My Biggest Pet Peeve: The Freeze Out

Published: The Good Men Project (March 1, 2016)

I know I’ve tackled this subject before, and that article proved to be one of my least successful for this site. Nevertheless, every so often a writer needs to discuss what’s on his mind even if his audience doesn’t much care to hear it, so hear I go:

I am sick and tired of the freeze out.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a “freeze out” is when someone simply refuses to respond to your phone calls/emails/other attempts at correspondence instead of directly telling you why they have animosity. It is, by far, my biggest pet peeve when it comes to social interactions. This may be partially related to the fact that I’m autistic, since people with my condition flounder in situations that lack candor (as I discuss here), but whenever I float my frustration among my informal brains trust, I find that the majority share my view. Sure, there are a few who make excuses for the practice (perhaps because they do it themselves?), but most seem to agree that it’s selfish, insulting, and annoying. At the same time, most seem to have resigned themselves to the fact that it isn’t going to stop.

They may be right, but this particular peeve grinds my gears so badly that I feel compelled to issue one final roar of protest against it.

Here is my case, in no particular order:

1. Freezing someone out should be the exception, not the rule.

There are only three situations in which a freeze out is acceptable: If you’ve never interacted in depth with the other party before, in which case they are essentially a stranger to you; if you feel threatened by them, either physically or emotionally; or if you’ve already made it clear that you don’t wish to interact with them anymore and they refuse to accept that.

That’s it. This isn’t to say that I believe you should be obligated to stay in touch with someone with whom you wish to sever contact, but you are obligated to directly tell them that you’re going to cut ties. If they don’t accept that, then a freeze out is appropriate.

2. When you freeze someone out, you’re assuming that they’re a mind-reader.

There are four types of situations in which I’ve been frozen out: By girlfriends/possible romantic interests, present and/or past and/or potential employers/colleagues, friends/acquaintances with whom I’ve had an argument, and businesses with whom I am interacting. Based on my conversations with friends, I would add a fifth category that doesn’t apply to my situation – i.e., kids and other family members (my family, thankfully, doesn’t pull that nonsense).

Regardless of who implements a freeze out and why, though, all of them commit the cardinal sin of assuming that you’ll be able to read their mind and deduce why they’re doing it. The biggest excuse I’ve heard for freezing people out is that “they’ll take the hint,” but because you haven’t communicated your motives, they don’t necessarily know what’s happening at all. There are people who don’t check their email very often, or are so overwhelmed with emails that they regularly miss important ones. While I’m pretty at emailing myself, I can own up to occasionally being iffy with phone calls – I won’t see that a person’s called, forget to check text messages and voice mails, etc. Aside from absent-mindedness, there are also people who genuinely need more time to reply. Even though the norm is to follow a “24 hour rule,” there are individuals who need three or four times that span before they can feel comfortable getting back to you. Sometimes they suffer from social anxiety or, hey, are actually busy. Did you know that having a life was a thing?

The point is that, unless you actually tell someone that you’re upset with them, it is self-absorbed to assume that they’ll figure it out on their own, because there are always perfectly reasonable explanations for why someone may take a long time to respond.

3. Freezing someone out isn’t just insulting, it’s cruel.

This brings me to my biggest problem with the freeze out – namely, that it can inflict emotional torture on its subject.

That may sound hyperbolic, but really think about it. How have you felt when you contacted someone (whatever the reason) whose response meant a great deal to you, only to wait… and wait… and wait… and wait? Do you remember how the speculation ran through your head as to what might be going on on their end? How you weren’t sure whether you should follow up with them or risk looking like a nag?

No one deserves to go through that, and in a society that viewed the “freeze out” as cowardly (which is the proper interpretation), it wouldn’t happen because the prevailing assumption would be that if you didn’t respond right away, you probably have a good reason. After all, only a bad person would just drop off the face of the earth instead of telling you that something was wrong… in a society that valued basic human decency over convenience, that is.

Because, when you get right down to it, this is a call for a return to basic human decency. It’s the idea that every human being deserves to be acknowledged, even if only to inform them that one’s acknowledgment shall soon go no further. That I have to write an essay on this concept is profoundly troubling to me, but I’ve got this platform and I’m not just going to use it to take down Donald Trump.

I mean, I will be taking him down quite a bit in the future, but today I’m not going to focus on just that particular rude person. I’m going to discuss a broader class of them who, for as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to knock down a peg.

When did incompetence become okay?

Published: The Good Men Project (January 26, 2016)

Have we decided, as a society, that professional incompetence is something we must tolerate? Indeed, dare I say, that it is even acceptable?

This isn’t an entirely rhetorical question. Most people are happy to pay lip service to the importance of reliability and efficiency, and there is little question that Americans are second-to-none when it comes to our collective work ethic. Quantity of labor is not the same as quality of labor, though, and claiming to despise incompetence is quite different from taking an active stand against it. Unfortunately, if my own recent experiences are any indication, our culture has moved away from demanding competence of those around us.

Take the post office. A few weeks ago, my friend Liskula Cohen helped me pick out a pair of eyeglasses (seen below) from her website frontroweyewear.com and arranged to have them delivered through expedited shipping. Day after day passed, and the package was nowhere near my doorstep. It wasn’t until a little proactive prodding on both our parts that the location of my new frames was ascertained, and even then I needed to wait an additional 48 hours before they actually arrived. Yet when I told this story to my friends, several insisted that I was somehow to blame for not being patient. Even though Cohen had spent the extra money to have them delivered quickly, many assumed that the burden should fall on us to tolerate not receiving our money’s worth, rather than on the carrier to provide it. It’s just a few extra days! You don’t know how hard it is to work in package delivery! Why make a big deal about it instead of just being patient? At no point did anyone challenge that the postal carrier had, quite literally, failed to deliver. Nevertheless, in the eyes of many, the sin of falling short of one’s professional responsibilities was lesser than that of the aggrieved party actually making a fuss about it.

A few weeks earlier, I had an even more galling experience at a local department store. My mother and I had decided to do some early holiday shopping, but when one of the items we intended to purchase had a defective bar code, the cashier told us that she was a seasonal employee and needed to call a manager so she could ring up our merchandise. Half an hour passed as the hapless cashier made phone call after phone call and – when that failed – walked from station to station throughout the store, desperately trying to find someone who could help her. During that time, a line six people deep formed behind my mother and myself, all of them increasingly irate at the hold up. Finally a supervisor arrived and, appropriately, offered my mother and myself a discount as an apology for our inconvenience. After thanking him, I then pointed out that the half-dozen people who had waited behind us also deserved a discount for their trouble. The supervisor agreed… At which point one lady in the line snorted and declared, “Well, I don’t need a discount,” thus heroically denying everyone besides my mother and myself the deal to which their inconvenience had entitled them.

My most recent encounter with proud ineptitude occurred while I was waiting at a doctor’s office. Although my appointment had been scheduled months in advance, the doctor left me in her waiting room more than an hour after the time I had arranged to see her. Indeed, had I not spoken up, I may have waited even longer. Because I had other appointments that day, though, I finally walked to the front desk and explained to the receptionist that, because I had other responsibilities that day, I would need to leave without seeing her. “If you do that, you’ll be charged for canceling without 24 hours notice,” she warned in an ominous tone. “If she does that,” I replied, “I will cancel all future appointments and find a new doctor. After all, if she cares so much about her schedule, then she has no right being so inconsiderate of mine.” At that point I walked out the door and down the hallway… only to hear hurried footsteps behind me. It was my doctor. “I’m so sorry, Mr. Rozsa,” she exclaimed. “I promise this won’t happen again. We’ll see you right away.”

This brings me back to my opening question: Have we decided that professional incompetence is something that must be tolerated? Why are so many of us inclined to silently allow our time to be wasted, then lash out at those who want their packages delivered on time, merchandise purchased without hassle, and appointments upheld mutually?

For one theory, I turn to a 1960 essay by conservative intellectual William F. Buckley, Jr. on the same subject. It was aptly titled “Why Don’t We Complain?”

“… we are all increasingly anxious in America to be unobtrusive, we are reluctant to make our voices heard, hesitant about claiming our right; we are afraid that our cause is unjust, or that if it is not unjust, that it is ambiguous; or if not even that, that it is too trivial to justify the horrors of a confrontation with Authority.”

While I agree with this insight, I’d like to add one of my own. At a time when so many Americans are overworked and/or underpaid, there is a natural instinct among socially conscious individuals to view complaining as an inherently oppressive act. On one level, this impulse is commendable; not only does it keep us from behaving like boors, but it reminds us to be sensitive to the plights of those whose jobs are unsatisfying, exhausting, and fail to adequately reward them for their labor. This is one of the major moral issues of our time – if not the major moral issue – and it is important that we keep this in mind not only when we discuss politics or vote, but in our ordinary interactions as consumers.

At the same time, there is something to be said for the old saying that two wrongs don’t make a right. Just because a worker who has inconvenienced us is being wronged by his or her employer, it doesn’t automatically follow that our (admittedly lesser) wrong of needing to deal with incompetence ought to be dismissed. In fact, the worker’s hardship and the consumer’s inconvenience are often caused by the same underlying problem. If a business is understaffed, its employees may not be capable of meeting customer needs in a timely fashion. Similarly, if the workers are underpaid, they may suffer from the mental and physical exhaustion that accompanies a life mired in poverty, rendering them unable to adequately fulfill their duties even if they so desired. There could be any number of reasons why incompetence exists in a given organization, and those reason may have nothing to do with the faces we see and everything to do with the guys on top… who, naturally, we don’t see.

Nevertheless, it is important that we not lose sight of why it is important to expect competence in our day-to-day lives. This doesn’t mean that we should be rude, no matter how aggravated we might feel, and it certainly doesn’t mean that we should allow our anger to get the better of us. At the same time, there is something disturbing about the widespread notion that it is preferable to silently endure incompetence than speak out against it. By way of explanation, I refer one last time to Buckley:

“When our voices are finally mute, when we have finally suppressed the natural instinct to complain, whether the vexation is trivial or grave, we shall have become automatons, incapable of feeling.”

Photo courtesy of author, featuring eyeglasses from FrontRow Eyewear

Living with an Invisible Disability

Published: The Good Men Project (December 31, 2015)

This is an article about invisible disabilities… metaphorical as well as literal.

As many of my readers already know, I was born with a hand-eye coordination disability that mystifies my neurologists to this day. Thanks to my parents’ diligence and the help of wonderful childhood physical therapists, I have sufficiently overcome it so that most people who meet me never even guess I have this problem. This was and remains a blessing – one that many others in my situation may not have been lucky enough to receive – and I am enormously grateful for it.

At the same time, the fact remains that my dysfunction of the vestibular cerebellum still negatively impacts my quality of life. By far the biggest downside is that it has made it impossible for me to learn how to drive a car; although I’ve received extensive lessons, three separate instructors have told me that I will never have the reflexes necessary to safely control an automobile on the road. Similarly, although much less seriously, my disability makes me terrible at video games. Considering the number of intelligent mind from my generation who suffer from video game addiction, I must admit that on some level I’m grateful to have never had the opportunity to succumb to this vice. At the same time, it has put me out of the loop in many social situations, albeit nowhere near to the extent that being unable to drive has done the same thing.

Yet despite these hinderances, my biggest challenge isn’t an inability to drive or win a game of Super Mario Smash Brothers. It’s the fact that many people, when hearing that I have a disability, choose not to believe me because they can’t see it. This brings me to what editors would call the “peg” of this piece – namely, the New Year’s Eve lessons that I draw from it.

1. Never be afraid to tell the truth, even if others aren’t willing to listen to it.

It may be annoying or even embarrassing when people question that my neurological disorder, but that doesn’t mean I intend to stop discussing it. For one thing, it’s going to exist whether I talk about it or not, so at the end of the day it’s just easier to be honest with myself and others than try to conceal my problem simply to avoid being judged. More importantly, though, my writing career has given me a large platform which I can use to draw attention to any issue that I want. With this kind of potential influence, I have a moral responsibility to help others who may be in situations similar to my own but don’t have a public voice.

2. Practice empathy.

Empathy, as defined by Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, is “the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions.” It may seem unnecessary to define that here, but I’ve noticed an increasing number of people seem to view the term with derision. In our cultural consciousness these days, empathy is often associated with weakness – a tendency to let your heart bleed for sinners and weaklings instead of trying to understand the world from their perspective.

This assumption isn’t just factually incorrect, it’s downright foolish. After all, the only way any human being can acquire wisdom is to learn from the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of others. This means more than just absorbing the information which others present to you; it requires a willingness to challenge your own assumptions and imagine how the other guy feels.

3. Encourage openness as a general approach to life.

This involves more than simply being honest. Even when we aren’t necessarily lying to other people, human beings play a thousand little games in order to conceal parts of themselves that could and should be aired out. This isn’t always unjustified – there are only so many times one can get hurt by being too open before reflexively closing off – but it still should be discouraged. Unless you have sound reason to believe your completely open words or actions would hurt someone else, it is almost always better to find a direct and open way to communicating than to do otherwise. As the Indian guru Osho once put it, “the social reality is a fiction, a beautiful drama; you can participate in it, but then you don’t take it seriously. It is just a role to be played; play it as beautifully, as efficiently, as possible. But don’t take it seriously, it has nothing of the ultimate in it.”

Whenever we choose to not be open with ourselves and others, we implicitly subordinate our own individuality to our fear of social or other personal consequences. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t play the social game, but it’s important to remember that it is just that – a game. By being open about those aspects of your life that make the game more difficult for you, it becomes possible to take a step back, recognize life for what it is, and empower yourself to master it… lest it master you.

As I reflect back on the course of my life for these past thirty years, and eagerly anticipate the one to come, I must say that I’m a little grateful that I have an invisible disability to teach me these important lessons. For that matter, I’m grateful for all of the struggles that I’ve had throughout my life, from being diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome to nearly losing my life at the hands of anti-Semitic bullies as a child. Without these obstacles, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to grow into the man that I am today. What’s more, these struggles have forced me to appreciate just how lucky I am, and to develop compassion for the millions and millions of people out there who have it much, much worse.

These are my passing thoughts for New Year’s Eve. I hope every one of you has a wonderful 2016!

The Work I Dread

Published: The Good Men Project (October 6, 2015)

Despite my fear of sounding self-pitying, I want to tell you about my strange relationship with work. It will make me feel better and might help a few of my readers.

I’m a chronic workaholic. As I write this, I am a freelance columnist for several online publications, an elected official for my local Democratic Party, and a full-time PhD student preparing for his comprehensive exams (more on that in a moment). Even when I have “free time, ” I rarely spend it just lounging about and relaxing. If I can’t find something productive to do, my restlessness usually sucks the fun out of whatever leisure activity I’m trying to enjoy.

At the same time, there is a certain type of work that I simply cannot do. For lack of a better word, I’m going to call this work “drudgery.”

When I say that I can’t do drudgery, I don’t mean that I simply dislike it (although the difficulty I encounter with it has certainly made this the case). I literally lack the ability to perform it at all. To explain what I mean, let me provide you with three examples:

– Taking notes is the bane of my existence. This may be hard to believe, but I managed to obtain my Masters Degree (3.9 GPA) without taking a single note. I’ve already completed my PhD coursework using the same method. The reason is simple: When I read a book, my mind processes the information in a way that makes note-taking physically painful. Ditto when listening to a class lecture. The best analogy that comes to mind is listening to a piece of music only to have it interrupted every few seconds so that you can analyze the lyrics and notes. Some people can probably accomplish this, but I find it maddening. Of course, now that my comprehensive exams are looming ahead – and these are tests that require you to regurgitate and analyze more than two hundred books, many of which I’ve already read (but have no notes for) – I live in a constant state of suppressed panic.

– I am terrible at customer service jobs. Before I explain why, I want to open by saying that I have an enormous amount of respect for people who work in customer service. Fast food, retail, you name it… As someone who has been fired from several customer service positions, I know first-hand that these jobs are incredibly tough. When you aren’t interacting with some bonehead who think you’re beneath him because of what you do (even though our free market society couldn’t function without you), you’re forced to burn hours off the clock doing repetitive, mind-numbingly boring tasks. I’m sure that some people enjoy this kind of labor, and more power to them, but as I already mentioned I get fired from these jobs on the regular because I simply suck at them. I’m awkward around people (see: Asperger’s Syndrome) and terrible at menial work of all kinds.

– I can’t drive. Since I discussed this in a previous article, I won’t repeat too much here. Suffice to say that I have a hand-eye coordination disability which has thus far made it impossible for me to learn how to drive. Until you have this problem, you can’t comprehend just how crippling it truly is. Because I don’t live in a big city, I am constantly finding out about job opportunities that aren’t available for me because I can’t operate a motor vehicle (the public transportation in the Lehigh Valley is woefully inadequate). What’s more, not being able to drive has significantly crimped my social life… and that’s not even touching on the social expectation that men own a car and are losers if they don’t have one. And before you say that driving isn’t a form of drudgery, trust me, it is… Ask anyone who can’t do it and they will tell you that trying to master the numerous dull skills necessary for this feat is very much a slog.

Where am I going with this? Once again, I have three points to make:

1. We need to understand that not everyone is cut out for every type of work. As a teenager, my inability to hold down customer service jobs convinced my parents and many other adults that I was going to struggle enormously to fit into the workplace after college. Needless to say, that didn’t happen, but the complex that I developed as a result of being told that it would has endured to this day. It wasn’t necessary for me to feel that way about myself, but whenever I pointed out that perhaps I simply was suited more toward intellectual and creative tasks than menial ones, the assertion would be laughed off. This brings me to my next observation…

2. We need to respect all the kinds of work that exist. Part of the reason adults wouldn’t take my position seriously is because, consciously or otherwise, they subscribed to the mistaken notion that work exists on some kind of spectrum: If you’re a lawyer or doctor, obviously that means you have the skills to succeed in a cubicle, and the officer workers could obviously succeed as a retail clerk… that sort of reasoning. First off, this logic is absolute bunk – Some of the brightest lawyers I know are so clumsy and terrible with people that I can’t imagine them holding down a job behind a counter. More importantly, though, it creates a cultural climate in which we believe that certain types of work are inherently superior to others. In reality, people are born with an assorted jumble of skill sets that will allow them to flourish in certain work environments, tread water in others, and have no prayer in the rest. This has absolutely nothing to do with better or worse types of work and everything to do with how we’re built.

3. I want to know if there is anyone else out there who feels the way I do. This article is meant to be a conversation-starter, partly self-serving (as indicated by the traumas I endured as a child, and still undergo today, because of my own makeup) and partly to see if there are others who might benefit from my experiences. As we learn more about the human animal, we discover more and more ways in which our existing paradigms for understanding each other are terribly flawed. I don’t know whether this will happen now or in a hundred years, but I strongly suspect that someday we will drastically reevaluate how we view work and possessing a work ethic. When that happens, minimum wages will rise (and the notion that they should be kept down will be dismissed for the repugnant class bigotry that it is), our education system will drastically improve (I’ve already made suggestions on how we can do this), and people will be much, much happier in general.

Until then, I’ll just be one of those people who always likes being productive but – because he can’t take notes or flourish with menial labor or drive a car – will remain an oddly work-averse workaholic.

When Do You Go Full Bald?

Published: The Good Men Project (September 22, 2015)

Although my hairline started receding during my mid-20s, it didn’t become especially noticeable until about a year ago. Before then, people still felt comfortable joking that my increasingly prominent widow’s peak would someday turn me into a proverbial chrome dome. It wasn’t until the humor stopped and the sympathy commenced that I realized I had an actual problem on my hands.

Before I made the decision to go full bald, however, I went through a step-by-step reasoning process that I feel deserves to be shared here. It included the following:

1. Be certain that your hair isn’t coming back.

Since I’ve always found hair plugs, transplants, toupees, and comb-overs to be laughably unconvincing (looking at you, Donald Trump), I decided early on that unless my hair could somehow grow back, I wasn’t going to bother concealing my baldness. Unfortunately, there are only two reliable drugs available for treating hair loss – Rogaine and Propecia – and each one comes with serious downsides. Rogaine, though effective in treating baldness that originates from the crown, does not restore receding hairlines (it can make the hair at the front of your head thicker but doesn’t work on the “peaks” of a widow’s peak). Propecia, though more successful in restoring hairline loss than Rogaine, also has a disturbing history of occasionally causing permanent sexual dysfunction among its users. Needless to say, if you thought there was no fate worse than going bald, this realization should help put things in perspective.

2. Become familiar with your own head.

Because everyone’s head is shaped differently, it is important to consider how your own cranium will effect your overall appearance after it has been defoliated. Do you have unusual bumps or birthmarks on the top of your scalp (looking at you, Mikhail Gorbachev)? What about rolls of fat on the back of your neck? Do you have an oval face or a round one?

I’ve recently started joking that I decided to shave my head on Yom Kippur because God had already made it clear that he wanted my hair, so I chose my religion’s most sacred holiday to let him know that he wouldn’t have the pleasure.
Obviously there is no foolproof way of knowing that going full bald will be flattering for you, but these questions definitely need to be evaluated before making that choice. After you have done that…

3. Understand that you are making a major lifestyle choice.

I’ve recently started joking that I decided to shave my head on Yom Kippur because God had already made it clear that he wanted my hair, so I chose my religion’s most sacred holiday to let him know that he wouldn’t have the pleasure. This is all well and good from the standpoint of jocularity, but in the end being bald will transform how people view you. This can be both a good thing and a bad one: Already I have heard that shaving my head has made me look older, meaner, and more intimidating. At the same time I’ve also heard people say that I look sleek and more energetic (perhaps a wilting hairline conveys exhaustion more so than a shiny scalp). While the feedback will no doubt for each individual based on his own appearance and social circle, one thing is certain: People will notice and, for at least a while, will offer commentary. It’s best to be ready for it.

4. Make sure you take the first step yourself.

My close friend Adam was kind enough to help me shave my own head, but before he got around to the tricky sections in the back, he handed me the razor and uttered a very sage observation:

“I can’t cut first. It has to be you.”

Indeed it does. No matter how useful the input of your loved ones may be in helping you reach a decision to go full bald (and mine have been overwhelmingly supportive), the ultimate choice is yours and yours alone. In the end, even a symbolic gesture – like making that first swipe with the electric razor – rests on your shoulders, and as such should always be undertaken by you.

That said, I don’t want to end this article on such a serious note, so I’ll leave you with an observation from one of Hollywood’s most famous bald actors, Telly Salavas:

“We’re all born bald, baby.”

– See more at: http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/go-full-bald-mrzs/#sthash.HXEXWJC5.dpuf

Why Everyone Needs A Brains Trust

Published: The Good Men Project (September 17, 2015)

It recently occurred to me that there is a special type of friend in my life who I’ve never really honored. For that matter, I’ve noticed that although a lot of people have forged these unique relationships, they aren’t widely discussed in the media. While I could spend an entire article speculating as to why that’s the case, I think our time would be better used simply paying tribute to the special circle so many of us have created in our lives:

The Brains Trust

The term “brains trust” was coined by New York Times reporter James Kieran in 1932, when he noted that Democratic presidential candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt liked to surround himself with some of America’s greatest thinkers of the time. Although his connotation was specifically political, I personally have developed a network of friends who serve a function in my life and career not entirely dissimilar from those of FDR’s advisers.

1. They share my curiosities.

If there is a single quality that separates intellectualism from mere intelligence, it’s that the latter is imbued with a passionate curiosity, an insatiable appetite for knowledge and creativity. When two intelligent people have overlapping fields of curiosity, it’s very easy for them to forge a bond not only over their shared interests, but from the stimulating substantive conversations they can share thanks to their knowledge base and enthusiasm.

2. They offer valuable advice.

On the most immediate level, I’m talking about networking – i.e., developing amicable professional relationships or even friendships with co-workers to advance your career. That said, there are other ways your friends can help your career besides serving as connections. If you respect someone’s intelligence or judgment, they can offer you meaningful guidance in developing important life skills (e.g., I have friends helping me lose weight by learning how to develop a healthy diet) and inspire your creative output (I’ve lost track of the number of articles that were inspired by conversations with friends, who I try to credit whenever possible).

Speaking of which…

3. You enjoy collaborating with them.

I’m not going to list the friends who I consider to be my personal Brains Trustees (out of concern that I’ll offend anyone I inadvertently leave out), but suffice to say that they are sprinkled liberally throughout my body of written work, both as collaborators and sources of inspiration (see Point #2). This is because, when someone is a true Brains Trustee, you eventually find that talking with them isn’t enough; you want to work on projects together. If nothing else, this is to see what might be produced from such a partnership.

While my Brains Trust may help me in different areas of my life than your Brains Trust does for you, the bottom line is that if you have a Brains Trust, they probably benefit you in ways similar to how mine has enriched my life. As such, I feel the need to say that I’m truly grateful to have them. To each and everyone of you, if you’re reading this: Thank you.

Why We Need To Bring Back Crushes

Published: The Good Men Project (August 20, 2015)

Let’s talk about crushes.

I recently noticed that when adults discuss their romantic feelings, the term “crush” is almost never used. When it does appear, there is almost always an apologetic undertone to it – people will qualify their crushes with adjectives like “schoolboy” or “schoolgirl” (as in, “I have a bit of a schoolboy crush on you”), or will in some other way indicate that they feel the emotion they’re displaying is childish.

To understand why this might be the case, I decided to break down the two opposite extremes of romantic sentiment:

  • Love: There is no emotion more meaningful than this one. Love can come in many forms and be directed toward all types of people – family members, friends, teachers, colleagues, and so on – but romantic love is particularly special because it’s the most intimate and vulnerable connection two human beings can form with each other. My personal theory has always been that love, at its core, is a human being’s attempt to cope with the inevitability of death. No one can know for certain what happens when we shuffle off this mortal coil, but the knowledge that there is one person who chose you to be their ultimate partner in life alleviates the terrible loneliness that accompanies a true appreciation of our finite conscious existence.
  • Lust: When you get right down to it, this is basically just a craving. Like hunger or exhaustion, it is the human body’s wave of indicating that one of its primordial physical needs isn’t being met. The main difference between lust and hunger or exhaustion, of course, is that the former isn’t technically required for survival (you can theoretically spend an entire lengthy lifetime as a virgin), whereas you literally need food and sleep to remain alive. Nevertheless, we are programmed to want sex, and the felt need is a very real one.

Having a crush, to me, is the exact middle ground between these two poles. Unlike lust, a genuine crush entails deep affection for the other individual’s personality traits – their interests, sense of humor, ability to carry on a conversation, various life philosophies, etc. There is an intangible but unmistakable chemistry that two people develop when one or both have a crush on the other, a mixture of bantering and more direct expressions of endearment.

By contrast, love only exists when two people have known each other deeply for a very long time. It is possible to be in love with someone who doesn’t reciprocate that emotion, but I’d argue it isn’t possible to love someone “from afar.” If you don’t know that individual as well as you know your best friends – and through qualitatively and quantitatively substantial interaction, rather than mere speculation as to what they’re really like – than any legitimate affection is at best a crush and at worst mere lust gussied up through rationalizations to seem like more.

The best part of a crush, though, is that you can do anything you want with it. If you’re in love with someone, the sheer intensity of the emotion usually compels you to some sort of proactive gesture – or, barring that, an existence of terrible internal torment. By contrast, if what you feel is merely lust, then you probably shouldn’t pursue a romantic relationship; consensual sexual encounters are fine, but anything more involves deluding yourself into believing that horniness is interchangeable with love (an assumption that rarely ends well for either party in a relationship). When you have a crush, though, you are on the fence about your feelings – and that means you can either ignore them without fear of subsequent regret or act on them without worrying that you’re being insincere. When you think about it, having a crush is the best place to be if you’re single and looking.

In short, it seems like the term “crush” has an obvious application to adult dating life. It isn’t used particularly often because of the juvenile association, but that doesn’t mean we don’t still need it. That’s why I’m going to continue using it whenever I feel it fits (and like most adults who date, I’ve developed many crushes over the years), and hope others will catch on.