I thought I was past the teenage crushes. Then I saw Benedict Cumberbatch | Benedict Cumberbatch

OWhen I was 13, I was really in Michael Hutchence. I cut out pictures of him in the shape of a heart, then glued them to my skin, where I got closer to my own heart. I would secretly wear it like this all day, under my school shirt.

It’s a slightly mortifying memory, but having a crush on a celebrity is the kind of thing you do when you’re 13. Many of us have a Michael Hutchence in our past. Then you grow up, peel off the paper hearts, remove your posters, and give all your embarrassing band t-shirts to Vinnies. You age because of the depth of feelings that can make you stick someone’s face to your body.

I grew up too, and if I ever thought about my old fondness for Michael Hutchence, it was only to wince at the thought of who I was. I would also wince at the thought of sticking anything to my now paper-like skin, which had stretched from age, irresponsible sun exposure, and all the babies it once contained.

But then the strangest thing happened to me, a grown woman, an old bag. I felt those same feelings again. I had one of those intense, real crushes on someone you only know from TV and the pages of magazines. The skin may have changed on the outside, but inside it turned out I was still the same.

Benedict Cumberbatch was my new Michael Hutchence. Middle age was the new adolescence. What was once a mildly mortifying memory was now a very alarming lived reality.

I can’t quite explain why it was Cumberbatch, in particular, who reignited my seemingly smoldering passion for celebrity crushes. Maybe it was just a matter of right place, right time, right cheekbones. I was stuck at home with two young children when it happened, and I was disappearing – bit by bit, day by day – into the roles of wife, mother and housekeeper.

One of these days, much like every other, I sat down to watch an episode of BBC’s Sherlock, which featured Cumberbatch, a man I had seen a hundred times before. But for some reason, a man I had seen hundreds of times before suddenly looked different. Feelings that I had previously dismissed as malformed remnants of adolescent development sparkled like new.

I wanted an explanation, even a diagnosis, for this ridiculous (and frankly embarrassing) regression. I spent a lot of time looking for one, talking to a lot of other women who had found themselves in the same situation, who had fallen in love with Cumberbatch as if they were 13 all over again. I wanted to know what he said about me. What kind of mother has that made me? What kind of woman?

But the more I talked about women, the more obvious it became that falling in love with Benedict Cumberbatch wasn’t the only thing we had in common. They were all incredibly happy. There was such an abundance of joy among them – among we – that I would finish these conversations with sore cheeks from smiling.

An explanation no longer seemed necessary, because who wouldn’t? I had spent so much time curling up in memories of my teenage years that I had forgotten along the way how good it feels to really get lost in something you love. And with so little time and space in my life outside of motherhood, I had forgotten what it was like to “waste” my time on something that wasn’t serving the needs of others, something that had absolutely no purpose. Except, you know, fun.

My feelings about Cumberbatch were just for me, and it was insanely good. I just had to exhume that good feeling from all the shame and embarrassment I had piled on top of how weird and inappropriate it was to be a middle-aged woman with a crush on teenage girls. What a waste I had made of my pleasures, to let my sense of myself be determined by my roles – wife, mother, housekeeper – rather than by what gave me joy.

After leaving high school, I never felt the absence of a paper heart, but I can see now that something was missing all this time. I don’t feel the same for Hutchence anymore, but I know I have the ability to carry on feel, in the same way. One favorite replaces another, fashions change. But how much do we do?

Elizabeth J. Harless