It’s been fun to revisit my celebrity crushes of years past—because many of mine were shared by my fellow YAOTL authors. The celebrity crush is probably a teen/pre-teen rite of passage, a way to explore the first stirrings of attraction at a safe distance, with someone there’s little risk of meeting, let alone having a relationship with. It’s exciting and fun because it’s built on dreams; it’s a learning experience, a practice run.
Ideally, we then progress to having crushes on real people in our vicinity, and eventually break through superficial infatuations to learn about real relationships. With a celebrity crush, a smoldering stare or a dimpled grin or soulful song lyrics are enough to inspire devotion—for a time, anyway. And when we first start noticing the people around us that way, we may rely on the same shallow signifiers. At first.
I wish I’d been quicker to make the transition from superficial crushes to real relationships. My teen years would have been happier if I’d learned that actual romance is built on personality and compatibility—and while physical chemistry is part of it, the best chemistry grows out of that special click when two people realize they look at certain things the same way; they understand each other on a level they haven’t experienced with many other people. That they laugh at the same things, that they’re excited for one another’s successes. Their differences provide spice, but overall it’s about connection.
Then again, the teen years are for learning, for figuring things out, for discovering our deal-breakers and must-haves. For realizing that a feverish crush can cool into, “What’d I ever see in that person?” Some YA books that helped me along were Beverly Cleary’s Jean and Johnny (in which Jean finally realizes that Johnny is kind of a narcissistic jerk) and Lois Duncan’s Killing Mr. Griffin (it’s really bad when your crush lures you into a kidnapping/murder plot!). More recently, characters have struggled with crushes on people who were not all they seemed to be in Tanya Lee Stone’s A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl, Margo Rabb’s Kissing in America, Leila Sales’s Tonight The Streets Are Ours, and (most drastically) in Sarah Darer Littman’s Want to Go Private? I’d actually like to see this topic explored more in YA lit—because another rite of passage is discovering that some of our crushes turn out to be more frog than prince (or princess). And that’s okay; we move on.