The Girl Crush: Manhattan Minxes Fall Under Spell

I’m old enough to need eye cream, so it’s safe to say that my days of Jean Naté–scented, college-lesbian dalliances are behind me. Nothing wrong with girl-on-girl action, but at this point in my life the hetero hat’s a good fit, and I’m sticking with it.

And yet: I have a massive whopper of a crush on one of my girlfriends. Actually, on several. And I’m not the only one. Chat with Libby Callaway, fashion editor of the New York Post , or Janet Ozzard, executive editor of Style.com, and it’s girl-crush this, girl-crush that. (Janet and Libby’s crush of the moment is Rose Apodaca Jones, West Coast bureau chief of Women’s Wear Daily .) Mine is Kerry Diamond, beauty director of Harper’s Bazaar . Hear me go on-about her milky skin, her mellifluous voice, how hard she worked on her new book, her Manolos with the grosgrain ankle-ribbons-and you’d think the woman was Andy Roddick.

It was the same with Maryellen Gordon, one of my many top editors when I worked at Glamour . And it’s not like she went easy on me because she knew that little cartoon hearts floated about my head when we’d chat. The red pen was still wielded.

What with all the swooning, you might wonder how a girl-crushy office ever gets a lick of work done. But girl crushes, which primarily arise on the job, or at least in its larger network, are polished to their highest luster when deadlines loom. Any G.C. deserving the appellation takes care of business before comparing pedicures. Could you crush on anything less?

It wasn’t always like this. The poster girl for work-related female relationships in days of yore was Eve Harrington. Collegial women are supposed to cat-fight over crumbs, not develop friendships that last long after the last Magnolia Bakery cupcake goes to its grave.

So how did this femme-friendly utopia come to be? Is it the much-ballyhooed decline of the Y chromosome? Because if it weren’t for the little matter of not wanting to see my girl crushes naked (except inside a sample-sale dressing room), I’d say that I’ve got it so good with these chicks, it’s a wonder men enter the picture at all. As someone who works in a business like fashion media, run primarily by and for other women, I don’t report to a lot of men. Now that I’m awash in girl crushes, I don’t even need a man for a burst of frisson to break up the drudgery of my day. Fashion media-media in general-can be a nasty business (news flash!), but it’s one where a lot of formidable women are doing formidable things and somehow manage to honestly, openly admire each other in the process.

Now to get into the mechanics of a girl crush. These are not standard-issue lunch mates. “A girl crush goes beyond friendship,” said Shirley Halperin, music editor at Us Weekly and-confession!-another girl crush of mine. “It’s like an affair of the heart.” Listen to Ms. Halperin wax crushy on Jenny Eliscu, associate editor at Rolling Stone : “Jenny is just too cool for words! I have to hug her at every possible opportunity, which probably bugs the hell out of her.”

What sparked the flame? “I admire what a good writer she is, and how well-schooled she is in music and music history,” said Ms. Halperin. “I’m very impressed by that. I want to be closer to that. It’s like, if I were a guy, I would so date Jenny. That’s how cool I think she is.” That said, she admitted that she’s not as close to Ms. Eliscu as she is to some of her other girlfriends. Is there something in this?

My aforementioned platonic lady-love, Kerry Diamond, herself no stranger to a crush (for the record, hers are former Harper’s Bazaar colleague Mary Alice Stephenson, Swell tipster Ilene Rosenzweig, Us Weekly beauty director Veronica Hinman and Loving and Company publicist Veronika Ullmer), believes that a crush precedes a friendship.

“Girl crushes are nonsexual mating rituals,” said Ms. Diamond. “Just like a crush is the first step towards dating a guy you like (or so you hope), a girl crush is the first step towards friendship. You can’t just call a person you know casually and say, ‘We have to be best friends!’ But you can let slip to her pals that you have a crush on her.”

But not all girl crushes cool into friendships. I’ve got crushes that have raged for over five years, even after we’ve become honest-to-goodness pals (see especially: ur-girl crush Angela Tribelli, editorial director of American Express’ online publishing).

Is it weird to be the object of a girl crush? Can it provoke Single White Female –ish paranoia? Apparently not. To hear tell from my crush circle, unlike with Viggo or that architect friend of your brother’s, girl crushes go both ways.

“I get the impression that most of them are reciprocal in nature,” said Ms. Diamond (displaying the tact that makes her so worthy of my affections). “Maybe on an unconscious level, you like someone more when you know they like you?”

Ms. Apodaca Jones said she also goes for the mutual-admiration theory. “I felt an instant connection of minds and souls with Janet and Libby, so when they told me they had a crush on me, not only did I get it, but I saw how I shared it, too,” she said. “They’re the people I’d travel to go see, or get out of appointments to hang out when they’re in town.”

So again, how is this different from a good friend?

“The difference is,” said Ms. Ozzard, “with a girl crush you have this overwhelming desire to turn to them all the time and tell them how lucky you are to know them. Your sense of appreciation is vivid and somewhat intense.”

Why does this get back to the workplace? That little bit of professional distance required to work seems to breed awe. And when you spend the majority of your life on the job, as so many of us do in New York, where else are you going to find an outlet for that little part of you that remains president of the Duran Duran fan club? The office is also a place of relatively like interests and ambitions, which explains the “you, only better” aspect I’ve seen in just about every girl crush I’ve spotted.

Indeed, a quick inventory of the stellar qualities possessed by all my girl crushes reveals a pretty familiar checklist. Ms. Gordon wields an iron fist in a (natty) velvet glove, maintaining long-lasting relationships without compromising her own needs. This is something I’ve always striven to do. Ms. Diamond can balance ambition and refinement without ever seeming to break a sweat. In my highest moments of self-esteem, I’d admit to sharing these traits on a sort of junior level.

The (healthy, I would argue) narcissism of a girl crush also means the crush object will display varying crushable qualities depending on who her admirer is. Ms. Ozzard’s Rose-mania is about Ms. Apodaca Jones’ unflagging energy (“She can stay out until 3 in the morning seeing some band, and then come into the office at 9 to report on shipping regulations or the water crisis”) and her eclectic slate of interests (politics to punk rock). Whereas Ms. Callaway loves Ms. Apodaca Jones for how “she’s nurturing, but not obnoxiously so,” and admires her quirky-yet-elegant fashion sense.

It was Ms. Apodaca Jones who got to the root of the appeal of the girl crush: It’s a sign of evolutionary progress among women. As she noted, “Women have not traditionally had the most sane relationships with each other.”

I can’t wait to meet her face to face.