We all know the typical first date conversation starters. Where are you from? What do you do? Do you have any cute pets that you can show me pictures of to make this less awkward? We hope that questions like these will transform us from strangers to soulmates, or at least get us through the first round of drinks.
My first date with Andrew, however, avoided this formula. Instead, he knowingly ordered me a cider and moved close enough for me to hear him over the bar’s noise. Deciding on a first question was easy: Had he finally read the book I’d recommended three years ago? We quickly fell into a conversation about writing, weird entry-level jobs, and everything that had happened since we last saw each other.
Andrew and I first met when I was a sophomore in college, and he was in grad school. While working together on the school newspaper, I developed a secret crush on him, one I eventually confessed with a nerve-wracking right swipe on Tinder.
When he walked me to my car a few nights later, he no longer felt unapproachable. Labels like “too cool,” “too old,” and “too attractive,” which had scared me off earlier, didn’t seem to matter.
“I’m really glad we matched,” he told me as I slid into my car. Overcome with the rush of emotions that follow a good first date, I sent a vague row of exclamation points to my group chat, calmed my shaking hands, and sang Carly Rae Jepsen all the way home.
Now, six months later, I’m in my most natural and easy relationship thus far. I’m also proof that your crush could be more attainable than you think.
While the prevalence of dating apps may make confessing crushes easier, I also have my forward attitude to thank. In high school, there was Blake, a guitar player who wore skinny jeans and stood a full two feet taller than me. Driven by my teenage desire to date someone in a band, I broke with convention and asked him to prom. To my surprise, he said yes, and I spent the night dancing on my tiptoes and throwing out obscure music references in the hopes of impressing him.
Another time, I sent a text that said “so… I like you” to my friend Colin, watching the dots of his incoming reply vanish and reappear until he responded “so…I’m gay.” This provided an early lesson in rejection, but it also taught me that embarrassment doesn’t last forever. And my longest relationship, which lasted three years, started with mutual friends and a flirty Facebook message.
My tendency to approach my crushes and to urge my friends to do the same follows a popular nugget of dating (and also life) advice: It’s better to know than not know. Yet the very idea of asking out a crush can spiral into a web of self-doubt and anxiety. The question we’ve all been asking since middle-school sleepovers — “does my crush like me back?” — returns millions of Google search results.
But it might be simpler than we think. Research shows that “reciprocal liking” is real — in other words, when we find out someone likes us, we often like them in return. Similarly, spending a lot of time with or being in close physical proximity with a person — say, a crush — has been found to make attraction flourish. The message rings clear. There’s power and potential in putting yourself out there.
Zach, 24, who has pursued relationships with two crushes, has a similar perspective. He recalls being “enthralled” by a friend who shares his taste in music and has a similar sense of humor. After six months, his best friend pushed him to tell her. It turns out that she felt the same way, and they both describe the relationship as their first love.
For Rylie, 21, approaching her crush didn’t lead to anything serious, but she’s still glad she went for it. After texting her crush throughout the day, she met up with him at a party. “Let’s just say I wasn’t the only one he made out with that night,” Rylie says. “It taught me not to go after players. But on another note, it taught me to be more confident and flirty in my everyday life.”
Clare, 23, found that exploring her crush helped her to let go of a relationship that checked all the boxes but ultimately wasn’t working. Though she was dating someone attractive, successful, and very responsive to her texts — all traits she thought she wanted —something was missing.
“We didn’t have a real emotional connection,” she admits. “Over time, I realized I preferred hanging out with my cute coworker at work functions and happy hours, rather than spending time with my boyfriend.” Eventually, she ended her seemingly perfect relationship and asked her coworker out. Nine months later, they’re still together.
Even if you don’t land at happily-ever-after-for-now, confessing a crush can still be worth it. People frequently mention regretting the times they didn’t put themselves out there, not the times when they did. So, send that potentially embarrassing text message, Like your crush when they appear in your stack, or, if you’re seriously brave, let them know how you feel in person. Whatever it leads to, there are few things more powerful than letting your confidence shine.