Behind the butterflies: why we develop crushes and how to deal with them


Photo by Alisa Anton on Unsplash

A tale as old as time. A person meets a person, and sometimes it feels as if all the pieces fall together. Developing feelings was a challenge every couple had to navigate at some point in their relationships.

Maggie Craig and Carmel Yonas

When you see them, your palms grow sweaty. You try to stabilize yourself, but your knees begin to wobble. Your stomach twists in knots. This person makes your throat dry, and you struggle to find the proper words to greet them. Your heart palpitates so fast and hard that you believe the whole school can hear your heartbeat. However, seeing them once makes your entire day. At the moment, your crush feels like your whole world. Whether it be the boy from your chemistry class or the girl who lives next door, you hope to one day call them your soulmate.

The Science Behind Crushes 

Humans can develop deep feelings of attraction towards another person since early adolescence. It is human nature to see the person you admire through rose-colored glasses. People tend to form illusory scenarios about a certain someone, and fantasize about an idealized version of this person. It is crucial to delve into the psychology of why humans, especially teenagers, acquire these strong emotions. 

Having “chemistry” with someone is not just a fun saying; there is some truth behind it. When a person develops a crush, their hormone levels drastically change, affecting the chemical composition of the human mind. Serotonin levels increase throughout the duration of the crush. Specifically, serotonin is a crucial hormone that is responsible for stabilizing mood and emotions.

Speech by Isabelle O'Carroll on Tedx Talks Why do we get crushes? O'Carroll retells an anecdote of the first boy she ever liked. She explained the science behind why humans develop romantic feelings.

It also assists with sleeping, eating, and digestion. When your serotonin levels are high, your mood boosts, and it combats depression and anxiety. Along with serotonin, your brain releases great amounts of dopamine, the chemical responsible for the “reward system” of the mind. It plays a huge role in addiction as it motivates animals to accomplish tasks that make them happy. That’s why when people have crushes, they suddenly appear happier and they tend to laugh and smile more. 

However, having a crush is not all rainbows and butterflies. If anything, it’s a lot more of the butterflies. The nervous response that many experience around their crush is due to the sympathetic nervous system wired in the brain, activating your fight-or-flight response. The fight-or-flight response triggers a series of physiological changes throughout the body, telling it that it is in danger. These changes include a rapid pulse, increased oxygen intake, pale skin, and dilated pupils. That’s why many people can’t even trouble talk to, much less approach, the person they like.

The Stages of Infatuation

As a human full of emotions, you are able to observe drastic or subtle changes in a person who acquires a crush and sometimes in yourself as well. The cycle of having a crush is different for everyone; however, most people exhibit similar reactions. The person developing feelings goes through three generic stages: denial, accepting emotions, and obsession. The first stage is denial: you begin to notice yourself casually thinking of that person here and there. And when your friends tell you that you’ve dozed off, you claim it’s ludicrous. You tell yourself that they’re only a friend, nothing more. You continue to casually mention this person within small talk and conversations. Your friends catch on sooner than you do, pointing out how this person is your favorite topic of discussion. Again, you act oblivious to the nonsense and continue to believe that you don’t like anyone. You and they will never happen. Ever. Ever?

Eventually, you end up settling on the notion that it’s a possibility to have feelings for them and fall into stage two: accepting your emotions. Within this phase, you begin to encounter mental, and physical changes that you previously found ridiculous. Your mind fabricates a story of what life would be like if they felt the same way about you. In class, you daydream about them, zoning out from all aspects of reality. In the hallway, they’ll walk past you, and all you focus on is the strawberry scent of their red hair. Or, maybe they wave at you during a football game, and you wave back, thinking of your hand intertwining with theirs. Subconsciously, you’ll start to enjoy music that doesn’t fall into your category of taste or take an interest in a sport that would’ve never crossed your mind. Maybe you’ll even start leaning towards a certain trend in style, and you’ll catch yourself trying on an outfit or two, hoping they’ll notice you or compliment your clothing.

As you delve deeper, you begin to slowly ascend the Mountain of Infatuation, and enter the final stage of having a crush: hardcore obsession. From that point on, anything that concerns your crush concerns you. Subsequently, you become aware that their next class is pre-calculus, almost as if it were an innate sense. The days become brighter and warmer as you manage to catch a glimpse of them laughing at a horrible joke. You find a way to make every interaction with them sound romantic in your head. Even when they pick up a pencil for you, you start fantasizing about your future life together. You lock eyes with them for only a second, but it’s enough to make you smile for the rest of the day. Words can’t describe your affection for this person. You admire them over any celebrity or Television character. But alas, your pent-up feelings can only last so long before the cup spills over.

How to Confess

Now that you’ve made it this far, you’ve decided to man (or woman) up and confess your feelings to your crush. Yes, it’s going to be scary. Yes, you might feel the urge to vomit all over their shoes or hide in the bathrooms. But eventually, you have to get some closure some way and somehow. Now first and foremost, the first step you have to take is a deep breath. Calm yourself down. There’s a pretty good chance that your heart is drumming against your ribcage. Whether that be drinking a glass of water or listening to your favorite music, do whatever it takes to decrease your heart rate and steady your tremors.

Second of all, you have to gain self-confidence. The worst thing that could happen is that they don’t reciprocate the feelings. But you have to know that no one else determines your worth except for you. If they turn you down, so what? You are not responsible for their feelings––or the lack thereof. If they don’t like you for who you are, that’s their loss, not yours. Wear your favorite outfit the day you decide to confess. Dance to your special playlist before you let out all your feelings. Throw yourself a spa day at home and pamper yourself. Make yourself feel like the best person on the planet. There’s no shame in loving yourself. After all, self-love is the best kind of love. Do whatever you can to elevate yourself before the confession, so you can follow through with boldness and confidence.

And lastly, this is advice as old as time, but it applies to many situations: be yourself. Your crush will appreciate anything you do as long as it’s genuine and raw and comes from your heart. Maybe, they’ll reject you, and that’s okay. You’ll at least get closure and flip to another chapter of your life. But, the best-case scenario is that your crush returns the feelings. And at that moment, you’ll feel like the luckiest person alive. All your nerves and jitters transform into relieved sighs, and a weight lifts off of your shoulders. Then, your next decision will be to plan out a date. Click the gallery to read real stories of how high schoolers confessed to their crushes!