My first crush left me reeling like a punch in the stomach. I was fifteen, an awkward mix of mature for my age and completely innocent. Warren Chapman was a few years older. He played bass in my mate's band: 'Blind Alliance'. Tall, dark, troubled by acne, he was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. The crush began in autumn, on a coach journey to a demo in London. My friend Lizzy and I were sat at the back, playing tapes and giggling. When Mirror in the Bathroom came on, Warren turned round from further down the vehicle and asked me to turn it up. So I did and I was smitten. Later on he took off his top to reveal a red t-shirt, thinly covering his perfect torso. I thought I was going to be sick. Amazingly, over the months that followed, I got to snog Warren a couple of times. Drunk and dizzy, I was too overwhelmed to really enjoy it fully, and the next morning it always felt like it was a dream. Once he walked me home and I invited him back for coffee. He said 'no'. This wasn't like the movies. In the end, I put myself out of my misery and found myself a boyfriend my own age. He wasn't nearly as attractive as Warren, but at least I could speak to him without wanting to faint.
'Crush' is the perfect word for what it describes. It's not quite onomatopeia-but its sound is evocative of the feeling: the way your insides turn to mush and start swishing around, making it difficult to stand straight. Also in the word 'crush' lies the clue to the inevitable outcome: your hopes will be crushed; the story won't have a happy ending. But it can suggest something more optimistic: a sunny afternoon, daydreaming, youth: raspberry crush.
Crushes on people you know and have to face in your daily life are horrendous; the potential for embarrassment and pain is too great. After pursuing a number of these, long after I lost the excuse of adolescent naiivety, I can honestly say I hope I never have another one again. My preferred forms of crush are on popstars, actors, even fictional characters. They possess an unreal quality, distant, unobtainable, working their magic up on the screen or stage.
Jarvis Cocker, John Cusack, Martin Donovan, 'Mike' from My Own Private Idaho. I'm not so deluded to think these beauties will return my feelings. I love them all the more for that.
Being the type of person that has to excavate everything she experiences, I have uncovered some interesting analyses of 'the crush'. Lacan seems to get to the nub of it when he says that
'the first object of desire is to be recognized by the other. (Lacan, 1977 , p. 58)' According to psychoanalysis, desire is subconscious, and is actually quite simply our need to be known (and loved). So it is kind of irrelevant whether I am lusting after Warren Chapman, Vincent Cassell or Chloe Sevigny. What I am really doing is looking for recognition of my own self, my worth, my place in this world. 'I am human and I need to be loved'. Morrissey got it.
Lacan tells us that desire is always to do with what we lack, or feel we lack. You can't desire what you already have. This I find a little bit cruel, because it goes some way to explaining why actual relationships are so difficult. I'm an expert at mooning over a half-formed figure in my mind. Faced with the flesh and blood reality of someone who loves me and knows me, and wants me to love them and know them too I buckle under the pressure. I also, sometimes, lose my mojo in truly intimate relationships. I find it a regretful irony that my ex and I probably spent more time discussing Lacanian 'desir', than we did actually fucking. I often need distance, mystery, lack, to get my juices flowing. 'I want the one I can't have, and it's driving me mad' . Morrissey got that too.
Enter The Internet, stage left. Online communities are the perfect breeding-ground for the postmodern crush. Everything I learned so carefully, from Warren, from Lacan, from my own self-analysis, I managed to forget when I first ventured into the labrynth. Virtual reality gives us that perfect heady mix of the unknown and the tantalisingly available, the distant and the intimate, the real and the imaginary. I think I have a crush on The Internet itself. One of the reasons my desires are so fuelled by online communication is that I am a lover of words. And when it's just you and someone else, typing away in your private worlds, the words take over. There's no distraction from a noisy bar, an unexpected facial expression, or someone's bad choice of jumper that day. And if the words are good then that's it, I'm a goner.
I've met a few of my internet crushes, and inevitably have felt disappointed. Not necessarily by the individuals themselves, but by the depressing mismatch between my colourful imagination and the greyer reality. These days though, my appreciation of electronic desire is a little more sophisticated. Most of us realise we are playing, exploring the creative potential of virtual reality. And I still find it quite a beautiful thing when I stumble across a fellow 'explorer' on the internet. Someone who will share their words with me, offer a sexily fragmented, hazy, unreachable image of themselves. Let me get to work with my romantic, inaccurate, inventive imagination. I've got a bit of a crush on one of them at the moment as it happens. I wonder whether I should ask him back for coffee. I'm the one holding the keyboard so I call the shots. In this mini-super 8, he definitely says 'yes'.