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News story: I Love You, Bilbo


A piece I wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald about the universal appeal of ‘the crush’.

A crush can take away your breath, writes Elizabeth Uhlmann – and your common sense.

Do you remember your first crush?

The object of my earliest affections was a friend of my brother’s. I thought he was the coolest boy in the world. I was nine; he was exactly twice my age. Whilst in the throes of this crush, I engaged in the sort of behaviour that would have seen me on charges had I not been doli incapax (that is, ‘incapable of crime’). I would perch dangerously on window ledges to catch a glimpse of my love doing nothing in particular. I would follow him around like a hungry kitten, hurling insults with rapturous abandon. Once, I told him he had feet like Bilbo Baggins. At the time, it was far easier than saying ‘I love you’.

Mr First Crush recently revealed that, since the Baggins episode, he has never been able to wear thongs. The clumsy outpourings of a little girl’s heart have imprisoned a man’s feet for 23 Australian summers. One should not underestimate the power of the crush.

The first definition of ‘crush’ given by the Oxford English Dictionary is ‘To compress with force or violence, as to break, bruise etc’. Perhaps it is the cement truck-ish suddenness by which one is hit with this contrary and fickle emotion that has earned it such an unprepossessing moniker. It doesn’t really do the crush justice. Crushes are good for us. Here’s why.

Crushes are egalitarian. It costs nothing to own a crush. In fact, sometimes they even pay their own way. Academic and author Gabrielle Carey, who, with Kathy Lette, brought us the seminal teen crush-fest Puberty Blues, thinks the energy derived from a crush is a powerful creative tool.

‘I am often intoxicated by creative people. I guess you would call it a crush,’ Carey says. ‘There is something about that rush of blood to the head that helps me breathe and be creative myself.’

Crushes are a form of escapism. They are cheaper than a movie and they give us the chance to create a ‘perfect’ world within our imaginations, leaving our own flawed worlds behind for a time. This may explain why the celebrity crush is so popular – if there is no chance of acting on a crush, there is also no chance of heartbreak.

At the other end of the spectrum, crushes can provide a safe space to be yourself – or to meditate on what ‘being yourself’ might mean. This theme is explored beautifully in Lukas Moodysson’s 1998 film Show Me Love. Set in the small Swedish town of Amal, the film explores the growing romance between two girls, sparked by the broody loner Agnes’s crush on pouty popular girl Elin. Both girls learn much from each other about being faithful to themselves, despite what others may think. There is a brash joyfulness to this film that enables the most cynical of viewers to suspend disbelief and rise beyond the shoddy politics of everyday life. It seems to suggest that hope and decency are born anew with every blossoming crush.

Whatever crushes may be, they are never dull. There’s nothing quite like a crush to inspire feelings of joy, expectation, hope, despair – to unveil to us the bigness of life. Crushes tap us on the shoulder and remind us we are human. And what a horribly difficult, damn fine thing that is to be.

By the way, I saw Mr First Crush again the other day. He was best man at my brother’s wedding. The wine flowed. So did the words.

Perhaps I admitted to that first crush. Perhaps he was gracious and kissed my hand before telling me he knew all along.