Puppy Love: The Do's & Don'ts of Crushes (With Help from a Very Small Dog)
Attending our staff and volunteer camp this summer was amazing. I met my fellow Scarleteam members in person for the first time and got started on a bunch of new projects.
I also acquired a not-so-secret admirer. A furry, foot-long admirer named Trouble Pants.
In spite of how many new, exciting people there were to sniff and sit on, Trouble was completely obsessed with me. I like Trouble, too (we've met before), but not with anywhere near the level of intensity it appeared he now liked me.
He wanted my attention, and by god, he was going to get it, even if he had to make every weird noise in the book. Heather and I were sitting outside, the sound of a whining, house-bound Trouble in the background, when they turned to me and said,"It's like he's giving a crash course in exactly how not to behave around your crush."
Users frequently come into our direct services wondering how to express their big-crush feelings for someone without being overbearing or creepy, especially when they don't know if that person feels even remotely the same way. And now a weirdly-fixated Dachshund mutt was illustrating all the behaviors we warn our users against, doing my job for me. Even better, I was a good example of someone who would otherwise be open to spending time with my admirer if they would just chill (for real, I find Trouble super-adorable).
So, courtesy of Trouble and myself, here are some things you should and shouldn't do when you're crushing on someone.
Don't: Initiate unwanted physical contact
When you're crushing on someone, you may want to be as close to them as possible. Maybe you find yourself brushing up against them when you're talking, or you hug them without asking, or squish up next to them when they're sitting on the couch.
Or, if you're a small dog, you scrabble at their legs and leap onto their chest in a desperate, hungry attempt to lick their face.
Either way, not okay.
We all have a right to our personal space, and a right to choose and determine who is allowed in that space, and how or how much we want them in that space. Hint: that space starts considerably outside someone's body, not on or right next to it.
We all have different thresholds for what kind of touch we're okay with, from whom and in what situation or context. I was fine with Trouble climbing on me, but someone else may have been really freaked out by that level of contact.
Make sure you ask before initiating more physical contact with someone. Pushing past the boundaries someone has around their body is often going to make them uncomfortable, and may incline them to want to get away from you, not closer. And depending on their personality and how they've been socialized, they might have a hard time telling you to stop.
But wait, you say, my crush hugs other friends all the time! So, it's okay for me to hug them without asking. Nope, please check with them first. How we are with one person isn't a green light for everyone to be that way with us. You can be -- and probably yourself are -- comfortable with some people touching you, but uncomfortable with others. We all tend to be at least somewhat selective about this.
Maybe you and your crush have a pre-existing relationship where hugs are totally okay. That's great, but be careful not to take advantage of that privilege. If you're suddenly hugging them every two minutes, they're going to wonder what the heck is going on.
Don't: Give inappropriate gifts or unasked for favors
A major component of Trouble's campaign to win my affection was to repeatedly present me with a very, very, very trashed chew toy. I neither needed nor wanted said toy, but Trouble insisted. While it (hopefully) doesn't involve a chew toy, many of us have similar stories about an admirer who gave us something that made us uncomfortable (and plenty of us have been the givers of such gifts).
It's one thing to give a friend a gift. When I was in high school, my friend group (including my crush) exchanged small, usually DIY gifts around the holidays. If I'd given all my friends a normal gift and given my crush something huge, extravagant, or very obviously romantic, I'd likely have made the situation feel weird for everyone. Plus, if your crush doesn't know your true feelings for them a romantically charged gift can be mighty confusing. They're left wondering if you view them as a friend or if you have an ulterior motive for hanging out with them.
There's a cousin to the FEELINGS gift where you do a favor for the object of your affection that they did not ask you to do. Example:
Me: (sitting outside, working)
Trouble (translated from dog): Look, I dug you a hole!
Me: Er, thanks Trouble. That was...nice of you.
Trouble: Look it is a hole. Which I dug. I dug a hole. FOR YOU.
Me (increasingly confused, slightly uncomfortable): Uh huh...
Trouble: LOVE MEEEEEEEEE
While there aren't many people who dig a hole out of love, there are plenty of us who do a favor for a crush that they never asked us to do. If they mention they need to get their car washed soon and wake up the next day to find you in their driveway with a hose and bucket, they're going to feel somewhat perplexed. Wanting to help out people we care about often comes from a good place, but when it's done without checking with them first you risk plowing through a boundary and making them uncomfortable.
The really nasty version of the unsolicited gift and favor giving is where you do it with the hopes of racking up enough points that your crush will eventually owe you something (a kiss, a date, sex, etc). If you find that's the logic behind your gift giving actions, there are two things you need to remember. The first is that, if you're doing something nice for someone in the hopes that they'll then owe you something in return, that's not actually a nice, thoughtful motive. And secondly, that's not how people work.
We don't owe a person access to us, romantic or otherwise, because someone does us enough favors. We shouldn't try and do anything to suggest someone does or make them feel like they do. Yuck.
Don't: Demand all of their time/attention
During camp, if I was anywhere that Trouble could see or hear me, he wanted me to pay attention to him, and him alone.
If I was eating, he wanted to sit next to me. If I was talking to someone, he wanted to be part of the conversation. If I tried to go somewhere, he followed me. It was almost flattering, but it got to the point where I couldn't do anything without tripping over Trouble.
A similar pattern often emerges when you have a crush. You want to be around them as much as humanly possible because the more time you spend with them and the more they pay attention to you, the more likely it is they'll realize how rad you are and return your feelings.
The issue with that approach is that, while being in their company more often can help them know you better, knowing someone does not automatically equal attraction to them. You probably also don't want someone to get to know you and find you annoying at best, or feel like they are being stalked, at worst.
If you're constantly hanging around them, texting them, messaging them, you're going to move from "seems cool" to "back off" pretty quickly. It's frustrating to have someone, even a cool someone you may even like, try to monopolize your time. That laser-focus often makes people uncomfortable, because it feels less like friendly interest and more like someone is monitoring your every move or smothering you. When in doubt, go for giving people more space instead of less. If they want less, they'll let you know.
Don't: Try to undermine existing relationships
Trouble was not the only dog at camp. Moo, Trouble's larger roommate, was also present. I like Moo, and Moo likes me. She is an excellent dog to scritch while you're brainstorming article ideas. But for Trouble, the idea that I might be petting a dog who wasn't him was unbearable. It was THE WORST THING THAT EVER HAPPENED. He took to pushing Moo out of the way to get my attention (which is no small feat, since she's three times his size).
A similar dynamic can happen if you're anxious about your crush spending time with other people (especially their current partner or people of the gender(s) they're attracted to). While most of your brain understands that your crush is a complete human with a life of their own, there's a section piloted by the screaming weasels of panic that assumes everyone else is out to "steal" your crush from you (or, if they have a partner, said partner exists only to blind your crush to your superiority). And you start doing whatever you can to get between other people and your crush.
As with monopolizing their time, getting in the way of your crush having and enjoying their other relationships is a great way for the situation to shift from "sweet, the more the merrier at this party/movie night/LARP " to "it feels like you're trying to isolate or own me and I just want you gone."
Do: Spread your attention and time out
Ironically, Trouble's fixation with me meant he missed out on a whole bunch of attention and adoration from other people he would have enjoyed. There were many Scarleteam members there who wanted to snuggle him. He also missed out on fun activities (walks, snacks, roughhousing with Moo) because he was too busy staring out the window at me.
The same thing can happen to us humans. When you've got a heavy-duty crush on someone, there's a tendency to focus only on that person, what they're doing, and what their interactions with you might mean. There could be a Bigfoot riding a jet propelled Loch Ness Monster outside and you'd be concentrating too hard on what your crush really meant when they said, "See you tomorrow!" to notice.
Plenty of us have done that and while it's not bad or wrong, that singular focus is often counter to our own interests. If you're devoting all of your time and energy to one person, you miss out on other fun things you could be doing or neat people you could be hanging out with. You start defining yourself by your relationship (or potential relationship) to another person, rather than all the rad things you do. (In the event your crush ever does turn into the relationship you want, that's an excellent setup for an unhealthy, unhappy relationship, too.)
If you're looking for a date, focusing solely on your crush means you can easily miss out on people who are interested in you romantically. Who maybe have a crush on you. You can be so intent of the "what ifs" of the day when your crush finally realizes your awesomeness that you don't notice someone who thinks you're cool and dateable in the here and now and who you, as it turns out, feel the same way about.
Do: Back off when asked
Trouble, adorable as he is, was sometimes not great at parsing the phrase "Get off." Now, because he is a small mammal, it was easy to move him when need be. I could also leave a space he was in without him following me due to his lack of opposable thumbs. But when you've got a human admirer, those escape maneuvers don't work as well, and you really shouldn't have to use them in the first place.
Dr. Nerdlove addresses the myth that refusing to back off is only creepy if unattractive people do it. He notes, in reference to an incident in his life
The problem wasn’t whether they were “hot enough”, it was that I didn’t want them, specifically, touching me and
they did so anyway. It was their trying to invalidate my lack of interest or consent that made their behavior creepy. The assumption that I would be (or should be) cool with it was insulting at best and profoundly uncomfortable at worst.
Basically what sets off our alarm bells about someone is if they don't respect our boundaries or needs when we express them. You could totally be someone's type, but if you don't listen when they state a boundary, your odds of being creepy increase dramatically.
The way to avoid that situation is to pay attention to your crush's words as well as their body language. If they seem to tense up when you get too close, take a step back. If they move away instead of towards you, don't keep moving towards them: step back. If they end a conversation with you, don't follow them around and keep trying to engage them.
Most importantly, if your crush tells you "it makes me uncomfortable when.." or "could you please not..." apologize and then respect their request. Doing that shows them that you really aren't intending to push their boundaries and that their feelings -- and not just your own desires -- matter to you. Respecting your crush shows that you see them as a whole person who deserves to be listened to and who is a person separate from what you want for yourself.
Take Trouble and me. After a while he learned that I was much more receptive to spending time with him when he didn't focus all of his attention and energy on me. He figured out that if I was otherwise occupied he could go see if there were other people who wanted to rub his belly. When he wanted to sit on me, he decided to be mellow rather than crawl over me. And by learning how to respect my boundaries, we both got to spend time with someone who we thought was pretty darn cool.
Maybe you're reading all this and cringing because it sounds an awful lot like something you've done. Maybe you've bungled this up once. Or twice. Or more. So did Trouble, and he's still okay. He's still learning, and so were you. Nobody is born knowing how to behave around a crush. Hopefully Trouble will do better with his next crush just like you will with yours. You'll get the hang of it, I promise.
Editors Note: A public relations representative for Mr. T. Pants would like to acknowledge that Mr. Pants takes full responsibility for his behaviour towards the author, and deeply regrets having caused any annoyance, frustration, headaches, lap-aches or other related irritations or pains as a result of his overly enthusiastic and not-at-all-well-informed actions. His representative would like to assure the author that Mr. Pants will not ever repeat this behaviour, but because he is only a very small and not particularly obedient dog who also cannot read this article, they cannot.
In lieu of this, Mr. Pants would like to instead offer the author 50% of all his biscuits to the charity of her choice, and the slobbery chewtoy she likely still does not want.