What does it really mean to have a “crush”? Teenagers explain this new form of romance – Ouest-France evening edition

By Christine DÉTREZ, professor of sociology, ENS de Lyon.

THE ” crush “, it is not only a feeling, it is also a rich subject of conversation between friends which creates cohesion, complicity, participating in adolescent sociability. In Crush. Fragments of the new love discourse, sociologist Christine Détrez draws on interviews with young people aged 13 to 25 to dissect this contemporary phenomenon. Here is an excerpt.

When we hear for the first time “ crush “, this little word that snaps, we are all the more intrigued as the young people who use it struggle to define it. Is it love at first sight? Flirting ? No: the crush unlike anything we know. And to understand this new way of saying love, what could be better than giving a voice to those first and foremost concerned?

In Crush. Fragments of the new love discourse, published in March 2024 by Flammarion, sociologist Christine Détrez draws on interviews with young people aged 13 to 25 to dissect this contemporary phenomenon. THE crush is both a light daydream and an obsession, the pretext for surveys on social networks and an inexhaustible subject of conversation between friends, as recounted in the extract below.

But Myra, a real 15-year-old girl, insisted to me on the importance of having a “ crush » when she was a schoolgirl, a real accessory for the “in-the-know” teenager: “It was like having straight hair, going to Jennyfer, buying fashionable clothes, starting to put on makeup. » And when she finally convinced herself that she was in crushshe remembers rushing towards her friends, and exclaiming “I finally have one crush ! » THE crushand this is perhaps a difference with the crush, is not just a feeling: it is also a cultural practice.

Read also: The songs teenagers listen to say a lot about the perception of love, here’s why

THE crushobject of conversations

Crush, “date”, crush, crush, flirt ? One of the common points of crush and flirting as it was popularized in the 1960s is its importance in the group: as Éléonore said, the crush, we discuss it between friends – more than between friends. Alexis, at 16, says to himself “rather shy about that” and too much “modest about his feelings” to talk about it with his friends or his brother, even if they, on the other hand, talk about it (“I won’t reveal myself too much with my friends and therefore I will never say that word with my friends”). Mehdi, 24, when I ask him if he discusses it with his friends, answers in the negative: “It’s more with my girl friends.”

Yvan, on the contrary, talks about it. That’s even how I met him: knowing that I was looking for young people to discuss crushRobinson told me that I absolutely had to do an interview with him, “an excellent narrator of crush “, since he never stopped telling them in great detail the last episodes of his stories of crush, “his chronicles France Inter » as they laugh about it among themselves.

“The best is when there is Yvan, who makes… great anecdotes. He is an excellent narrator of crush. He is the example of crush which lasts a year and a half, but in a very intense way. And above all Yvan, he likes being at the bar with a group of friends, like the more there are, the better it will be. And take you like ten, fifteen minutes to tell all the details of absolutely nothing. He’s going to talk about the whole evening to tell you that they didn’t kiss, you see, but that they crossed paths at one point in the kitchen…” (Robinson, 25)

Kevin Diter, in his thesis devoted to love and friendship among children, shows that the place of discussions on these subjects varies according to gender but also according to families, more advantaged backgrounds having a greater tendency to talk about it with their children without making them subjects of mockery (“ooh, he’s in love!”). Not all little boys discuss feelings in their family. Even as an adult, Mehdi never talks about it at home, out of respect for the norms of religious modesty important to his mother and sister, with whom he still lives. While he was in a relationship with a young woman for two years, it was unthinkable for him to introduce her to his mother, even if ” she knew “. He also takes advantage of this unspoken word, now that he is separated from his friend, to remain evasive when he sleeps somewhere other than at home.

Yvan writes songs, and confinement with film school friends also favored this serial story of the twists and turns – a look, a smile – in his story of crushthat he takes pleasure, as he himself says, in “narrate”. Nemo bursts out laughing when I ask him if he discusses his crushes with his or her friends. “You can’t imagine how much I’m making them drunk with this!” » he specifies. These are exceptions.

Among girls, on the other hand, the crush is the preferred topic of discussion. Angèle is renowned for being the “specialist in crushes “, while Violette, at the same age, finds that sometimes it’s still a little too much.

“I think I’m the…really the worst case of all my friends!” It’s terrible. Really, just this weekend I called my best friend: “Clara, there’s another case”. She said to me “but Angèle, you call me every week with another case”. The “cases” are the crushesthese are the new cases of crush. » (Angèle, 17 years old)

Read also: Could the metaverse disrupt the bonds of friendship among young people?

Strengthen bonds of friendship

THE crush exists through these conversations with friends, but in return, also contributes to strengthening the bonds of friendship.

THE crush is based on secrecy, and Amalia insists on this dimension, “but I could just add in my definition of “crush“, In my opinion “crush“, it’s for example something you don’t say, it’s something you know it’s going to remain secret.” Which also poses a problem when someone in the group has a crush on another person in the same group. Mehdi tries as much as possible to partition the spaces, and Candice is relieved that one of her friends, who had a crush on one of the girls in the group, finally changed her mind…

“I learned from a friend that there was a boy in our group who crushed on a girl in our group. Well, I was a little, in quotes, not shocked, but hey […] and then, well, it happened, because in fact the boys know that nothing will happen, so […] he doesn’t do embarrassing things, ‘well it’s not… What’s okay, he has a crush, but there’s nothing we can do about it. »

Violette even moved away from Mélina, whose crush ended up suspecting what was going on and made Mélina understand that he was not interested (“basically, next » explains Violette). For friends, nothing serious about that, the crush, it’s funny, it’s light. Except that Mélina was deeply affected, her friends finding her reaction disproportionate (“since nothing had happened at all”). And Mélina can’t stand the fact that Violette continues to hang out with this young boy in her circle of friends (“go ahead girl, you’re hanging out with this bastard”).

Read also: Have friends become more important in our lives than our own family?

Nicknames given to crushes

If the crush is secret, the conversation is therefore based on trust and the sharing of codes. For example, at least three high school students interviewed say that they give their crush nicknames; nicknames that only their friends know. Laurine and her friends Célia and Lisa are therefore the only ones who can understand the references to “Kiwi”, laugh about it and write songs about it. Alicia (18 years old) and her friend attest to the same practice by nicknamed the crush of the second “RZ”. Myra also explains the pseudonyms used with her friends: “we will say for example “Tagliatelle””. If this practice is justified by the desire to prevent the boy in question from recognizing himself, it also excludes from the mutual understanding group any other person to whom the person in question crush would not have placed his trust.

Compliance and the sharing of secrets thus founded the group: Myra has been educated since the second year, in Morocco, in a single-sex space, and the absence of collusion on the identity of the crush now quickly exhausts discussions and interest. If she and her friends are still experiencing crushesit’s in different spaces: one at basketball, another in language classes, another at the shopping center: “but I’m going to say “Tagliatelle”, but now the others don’t know who Tagliatelle is, so it loses its charm, we no longer have anything to say about it. »

The circle even has variable dimensions: close friends, for the high school girls they meet, and also for young women like Rosalie and her friends, or even Mathilde. For the young men, Yvan, Robinson, Romeo and Hector, on the contrary, the discussion can broaden, particularly in the evenings spent in bars, where ultimately, the “friends of friends” end up participating: “If there are people at the bar for example and you talk about it to your friends and there are people you don’t know nearby […] it’s so collaborative and great atmosphere. Suddenly everyone is in “yeah, he’s really into this thing” mode. Well, it’s still very, very easy to share. »

Read also: Here’s the ideal age to make friends… and why, as you get older, it gets complicated

Networks, a place of sharing and unveiling

Let’s expand further: with TikTok and the “ trends » declaration, whether these are played or real, it is even the entire digital web, in this paradox of extimity, which becomes the place of sharing and unveiling of the crush. This is undoubtedly also where the difference between the groups on Instagram dedicated to the declaration/research of crushes in schools and classified ad sites – the old “Lovers Transport” in Releaseor online sites where advertisements for crushes encountered in the metro: on the Instagram pages, there too, the conversation develops.

If ads are posted most often “in ano”, that is to say anonymously, the comments identify the person reported, most often by physical details, all often in a very gendered way: the girls congratulate the one who has been thus “targeted”, the boys joke, carry on, without avoiding homophobic excesses. Aurore, finally mentioned on a post (“Aurore in second grade A, she’s beautiful, I want to go out with her”) is thus congratulated by Emy (“Finally @Aurore”) and returns the compliment (“in the meantime jss not passed 3 times on the account”), sign, in passing, of the injunction to please which weighs on girls.

The original version of this article was published in The Conversation.

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