I have a friend — a very sweet friend, please spare him your judgment — who is aroused by the voice of one Anthony Fauci. I have another who loves to wonder what it would’ve been like if she’d met Jagmeet Singh before he met his wife Gurkiran Kaur Sidhu (spoiler: exactly the same, sorry to my friend), and another who loves to call Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez his “wife” (they’ve never met). I, myself, once harboured a little crush on Justin Trudeau (before he became Prime Minister and was a more appealing outsider to the fray, or so I told myself). And it certainly doesn’t get more handsome than Barack Obama…or, actually, more beautiful than Michelle Obama.
All of which is to say, it seems that since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in early 2020 — and as we’ve been through more than a few elections around the world — everyone’s feeling extra lusty towards heads of state. But what’s bringing it on? Is the symptom of lost taste that widespread?
First, let’s break down what goes into a crush — anthropologically. Sure, they’re more commonly associated with being young and giggling behind a locker door whilst eyeing the boy or girl from chemistry class, but adults have them, too. It’s normal and, in fact, the same brain system and neural pathways that are activated when we fall in love are activated when we develop a crush. The dopamine surges and you feel a thrill.
“This is a brain circuit that can be triggered at any time in any way,” says Dr. Helen Fisher, a New York-based biological anthropologist and senior research fellow at the Kinsey Institute. “You can even fall in love with Shakespeare, I mean he’s dead, he’s not gonna come kissing you. But this is a brain system that gives you focus, motivation, energy, optimism, and it can be applied to any kind of relationship.”
You can even fall in love with a girlfriend while being a complete heterosexual, she says.
“You don’t want to kiss her exactly, but you get jealous if she talks to other people. Or, you know, let’s say I have a particular fondness for my teddy bear. Now a teddy bear is just a piece of fluff, but I don’t ever like to see that teddy bear lying on its face or on its head, I have feelings about this inanimate object.”
In other words, it’s a lot like developing an affection, one that makes you feel good and excites you. And that doesn’t have to be love, but a simple crush.
Kat Kova, a Toronto-based sex therapist, adds that the pandemic has only made those feelings more heightened.
“You have time now to build that image of who you think they are, and perhaps you might be more willing to overlook certain red flags or certain qualities about that person that may not be compatible with you, partly because of loneliness, partly because you’ve had time to build this image,” she says.
But how did we get to the point that we’re getting hot for a celebrity who we will likely never meet, much less touch? Part of the appeal is just that. Deep down, we know we will never have a chance with them, and so our fantasies can run wild and we can never be disappointed. Doesn’t that sound liberating?
It’s all biological, too, says Fisher. If we go far, far, far back in history, when hunter and gatherer groups lived together, they would talk and they would gossip — not unlike today. They would discuss everything and everyone they shared in common, but now, due to evolution and a growing distance, the people most of us share in common are, really, celebrity figures.
“We can’t sit around and talk about our neighbours or friends if we don’t share them, but we can talk about celebrities because our friends know who that celebrity is the way we do,” she says, adding that these conversations are less about the crush and more about bonding. “What you’re really doing is bonding with your friends, establishing your networks. By airing your opinions and learning your friends’ opinions, you’re establishing values, you’re sharing experiences, you’re talking about your feelings.”
It’s the same reason social media has been a key part of the collective thirst for everyone from Singh to Fauci. Today, politicians are easier to lust after, because the internet is right there along with you, meme-ing a certain moment or celebrating them for wearing a certain look or having a certain kind of voice.
But there’s more to it when it comes to these particular celebs, especially around the time of an election or, say, worldwide health crisis.
“There might be some quality in [them] that you are really drawn to, it could be something that you’ve always desired or wanted,” says Kova. “For example, you might have a crush on Bill Gates because you think, ‘Oh, he’s so charitable, he’s so this and that.’ I would imagine that it represents some kind of quality that you’re looking for in a partner, and you imagine your life to be so much better with someone like that around.”
It also can come down to your actual politics — if you sway one way, the individuals in that party may be more appealing to you. If taxing the rich or better child care appeal to you, then the respective politicians who are volleying for those policies are likely to appear more attractive to you. And, while it may feel regressive, Kova adds, “We equate power and masculinity with sexiness, but that varies based on your world view.” Lest we forget, for some, it’s women in power that can be the turn on (and as it should be!) too.
And even when that politician does or says something you might disagree with — or is in a position of power that conflicts with your principles as it is — that mechanism in your brain that is crushing can overpower it. Chilling, right?
Fisher explains it this way.
“The brain recognizes the contradiction, and then it overlooks it and goes back to believing what it wants to believe. For example, I cannot stand Donald Trump, but people have pointed out that, well, he was good for the economy, or this or that. I can hear that, but I go straight back to loathing the man for other things. Your best friend can say a certain actor is, for example, a cheater, and you might think, ‘Oh, I know, but god he’s cute.’ The brain hears that, but then it goes back to believing what it wants to believe.” Sort of like I how would die for Tom Cruise, despite his being a Scientologist. Ahem.
What ends up happening is that you overlook the parts of their rhetoric that aren’t so great and focus only on the good. Which is when these kinds of crushes may need to be reined in a little — especially before you hit the polls.
As for the rest of the time? Enjoy. It’s harmless.