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Auntie SparkNotes: I’ve Never Crushed on a Non-Celebrity

Dear Auntie,
I know that many of the letter writers here have a problem involving their crush, but I have the opposite problem; I’ve never been attracted to anyone I know in real life.

It’s not surprising that it didn’t happen at school, I was bullied in middle school and only began to make friends in the last couple of years of high school. Even then, I had no self-confidence and only interacted with a small group of girls, reacting with fear anytime anyone else tried to talk to me.

When I got to college, everything changed and I met a lot of new friends over the three years. Several guys in my dorm often invited me to hang out with them, but no matter how much they flirted, there was no spark that made me want to go any further than friendship. I’ve had crushes on celebrities before so I know what attraction feels like, and none of my male friends have ever inspired those feelings.

I thought at first that I needed to meet more people, I spent a wonderful few months abroad after college and started a part time job where I met some friendly, funny and genuinely nice guys. Still, I haven’t found anyone I’d like to kiss, much less have a relationship with.

I’m writing this now because my significantly younger brother has just bought his girlfriend home and to be honest, I’m jealous of how happy they are together. Should I keep waiting to meet the right person, or is there something I can do?

Well, of course there’s something you can do, Sparkler—with the emphasis on can, because all of the steps you might take to jump-start your love life are entirely non-compulsory. You can ask yourself if you’re setting the bar too high when it comes to looking for that “spark.” You can set your expectations aside and try going on a date just for the hell of it, and decide from there if you had enough fun to do it again. You can consider whether you’re still carrying some leftover baggage from being bullied as a kid that makes it hard for you to lean into the vulnerability of a romantic relationship. You can give your orientation a once-over just to make sure that guys are your sex of preference (you know, just in case!).

And perhaps most importantly, you can interrogate your assumption that because you’ve had celebrity crushes, you therefore know what attraction feels like, and that you shouldn’t even consider dating someone who doesn’t inspire in you the same exact breed of raw desire that you experience when looking at Alden Ehrenreich (or whomever)… except that this one is less of a “can” and more of a “should.” The one-way fantasy worship you feel for a gorgeous actor or musician who’s totally inaccessible to you is, truly, a completely different beast from the kind of attraction that makes for a real-life romantic connection—and if you’re expecting the latter to feel like the former, you’re not being realistic. (Related: This is also where it might be worth asking yourself if your comparative ability to feel attraction to celebrities has something to do with the fact that they’re safe, i.e. you can desire them without ever having to worry that they’ll hurt you, reject you, ask you to be vulnerable, or even have the slightest idea that you exist.)

To be clear: None of this means you have to leap into a relationship with the next guy who presents himself, or that you have to settle for someone who doesn’t meet your standards. But at the same time, we’re not talking about marrying someone unsuitable; we’re talking about the much more general and much less binding question of what you’re looking for out of your love life. And if you feel like you want something which your current approach isn’t getting you, then maybe it’s time to consider your options and make a change or two—especially when the stakes are so very low. You have virtually nothing to lose by going on a coffee date, or kissing someone just to see what that feels like, or reconsidering a definition of “attraction” that excludes virtually everyone except movie stars. (Not to mention that plenty of healthy and fulfilling romances have been founded on coziness and companionship rather than lust; maybe you’d enjoy one of those.) And whether or not you end up dating or relationshipping with anyone as a result, the self-knowledge you gain from exploring your options is sure to be useful—even if all you learn is that exploring doesn’t work for you. Hey, you might even have a little bit of fun, too.

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