There’s a song from the musical Avenue Q called “Mix Tape”. In it, one character, Kate Monster, receives a mix tape from her charming neighbor, Princeton, and agonizes over the meaning of its contents:

“You’ve Got A Friend”
“The Theme from ‘Friends'”
“That’s What Friends Are For”

…shit.

Oh, but look!

“A Whole New World!”
“Kiss the Girl!”
“My Cherie Amour!”

Oh, Princeton! He does like me!

“I Am The Walrus”
“Fat-Bottomed Girls”
“Yellow Submarine”

What does it mean?

This post’s not about Avenue Q (although if you haven’t seen Avenue Q, I strongly encourage you to check it out the next time the opportunity presents itself). Instead, I want to use this as an example of what I’d like to dub the “Mix Tape Mindset” about crushes, ’cause I think it’s a very silly cause of an unfortunately large amount of unhappiness.

Who hasn’t been in Kate Monster’s shoes? Okay, I know nobody makes mix tapes anymore–what’s the modern alternative, swapping Spotify playlists?–but it’s not tied to that one example. You’ve got a big honkin’ crush on someone, and you think kinda-maybe they might like you back, but instead of confronting them and doing a scary Feelings Talk, you attempt to divine their feelings about you via… well, anything you can get your hands on. Tumblr posts. Tweets. Vague status updates on Facebook. Whether or not they end their texts with a smiley. 

Texts with confusing smileys

“WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO SAY?!”

When you’re in the Mix Tape Mindset, everything your crush does has meaning. Everything. I once, years ago, found myself absolutely convinced that my crush hated my guts, all because she didn’t respond immediately to my texts. Later, when she finished her homework and did respond (and in fact had a conversation with me), I was certain this meant she was over-the-moon about me as I was about her. Like reading meaning into every single song on a mix tape, I was scrutinizing our every interaction, trying to suss out her intentions without ever asking her. Today, I want to talk about why we get in this mindset, why it sucks, and how to get out.

Signals and Noise

Usually, the Mix Tape Mindset is a form of projection. You1Speaking of projection, every “you” in this paragraph is secretly an “I”. have a huge crush on someone but don’t want to say it outright, so you try to insinuate it with your every action. Stare at them just long enough for them to notice. Take every opportunity to weasel “<3” into conversation. There’s a running monologue in your head saying “I LIKE YOU SO MUCH AND YOU’RE SO COOL AND DID I MENTION I REALLY LIKE YOU”, so it feels like every single thing you do is dripping with that. Hell, you want it to be. That’s the whole point: be so obvious2but in a charmingly subtle way! that they pick up on it without you saying a word about your feelings.

That’s what you’re doing. The Mix Tape Mindset is about assuming–hoping, at least–that they’re doing it too.

But what we often fail to miss when we’re in the tight clutches of an ÃœberCrush like this is that no matter how enthusiastic you are about someone, you can’t make your every action about that. It’s impossible. You’re going to sneeze, or get up to go pee, or work on a project, or any number of other things that symbolize absolutely nothing about your crush. Even when you are actively trying to send as many “HEY I LIKE YOU” signals as possible, there will, inevitably, be some noise.

In the Mix Tape Mindset, there is no noise. Everything is a signal. I probably don’t need to spell out the reasons this isn’t good, but just in case…

The Reasons This Isn’t Good

It Puts You on an Emotional Roller Coaster

That feeling when you think your crush likes you back? There’s nothing in the world like it. It’s a singular type of happiness, like springtime in your soul. It feels like everything’s blooming and rife with potential.

Unfortunately, there’s also a flipside, and it’s as soul-crushing as its counterpart is exhilarating. The feeling that your crush doesn’t like you is the absolute pits. Despair, self-loathing, a feeling of wasted energy–all of these and more come with this package.

When you’re in the Mix Tape Mindset, you can yo-yo between these poles in a matter of days.

Having a crush can be fun, but leaving it unresolved for weeks, months, years… that’s not a recipe for stability. That’s a recipe for dramatic and exhausting mood swings. It’s not sustainable. You’re gonna short-circuit your emotional processors.

It Places an Unfair Responsibility on Them

This one’s a little more theoretical, but it’s just as important. Adhering to the Mix Tape Mindset places a burden of responsibility on your crush. By assuming everything they do has significance, you’re essentially requesting that they have a justification for everything that they do. It makes them responsible for considering how you will interpret their every action.

Convoluted crush thought process

Q.E.D., bitches.

Even if they do like you back… that’s one hell of an unfair burden. Your crush should be able to interact with you as a person without worrying about what you’re inferring.

Ever have that one friend who took every possible opportunity to turn normal conversation into innuendo?3Confession: That was, and occasionally still is, me. After a while, you find yourself jumping through extra mental hoops around them, being extra-careful not to say something that could become a “that’s what she said” joke. Having a friend who’s crushing on you with the Mix Tape Mindset like this is like that, only ten times worse–not only do you have to moderate what you say and do, but if you aren’t careful, they won’t just make a dumb joke, they’re going to get the wrong impression and likely end up hurt.

That’s the responsibility you’re putting on your crush when you get into the Mix Tape Mindset. That’s not fair.

It’s Hiding from Your Fears

As a kid, I absolutely sucked at taking off Band-Aids. My parents always told me, “Just rip it off in one go!”, but I never could. I peeled them off, hair by hair, wincing and cursing. What could have been done in a second took minutes and was far more agonizing than if I’d taken the quick, painful route.

We get into the Mix Tape Mindset because we’re afraid of rejection. After all, having a crush allows us to wallow in the what-ifs, to dreamily fantasize about what it’d be like to date that person (or hold hands with them or kiss them or have wild, raucous sex with them–crushes mean different things to different folks). If we actually articulate those feelings, we tell ourselves, the magic is going to pop like a soap bubble if they reject us.

Sure, rejection can suck, absolutely. But asking and being rejected is like ripping off the Band-Aid all in one go. It sucks, but then it’s over. You have closure. Floating in the nebulous world of uncommunicated feelings just draws out the agony of not knowing.

It’s good for all of us to push our comfort zones now and again, especially when it comes to communicating our desires and needs.

We’re All Bad At Flirting Anyway

And if all of that weren’t reason enough, there’s new evidence from the University of Kansas that we all suck at flirting. Really.

One of the studies brought together 52 pairs of straight, single college students, and had them chat for a little while. After they chatted, they were asked if their conversational partner had been flirting with them. Although the students were pretty accurate in determining when they weren’t being flirted with–over 80% accuracy–they were remarkably bad at telling when they were. Men judged correctly 36% of the time, and women only 18%.

If those sound like good odds to you, remember: if all these students were randomly guessing whether they were being flirted with, you’d expect an accuracy of around 50%. These students were abysmally bad at detecting flirtation.

Subtle flirtation is fun, don’t get me wrong. But we’re just not very good at picking up on it. Don’t wear yourself down trying to send–or receive–subtle flirting signals.

Breaking the Habit

The solution to the Mix Tape Mindset is, of course, to communicate. (Who saw that coming?)

You Don't Say

“But It’ll Be Awkward!”

Yeah, talking about feelings can be awkward, for a number of reasons. If you’re a guy or were raised as one, you probably aren’t used to articulating your feelings, thanks to the masculine ideal that says the only two emotions a man can feel are RAGE and TRIUMPH.

But even if you’re good at articulating your feelings normally, doing it with someone you like a lot can feel really awkward because it’s intimate.4I will always and forever define “intimacy” as “shared vulnerability,” thanks to Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy. When you share your feelings with a crush, you’re exposing a vulnerable part of yourself. You’re giving them the opportunity to hurt you–even with the best of intentions. What’s more, especially if this person is more of an acquaintance than a friend, doing this might be much more intimate than anything you’ve done before with them.

It’ll be awkward. But in my experience, you can defuse the awkwardness a little bit by acknowledging it. Say, “This is going to be a little awkward.” Say, “Wow, I’m having a hard time saying this.” If you stumble over your words, rather than treating it like a Grave Mistake That Will Ruin You Forever, laugh at yourself and say “Oops”. There might be a big awkward elephant in the room, but it’s so much easier to deal with that when you know you’re both on the same page about it.

“But I Don’t Know How to Say What I Feel!”

If you’ve been in the Mix Tape Mindset for a while, your feelings have probably simmered down into a gloopy, condensed mass of “YOU ARE SO WONDERFUL AND I LIKE YOU SO LET’S HOLD HANDS AND WALK ALONG THE BOARDWALK AT SUNSET AND I ONCE SMELLED YOUR HAIR AND IT WAS AMAZING.” That’s not a great starting point for conversation. Even if your crush likes you back, getting hit with an onslaught of feels like this can be incredibly awkward.

FEELINGS'D!!

Instead, keep it concise and to the point. Once you’ve defused the awkwardness to the best of your ability, it’s time for the meat of the conversation.

I’ll write at length about this another time, but when you’re having a Feelings Talk, there are three important points to cover:

  1. How you feel
  2. How they feel
  3. What do you do about it?

It’s easy to just focus on the first one or two, but that’s a good way to spin your wheels and get nowhere. It’ll feel like progress, until you go your separate ways and you realize, wait, you still don’t know what’s going on.

So try a script like this:

Alright, so, I know this is awkward, but bear with me. I think you’re really great–in fact, I have a big crush on you. Just so we can be on the same page, can I ask how you feel about me?

[They answer.]

Okay, cool. Thanks for telling me. So, how would you feel about [dating/continuing to do this casual thing we’re doing/moving to Virginia and starting a CSA with me]?

Or, for a more negative answer.

Alright. Thanks for telling me. I’ve been enjoying our interactions over the last [month], but I understand if I’ve made you uncomfortable. Would you like me to stop being so flirtatious?

That’s it. Not only have you expressed your feelings, you also know their feelings, and you both have an idea of the next step. Which, by the way, could be continuing exactly as before. Maybe they like you too and don’t want to date, but are happy to continue this fun, flirtatious relationship with you. Leaving the Mix Tape Mindset doesn’t have to mean an end to your flirting.

The point is, you’ll know what’s going on. Both of you will be on the same page. You won’t need to stress yourself out over divining the meaning of their actions anymore. You can be free of the Mix Tape Mindset.

Breaking free of an obsessive crush headspace can be difficult, especially if you’ve never had an honest Feelings Talk before. But I guarantee you, you can do it–and it’s worth it.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Speaking of projection, every “you” in this paragraph is secretly an “I”.
2. but in a charmingly subtle way!
3. Confession: That was, and occasionally still is, me.
4. I will always and forever define “intimacy” as “shared vulnerability,” thanks to Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy.