It’s a safe wager that in the world of love and infatuation, most people have been on one side or the other of the "crush’’ syndrome.
There’s the "crusher’’ and the "crushee.’’
The crushee, the victim of unrequited affection, is the tougher role to endure, especially when a young heart is broken, experts say.
Although crushed crushes can happen at any time in life, these days it seems the victims are younger, says Mario Gallo, a 25-year clinical psychologist in Evergreen Park.
"It used to be this happened more with teens, but these days, we’re seeing it happen to kids down to (ages) 10 or 11. What they see on TV and in the movies these days is energizing it,’’ Gallo believes, adding that children seem to be encouraged to start relationships earlier.
His assertion brings back memories. This writer had a crush on a girl in seventh and eighth grades.
She knew it. He blew it—or so it seemed.
Once, toward the end of class on a Friday, she caught him looking at her. She turned around, then turned back and gave him an ear-to-ear smile that made his weekend, even though he never summoned the courage to talk to her.
She ended up "dating’’ one of his best friends. No more smiles. She made it clear the other guy was the one.
About three years later, the rejected one found himself bagging her groceries while working part-time at the local A&P. The crush had worn off, but the memory remained.
This time, he wasn’t afraid to talk to her, as he handed her the bag he had filled. "I had a crush on you in grade school,’’ he said.
She flashed the smile again and replied, "I know. I liked you, too.’’
Not just puppy love
Although many parents may deem it "just part of growing up,’’ rejection of so-called puppy love shouldn’t be shrugged off, Gallo says. In some instances, time does not heal deeper-than-imagined wounds.
Gallo says a therapist can assess the situation and recommend treatment if it triggers depression or suicidal thoughts, but he points out most rejection cases are resolved without severe damage.
A person’s support system plays a role in how he or she handles such rejection, Gallo says.
"If they have a lot of friends and are otherwise successful, it is not as bad.’’
The same goes for their relationship with parents.
"Having a good relationship makes it much easier for kids to confide in parents, or for the parents to sense a problem and help. If they sense something is wrong, parents should talk to the kid—and be open to what they say. Typically, these cases will work themselves out.’’
What to watch for
Roni Cohen-Sandler, a clinical psychologist with 30-plus years in the field who has lectured at the University of Chicago and Northwestern University, agrees the way the crushee copes depends on a variety of factors. She says parents should be aware of signs that could point to trouble.
"Usually, the signs are obvious: the child isn’t on their cell phone 24/7, isn’t running off to their boyfriend’s or girlfriend’s house all the time. There may be a period of sequestering themselves or visible signs of distress, such as crying, looking miserable or even talking about the breakup.’’
How much they talk also varies.
"Some parents hear every detail, while others learn about it from a sibling or a neighbor they bump into at the post office,’’ Cohen-Sandler says.
Also, it is a myth that girls are more vulnerable to rejection than boys, Cohen-Sandler says.
"Boys can be quite sensitive, too. The way they react, however, may be to internalize the hurt more. Or they act it out in disguised ways. Girls are more likely to talk openly about heartbreak.’’
Cohen-Sandler believes if serious problems seem to emerge after a breakup, "they were there first, but the relationship covered them up.’’
"Kids need to see each relationship as a learning experience. … If they are hearing the same thing from people who break up with them, it might stimulate them to reflect on how they behave in a relationship, which is a good thing.’’
Helping parents get through it
A youngster’s rejection also can prove a blow to parents.
"Sometimes, when kids date for a long time, parents can become attached to their kids’ boyfriends and girlfriends. When the kids break up, the parents get a pang of sadness, too. That is OK, as long as the parents don’t try to impose their feelings on their kids. It is up to kids to decide what is and isn’t working for them,’’ clinical psychologist Roni Cohen-Sandler says.
Parents need to put their children’s relationships into context as much as the youngsters should, she adds.
"Breakups have been happening since the beginning of time. They can be painful, for sure, but are a natural part of life."
• Acknowledge their hurt and pain. Understand it will gradually fade and they will feel better.
• Put their breakup into perspective as a learning experience. What have they discovered that will help in their next relationship?
How to ease the pain of unrequited love
• Limit the amount of time you spend with the person who doesn’t love you.
• Come to terms with the fact that they don’t share your romantic feelings.
• Try writing a mantra such as "It’s time to move on" on a slip of paper and placing it in your jacket pocket. Every time you reach into the pocket, pull out the slip of paper, recite the words in your mind and put it back into the pocket. This will help reinforce your commitment to getting on with the rest of your life.
• Stay busy. Find something you like and commit to it. Your body and your heart will feel better.
• Surround yourself with those who love you. This could be parents, grandparents, siblings, other friends or even pets. Don’t be afraid to ask them for a little bit of extra moral support.
• Take time each day to focus on a few of your good qualities. Remind yourself that you’re a great person even if someone out there doesn’t like you in a romantic way.
• Remind yourself it would not be fun to be with someone who didn’t feel as strongly about you as you did about them.
• Remember another emotionally difficult situation you’ve been through and how you got through it. Adopt some of the strategies you used in that situation to help you heal from this heartbreak.
• Take time to nurture yourself, whether it’s with a few good books or movies, some extra time with friends or simply getting a bit more sleep.
• When you’re ready, start hanging out with other people you’d consider dating. Give yourself the chance to fall in love again and you undoubtedly will.