(Getty Images)
  • There are characteristics that differentiate a crush from a more serious romance, New York City-based therapist Dr Bukky Kolawole told INSIDER.
  • Crushes are rooted in fantasy and tend to happen when you don't know much about a person but idealise what they are like, Kolawole said.
  • Crushes and love do, however, have biological similarities.
  • Hormones like dopamine and oxytocin release during both experiences, Stephanie Cacioppo, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioural neuroscience at The University of Chicago, told INSIDER.
  • If you get closer to your crush and develop real-life experiences and a sense of reciprocity, the crush can develop into something more.

If you've ever experienced a sudden and intense attraction to someone you don't know very well, you've probably gushed to your friends about your secret "crush." 

Although there's no clinical definition for a crush, there are characteristics that differentiate a crush from a more serious romantic engagement, New York City-based therapist Dr Bukky Kolawole told INSIDER. Mainly, crushes are rooted in fantasy and the person who is crushing tends to project their values onto the person they desire.

"You have little pieces of information and what you see, you are drawn to in that person," Kolawole explained. This differs from a romantic interest or relationship, where what you know more about the person and your suppositions are based on real-life experiences you've had together.

For instance, when crushing, you might subconsciously think the person you always sit next to on the train is kind and caring, but you have no way to back up your supposition or fully trust them, since trust is built through time and an established connection, Kolawole explained.

"Longing and yearning has distance, whereas with love, you're engaging with the person and feel a connection," she said.

Crushes and love interests have biological similarities

Although there is a distinct difference between a crush and something more, there are certain similarities, like the way both make you feel. That's because feelings of a crush and feelings of love release the mood-boosting hormones dopamine and oxytocin to the brain, Stephanie Cacioppo, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioural neuroscience at The University of Chicago, told INSIDER.

When you see a potential mate, whether it's a total stranger, an acquaintance, or a partner, your brain also activates its cognitive network, the region that holds our past experiences, preferences, and self-image, Cacioppo explained. When this area activates, it's "instructing our eyes on who to love."

This process happens so quickly, you won't be mentally aware of it, although your body may react with an increased heart rate, butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling, and obsessive thinking, Cacioppo said.

You can't control when you get a crush, but you can take measures to stop it once it happens

Although crushes and love interests create similar biological reactions, there are distinct differences. According to Cacioppo, "a crush and love act on different planes," so crushes feel like uncontrollable urges because they happen more quickly than falling in love, which is a slower experience. That's why crushing can feel like a spiral you can't seem to get a grip on.

Cacioppo noted that, while you can't control when you develop a crush on a person, you can stop the crush once you consciously notice it. "Maintenance of a crush can be stopped with strong willpower from the frontal lobe, meditation, discipline, and practice," she said.

When you start to rely on a person in real life, a crush can cross into romantic territory

Despite the differences, Cacioppo told INSIDER it is possible for a crush to develop into a relationship.

"With crushing, you're OK with the distance because you're not fully in it yet," Kolawole added. But if you begin to have shared, in-person experiences with your crush, an attachment system is created. A relationship is then established and the body and brain can react differently, like feeling sad or alone when that person is physically absent.

Receive a single WhatsApp every morning with all our latest news: click here.

Also from Business Insider South Africa: