Having a “crush” sounds so trivial, but just think about the term for a second: The word crush is used to describe beating, breaking, and trampling—which is exactly how your heart feels after a fantasy love suddenly ends.
Once you know that your daydreams are never coming to fruition, how can you learn how to get over a crush? As an adult, it can be much harder to talk about your hurt feelings when many of your friends might be dealing with long-term breakups (or even divorce).
But I’m here to say: A crush is a real, strong emotion, and you have every right to feel sad, depressed, and even pissed that it’s over. And this sentiment is backed by a host of psychologists and relationship experts I interviewed for advice on how to forget about your crush and move on.
Feel Your Feelings, Then Rise Like the Phoenix
When a crush is over, that pain is real. Literally. A study performed at the University of Michigan found that social rejection produced physical pain signals in the brain. Your unrequited crush may, in the words of Tommy Wiseau, be tearing you apart.
“You may feel the need to grieve. Act on it. It helps the process,” says relationship expert Caleb Backe. Backe insists that even one-sided relationships take an emotional toll, so you need to take a moment to let yourself feel the pain.
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Still, this hurt won’t last, and you may turn out the better for it, according to Backe. “Think of yourself as a phoenix who needs to burst into flame and ‘die’—before being reborn.” That may sound a bit melodramatic, but when it comes to a hard crush, I think it’s the perfect level of dramatic. So take some time to be sad, then listen to this song on repeat and become your fiery, white-hot self.
Let the Dream Die
“I think it’s more the loss of the dream than anything else,” says licensed mental health counselor Erin Parisi. She goes on to say that most of the pain of crushing comes from developing an elaborate fantasy around your would-be partner. “We usually fantasize about how great dating the person would be. We don’t fantasize about the dishes in the sink, dirty laundry, farts in bed, amiright?”
Parisi recommends imagining what the relationship would be like in real life. “They definitely have habits that would annoy you, a family member who gets on your nerves, smelly morning breath, or a cat you’re allergic to.” Since the crush started in your imagination, you can use your mind to put it to an end. Parisi adds a hopeful message: “There’s a reason the crush came to an end. You’re better off crushing on someone new!”
It’s tempting to dwell on the last time you talked to your crush or social-media stalk whoever they recently started dating, but it won’t help you move on. Instead, you need to get out—both literally and figuratively.
Licensed marriage and family counselor Heidi McBain recommends going out and having a good time with a close friend. Since the crush was such a mental affair, it’s best to get out of your head and relate to other people instead. McBain suggests talking to friends, family, or a therapist about the emotional pain you are experiencing, which she says can help you recover faster. Or you can discuss the constant disappointment that is The Bachelor with your pals. Either way, the social connection and break from your swirling thoughts will do you good.
Also, this is an ideal moment to have some real “me” time. “Figure out what else is important in your life and spend more mental energy on these pursuits,” says Kelsey Torgerson, MSW, LCSW. By putting that crush intensity into something productive, you could learn a skill or master a new hobby. Even if you simply try something different and start meeting new people, you’ll feel that crushing pain fade away.
Since you’re already out meeting new people, you might find yourself wanting to date again. “This crush might have been getting in the way of you wholly pursuing an available romantic partner,” Torgerson says. When you spend half your time daydreaming about a Hawaiian vacation with a person who’s not really into you, you’re probably missing all the wonderful people who are interested. By letting go of the fantasy, you might make your relationship goals a reality.
Next time those crush-y feelings start tingling in your chest, don’t develop an elaborate dream world about your relationship. Just talk to the person. Ask a mutual friend to hook you up or use Facebook to do something other than argue with your weird uncle. Worst-case scenario, the other person isn’t interested and you can move on, sparing yourself a lot of heartache. Best-case scenario, all your wonderful dreams of your crush come true—with somebody better.
Amber Petty is a freelance writer in Los Angeles. If you like easy crafts and Simpsons gifs, check out her blog, Half-Assed Crafts.