First published at on June 18, 2010

“I think I’m in love,” my friend announces.

“You knew him for five minutes,” I retort.

We’re both exaggerating. My friend—let’s call him Bob—met a guy while traveling, and they hit it off. Literally they spent hours together, though much of that was in, um, “non-verbal” communication. Bob has been thinking about the guy ever since.

Far be it from me to deny anyone his long walks on the beach, even if both the beach and the walk are imaginary. Though happily married, I have as active a fantasy life as the next guy, and I know from joyous and painful experience the power of a hard crush.

Bob’s crush has the feature—I’m not sure if it’s an advantage—of having been briefly realized. We’ve all been there. You meet someone cute on vacation. You start flirting, wondering whether he’s going to like you back. You lean in closer, he responds; you touch his hand; he squeezes back; you kiss—yes!

And then you come home…and daydream.

You think and talk constantly about the guy, and your friends who are not similarly twitterpated try hard not to look at you like you’re crazy. “You knew him for two days,” they remind you. They don’t understand, right?

Actually, they do understand. You will too, eventually. Fantasy is not reality.

Meanwhile, you might as well enjoy it—both the bliss and the angst. Consider this advice a version of “‘tis better to have loved and have lost…” Call it, “‘tis better to have obsessed from distance and have stalked someone’s Facebook page than never to have crushed at all.” Romantic longing is the stuff of which great art is made.

But don’t overdo it.

The thing about fantasy relationships is that they place no demands on you. There’s no accountability. For a brief spell, that’s fine, but it’s unhealthy in the long run—especially if it stands in the way of real flesh-and-blood relationships, which it sometimes can.

You think you are daydreaming about a real flesh-and-blood person, but that’s not quite right. You are daydreaming about a fantasy version of a real flesh-and-blood person. In real life, he retains his human status, with all its strengths and weaknesses, but in your mind, he’s perfect. He never interrupts, never says anything stupid, never gets cranky, never has bad breath.

The real flesh-and-blood people you meet have all of these flaws, so they don’t measure up. Worse yet, YOU have all of these flaws, which means that the fantasy can affect your own self-esteem.

Compare this to another kind of fantasy, one that (like Bob’s) also often happens post-vacation: fantasizing about places. How many times have you heard someone say,

“Oh my God, wasn’t New York/San Francisco/Paris/Puerto Vallarta the best place ever!? I wish I could live there!”

Yes, New York/San Francisco/Paris/Puerto Vallarta was indeed wonderful, for a whole host of reasons. But one of the reasons was that you were there ON VACATION. Those who actually reside there have their own daily grind to deal with, along with congestion/earthquakes/pollution/sunburn. When their plumbing backs up, they can’t just call the concierge.

If you always compare the vacation version of these places with the daily-grind version of home, home will pale by contrast. Similarly, if you always compare the fantasy version of your crush object—which, as long as he remains a crush object, is about all you have—with the human version of new acquaintances, old friends, or perhaps even your own partner, the human versions will pale, too.

This is not to say that crushes never turn into something more enduring. Many full-blooded relationships—including both romances and friendships—started as crushes from a distance. Sometimes people just “click.” Such relationships are often worth exploring.

So if Bob were asking my advice, I’d tell him to go ahead and pursue his crush. But I’d also tell him to keep his feet on the ground and to remember that fantasy grass is always greener.