The devilish Fitzwilliam Darcy. The eternally youthful Edward Cullen. The preternaturally adorable Peter Kavinsky. If just reading one (or more!) of these names sets your heart ablaze and your palms asweat, you may very well be in lust with a fictional character. And honestly, who could blame you? These men have been carefully calibrated to elicit optimum levels of swoon both from their leading ladies and audiences bearing witness to their onscreen charms. And according to relationship therapists, Netflix and crushing is a pretty common state of mind that follows a binge-watch sesh.
“I think most of us have these celebrity or fictional crushes,” says Terri Orbuch, PhD, the author of Finding Love Again who’s widely known as the the Love Doctor. “It’s perfectly normative and doesn’t mean that you’re unhappy in your relationship.”
In fact, Dr. Orbuch says any fictional crush (read: not just these very heteronormative examples) can be very informative, revealing things to you about yourself and your needs that you may have never otherwise realized. To that end, there are a number of tips and tricks you can use to turn your fictional crush into a powerful tool for your very real love life. Check out what the pros say.
What your crush says about you
While you may not be in an actual relationship with, say, Peter Kavinsky, experts admit certain principles that would be present if that relationship were real can still apply. “All relationships, if we’re willing to examine ourselves in the midst of them, are definitely revealing—they kind of hold up a mirror for us,” says psychologist Karin Anderson Abrell, PhD, and author of Single Is the New Black. So the next time you’re crushing on a hottie from a book, TV show, or movie, take a sec to analyze. Is the object of your imagination rough around the edges? A lovable nerd? Wholesome and worthy of meeting your folks? Since works of fiction often play on archetypal tropes, the “type” you find to be attractive can shed a lot of light on your subconscious preferences.
“All relationships, if we’re willing to examine ourselves in the midst of them, are definitely revealing—they kind of hold up a mirror for us.” —Karin Anderson Abrell, PhD
“I talk to a lot of women who are attracted to the bad boy,” says Dr. Orbuch. “Perhaps that says that you’re not really ready for a quality relationship. You may think you’re ready, but you’re really not. Instead what you’re looking for is a relationship that might be fun, it might be casual, or you might even be a little unhappy with your job or your life and you need some excitement.”
By identifying what your fictional type represents, you may just stumble into some new and useful information about yourself.
How to use the intel to find a date IRL
“Once you understand the underlying attraction of a crush, you can pinpoint the characteristics that draw you to someone—or that you might be looking for in a partner or a companion,” says Dr. Orbuch. Meaning, if you can define exactly what it is about Edward Cullen that sends butterflies flitting around your stomach, you can use it as something of a guideline when looking for a real-life boo. Is it his sense of humor? Intelligence? That protective vibe?
Identifying the most appealing qualities is the first step, but Dr. Orbuch says you’ll need to go one step further to paint the full picture of your future mate. Next brainstorm the qualities you need (which is not the same thing as the qualities you want, people) in a partner. Finally, compare the two lists—the crush’s qualities and the must-have attributes of your mate. Ultimately, she says, “[The crush’s characteristics] may be what you want, but they’re not what you need to be happy in a relationship.” Essentially, while helping you illuminate what you need in a partner, this exercise can bring you back to reality.
SOS: That fake crush is absorbing too much real-life energy
While Drs. Orbuch and Abrell stress that these types of distinctively unrealistic crushes are, once again, pretty common, there may be a point when your fantasies verge into unhealthy territory. “I think if it’s keeping you from experiencing real life in any way, shape, or form it can be dangerous,” says Dr. Abrell.
To extricate yourself from a particularly stubborn fictional crush, Dr. Abrell recommends a course of action that’ll sound similar to anyone who’s ever struggled with getting over an ex: distance and distraction. “Research shows us that the more we try not to think about something, the more we think about it,” she says. “So, just a blanket ‘I’m not going to think about this anymore’ probably isn’t all that helpful.”
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