming, he is topless, they rescue a stranded horse from a towpath with a rolled-up jumper and the rest, as they say, is an erotically charged disaster. It is probably the greatest act of wish fulfilment I have ever put on the page. Not a single one of my appalling, heart-wrenching school crushes was ever reciprocated. The endless hours standing near a skate park in baggy jeans and butterfly hair clips, the sleepovers, the stumbling drunken admissions all came to nothing; and even though many of those boys now look like background figures in a B&Q advert, the story hasn’t changed in later life.
The trickier question is what to do about these crushes now that I am – not to put too fine a point on it – getting married. In a few weeks’ time, I will stand up in front of a group of people and promise to love my partner, exclusively, for the rest of my life. For better or worse. Yet I know that if you were to put me in any room with any group of people for long enough, I would probably start to develop a crush on one of them. Not in an active way – I have never cheated and absolutely don’t want to. Who has the time? The energy? The willingness to listen to someone else’s work stories? But I have these thoughts as a coping mechanism against boredom. A way to soothe my anxious brain in times of stress. To puncture through the blanket of numbness when faced with the despair of the modern world.
Should I start bringing my spouse to work, the playground, the supermarket? Build him in as a contingency to stop my wandering mind? Is having crushes even really something I need to be ashamed of, guard against and deny? Or is the capacity to be attracted to a group of partners, rather than one individual, ingrained in our mammalian brains?
Maybe I’ll leave the answer for my wedding speech.
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