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May 08, 2006

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» Boundaries and forgiveness from Noli Irritare Leones
Im going to indulge myself this week by using the same many-years-ago unrequited attraction in two different posts making two completely different points - undoubtedly a sign that my premarital imagination was particularly confined . Were it ... [Read More]

Comments

Elayne Riggs

I still think you're generalizing a bit too much about this, Hugo. As I mentioned when I blogged about your original post, in college I had a major crush on my Spanish teacher, a nice Jewish guy four years older than me who lived a few blocks away from my parents, dated my best friend and my roommate, invited small groups of students to his house where he played guitar and partied with us, so there were NO BOUNDARIES at all except the one he arbitrarily erected between him and me, to the point of writing me a "dear jane"-type letter which did indeed include phrases like "You are looking for something you must find in yourself" (I still have the letter somewhere). And he was right, in that it wasn't until I was happy with myself that I could really appreciate loving someone else, but he was wrong also, because you don't date my best friend and my roommate and snub me like that even if maybe I wasn't really dateworthy material at the time, because you've already shown you don't believe in a student/teacher boundary anyway and, well, it was just cruel. So I'd have to say this is the sort of thing best judged on a case-by-case basis. In my case, 25+ years later I still think I could have benefitted from a more personal relationship with him.

Hugo

Elayne,I do believe that students and teachers can be friends -- but friends with very clear boundaries that allow for intellectual support and mentoring. Your teacher had an obvious boundary problem, which is reason enough to be cross with him personally. His message was right, just not consistent with his overall conduct.

sophonisba

Elayne:

He shouldn't have been doing any of what you describe; he was entirely wrong. That said, when you say:

In my case, 25+ years later I still think I could have benefitted from a more personal relationship with him.

You're probably right, but that's not something he should have had to consider when deciding whether to date somebody. Deciding he didn't want to date a particular student is not an "arbitrary" boundary. He didn't want to. (Of course, if he didn't want people to take his romantic choices as arbitrary judgments on their maturity and worthiness...he shouldn't have dated students.)

I hate to give any credit to such a sleaze, but it is also possible that he really did believe you personally had a crush on him specifically as a professor, and that it would therefore be wrong to encourage it. He could easily have been wrong, but his reasons for putting you off could have been sincere, even as he messed around with other undergrads. The kind of arrogance required to mess with undergrads can easily go with the kind of arrogance that makes you believe you know which ones can "handle it" and which ones can't. Jerky, but not hypocritical.

Though again, of course he shouldn't have been dating any undergrads because among other things, it leads to exactly that kind of mess.

Mickle

Students don't get crushes on me because they want to go to bed with me or be my girlfriend or boyfriend; they get crushes on me because I've got a quality that they want to bring out in themselves.

(While I'm not sure that this is always the case....)

Since one of my biggest professor crushes was on a female instructor, and I'm not gay*, I do think your point is an important one to make. It confused the hell out of me at the time until I figured out what was going on. Quite frankly most of my prof crushes did. At the time I chalked it up to "not enough contact with the opposite sex" but considering which profs my friends and I had crushes on, in retrospect, your explanation does seem to account for a lot of them.

*ok, so maybe I'm just repressed, but after four years at a liberal woman's college, I can say with a significant amount of certainty that I'm not attracted to women as a general rule.

Lynn Gazis-Sax

The "very clear boundaries" is the part that gets tricky. Elayne's and Jazz's stories both show, in different ways, how boundaries can get screwed up even without the teacher actually sleeping with the student. And that's not something that's easy to set from the student side; in fact, if you're both younger and in the student/protege role, it's hard to even be sure whether the boundaries are getting screwed up, or whether you're just imagining it.

Elayne Riggs

Just so, Lynn. There were only four years separating Sandy and me. I've no doubt that, as Soph opines, he just didn't want to go out with me; after all, there were mitigating circumstances. My best friend was Ecuadorian and my roomate was Colombian and he seemed to be heavily into only dating South American girls despite the fact that he and I came from the same background (suburban NJ Jews). And at the time I was probably not the object of ANYone's physical attraction. But it didn't make it hurt any less, and the fact that he was so close to Maria and Marjorie at the same time as he was so studiously trying to avoid me was especially stinging; would it have killed him to simply be friends with me on a peer basis instead of going out of his way to snub me (pretty difficult considering he'd constantly be knocking on our dorm room door asking to see Maria)?

Geez, 25+ years later and I still can't believe how pissed I still get sometimes about Sandy's rebuffs.

the-methotaku

It can happen to preachers too. I had a tremendously silly crush on a woman who was a pastor of mine, once.

Erica

It's embarassing to finally get "sucked" into the (seemingly) inevitable cliché of students crushing on instructors/professors in college/university. I've been attending school for nearly twenty years now and have been able to avoid crushing on any of my teachers until this year. It's rather mentally distracting and has been a bit detrimental to the quality of my work as of late, and this makes me worried.

The problem is that my instructor and I share similar interests in a combination unlike any my friends and I share. I guess you can say he uniquely 'fills a void' (in a completely unsexual way) that seems to be missing in my personal life. So far, personal reflections aside, I haven't overstepped my boundaries at all. It would also be completely selfish of me to act on it (he is, first and foremost, an educator, of course). Our relationship (currently that of a pleasant student/teacher variety) would take a turn for the worse if I were to act on feelings, I suspect, whether or not I was still in college.

Hugo, your friend from college nailed my thoughts perfectly on this subject: the crush is not sexual or even romantic in the traditional sense. Just to receive his attention, learn more about him, and "get inside his head," as it were, is all one asks for when affections are based on intellectualism. In fact, although this particular instructor is excellent and I'm glad I've been able to take such a great class from him, I wish he never was my instructor. I wish we had met on even social grounds at a public lecture, or met over small talk at a baseball game, or met over discussion of an art piece at some exhibit. Contrary to the popular belief that students fall for teachers for the fufillment of some dominant/submissive fantasy or the attraction of a forbidden love/lust, I don't believe I have affections for this guy because he's my "superior." I have affections for him because I could almost see him as being a close friend if it were not for our social roles.

Another term is coming to an end soon, and with it, the end of classes with this instructor indefinitely. I've never felt so distraught about leaving a class behind and I am beginning to feel a sense of loss (from leaving the professor behind, as well). I wish we could develop a friendship outside of college and our formal, educational roles, but I see no way of attempting this without coming across as creepy or overstepping my boundaries. I'm going to be selfish for a moment and say that while it'd be nice to maintain an "intellectual support and mentoring" friendship, it still would not satisfy the friendship I'd seek from him. In fact, it'd probably be even more painful to be confined to such a strict form of friendship. Also, that is a very one-sided friendship and I'd wish to be able to return the favor to him (which is probably inappropriate in an educational institution).

I'd really feel quite happy if I could give him that extra bit of validation, and I'd trust he wouldn't use that to his advantage. He just doesn't seem like that kinda guy. He also doesn't seem like the kinda guy that keeps in touch with his former students outside of the classroom, either.

Hugo

Let me make it clear that I don't think that professors ought never date their FORMER students. While it is a bit questionable to go out to dinner the night after the grades are turned in, it isn't a violation of professional ethics on many campuses. And once the student has left the college or university, nothing legal or ethical precludes the development of a romantic relationship. Many fine and wonderful marriages have begun that way.

But part of the problem with dating even an ex student is that while the power differential may shift legally, it doesn't always shift psychologically. Pedestals don't automatically vanish once the student has moved on. And it may be brutally crushing for the professor (and surprising for the student) to discover that the source of the student's attraction was only the sort of intellectual crush I refer to here, not actual Eros.

Anonymous notes of praise and validation are always welcome. Trust me on this.

eve

That seems like a fair way to view this type of relationship. I think the important thing to get across to the other person is that you are completely supportive and want to maintain the friendship even if it can't ever be a romantic relationship. In other words, you will always be there for them.

Erica

While it is a bit questionable to go out to dinner the night after the grades are turned in, it isn't a violation of professional ethics on many campuses. And once the student has left the college or university, nothing legal or ethical precludes the development of a romantic relationship.

What about a student that wants to maintain a friendship outside of the college/university with no romance but are still attending that school for another year without taking anymore classes with said prof?

Hugo

Oh, such friendships are fine. I can walk into the local Starbucks and see half-a-dozen profs sitting with former students over lattes. All good.

Sandy

Hugo: "Students don't seem to get crushes on me as often as they used to. Some of this is because I am older, and some of it is no doubt due to the reality that my boundaries are much better than they were a decade ago.

When I was a novice teacher, I did consciously encourage student crushes because they felt so damned good! I loved the little notes and the "googly" eyes I would get -- and I found myself enjoying the attention way too much. It was several years into my career before I became aware of just how manipulative and unprofessional I was being; I am happy to say that I have radically changed how I interact with students."

Hugo, thanks for your honesty. I do appreciate your commitment to integrity & personal accountability.

Sandy

P.S. Regarding comments about compatibility & the longing for a more social role in a prof's life, it can seem as if this person IS perfect. However, I've found with men that the gravy train comes to work & the doggy bag goes home. :?

Hugo

Thanks for the kudos, Sandy...

Burton

Hugo, I speak as both a professor (adjunct) and grad student (part-time) I think you are over-intellectualizing this, but your essential point is sound.

Students + teachers just does not work.

Ellena

Getting to know your professors (or ex-profs) on a personal basis while still a student is, in my opinion, NOT a good idea. I started a grad program this summer and made the mistake to fraternize with my first prof. In the 5 months since I've known him, he has gossiped about me to his colleagues (who are now my current professors) and attempted to "put in good words" for me with them. This has made me hugely uncomfortable since I know the minute our "friendship" sours... so will my academic reputation!

Tam

This is interesting. I've been in college off and on for many years (I'm 31 now) and I almost always have some type of crush on professors who are self-confident and interesting, whether they are very attractive or not, and somewhat regardless of gender. The way I feel is as the person mentioned in the previous discussion described - like I just want to be with the professor, have their attention and conversation to myself.

I've never seriously considered trying to take things to a different level. I've been lucky enough this year to have my most crushed professor as a grant advisor, which means more contact, but I've also been lucky enough that there's no hint of boundary-violating from him and, if he's ever noticed anything, I have no sign of it. I respect this. The truth is, I'd probably go to bed with him if he initiated something, but that is so clearly to me a violation of professional ethics that I would seriously lose respect for him as a person (never mind what seeing the "real guy" might do).

In the 11th grade, my physics teacher was very crushworthy, though I don't think I had an actual crush on him. He was a very immature person around 30 who only taught for two years, and once he stopped teaching (after the year I had him for physics), we had a sexual relationship for two years. I can't really regret that, because for the most part it was a good relationship for me (I guess), and we are good friends to this day, but when I think back, now that I am the age he was, I think having a relationship with a former student, especially a 17-year-old former student, is a shocking violation.

Looking back, I also see that my teacher/boyfriend was not much more mature than I was. But at the time, 30 seemed an incredibly old and mature age, and I gave him a lot of undeserved credit for wisdom and experience. Even if he had been actually blind to the age difference, the relationship was intrinsically unequal for this reason.

I know I'm about 6 months late commenting on this post, but oh well :-) Just another vote for understanding, despite the intoxication of the bright-eyed youngsters looking at you with their dewy eyes, that the crush is not about you and that acting on it will, at best, create a profoundly unequal relationship.

Hugo

Tam wrote:
I can't really regret that, because for the most part it was a good relationship for me (I guess), and we are good friends to this day, but when I think back, now that I am the age he was, I think having a relationship with a former student, especially a 17-year-old former student, is a shocking violation.

There's a wonderful study by Lynn Phillips I mean to comment on -- it's about how differently young women in age-transgressive relationships see the relationship while they are in it, and how they view it years later. Your comment hit home for me big time.

StatsStar

Hi Hugo,
I stumbled across your post a few months ago and would also like to comment on the harm it causes a student if a teacher like you said "subtly encourages a crush". I think that in some cases professors are overworked and can perhaps turn to their students for social support, making a student who appears to have feelings for the professor an attractive option to talk with. If the teacher does not have the intention of pursuing a relationship with a student this special attention can lead a student on and cause them pain and confusion if no relationship results.

StatsStar

Hi Hugo,
I stumbled across your post a few months ago and would also like to comment on the harm it causes a student if a teacher like you said "subtly encourages a crush". I think that in some cases professors are overworked and can perhaps turn to their students for social support, making a student who appears to have feelings for the professor an attractive option to talk with. If the teacher does not have the intention of pursuing a relationship with a student this special attention can lead a student on and cause them pain and confusion if no relationship results.

student

How do you know if a student has a crush on you? Im just wondering cos i've had the biggest crush on my teacher for months now, and I really dont want him to know...

kamana

Right along with statstar.. Do they know if one of their students has a crush? How would a teacher react? I stare at my teacher alot and he returns the eye contact.. go to office hours and my teacher is really nice to me- knows my name out of the class offers me candy etc.. gives me back my paper first... but of course I wont( and cant) act even though I am being driven crazy..I realize most of this is an ideal I have formulated in my mind... and I also am getting harsly graded- is that a sign that they want to see me more for office hours? Or am I just really that bad at understanding everything.. it seems my studying is inverse to my scores.. I have no idea.. Yes my prof is such a nice character to me! Any professor thoughts or testimonials on this?

StatsStar

I had an experience where I believe the professor sensed that I had a crush and in turn gave me special treatment. Our contact continued after the class was over, further increasing my hopes for a future relationship until they stopped responding. I agree with Hugo that teachers should not encourage these crushes for their own egos because it can take the students feelings to the next level instead of suppressing them while the crush was in its early stages. It is unethical to lead someone on (particularly a student) unless there is the intention to form a relationship based on respect.

I think a teacher can tell a student has a crush if they ask a lot of questions yet get the best grades in the class.

Heartbroken

I seriously have a problem about this whole issue. I've fallen for teachers before, but not anything hectic. Now I'm in the middle of a crush on one lecturer, and me being the class representative, I've had a lot of cotnact with him. It's really painful to see him everyday, and I really want to talk to him about it to make it easier to deal with. Exams are over, so there won't be a problem with him giving me any more grades. Is it unfair of me to talk to him about this? He is married, and I am aware that i might have this crush because he's just such a brilliant character... I really don't know what to do, any advice will be considered!

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