The Psychology of a Girl Crush Portrait by Annabel Mehran Portrait by Annabel Mehran

Once a week, you simply can’t avoid that #WCW (Woman Crush Wednesday) hashtag filling up your Twitter and Facebook feed. And yes, I know the proper term is “woman crush,” but that sounds like a Tampon commercial to me, so I won't use it. But what the hell is a girl crush really? While there are many definitions, Stephanie Rosenbloom defined it so perfectly, I might be developing a crush on her as we speak:

[The] fervent infatuation that one heterosexual woman develops for another woman who may seem impossibly sophisticated, gifted, beautiful or accomplished. And while a girl crush is, by its informal definition, not sexual in nature, the feelings that it triggers—excitement, nervousness, a sense of novelty—are very much like those that accompany a new romance. — Rosenbloom, New York Times

Girl Crushing Like Crazy

I’ve had a huge girl crush on Natasha Lyonne ever since I saw the poster for the first American Pie movie. With her deep, raspy voice and slightly dark, bad girl vibe, she’s hard to resist. Lyonne intrigues me because she owns her crazy and her big hair.

Her character on Orange Is The New Black is close to who Natasha is in real life, a recovering heroin addict. If I were in prison, I’d totally want Nicky Nichols to be my bunkie. We’d get into so much trouble; both of our sentences would be extended. (Not that I’d mind with that kind of nookie.) And it’s not only straight girls who fawn over Lyonne. Lea Delaria, who plays Big Boo on OINTB and is a self-proclaimed “bull-dyke,” also crushes on Lyonne. (I’m not sure if Delaria’s crush is technically a girl crush, but it does show Lyonne has some universal sex appeal.) 

But my love for the ladies doesn’t stop at Natasha. Kate Moennig (aka Shane from the L-Word), Lindsay Lohan (it’s the raspy voice, for sure), Bijou Phillips, and the princess of all crazy-girl bloggers—Cat Marnell—are on my list too. The truth is that I can probably name more famous ladies that turn me on in one way or another than famous men. The Internet often gives us the illusion of having intimate relationships with celebrities; when we read their blogs, check their tweets and see what they wear, our fantasy versions of these people actually do become a part of our lives. 

Dina, a psychology professor with a crush on Jennifer Beals, views girl crushes as less about attraction and more about these women being positive role models, explaining that, “I truly admire and appreciate all that Jennifer Beals does as a social activist as well, using her celebrity for good.” She makes a good point. With so many female celebrities making headlines for their bad fashion, surgery and behavior, it’s easy to be magnetized by those who appear to be the type of women we aspire to be. 

Meanwhile, in the Real World . . .

But what about real-life girl crushes? While it's perfectly acceptable to dish about celebrity crushes, women are not always so comfortable talking about their real-life ones. This psychological roadblock is probably some unfortunate combination of being afraid to question our own sexualities and/or the fear of our love/lust being misunderstood. 

In my original draft of this article, I said there was a hint of actual sexual attraction involved in a girl crush, but further research has shown girl crushes aren’t actually sexual in nature, even if we feel they are. Helen Fisher, Ph.D., an anthropologist at Rutgers University, explains why:

Humans have evolved three distinctly different brain systems. One is associated with sex drive, one with romantic love and the other with emotional attachment. These brain systems don’t always overlap. You can feel sexual with your husband and also have a crush on a girl without any sexuality involved.

This explanation is not only applicable to girl crushes, but also reveals how one person can be attracted to another exclusively for sexual or emotional reasons, and not necessarily both simultaneously.

I still wasn’t sure if I believed Fisher, so I tested out her theory. As an exercise, I fantasized about making out with my real life (non-celebrity) girl crush. I wasn’t turned on at all and felt that if the fantasy ever became a reality, it would be—sadly—totally awkward.

So while I don’t really want my ridiculous fantasy to actually become a reality, this won’t stop me from checking Natasha’s (yep, we’re on a first name basis) Twitter feed and counting down the moments to the next season of Orange Is The New Black.

If you like this article, please share it! Your clicks keep us alive!