Why Do We Get Crushes?

If asked nearly everyone living in Western cultures will report that they have or used to have a crush at some point in their lives. What do they mean by this statement? In other words, what is crush and how do we know that we have a crush on someone? These questions have been pondered by countless poets, philosophers and ordinary human beings for thousands of years, but only relatively recently it has become the subject of systematic research by psychology.

Crush: Its Nature

So what, precisely does having a crush on someone involves? Most experts agree that the three components are central. First, before we can say that we “have a crush on someone”, the idea of it must be present in our culture. Not all cultures have this concept and when it is lacking, it is difficult. Second, we must experience intense emotional arousal when in the presence of an appropriate person, someone defined by our culture as a suitable object of such feelings. And third, these feelings must be mixed with the desire to be the object of our affection, coupled with fears that the relationship might end. Only if all of these conditions are present can we state with certainty, “I have a crush on someone.”

Crush: How and Why it Occurs

Many people report that they feel like they have a crush on someone who feels like being struck by emotional lightning. How can such reactions develop so quickly? One explanation is that we are prepared to have a crush on someone by our earlier relationship.

Another very different explanation for the sudden emergence relates to evolutionary theory. According to this view, through the ages, the reproductive success of our species depended on two factors- (1) a desire on the part of both men and women to engage in sexual intercourse and (2) an interest in investing the time and effort required to feed and protect offspring. According to this reasoning, having a crush on someone can enhance both tendencies, because it leads to a lasting bond between male and females, a bond that is necessary for prolonged child care. Pure lust, which would ensure only sexual behaviour, was not sufficient, so over time human beings with a propensity to form long term relationships to fall in love were more successful in passing on their genes to the next generation. We are genetically programmed to have a crush on someone or to love someone.

If you like this article, check out our blog ‘Why do we love? A philosophical look’.


Which of these views is more accurate? At present there is evidence for both, so the best conclusion is that both early experience and our genetic heritage play a role in our tendency to have a crush, and so to form a social relationship as love in the later stage that sometimes lasts an entire lifetime.