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The Celebrity Crush I Met In My 40s. He Turned Me Into A Giggling Schoolgirl

Oh, yeah, fangirling is still giving me what I need.

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Lizzie Gill
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Eight years ago, when I was just beginning to grasp Twitter, I tweeted about my outrage over a recently canceled Nickelodeon show that starred Scott Baio, my childhood obsession in the late ’70s/early ’80s. (The fact I was 40-something and furious about a Nickelodeon show getting canceled is the subject of another conversation.) Putting my newly acquired social media skills to use, I tagged Scott Baio in my tweet and carried on with my life. Twenty-four hours later, I saw a notification in my inbox.

“Scott Baio retweeted your tweet,” it read, and both my 43-year-old and 12-year-old selves flatlined. “He knows I’m alive,” I whispered to both of us when my heart finally regained its normal rhythm.

Crushing on celebrities is as much of a hallmark of early adolescence as braces, body hair and insecurity, and for many of us, defined our childhoods. We can mark entire sections of our lives by those who lived on our walls and in our imaginations. From Donny Osmond to Simon Le Bon, our fantasy life grew and matured as we did.

Feeding our burgeoning flames of desire and satisfying a deep need for connection during a confusing and awkward developmental period, our infatuations became a place of escape and acceptance. Everyone — even the most perfect, poster-worthy specimen — was attainable, no matter how awkward you were. In your world, Jimmy McNichol noticed you, not your forehead acne.

Fangirling doesn’t die as we get older; it just evolves. When we were younger we felt a sense of ownership over a crush. “Leif Garret is mine,” my older sister would claim, quickly taking all his posters out of our communal Tiger Beat magazines. “You get Willie Aames.” In middle school, my friend group each took dibs on a member of Duran Duran — for life, obviously, leaving the friend stuck with Andy furious.

But sharing, she knew, wasn’t an option, and as a true fangirl learned to love him. As we age, however, fangirls recognize and even celebrate our shared experience. My friend, dedicated “crushologist” Kristin Nilsen, runs the social media site My Celebrity Crush Story, where fangirls of a certain age gather to share the memories that defined their youth. Her childhood infatuation with Shaun Cassidy led her to a recent concert, where one woman brought 8-by-10 glossies of their teen idol for every person in the audience. Kristin later wrote, “… the people who all felt the same thing at the same time in 1977 gathered, not for a concert, but for a moment.” (Shaun Cassidy responded, by the way, which caused her to hyperventilate for days.)

As a woman over 50, I’m still an unapologetic fangirl. The silliness and fun escapism is something that still delights me and connects me to my youth. Do fangirls still get overly excited about our crushes? Yes. Do we still imagine ourselves married to them? Depends on how much our spouse is annoying us that day. But what once used to be a fantasy of a romantic nature has grown a bit more varied. Besides the men who make my heart pound, I am now a fangirl of famous women with whom I want to be best friends, celebrity couples I admire and want to invite over for dinner, and authors whose words touch me.

While Rob Lowe certainly still makes me swoon like he did in 1985, I’m now as enamored with his wit, self-deprecating charm and captivating writing style as I am with his impossibly good looks. And thanks to social media, I know what he’s doing on a daily basis (something that never fails to thrill and astound me).

A couple of years ago I got to meet him briefly after his one-man show, and my 15-year-old self completely wrecked the sophisticated, adult vibe I was trying to project. After weeks spent planning a clever opening line, all I could do when the moment arrived was clutch my chest in an attempt to keep my beating heart from bursting out of my carefully chosen jumpsuit and say, “Hi, Rob Lowe,” in a breathy, giggly whisper that my 51-year-old self is still mortified about.

Although the fangirl in me bumbled my chance to have any form of meaningful or coherent conversation with him, the photo we took together was Christmas card-worthy. (No, really. I used it on our Christmas card that year.) But more than that, it also gave me a permanent reminder that fangirling is still there to give me what I need.