In her book The Girl's Guide to Break-ups, Delphine Hirsh makes the reader broken up with go through a reality check. If the girl has never actually been on a date with the guy, Hirsh advises counselling.
It is true, funny and sad that sometimes a certain woman believes that she is in a serious relationship with a man when that man has no idea of it. It is less funny, and just scary, if this woman becomes a stalker. But I'm not talking about women with mental illness today. I'm talking about ordinary women who are so in the grip of wishful thinking that they temporarily lose their own grip on reality.
I have a ghastly memory of a conversation in Paris, where I met up with a high-school era acquaintance many years after we had both left school. For many years I had had a serious crush on him, based almost entirely on my own confused ideas and feelings, and now it had returned. In this conversation, over a plate of blood sausage, I mentioned how marvellous it was that we had been friends for so many years.
"But we haven't," he said. "We barely know each other."
He might have added that we weren't exactly pals as teens, either. We might have run into each other weekly, but we had never had a serious, amiable conversation. It was all "Hey, how's it going?" and "Are you going to the dance?" and "So what are you doing this summer?"
His honest remark blew up the edifice of my imaginings like a dynamite-stuffed truck, and to this day I can't think of Paris as the city of romance. Now, Florence, that's a city of romance. Edinburgh is definintely a city of romance. Paris--no. Paris is a train station with North African men standing on the steps shouting in French at passing women. It's a performing artists' canteen with steaming subsidized mashed potatoes and blood sausage. It's feeling exhausted and overwhelmed in front of the tiny Mona Lisa. It's dyspepsia after too-rich a hot chocolate. It's where I hit reality with a bump.
One of the many, many problems with crushes, especially if they are allowed to go unchecked, is that they blind women to reality. Reality hurts, but suck it up, sweetheart, because living in a fantasy is a waste of life. And falling in love with a real-life man who really has fallen in love with you is so much better than fantasizing about Crush Object, that I don't even know where to start.
I'll start with ordinary human interactions. The fact that Mr. Brown next door, who is a genial fifty-two, smiled and said "Hello" to you is better than whatever dialogue you wrote in your head for Crush Object. What you got from Mr. Brown was real human interaction. Mr. Brown is real. God made him. Crush Object in your head is not real. You made him. And the more you refine Crush Object in your head, the less likely you will be able to see the man you're basing him on, the man, like ordinary Mr. Brown, made by God.
My great regret in life at the moment (regrets I've had quite a few, a few too many to mention) is that in my youth I placed too little importance on real, ordinary human interactions, and too much importance on my own imaginings. And yet real life is fed by real, ordinary human interactions. These are that to which we must pay attention.
And now I'll end with my usual realist advice. At this point, I should write it in verse form and have it set to music, but here it is.
1. Men are attracted to women they think are beautiful and elegant, so don't leave the house without making an effort. Accept that you might appeal to a niche market instead of the mass market. Play up your most distinctive features. Wear flats if you are tiny. Wear heels if you are tall. Think Audrey Hepburn if you are thin. Think Queen Latifa if you most definitely are not.
2. Men want what they want, and if they want it badly enough, they will make an effort to get it. So there's no point in you chasing them down. Go where your sort of men are and see what happens. Smile at the men who talk to you, and don't talk too much. Show polite interest in what they say. Say things a stranger would actually find interesting in reply. Pretty is half the equation, smart seals the deal.
3. If you think a man might be interested in you but needs a bit of encouragement, invite him to a party hosted by you and your friends. Touch his arm when you talk to him at this party. Air-kiss him good-bye, if you are the type who can get away with such shenanigans.
5. If he does not call you up or text you within three days, forget him. FORGET HIM AT ONCE. Do not hanker for what-might-have-been. Be open to embrace what-will-be. God knows better than you 100% of the time. Save your fantasies for short stories, and change all the names.