Crushes are like taking a big fat vitamin on an empty stomach: they sometimes make you feel like you're going to barf. Which is why I feel incredibly fortunate not to have ever felt this way in my own living space. (You know, aside from the times I actually do take a chalky vitamin before breakfast.) As exciting as crushes can be, they are also torture-adjacent and are especially complicated if said crush happens to be on someone within your very own home. If you have ever had a crush on your roommate, I just want to give you a hug.
The thing about crushes is that they are uncontrollable — they come on hot and fast for seemingly no logical reason, and then affect your every move. As mentioned, while I have been in the position of having nauseatingly huge crushes before, I have been lucky enough not to have crushed on someone I shared a kitchen with.
I decided I wanted to understand how roomie-crushes start. I spoke to one 25-year-old woman — we'll call her Eve — about her experience with the roomie-crush. "I once had a guy move into the other bedroom in my apartment. From the start, I thought he was cute, but I thought it would be a terrible idea to get involved, so I tried to ignore how I felt," she explains. Eve lives in New York, like me, where finding an apartment you actually want to live in feels as hard as winning the lottery — you don't want to screw things up over a crush.
"He was attractive and walked around shirtless or in a towel all the time. Beyond that, he had no redeeming qualities — he was a chronic mansplainer, super boring, and never cleaned the apartment," she adds. "But after a few straight weeks of seeing him semi-naked, I developed a fully fledged crush. It was confusing." People are animals, and when one of us is attracted to another, it's hard to deny.
Plus, being roommates with another person is a very intimate thing — you wear fewer clothes around each other, you share condiments, and sometimes, you even share a bathroom. (Eek!) I also spoke to Dr. Gary Brown, a prominent relationship expert and therapist in Los Angeles who works with dating singles and couples to help understand exactly what a person should do when they find themselves with an inconvenient crush.
First ask yourself "Is this lust or love?" says Dr. Brown, "There is a difference. [Attraction to a roommate] may or may not be a sign of actual love." As Eve experienced, physical attraction is hard to deny, especially when in such close proximity to an attractive human, even if you aren't totally enamored by your roommate's personality.
But if you do have feelings for your roommate that extend beyond the physical, Dr. Brown recommends you get real with yourself and ask the tough question, "What am I willing to risk?" There's a very real chance that your feelings can be unrequited. "If you have a great roommate, and things are going along very nicely, you have to know that going to the next level has both potential benefits, and a potential huge downside," explains Dr. Brown.
Leases are often binding, and even Eve, who did not feel true love for her roommate, admits that it was hard to live with someone she was attracted to. "He would tell me stories about dates and hookups, sometimes in graphic detail," she explains. "And there was this weird sexual tension between us. Finally, one night, we were both a little tipsy, and he made a joke about us having sex. I shut him down hard. That was the end of the crush."
Eve and her roommate lived together for 10 more months, but in the end, it was probably for the best that they didn't get involved physically. If, however, your feelings for your roommate deepen and grow, and it's torturous to keep them inside of your heart, you may want to take a different route.
"Bottom line is that if you come to the conclusion that your feelings are real, then you’ll need to hack your courage and have 'the talk'," says Dr. Brown. "If your roommate feels the same, go slowly. Take some time to get to know them on a deeper level before you leap into bed. Taking it slowly helps reduce some of the downside risk."
Moral of the story? If you have a crush on your roommate and it's just physical, try to satisfy those needs elsewhere because it's never fun to live with a friends-with-benefits situation in your own apartment. And if you're really feeling something more for your roommate? Take it slow. Like, snail slow.
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