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I have been doing this thing for most of my adolescent and young adult life, and I only realized I was doing it about a week ago. It goes like this:

Act One: In which I spot a man who intrigues me. I spend days, maybe weeks, staring at him, wondering what kind of person he is. Is he funny or serious? Where did he grow up? Can he start a fire with two pieces of wood and no matches? Can he speak multiple languages?

Act Two: In which I continue to stare at him in class or in passing. He may or may not notice this.

Act Three: In which whatever has allowed us to remain in proximity (schedules that land us at the same restaurant for lunch, similar bike routes, a class) ends. We go our separate ways without exchanging names or even words.

I call them fascination boys. One of my friends calls them stranger crushes. They are people who I find not necessarily attractive, but interesting. It’s something in their manner that I notice, and then I fixate. Not in a creepy, I’m-thinking-about-weird-things kind of way, but in an I’d-like-to-learn-about-you kind of way.

This semester I have a new stranger crush. This is what I have noticed: he wears glasses. He seems quiet. He could use a new hairdo. He seems boring, but could possibly have a dry sense of humor.

When I look at people, my brain goes through a checklist of options: good person or bad person, friendly or unfriendly, quiet or loud, funny or boring. For fascination boys, my mind gets stuck right after the first option. I am left wondering.

This kind of thing has been described before by Jane Austen. In Pride and Prejudice, Austen segues Elizabeth Bennet’s initial dislike for Mr. Darcy into a defined intrigue for him that he shares for her, noticing small details like “the brilliancy which exercise had given to her complexion.”

I notice details like this in my stranger crushes. I also imagine how they would act in all sorts of odd situations — walking through apple orchards, swimming in the ocean, standing on a bridge at midnight.

I never told anyone about these fascinations. Most of the time I assume I have unique experiences, that I am the only person in the world who thinks certain things or does certain things.

But last week roommate told me she had a fascination boy. “So there’s this guy in one of my classes,” she started.

“Yeah … what about this guy?”

“Well … that’s just it. I don’t know. He’s not necessarily attractive. I mean, he’s not ugly, but he’s not attractive. He doesn’t talk, but he’s interesting. I find myself staring at him for the whole hour and wondering what he’s like.” This is what started my sudden fascination with the idea of stranger crushes. I discovered last week (by polling several dozen friends and acquaintances) that this is actually a relatively common phenomenon.

My friend Cathy is actually the person who introduced me to the term “stranger crush.” Until I talked to her last Wednesday, I had been calling them “fascination boys.” Cathy says that she has always had stranger crushes and imagines all sorts of conversations with them in all sorts of odd places. “But you should never talk to your stranger crush,” she warned, “It ruins everything.”

When I asked a fellow chemistry major, Chris Kennedy, about whether or not he had stranger crushes on girls, he reasoned it this way: “I attribute it to the fact that everyone at this school has to be interesting in some way, or otherwise they wouldn’t be here. So yeah, I am intrigued.”

Which got me thinking … Would I still be intrigued if I talked to one of my stranger crushes?

My stranger crush #3 and I were both at Cafe 4 last Thursday morning. Stranger crush #3 is an interesting one. He is pensive, but seems happy all the time, as if he is constantly laughing to himself about an inside joke. I thought about how to start a conversation when I noticed that he put one and a half packets of sugar into his coffee. I tend to do this as well. “How interesting. I use one and a half packets of sugar too,” I said with a smile while we were both stirring. He looked at me like I was crazy. Then he walked away.

From now on, I will never talk to my stranger crush. It ruins everything.

In a way, it’s tragic. I have spent weeks (or months) fascinated with these people, and I will never even got to meet them. But I like to think of it as happily mysterious. I can imagine a man as anyone I want him to be — a humanitarian, a short story writer, a computer programmer by day and salsa dancer by night — but I never have to meet him and find out that he is none of those things.

He will forever be a stranger.