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In my freshman year of college, I had a massive crush on a guy that lived in my hall. We had a class together, and would sometimes end up walking there at the same time. We’d make small talk, the casual niceties that a normal person would think nothing of, but made my head turn to a balloon cut from its string, flying up past the clouds. I listened wistfully as he made comments on the readings, like a total nerd--I even edited a paper for him as a favor, because I was too flustered by his presence to say no, and because eighteen-year-old me had no backbone. All my friends made fun of me for it--mostly for the fact that I never did anything about said crush, which was pretty pathetic considering how interested I was in him. But truthfully, sometimes it’s just fun to have a crush that exists in your imagination. I thought he was cute, sure, but I didn’t bat an eye when I witnessed him getting climbed by a random girl under the black lights of a frat house--because my crush wasn’t fiery enough to consider any type of follow-through. There was no threat. It lived in my journal, and in my mind, where I was comfortable with it remaining. 

Part of me wonders how much of that was true, and how much of it was a story I had convinced myself because the fear of rejection was too overwhelming. 

I never could’ve imagined then that those secret (and borderline creepy) class crushes would exist entirely in the digital sphere, but here we are--and while I would’ve had no interest in doing anything about them in the past, the elimination of having to face them in person after getting rejected is liberating. At Zoom University, there are no rules. You can cook breakfast while a professor rattles on about the “unprecedented times” we are living in, and just as easily, you can profess your admiration for a crush. 

I asked other students doing school virtually if they had the same experience if it was possible to have an indulgent, entirely imaginary crush on someone you’d only ever seen in a tile on your screen. While the cushion of things being digital has opened up the idea of letting feelings be known, it’s made the fact that we are all apart even more bleak. With looming vagueness on when campuses will reopen, pursuing someone feels thrilling in theory, but kind of pointless when put into practice. 

According to an anonymous student at Rhodes, this is the very reason he will be keeping his feelings to himself.

“I’ve been into this person for like all four years, but I never got up the courage to do anything about it. Now we are in a class together on Zoom and as much as I am still into them and enjoy looking at them in the little box on my screen (I hope that doesn’t sound creepy, I assume everyone does it), I honestly don’t think that I’ll do anything about it at this point. We are in a group chat so maybe I’ll get to know them a little better that way but I have no plans to actively pursue it. Zoom just feels like too much of a barrier to actually get to know someone enough.” 

While virtual classes alone feel like the barrier between you and your crush, for some students, there are other outside forces that are keeping them admiring from afar. One student from Middle Tennessee State University who wished to remain anonymous has found herself crushing on a classmate who’s married. 

“I have had a few classes with him and he is so handsome and has a great personality! He never shows his face on Zoom so that sucks but I have had a few classes with him before. I’m good friends with his wife and I went to their baby shower (she gave birth last month). I feel like an awful person, but I also know that nothing would ever happen. I would never act on it.”

The common thread that I found in my conversations with those in the throes of crushing was that none of them had any interest at all in following through. However, for some, the concern with whether or not their crush will reciprocate is entirely irrelevant. 

One of my best friends, who also happens to be a music major at Belmont University, shot her shot with a Zoom crush in her Italian class. Although she chose to remain anonymous for the sake of this article, let the record show that she is one of the bravest people I know, and shares in my perhaps emotionally unhealthy habit of partaking in secret one-sided crushes. 

Over a socially distanced coffee meeting on her lawn, she described the moment she knew she was crushing.

“One day, my screen was on grid view at the beginning of class and I noticed that he blushed from being shy while singing happy birthday. We all sang it because someone in the class had a birthday that day. And I don’t know how to describe it besides saying that the character development was very endearing.” 

From there, the back and forth of deciding whether or not to say something was a little daunting--while she acknowledged what many of the other students were feeling, which was that pursuing someone felt ridiculous at a time when it’s dangerous to connect in person, it also made her realize how necessary sharing her feelings truly was. 

She slid into his school email inbox (because we’re all using those a little bit more these days), and although she recalls the panic when she hit send, she’s glad that she did it.

“It feels like we have such little control over everything right now,” she said, “even if he ignores it or maybe it’s weird I feel like saying it would be empowering. I’m a grown woman, and even if I never know when I’ll be able to go outside again, at least I know I can hit on someone that I think is cute.” 

Oftentimes, telling someone you like them feels like losing control or loosening the reins on your heart. But hearing her explain it that way, as a meditation on bravery rather than weakness, was a revolutionary thought. If we didn’t put so much stock in the other person’s reaction to how we feel about them but said how we felt strictly for ourselves, maybe confronting a crush would feel less impossible--and maybe we’d be less afraid of the fall.

Olivia is a Creative Writing major at Rhodes College. She is a twice published novelist, and has had work featured in Fresh U, GrrlPunch Magazine, and The Bridge Street Paper (Memphis, TN). 
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