Innocent Crushes
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Innocent Crushes

Need a boost in your relationship? Harmless infatuations can be just the thing to rekindle the spark.

Good for You

I have a giant crush on my spinning instructor. He is the best I've ever had, and let me tell you, I've spun around the block a few times. He is hilarious, motivating, and truly movie-star (not just "hot trainer") handsome.

And he looks as good in his bike shorts as he must have in the tux he wore to his wedding.

Oh, and did I mention that I'm also -- blissfully -- married?

So no, I can't exactly picture my instructor and me on a stationary cycle built for two. And honestly, I don't think about him when I'm not at the gym.

But I never, ever miss a spinning class. I am always on time. And when I'm there, I make sure my form is perfect; I spin hard, really hard. Teacher's-pet hard, show-off hard.

And when I come home from a weekend morning spin class, well, let's just say I'm extra-happy to see my husband.

Experts do not say that this kind of crush -- the kind that's your own little secret, the kind you certainly don't act on -- is "harmless." Rather, they say it's better than harmless! Why? Even an inconsequential crush, says Beverly B. Palmer, PhD, professor of psychiatry at California State University Dominguez Hills, "adds a little something extra to your life that is pleasurable and makes you happy -- people see you smiling more!"

People, including your husband. "A crush can remind you of why you fell for him," says Sharyn Wolf, a therapist in private practice in New York City and author of How to Stay Lovers for Life (Penguin USA, 1997).

But shouldn't your husband remind you of your husband? Well, it's not the people so much as the feelings involved, says Wolf. "The crush feelings go through the same synapses in your body, triggering the same bunch of biochemicals," she says. "It's not that this guy reminds you of your partner, it's that the crush reminds you of the way your body responded -- and still does-- with the person you love. And that's when you say to your husband, 'Let's get a sitter.'"

Kristin, 35, of Pittsburgh, had a crush on a higher-up while she was in medical school. Even during -- and after -- long, grueling days in the hospital, "it gave me that nice excited feeling that revved me up when I got home to my then-fiance," she says. "You know: crush leads to sexy feeling, outlet for sexy feeling is sexy fella at home!"

Carol Rinkleib Ellison, PhD, author of Women's Sexualities: Generations of Women Share Intimate Secrets of Sexual Self-Acceptance (New Harbinger Publications, 2000) and a sex and marriage therapist in Oakland, California, agrees. "An innocent crush gives you a little spurt of arousal, or turns up your pilot light -- but you know that's going home to your partner and will enhance the fun you have with your partner."

These crushes are safe because practically the whole point of them is not to act on them. "When you have a crush on someone you are suddenly reminded of your own sensuality. You get that little tingly feeling you don't even want to do anything about. You know you don't actually want to be with this person for real. It's just great to know those feelings are there," says Wolf.

Of course, there are crushes that are not so innocent. How do you know when a crush crosses the line, when one harmless spark becomes playing with fire -- even when nothing "physical" is happening? "A safe crush is one that adds to the relationship in your life. A destructive one is one that may subtract from your relationship," says Palmer. Are you distracted from your squeeze by thoughts of your crush? Do you tell your crush things that you don't tell your husband? Are you with your crush -- even "just talking?" -- when you could be home? In those instances, it's probably time to limit time with Mr. Crush and focus on what's missing for you from your marriage.

Use Your Crush

But otherwise, having a pleasant secret crush doesn't mean anything is wrong with you or your relationship. "We don't need to be ashamed of these feelings -- we don't even need to fight them," says Ellison.

Rather, you can find ways to incorporate it innocently -- and maybe even a bit sexily -- into your life. "Compartmentalize your crush," says Wolf, and you can let it:

  1. Rekindle the spark. "Reduced or incompatible sexual desire is one of the chief complaints that couples have today," says Palmer, especially as they move into their 30s and 40s, the less-sexy parts of life take over, and even medical and hormonal issues may arise. How to treat them? Says Palmer: "Innocent crushes are good nonpharmaceutical alternative."
  2. Fuel your fantasies. Yes, other people, even other people who are not Antonio Banderas, are allowed to make guest appearances in your fantasies. "That's the whole point of fantasies," says Palmer. "They give you a way to take pleasure in something that would be unacceptable to act on. And that pleasure gets your endorphins going in a way that your partner can also enjoy."
  3. Brighten a day of duties. Suzanne, 32, of Weston, Connecticut, has a big crush on her sons' pediatrician. "I just think he is so great that I look forward to their appointments and get a little giddy when he calls me back -- much faster than he does his other patients, I'm sure," she jokes. "Maybe it's just my maternal hormones in overdrive: the thrill I get when he tells me my boys are 'perfect.'"
  4. Show you a new side of your sexuality. Wendy, 32, of Los Angeles, was infatuated -- and exasperated -- with one of her underlings at work. "He has the most beautiful sea-green eyes -- I get lost in them, even when I'm yelling at him to get his act together," she says. "I guess I enjoy having power over him, which maybe contributes to the charge. I mean, I spent my youth trying to seem cute to older men. But now I get to see, harmlessly, how much I love to play the role of a dominant woman." And that is work she can take home to her husband.
  5. Boost your ego, and not just in the bedroom. "I had a job I loathed, a boss who made me feel one foot tall -- and a giant crush on the new guy," says Gina, 36, of Los Angeles, even though he was taken and not her normal type. "All of a sudden I'm getting excited when I'm getting ready for work -- What to wear? Which necklace? Hair curly or straight? -- and feeling that 'bloop' in my stomach when he looks at me. I wasn't trying to seduce him at all. It was plain and simple an ego boost, one that made me feel powerful and confident and at ease with myself. It helped put me in a much more positive mindset when I started sending out my resumes."
  6. Help you shine at work. Norine, 39, of Las Vegas, had the hots for a guy who hired her for a freelance project. "I worked my butt off for him, tried to blow him away with every assignment, and produced some of my best work ever," she says.

Norine adds: "I also suspect that my fiance has a bit of a crush on someone else I know, who's smart and fun and thinks he's all that."

Hold on! Our partners aren't allowed to have crushes, are they? Well, let's just say that their crushes -- and ours -- are reminders that we are, at very least, human. And actually, says Norine: "I tease him about it a little, but it doesn't make me upset: it's just a reminder that he is all that -- and I'm lucky that we're together."