So you have a crush, you know that much. What are your next steps? You have a few choices: you can suppress your attraction and try to move on, you can ask the person on a first date without disclosing how enamored you are right away, or you can tell the person about your feelings just to get a sense of relief.
Each choice comes with unique challenges, so following a few simple guidelines can help you confess your romantic feelings with confidence.
If you are crushing from afar, slowly enter the conversation.
Before you grab your crush by the lapels and tell them, "I can't stop thinking about you!" it's best to get some perspective–crushes tend to make us toss reason out the window. The way you feel about your crush might seem all-encompassing, but the truth is that you're not actually in a romantic relationship with them (yet). Flirting and dating are both based in conversations, which require the voices of two or more people, right? So a crush is like a monologue, and if you start monologuing at the person who turns you on, they're understandably going to feel like you've ambushed them.
"When you have a big crush, it's easy to forget that the object of your desire is a person with flaws and emotional baggage," says writer and relationship expert Maddy Court, creator of the relationship advice publication The Ex-Girlfriend of My Ex-Girlfriend Is My Girlfriend and a forthcoming volume of the same title. "You can build a whole fantasy around someone you don't know very well, especially if you're spending a lot of time lurking on their social media."
That's why it's smart, except in a few specific situations, to put off the whole "confessing my feelings" drama and begin by initiating some low-stakes conversations with your crush. Keep in mind that your crush could have zero idea why you're approaching them, so you want to give this person time to develop curious feelings about you, too.
If you have some basis already, you can be more direct.
"If someone is receptive and the path is clear for you to date, you don't have to overthink it. Just talk to them," says Court. "Ask them lots of questions about themselves. Don't pretend to be uninterested or distant. Don't wait hours and hours to reply to their texts because you want to seem cool. At the same time, don't abandon your other relationships or plans to pursue someone. Approach it like a fledgling friendship."
If possible, start the conversation in person.
When it comes to matters of the heart, it can be extremely tempting to jump into your crush's DMs to tell them how attractive you find them. However, if you've developed feelings for someone whom you see around on a regular basis—say, a friend of a friend—wait until you have a private moment with them to ask them out. In case you're stumped, here are a few lighthearted openers:
- "Hey, I'd love to go out with you sometime. Do you have a night free this weekend?"
- "I'm feeling a little nervous about this, but I've got a crush on you. Would you be interested in hanging out sometime?"
- "I have so much fun talking to you. Do you want to get a drink with me sometime?"
- "Can I have your number? I'd love to hang out one-on-one if you're down."
If meeting face-to-face isn't an option, put it in writing.
Of course, there are a lot of obstacles that might keep you from admitting your feelings in person. As Court explains, "If you're someone who struggles with social anxiety or being direct, it might make more sense to send a text or letter. Another bonus of written communication is that the other person can process and respond on their own time." If admitting your crush is more complicated than simply asking the person on a date, you may want to consider writing a letter or an email.
For instance, if you've been friends with your crush for a long time, and you know that admitting your feelings might upset the balance of your existing relationship, it can actually come off as thoughtful if you write a note to your pal and tell them they can think on it and get back to you. Just know that anything other than an in-person request for a date or a casual text message is going to come across with gravitas. Consider how much this will impact your relationship with an acquaintance, casual friend, or otherwise. If admitting your feelings puts anything between you up in the air, you're actually doing the person a service by giving them some immediate breathing room.
Don't let your crush's response determine your self-worth.
"I think women, especially, believe that love is something they earn by conforming to normative beauty standards or being good," Court cautions. "Women are generally socialized to define themselves by their interpersonal relationships. This makes the possibility of romantic rejection especially terrifying—it's not a matter of 'things just didn't work out,' it feels like, 'You are unlovable and no one will ever love you.'" When you stop letting other people define your self-worth, the possibility of rejection becomes less scary.
"Crushes can be exhilarating but also painful and consuming," she says. "It's so human to develop feelings for someone who's in a closed relationship, lives a thousand miles away, or is otherwise unavailable." Even if you discover that you're not going to be able to act on your feelings, you are not alone.
Be mindful of their feelings if they're not interested in pursuing a relationship.
If your crush isn't interested in pursuing something romantic between you, they're actually doing you an immense favor by telling you outright. If you're being let down easy, return the favor by making the interaction as pleasant and casual as you can. Once you're out of your crush's sight, feel free to process your disappointment by any means necessary!
Take time to redefine your own boundaries if you get a "no."
Consider the possibility that you may not be able to remain friends with your crush until you get stronger. Moving on from romantic feelings for another person is a lot like breaking a habit, and it's nearly impossible to break any habit if you've got nothing but space and opportunity for it to continue. Imagine trying to cut back on sugar with a candy bar taped to your hand—that's what it can feel like if you continue to text your crush daily after they've told you they're not interested in dating.
Give your platonic bond the space it needs to breathe. If this was a casual friend, you don't have to tell them the boundary work you're about to embark on. Just say, "No worries!" and back off from contacting them regularly. Mute them on social media if you have to; just limit your exposure to this person without making a big announcement.
However, if the relationship is a close one, and you know that backing off will affect your interactions in a big way, you can let the person know that you need space with words like, "Thanks for being honest with me! It was hard for me to work up the courage to tell you how I was feeling. I do want to go back to being friends, but I need a little space first. I hope that in time things will return to normal."
The bottom line.
Whether your crush's answer is a yes or a no, a crush can be a good thing. You'll learn something from the experience of desiring another person. Even then, no two crushes feel exactly the same, and each one can tell you something new about yourself. Remember that you're very likely to develop different feelings for someone else down the line, too: It's just a messy and exhilarating part of being a person.
Emily Gaudette is a freelance writer and editor who has a literature and film studies degree from Bryn Mawr College. She has covered entertainment, sexuality, and relationships for Newsweek, SYFY, Glamour, Inverse, SELF, TV Guide, and more. She lives in Brooklyn.