Words by Leah Sophia Dworkin

Let’s talk about secret admirers.

Admiration is a social emotion, an emotion reliant upon the action of another person.

Admiration today, like much of social behavior, is most clearly visible online, where everyone is hiding behind an alias, projecting a representation of their inauthentic self, the personas mingling on a plane where everybody can easily and secretly admire the other @people who are there.

Online, individuals can spend who knows how much time vouyering sexy influencers on Instagram.  We can Facebook-stalk the vacations the e-versions of our exes are going on with their other-halves, we can ponder the foam patterns in their perfect un-sipped lattes, we can keep tabs on what breed of towel animal was likely disassembled before being used to de-goop their sun-kissed skins post-coitus.

Which is to say, admiration can tilt into weirdness pretty easily.

Let’s backtrack to the middle ages for a moment.


If the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that history still controls our present.  To no one’s surprise, codes established in medieval Europe like chivalry and courtly love are still the cultural basis for our western notions of romantic love. Chivalry developed as a part of Christian military law and courtly love– a code for knights who were raised with the belief that romantic devotion should be reserved for sexually unavailable maidens, often the wife/ property of some other peen-having lump. Basically, disinterested women were set up to be the holiest objects of sexual desire.

This idea persists. Knights were raised with the expectation that their hearts should suffer immensely as a sacrifice for ‘true’ love, which would always be out of reach, the poor little guys. “Love rarely lasts when it’s revealed” is one of the rules in the guide of courtly love, De Amore by Andreas Capellanus —who’s guidelines spread throughout France in the mid-twelfth century. “A lover is always fearful,” is another lasting gem.

Flash forward to pining love notes jammed in school lockers signed by aliases, mysterious roses that haunt the front doors of school girls, generations of men after men after men feeling so sorry for themselves when their love is unrequited that their one-sided emotional connection with an ideal builds up and spirals out in some unfortunate demonstration of radical determination, a grandiose romantic gesture, an unwanted emotional ejaculation, splooging on an unsuspecting person just trying to get through their day.

AKA secret admirers.


I asked around the internet and got a bunch of juicy stories about secret admirers, who in present day can obviously be whatever gender. People told me all all sorts of gifts they’ve received. A rose that totally freaked out a 9th grader. On Instagram, one girl received a 3D rendering of herself topless, along with a “poem” about her sitting on the alias’s face.  There were events that led to cops being called, restraining orders. One lady got a $1000 paypal transfer that she thought was weird but ultimately accepted because she needed the cash and the giver didn’t seem to want anything else. Some people got notes or Valentine’s during a time where they’d been feeling insecure, and the admiration felt validating, knowing that someone was seeing some sort of potential or beauty in them.  Despite the range, most of the people I spoke with at some point used the word ‘creepy.’ “A secret admirer might be okay” one woman wrote me, “but in the end they’re never who you hope they’d be.”


When I asked some friends, professionals, geniuses and social media followers about secret admirers, what first came to mind for many of them were Grindr, Raya or Tinder. Not necessarily the most heartfelt places but still, the courting epicenters of this moment, where the ideas of chivalry still trump. Why risk rejection in the real world when you can creep on human personas as they freely live their wild lives, swiping through endless hotties and not-so-hotties from the comfortable perch of your satin stained sheets, revealing little or nothing of your own probably problematic, unworthy, flawed identity?

I talked to a shrink who said that admiration can be a healthy thing, when it results in some positive change. She said “in a more adaptive (read: healthy) way, secret admiration allows you to feel safe, but still not have to be alone with their desire.”

But why are people so afraid of sitting alone with their desire? Why put your emotions out there to another person if you aren’t prepared to really confront them? My vote: If you’re truly interested in a person and have clear intentions go up to their face and say hi, risk the chance of rejection. Ask them if they want to smoke a joint and eat a beet burger with you on Tuesday and see what they say, Romeo.


Oh, and if they seem disinterested, turn around. Go away. Don’t come back. Relentless pursuit is a dangerous myth, it’s harassment. As someone who has experienced a fair deal

of it, at the very least, it’s annoying. Loving someone probably isn’t supposed to be about irritating them.

Regardless of everything I’m saying here, when my internet alter ego @frumperella did an Instagram story poll asking “would you want a secret admirer?”  a whopping 69 % answered yes, while the mere 31% voted no.

Celebrating love is important and should hopefully be validating to ourselves. Our hearts are important, our feelings are important, our ability to communicate our feelings with the people who are most important to us— that’s human connection. Saying what we feel and giving other people space to have their own opinions, even if their opinions disrupt our own urges. Even if their feelings disappoint us.

I think the craziest fuckers out there have a best self who deserves some sort of love back from someone who is able and willing to do it, so maybe express admiration to someone who admires you too. Like maybe your best friend who tolerates your bullshit. You could extra tip your bodega guy who always recooks your eggs because he knows you hate hard yolks. Tell your mom you love her or at least love that soup she makes. I’m sure your dog wouldn’t mind a little bit of fancy meat. Instead of writing crappy love poems to the ideal boobs of a stranger, admire the trees or the dirt–without our admiration, they might not be around for so long. It’s 2019, reusing yogurt jars is romantic, challenging your relationship with consumerism is romantic, taking some time away from your glow box is romantic, buying less shit you don’t need is romantic, reading a book is romantic.

If you have some unrelenting desire to woo someone who for some reason can’t know who you are, pay attention to someone or something that can.