Fantasizing about a hunky fireman, mooning over TV's Dr. McDreamy, or flirting with the guy who pours your coffee may actually make your marriage hotter.

Why We Crush

Patty Murphy ducks into Starbucks every morning for her daily chai tea latte. And for her daily dose of the hunk who serves it up. "I look forward to seeing him every day," admits the happily married mom from Montclair, New Jersey. "On the rare visit when he's not there, I'm bummed. And the latte just doesn't taste as good." Murphy, who has a 2-year-old son, has never spoken to her secret crush, beyond ordering a drink. She didn't even know his name until she'd been "seeing" him for six weeks. But feeling fluttery from afar over the handsome barista is exactly the point -- Murphy has no intention of turning her infatuation into anything real. Sure, we've become older and wiser, and we've settled down with men we love and children we adore. But even the most blissfully partnered woman is susceptible to the occasional schoolgirl crush. And, say moms, these kinds of crushes -- ones that you certainly never act on -- are harmless, providing a harried, tired caregiver with a bit of an ego boost. "Moms of young kids are particularly vulnerable to crushes," says Barry McCarthy, PhD, sex therapist and coauthor of Getting It Right the First Time: Creating a Healthy Marriage. "They're overworked, perhaps not getting as much attention from their busy spouses as they'd like, and probably not feeling particularly sexy. When you have a crush on somebody, it suddenly validates that you're still a passionate, desirable woman -- not just someone's mom."

Don't even consider scheduling a Wednesday-morning meeting with Crystal Mazza, who works at a bank. That's when the Brink's delivery guy brings money to her branch. "I just sit here and stare at him through my glass-walled office," says the Dracut, Massachusetts, mom. "He's really cute. He's carrying lots of money. And he has a gun!" Like Murphy, Mazza has never uttered a word to her secret crush -- she doesn't even know his name -- but he always waves to her on his way to the vault. "My Brink's-guy fantasy is just a way to feel that although I'm a loving mom and a wife, I'm also still a woman!" It's not uncommon for moms to fall for men in "helping" professions -- the guy making your coffee, coaching your kid, even delivering your baby, says Scott Haltzman, MD, author of The Secrets of Happily Married Men. The very idea that there's a studly guy who's looking out for your needs -- and not asking you for something -- can leave you feeling weak in the knees.

Tricia Ryan has the hots for her ob-gyn. During both of her pregnancies, the Connecticut mom scheduled every single appointment with him, even though she was instructed to rotate among all the doctors in his practice. "I get really nervous before I see him," she confesses. "I spend a lot of time planning what to wear. I know how silly I'm being, but it makes me feel happy to get so excited. Even my husband teases me about having a date with 'The Doc.'"

Escape from the Humdrum

Crushes also help moms of young children cope with an emotion that's surprisingly common -- boredom. "New motherhood is a difficult period of transition," says Pat Love, EdD, author of The Truth About Love: The Highs, the Lows, and How We Can Make It Last Forever. "During this time, the boredom factor is very high, and moms begin to crave some kind of stimulation. Here's this interesting new guy who didn't leave his towel on the floor this morning and who smiles when he sees you. You haven't had this kind of attention for a while, and it feels nice." This certainly rings true with Ryan. "I've been married for seven years, and I love my husband. He still makes me weak in the knees when I see him, and we have a great sex life. Still, you can get a little comfortable. You don't pay attention to all the girly details like you used to -- it stops mattering what kind of panties you wear. Having a crush is a safe way to rekindle those sexy feelings." When Emily Jenkins was pregnant with her second child, she found herself spending a lot of time on the couch, watching The Wiggles videos with her then 1-year-old daughter. "I was lying there, hormonal, nauseous, and feeling very unattractive. All of a sudden, I realized, 'Hey, that Anthony guy is pretty cute!' When you start thinking a Wiggle is hot, you know you really need to get out more," says the stay-at-home mom from Wentzville, Missouri. So she did get out -- to a nearby Wiggles concert. She's also a regular visitor to The Wiggles Website. Her crush adds a little spice to the routine feedings, diaper changes, laundering, and playdates.

Rekindling the Fire at Home

If you're feeling guilty about having an affair in your head, give yourself a break. An innocent crush can actually enhance your marriage, says Dr. McCarthy (and it's a sure bet that your husband has a few secret crushes of his own). "The healthiest kind of infatuation is one in which you use the idea of the guy you have a crush on as a way to bring more passion to your own relationship." Of course, there are crushes that aren't so innocent. How do you know when you've crossed the line? Some warning signs: You obsessively dwell on Mr. Crush, or you've reached out to him -- either emotionally or physically. If you're becoming more distant from your husband, the infatuation is having a negative spillover effect on your marriage, and you need to get your relationship back on track. Serial "crusher" Sue Reddy Silverman has done a good job of compartmentalizing her infatuations. The family dermatologist is the man she currently has eyes for, though she's also had crushes on her son's gym teacher and the waiter at her favorite restaurant.

"Seeing him gives me a kind of feminine boost," says the Florida mother of two. "I stand up a little straighter, spend an extra minute or two in front of the mirror, and think about getting my hair highlighted. But I have no interest in acting on my feelings; it's better when it stays in my fantasies." The best part about keeping a crush in the imaginary realm, adds Silverman, is that Mr. Hot Stuff never has the chance to annoy you, the way any real human being would. "Since it's all a fantasy, I never get mad at him for forgetting to take out the garbage or compliment my cooking. In my mind, he says and does exactly what I want."

Dads Get Crushes Too

Yes, your husband lusts after other women. "If he didn't, it would mean he had no testosterone and no sex drive," says Diane Sollee, director of the Coalition for Marriage, Family, and Couples Education. While women are typically turned on by men who are doing something for them, men -- surprise! -- become infatuated by women who act adoringly toward them, says Dr. Scott Haltzman. "It might be the waitress who smiles and asks him how his day was, or the assistant at work who thinks he's just the smartest. Attention like this appeals to his ego." Another difference: Men's fantasies more often involve sex than those of women do. And when it comes to real-life affairs, men are much more likely than women to want to have sex with a stranger. (Keep that in mind when you're sending out flirty signals to the man you have a crush on.) But the good news is that most husbands -- and wives -- never act on their crushes.

Top 10 Mommy Crushes

We polled our married staffers and came up with this list of hotties:

  1. Any and all firemen
  2. Jon Stewart
  3. The one dad at the playground
  4. 24's Jack Bauer
  5. Forest rangers
  6. The "IT" guy at work
  7. Steve, the former host of Blue's Clues
  8. The UPS guy
  9. Handsome gym guy
  10. Your child's pediatrician

And let's not forget the hot celebrity daddies we all love.

Copyright © 2007. Used with permission from the October 2007 issue of Parents magazine.

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