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Whether it’s a cute coworker, the shy barista at your local coffee shop, a burly UPS guy or even your caring chiropractor, it’s completely natural to feel a spark for someone you see frequently, according to YouBeauty Attraction Expert, Viren Swami, Ph.D. He suggests that proximity breeds that school-girlish swooning, especially in the workplace.
“The interaction with that person might be a positive thing for you. He might, for example, say you look very nice, which makes you feel better about yourself. It benefits you in some way to keep going back,” Dr. Swami explains.
With sweet incentives from sugar-coated compliments to eye candy, it’s no wonder you might find yourself getting your flirt on—even if you’re in a committed relationship. After all, “You can’t expect that because you’re in a relationship that you won’t find other people attractive. You will! The question is: What do you do with that attraction?” Dr. Swami points out.
So, it’s not all sunshine. This hottie bright spot in your day can have a dark side—guilt.
Ali,* 29, who had been living with her then-boyfriend of three years, found herself constantly flirting with a freelancer at her office. They went out to lunch and happy hour drinks together where they shared secrets, inside jokes and most of all, a mutual attraction. Although she never acted on it, the thought did occur to her. “I had a crush on him to the point where I felt like, ‘Oh my gawd, I feel guilty about this!’” Ali recalls.
Mike, 41, has caught himself starting to have sex dreams about the 20-something interns in his office. He admits he enjoys their compliments at work, even though his much younger coworkers are making him feel like a dirty old man. “I have a pregnant wife at home and here I am looking at college interns and I’m like, ‘Wow, they’re pretty hot!’ It makes me feel guilty,” he confesses.
But the question is: Did these people in committed relationships cross the line just by having a crush?
“Having a little guilt probably isn’t a bad thing. That’s a part of their commitment that’s manifesting itself and reminding them, ‘Wait a second you have this other [relationship] going on,’” says Tim Loving, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin.
But YouBeauty Relationship Expert Dave Sbarra, Ph.D., draws the line when the fantasy that exists in your head starts to manifest itself in your behavior—from going out of your way to rearrange your plans to see this person to an actual act of physical infidelity.
For Mike, cheating on his wife isn’t an option. “I have to exercise willpower. I have to be a real man.” he reasons. “My wife is eight months pregnant, and there is some sexual frustration on my end. [The intern fantasy] kind of stems from that.”
Mike’s self-awareness is key, according to Dr. Sbarra. If you find yourself getting swept away in attraction, ask yourself: Why do I find myself fantasizing about this person? What need is this crush filling for me?
The answer to your flirting can be as simple as, “It’s just fun, that’s all.” And the crush can stay that way as long as the sexy times are all just between your ears. However, you just might come up with a real issue hidden in your answer.
When Ali asked herself why she was spending so much time with a man who was the complete opposite of her boyfriend, the answer hit her like a ton of bricks: Her boyfriend was so busy with his career, he really wasn’t making time for her. Ultimately, she realized she was just lonely and filling the void with the freelancer. With further reflection, she decided she didn’t want to compromise her future with her boyfriend.
If, like Ali, you do find that the crush you’re harboring reveals some relationship dissatisfaction, then you have to communicate that issue to your significant other.
So, Ali sat down with her boyfriend and said, “There is this vacancy and I feel like I need to make you aware of it.” And she boldly brought up her crush. Surprisingly enough, her boyfriend had started a similar close relationship with one of his coworkers that had made him come to the same conclusion. “Frankly, I was relieved that I wasn’t the only one feeling it!” she confessed. Together, they decided to make their relationship more of a priority in their schedules.
Fast-forward two years, Ali and her now fiancé are happier than ever. She truly believes their honest discussion about their work crushes brought them even closer together.
Now, Ali and her boyfriend went to a bold place you don’t need to necessarily go to—bringing up that you have a crush, let alone who it is. But it is important to address the underlying problem with your partner. As we can see from Ali, Dr. Sbarra noted, “as a function of talking about that [issue], their relationship grew.”
Some couples like to take it even further and always openly discuss their fleeting attractions. It bonds them and in some cases spices things up as it evolves into dirty talk. “Especially when you’re in a relationship for so long, you can forget that you’re a sexual being,” Brian, who has been with his partner for almost 12 years, admitted. Feeling that fresh wave attraction to someone makes Brian feel like, “I still got it and I’m going to go home and use it.”
So, they share their crushes—like his current lust for a ripped guy he sees working out at the gym every now and again on his lunch hour. “In a same sex relationship, we tell each other,” Brian confesses. “He’s told me about guys at work he thinks are cute. I just trust him so implicitly and I know he trusts me. Nothing’s going to happen—it’s just harmless fun.”
Understandably, you might not want to share all the details of your infatuation with your significant other, but Dr. Sbarra suggests, “The litmus test here [with crushes] is whether or not you’d feel comfortable telling your partner.” Are you hiding something you’ve done, or even hiding someone? If you cross that line, then so has your flirtation.
Sure, you are not a robot, completely impervious to a pretty face or a hot body, but you also can’t be too naïve. There are situations that break down your inhibitions and are especially ripe for infidelity—namely the ones that involve alcohol. “The social psychology of human behavior is that after you have a few drinks in you and you’re alone with someone you find attractive the situation is almost too powerful to resist,” Dr. Sbarra notes. “What the committed person does is avoid those situations.”
As devoted Mike reasons: “I can draw the line here. I want to get drinks [when my co-workers invite me], but I’m not going to because I’m going home to my wife.” He doesn’t want to keep her waiting and wondering what he’s up to.
If perchance you find yourself playing the role of the jealous spouse, nervously watching your partner develop a close relationship with a member of the opposite sex, Jennifer Bevan, Ph.D., recommends you openly discuss it as positively as possible. She suggests: “A little humor might help too (e.g., joking to your partner and friend that she is his “other wife” might diffuse the situation a bit).”
That’s exactly how the wife of Stephanie’s office crush, Alex, 38, handled the situation. After spending long hours at the office working on the same client, the two had developed, a close, harmlessly flirtatious relationship. They got lunch together, talked about her struggles with dating and how disgruntled he was with his job, and even exchanged compliments. But despite how tame their friendship was, Stephanie was still a bit nervous about meeting his wife at a company event. However, upon introduction, the wife broke the ice by joking that she was honored to meet Stephanie, whom she called his “work wife.”
“He’s flirty with everyone and I think [his wife] just knows that’s his nature. And he wasn’t flirty with me in front of her.” Stephanie notes.
When it comes down to it, how committed you and your partner are will really decide if one of you will be seduced by a crush, Dr. Loving argues. And according to a Purdue University study, long-term relationships are more successful when they have one simple, seemingly obvious, component—they are considered by the partners to be long-term committed relationships. So, if you’re feeling secure in your relationship, don’t over-think your innocent crush.
Rest assured that whether you’re the jealous partner or the partner feeling a tinge of guilt over your crush, all things must pass. Eventually, the more you interact with or think about your crush, “You’re going to realize maybe they’re not all that hot,” Dr. Loving reassures us. “Our brains are wired to adapt to situations, so eventually things lose their novelty and become less interesting.”
No matter how many muscles you have, gym bunny, or how funny you are, cute co-worker, your days are numbered! Sorry, your good looks are no match for a good relationship.
*Names have been changed.
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