Why You Need a Reality Check About Your Crush

When you're crushing hard on someone, it can feel like they can do no wrong.

While deep down, you may be aware of their numerous flaws, you mostly ignore them and focus on all the things that make them appear positively perfect. We were curious about how and why this happens, so we reached out to expert Dr. Helen Fisher. She's a biological anthropologist who knows all about what happens to our brains during all things related to love and relationships, and she told us exactly why it's so difficult to be realistic about your crush.

Sweety High: Why is it that people have a tendency to put their crushes on a pedestal and not see their negative qualities?

Helen Fisher: There's definitely brain circuitry to that. When you fall madly in love with somebody, the brain regions linked with decision-making and observation-taking begin to decline, and our decisions become distorted.

There's also a huge brain region associated with something called negativity bias. This part of the brain enables you to remember the negative. From a Darwinian perspective, that was adaptive for millions of years. If you and I are great friends, that's fine, but if there's a third person who hates both of us, it's very adaptive for both of us to prioritize that knowledge above our friendship. If someone said something really nasty about you, you're going to remember it. We've been able to show with our brain scan studies that when you're in love with somebody, brain activity in the negativity bias region begins to decline.

What happens are what we call positive illusions—the ability to overlook something you don't like about somebody, and focus on what you do [like]. That's exactly what happens when you fall in love with somebody. Before I put people into the brain scanner, I ask them a lot of questions, and one of them is "What do you not like about him or her?" They can list what they don't like, but then they sweep it aside and focus on what they do.


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SH: How can these positive illusions be detrimental to a relationship?

HF: The array of things you can overlook is as great as the human imagination. People might overlook cheating, that the other person is already in a relationship with somebody else, or that the other person has three heads. And biologically we're actually built to overlook those things, so you have to be very aware.


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SH: Why can it be so hard for us to recognize that this is happening to us, in the moment?

HF: It's very difficult to do when you're madly in love with someone. Romantic love is a drive. The factory that pumps out the dopamine and gives you those feelings of intense romantic love lies way in the base of the brain, way below your cortex where you do your thinking, way below the limbic regions that orchestrate your emotions and basic brain regions associated with drive, focus, motivation and craving. In fact, that factory lies very close to the factories that orchestrate thirst and hunger.

The writer Stendhal once said, "Love is like a fever which comes and goes quite independently of the will," and indeed it does. You can overlook a great many things when you're in love. It's helpful when you're friends point this out, or when you read or listen to something that helps you come to realize that the brain is helping you overlook these things.

SH: What can we do to start being more realistic about our crushes and start seeing them as normal people?

HF: What I would do is write on a sheet of paper, and put the sheet of paper in every room. It would say something like, "He's got a girlfriend, Helen. What do you expect?" Write something that brings you back to consciousness about it.  That will enable you to make more logical decisions about your current issues and your future.


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For even more wisdom from Dr. Helen Fisher, click HERE to find out the science of how and why we develop crushes.