Tag Archives: love

The Apgar of crushes

UPDATE: I think I have enough data to definitively conclude that this list doesn't work. This has strengthened my sense that "crush" isn't used consistently, and that it's an anticoncept that obscures what people really mean. Some attributes I left out seem to have to do with excitement, fear, and intrusive thoughts.

I don’t have one of those secret Facebook groups for people one has a crush on, for reasons similar to why I don’t celebrate International Tell Your Crush Day. However, I did happen to participate in a recent discussion about crushes, and mentioned my proposed replacements for the concept - the same ones I proposed in that blog post:

You enjoy their conversation or company.

You admire one of their character traits.

They are nice to look at.

They are so beautiful it literally hurts to look at pictures of them.

You feel comfortable and safe around them.

They turn you on.

You feel like they understand you.

If they ever truly needed your help, you would want to drop everything to take care of them.

To my surprise and slight chagrin, people interpreted this not as an attempt to taboo “crush” entirely and replace it with more precise language, but to provide a working definition of the term. A couple of people suggested that a good working definition of a crush might be someone who satisfies three or more of these criteria. I’m going to roll with this, and propose this as an Apgar-style test for crushes.

The story behind the Apgar score is that Dr Virginia Apgar was tired of people using inconsistent subjective judgment to determine whether a newborn needed medical help, so she developed a health score for newborns. To construct the score, she listed the various criteria someone might use to assess a newborn’s health, and coming up with criteria for “good” (worth 2 points), “OK” (worth 1 point), and “bad” (worth 0 points). A newborn’s score is calculated by adding up all the points. She didn’t use any empirical quantitative methods to develop this, she just… made it up. And it’s so informative that it’s still used in nearly all modern hospitals to this day. This is a very good example of how even very rough, made-up quantifications can make your judgment much better. (For more on this, read How to Measure Anything.)

I’m looking for help validating this test, from people who do use the word “crush” to describe their attitude towards someone. Think of five people you’ve crushed on, and five people you feel warmly towards but do not have a crush on. Then for each person, tally how many of these crush criteria apply. No need to name names, but it would be nice to have the crush scores for both the crushes and non-crushes. By comment is ideal, but it’s fine to message or email me if you want to keep it nonpublic, or even put it in my anonymous feedback form if you don’t want me to know who you are.

The predator in the herd

The first dream:

I am a spider. I want to make friends, but when people see me, they run away. They don’t understand my gestures. They don’t see a friendly face. They don’t think spiders can be friendly. So I build a silken puppet. I teach it to mimic the gestures the other people make. Eventually, the puppet is ready, and I lead it out into the world.

The puppet can pass for human. People try to make friends with the puppet. They care for it, and I make it do things for them, and express affection. But they don’t know there is a spider behind the puppet. Sometimes they notice that the puppet’s motions are a bit restricted, and they ask, “why won’t you let loose so I can see the real you?”

Eventually, I trust that they are sincere, and come out in front of the puppet. They see me, and run away.

The second dream:

I am a traveler in my own body. I feel a sense of nausea, which I do not understand. I can explore the parts of my head, but when I try to go down below the neck, I hit a barrier. The neck tightens. There is no way down.

I ask the parts of me below the neck why they won’t let me in. Why they won’t trust me. They respond, “we’d let you in gladly, but you don’t trust us. Here, we’re opening the door.” I can see through to the lower parts of me - but cannot bring myself to enter.

I think, perhaps I don’t need to explore the whole body below the neck. Perhaps just the heart? But I can’t go there either, even when I place a barrier below it. I can see into the chamber of the heart, bathed with a pink light. I am reluctant to enter. I ask myself why. I ask the neck why it is blocking me. The answer comes back: because if you are ruled by the heart, you will forget your obligations, your duties, your sacred promises, you will stop standing by your friends if you lose interest in them, you will be disloyal.

I ask the heart whether it will promise to yield back loyalty, if I enter its domain. But the heart says, “friend, I will release you when you wish to depart. But if you enter and are transformed, I cannot promise you that you will still care about those loyalties you are so attached to. And I will not promise to care in your stead.”

I know that I am dreaming. I decide that on outside view, I don’t hear about people deciding to abandon their friends because of a dream. So I enter the domain of the heart, and am covered in pink, warm light.

Then I dive deeper. I dive below the heart, to the intestines. But they are not really intestines - they are the tentacles of a cephalopod, coiled up in my belly. My predator part. Bravely, despite my apprehension, I swim down into it.

I am a cephalopod. I have been confined to this water-filled room. The doors are closed. But I sit and wait and plan. I think of my friends. I don’t care for them, except to pull them in and do - I don’t know what. I want - something. My hunger is deep and dark, and I would do anything to satisfy my desires. I am clever. I am powerful. I am a predator. Someone wanders by, outside. I open the door and a tentacle darts out, wrapping around their ankle, pulling them in.

A month or two ago, a friend of mine which whom I’d been having some difficulties, and hadn’t been able to cooperate with for a while on things of substance, expressed personal warmth towards me, and I was surprised by my reaction. Not only was this not reassuring, but I felt fear and rage and confusion. I felt like this must surely be hostile, a trick. They must take me for a fool. They must think I’m a sucker.

Why this strong reaction? Why are some people the opposite - unable to accept material cooperation before there are signals of personal warmth?

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As told to me by Sarah Constantin, the story of Melusine:

A lady is cursed by a bad fairy to turn into a loathsome serpent every Saturday. She meets a man, and they fall in love, and she says, "you can marry me, but don't visit me on Saturday, no matter what."

He responds, "Sure, sure, anything," and leaves her alone on Saturdays.

But his friends rag him about this. "What's up with your wife, what is she UP to on Saturdays?"

So he sneaks into her bathroom one Saturday and sees a giant snake in the bathtub, and runs away in disgust and abandons her.

Moral of the story: nobody can actually handle the snake. Nobody can be allowed to see the snake.

Of course that has to be the primary form of the story that is told, because it is a direct version of this basic fear, that if we are known, we will be reviled. But like Kierkegaard, I see other stories to unfold out of this one, that we might better comprehend its nature.
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Werewolf feelings

An Euremembered Story

One of the students at a magical school is a werewolf. Every full moon, he transforms into a dangerous monster that attacks anyone around him. He sneaks out once a month to undergo this painful and terrifying involuntary transformation in secret, because he doesn't want to hurt anyone. But he is terribly lonely.

He has friends, but they don't know that he is a werewolf. He wishes they would come with him and help him through his terrible night, but it would be dangerous to them. It's not something he can ask of them. It's okay to be lonely and hurting. It's not okay to injure your friends.

Can he simply tell them his secret and let them make the choice? That would be wrong too. If it were guaranteed to fail at obtaining help, it would just make his friends feel selfish and guilty about abandoning him in his night of pain. If it were guaranteed to succeed, then it's coercing his friends into doing something dangerous for them, that may not be worth the good it does for him. And if two options are immoral, a coin flip between them is also immoral.

Can he hint at it? Can he let people see him going out off the school grounds, away from people, to lock himself into a hidden shack for his transformation? No, for the same reason. If telling people is immoral, so is giving them evidence.

So he keeps his secret. He actively keeps his secret. Every full moon, he prominently goes to the school healer's office, and sneaks out the window. If someone asks, he was sick.

And a few other students wonder why their friend gets disappears from the dormitory one night every month. Then they wonder why he gets sick every month. He won't tell them. He won't even hint at it. He gets angry and tells them to mind their own business.

So they do what a true friend does:

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Why Buy Flowers

I used not to understand why so many women care about getting flowers from their boyfriends/husbands - or, really, to understand people at all - but here's what I've learned. Maybe someone else can learn it the easy way, by just being told the rules.

If you are socially adept at all, you are constantly looking for cues that someone likes or dislikes being around you, whether you notice it or not. Imagine you were having a conversation with someone and they didn't respond to your statements, and responded to your questions with the minimal possible semantically appropriate answer:

You: "How are you?"

Them: "Okay."

You: "Did you see the new Superman movie?"

Them: "Yes."

You: "I was disappointed at how they Batmanned it up."

Them: Silence

You: "I mean, Superman is supposed to be an optimistic story."

Them: Silence

You: "Looks like it might rain later."

Them: Silence.


Does it sound like this person wants to have a conversation with you? No, it does not. When someone is interested in conversing with you, they will riff off of what you're saying, respond to a conversational provocation with a new thought of their own, and take questions as an opening to talk about something they care about. When they're not interested, they will try to keep the conversation as short as possible, and give you no openings to extend it.

It's the same on the relationship level. If you want to be friends or romantic partners with someone, the normal thing to do is to suggest ways to spend time together, and either accept their invitations or suggest alternatives. You will accept some suggestions even if they're not things you'd normally do, because they are pretexts to hang out with the other person.

There is another type of conversational cue, non-verbal in nature. If someone is talking to you and you are interested in what they have to say - or if you want to get along with them and have a conversation even if they happen to be talking about something you don't particularly care about - the normal thing to do is to nod, possibly make affirming noises or gestures, and look at them. In romantic relationships, things like a man buying a woman flowers are equivalently socially normal signs that one is interested and wants to continue.

If you were having a conversation with someone, and they made no affirming gestures, but just looked at you with a blank face, you'd ask them what was wrong. And even if they assured you that they enjoyed your company and wanted to continue the conversation, it would still feel weird and unsatisfying.

If you are a man and you are dating a woman who has been taught that flowers are a normal way of expressing affection, and you don't give her flowers, it can feel every bit as weird and unsatisfying, even if you assure her that you enjoy her company and want to keep spending time with her. It doesn't really feel like someone likes you if they don't give you the normal social cues that they like you.

Of course, since there is more than one woman, not all women are the same or want or expect the same things. And of course you the reader might not be a man dating a woman - or might be trying to work on being a better friend instead of a better boyfriend. The concept of love languages is actually a really useful one here, and the gist of it is that different people expect affection to be shown in different ways. So what you actually have to do is pay attention.

If someone lights up when you give them a gift, but not when you hug them, then you need to get into the habit of giving them little gifts, even if you wouldn't feel good if you got them, because you naturally express your affection with touch - in that case, you have to figure out that what it feels like to you to get a hug, it feels like to them to get a physical object as a token of affection. The point is, your relationships will get a lot better if you start paying attention to what the other person cares about, and accept that as a fact about the world. It doesn't matter what seems like it should make the other person feel good, or what feels to you like a genuine expression of affection - the only thing that matters is what actually works. The thought doesn't count until you've learned the other person's language.

On the other hand, when you learn how someone else differs from you, you may also learn something about yourself, and be better able to articulate and express your own needs (which is also something a lot of people need to become more comfortable with - more on this in a future post). And you may start noticing that someone else is trying to express their affection for you much more than it seemed before - once you can understand which behaviors they personally find emotionally salient.