I was cleaning out the closet in my childhood bedroom a few months ago, getting rid of college papers, shoes that hadn’t been worn since the heyday of “Dynasty” and Nancy Reagan, and even the blue, poufy prom dress that my parents somehow decided was worth holding onto for the last 33 years, when I reached under a box of old letters and gasped. There it was—the “Hunk Book.”
Perhaps you made one of these when you were in junior high. Mine was a spiral-bound notebook filled with photos I had cut out of Seventeen, Tiger Beat, and People. As I flipped through, I saw a highlight reel of every celebrity crush I had from age 12 to practically the moment I left for college: Matthew Broderick, Doug McKeon, Kevin Bacon, Michael J. Fox, Ralph Macchio, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, plus several obscure cast members from the TV show “Fame.”
Back then, as a shy, overprotected kid who always looked at least three years younger than my actual age, I had nothing close to an actual boyfriend, so these handsome hunks occupied a good deal of my mental space as I lived out a rich fantasy life of, say, running into Corey Hart at the mall and wearing our “sunglasses at night” together as we held hand hands at the multiplex.
Fast-forward to the 21st century, and I have a handsome husband of 22 years who actually does hold my hand at the multiplex. So there’s no need to have crushes on random celebrity men who have no idea I exist, right?
Au contraire! Crushes in midlife can be just as delicious as they were in seventh grade, adding a frisson of delight to ordinary moments like watching TV (mmm,Jon Hamm), cooking dinner (Gordon Ramsay, who is so not my type, has popped up in a surprising number of dreams), or even reading the newspaper (not to get too political, but a recent former president with a 1,000-watt smile and a Nobel Peace Prize still makes me swoon every time he shows up to say something smart and compassionate).
But as I looked at those pictures in my Hunk Book, I realized that my crushes today look very different than they did back then—and I’m not just talking about the feathered hair and down vests they all sported. Back then, a charming smile and a cool haircut were enough to qualify for the title of hunk. If that were the case now, then my bedroom would just be wallpapered with photos of Zac Efron, wouldn’t it? But what would Zac and I possibly talk about? (I know what you’re thinking, but conversation plays a part in my fantasies along with the, ahem, other stuff.)
I need a little more than that now. Even though I will most likely never meet these men, I have to at least imagine they would have something interesting to say. Do you think I play HQ Trivia on my phone every night just for the chance to win $1.84 answering questions about geography and pop culture? Well, yes, but I also have a big crush on host Scott Rogowsky, who can make a clever pun out of any obscure answer. A few months ago, a chubby, bearded bartender from Brooklyn had a hilarious and brilliant run on “Jeopardy.” Put him in my hunk book, too. The adorably nerdy astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, Jon Stewart, and Anderson Cooper would all make the cut in the adult version of my Hunk Book.
This hankering for intelligence affects my taste in real-life crushes, too. While I can certainly admire the waiter at one of my favorite local cafes, who bears such a striking resemblance to Jake Gyllenhaal that I can’t look directly at him (it would be like staring into the sun), I don’t give him a second thought once I’ve paid my bill and walked out the door. But the teacher at my kids’ elementary school, who managed to keep the attention of 25 kindergarteners with his dry sense of humor, and could also banter easily with all the admiring moms who gathered around him at pickup? Crush time. The shaggy grad-school guy at my local bookstore who always points me toward interesting new novels? Crushing it. The amazingly talented adult actor with the craggy face and killer voice who starred in a show my daughter appeared in? Crush, crush, crush.
But just like the 16-year-old cuties whose photos were gathering dust in the back of my closet for all those years, these guys are all just little sparks of delight to brighten up the day. My biggest crush is still, thankfully, the guy I go to bed with every night.