Watch out, prof…

I plan to make a move on my professor as soon as I graduate — he’s not married, so it’s OK, right?

This is all sorts of wrong, says our elder. It would be dangerous for both of you.

Dear EWC

So I’ve been planning to pursue my former professor for a full academic year now. He (35, male) is 15 years older than me (19, female) which is just slightly above the limit and he is wonderful. He isn’t married, has never mentioned a girlfriend/boyfriend/SO, doesn’t have kids, and doesn’t seem gay. He doesn’t own a house yet but is going to buy one someday (I’m assuming settle down along with that). I’ve known him for a year and go to his office hours regularly to chat with him. He always makes time for me even though what I have to say is never really important. He is always in a good mood which puts me in a good mood, I smile so much around him that I think it’s giving me wrinkles. He teases and flirts with me all the time, but he still keeps it professional so I know he’s not a sleaze, which I wouldn’t be into. However, this does make it kind of difficult to tell what he really thinks about me, but I’ll let his actions speak for now. I’d like to say I’m pretty cute, cute enough for him. All my life I’ve dealt with men who act like children, my dad, my ex who dropped out of college and left me for a girl who lives halfway across the country, so prof is like a breath of fresh air. He is a real man who has his priorities in check and can take care of himself and those he cares about. I’m beyond surprised he isn’t married with kids by now.

Also, I want to clear something up. A lot of people like to jump to, ‘Well he’s handsome and you look up to him. What you feel is admiration, not love.’ Which in my case just simply is not the whole truth. Of course I admire him and how well he teaches and how well he has done for himself, that doesn’t mean I don’t love him as well. I’m ready to move on from college life, I want a real career, I want a family. If we had met under any other circumstances I would have fallen for him the same. I’ve gotten to know him as a person and I love that person just as much. I don’t want to date my prof, I want to date ‘____ __________’ because he has everything I could want and need in a partner. So I get the idea that he likes me and enjoys spending his time with me, so I’ve planned to keep this up until I graduate. I’m going to become a nurse so that I may have a decent job to keep up with him right out of college. Also I’ll be far away from academia. So, once I graduate we can start to hang out as friends and I’ll be able to shoot my shot that way. We’ll have known each other for four years at that point which is substantial. If he still can’t see me as a partner I’ll be able to keep him as a good friend. So, by continuing to get close to him and lining up my starting success with his continuing success I might be able to pull this off. What do you think?

Ms.JuliaJ replies

Thank you for writing to us. I will do my best to give you an objective and honest opinion.

First of all, I want to congratulate you for attending college with a specific career in mind. We have a shortage of nurses and we need people who are dedicated to devoting their life to taking care of others. You will work hard to earn your degree but it will be worth it for the huge difference you will make in people’s lives.

I went to college at two different times in my life. One at the usual age right after high school, and the second time to obtain my graduate degree.There was a ten year span in between. Both times I met professors who were dedicated to their students, who went the second mile to make sure that the students in their classes were doing well, and who had open office hours so students could stop by to ask questions or just talk. For students who were away from home and who were adjusting to their freshman year, a warm and friendly person of authority who took the time to talk to them one/one was a pretty amazing situation.

During my graduate studies, there was a young woman who misread a professor’s friendliness and she began pursuing him. She was in her 20s, he was in his 40s. He was married with children and he treated every student — male and female — with the same warmth and caring. She began to spread rumors and he came very close to losing his job. She was asked to leave the university. It was a horrible situation. The thing that saved him was that he had been at the university for 15 years and everyone knew him and his wife very well. There were students who could testify to what the female student had done and there was just no evidence that he had been improper. There was a big investigation and it was a very tense year. It affected the way he taught his classes. He was my thesis advisor and I was pretty much on my own that year because he withdrew, closed his office hours and left campus as soon as he was finished teaching his classes. Maybe in the movies, these kinds of situations turn into romantic comedies but in real life they destroy lives.

All professors are bound to a code of ethics. They are forbidden to have a dating relationship with a student who has been in their class as long as the student is enrolled in the University. So, if the student took one class their freshman year and never had the professor for a class again, they are still not allowed to date until that student has left the university. There may be some universities who are not as strict — they just stipulate that you can’t date while the professor has power over you — such as giving you grades. However, the prevailing advice is that this is not a good idea. If the relationship goes bad, then serious issues can arise with the professor being accused and charged with rape, or sexual abuse/molestation. Also, other students may have the perception that you would be getting special privileges or breaks because you are dating a professor, even if he isn’t in your major field.

You are attracted to a powerful and successful man who appears to have his life in order. You did not have a good role model in your father and your boyfriend left you. I understand you being attracted to a professional man who knows where he is going, who is solid, and who isn’t a jerk to everyone. Guys your age are still working on those qualities and they won’t have them in place for another five to ten years or so. Many guys your age are pretty immature and it can be extremely frustrating to try to date them.

What you are seeing as flirting may just be this professor’s friendly personality. On the other hand, he may truly be flirting with you and may consider this a harmless activity because he wouldn’t take it any further. If this is true, then he is still violating the code of ethics by encouraging you to flirt back. He is setting you up to be hurt and is taking advantage of you. I of course, can’t say what is truly occurring. But I do know that to go down this path is dangerous for both of you.

You say that you know him. But, you really have not had the opportunity to know him outside of his office on campus. You haven’t spent time with him in the real world. Campus life is an artificial and sheltered environment. We learn a lot of life skills there but we are still in a world that doesn’t exist on the outside. You do not know who he really is. You just know the persona he presents to you on campus.

I want you to think about going to the counseling center on your campus to just talk about your feelings. We are all longing for love and security. I just don’t want you to be hurt in such a way that destroys the goals you have for yourself. I think it would help you to have an objective person to bounce your thoughts off of — someone who understands campus life and someone you can talk to in person. They will not tell you what to do and counseling is confidential. No one will know you are going. If you don’t want to go on campus, they can refer you to a community mental health center.

Please write back if we can help you think about this further. I’m so glad you wrote to us. I will be thinking of you.

Letter #: 440516
Category: Dating/Relationship

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