I got very attached to one of my high school teachers – but now I think it’s time to let go.
Absolutely, says our elder. Pay attention to those red flags.
Hi, I just graduated from high school. I had this teacher for the past two years (I’m calling him Paul) and we really connected. My father has emotionally abused me and Paul is around my dad’s age so he’s become a father figure to me and I’ve confided in Paul. He makes me feel heard and seen and even I could be loved as a daughter. The only thing is I’ve mentioned him to my mom, siblings, and friends and they all have ‘bad vibes’ about him. He can be unstable with his emotions and there’s been plenty of times where one day he’s nice to me and talks with me and the next he’s cold, distant, and I feel like a burden to him. I would always go to him and confide in him, which would sometimes help but most of the time (looking back and reflecting) I felt self-conscious and like a burden. I didn’t feel better after talking. Sometimes I’d feel worse and cry, thinking why did I go to Paul, but I always went back and confided in him. He was the closest thing I had to a real father. He listened, he (most of the time) seemed genuinely interested. But then again I’ve heard people call him fake.
I’ve become very attached to him and since I’ve graduated, I’ve talked with him once in awhile and I’ve even gotten coffee with him. He understands he’s like a father figure, so he’s always there, but I just always have a bad feeling. It’s very complicated. But I don’t know if it’s time for me to let go and grow up. If I should set boundaries and just plaster a smile on if I ever see him again and not tell him my problems. I kind of wish I could. I think it’s time for me to just treat him like an acquaintance. He has his own family. I can’t keep trying to keep hold of him hoping I’m as important to him as he is to me. I want to keep contact because he’s been such a prominent person in my life and I’m still attached to him, but I want to stop confiding in him. I feel like I shouldn’t trust him. Reflecting back on those two years with him in high school, there were red flags and I just ignored them because here was some dad that cared about me. How do I move on? How do I set boundaries? How do I let go of Paul? I don’t know if any of this makes sense but if you have any opinions or observations, I would love anything you can give. Thanks.
Ms. Mary replies
You are wise to recognize that it is time for you to let go. Trust those red flags – always. Even though Paul was there for you and may have helped you at times, being dependent on him isn’t healthy for either of you. I understand your desire for a father figure and why you became so attached.
It’s interesting that even though he didn’t always help you and at times made you feel worse, that you still felt so connected. Because you thought of him as a father, you weren’t aware that his actions were more about him than you. He should not have taken on that role, and I’m sure he knew that. Suggesting that you see a school counselor would have been the right thing to do.
A good father or father figure would teach you not to be reliant on them. Instead, they would help you to become self-reliant; and teach you that you have the power and resources to thrive and become whoever you want to be. Paul didn’t empower you. Do you think on some level he encouraged your neediness?
Even though he has been a prominent person in your life, I think staying in touch with him would be a big mistake. That in itself is inappropriate. Does his wife know that he gets together with you for coffee and that he continues to stay in touch?
I agree with your mom, siblings, and friends about Paul. I don’t get good vibes either. At this point, I don’t think setting boundaries is feasible. Because you are so attached to him, it would be easy for him to overstep those boundaries. Don’t put yourself in that position. He may have had your best interests in mind at one time, but I doubt he still does (though he may try to convince himself that his motives are good).
Recognize that you don’t need Paul to be OK. You’ve just graduated and have your whole life ahead of you – so much to look forward to. He should not be a part of your future. After graduation, even friends go their own ways and start new lives. Look at this as a fresh start for you. Paul is the past. I would make a clean break. Don’t contact him again. If you must (which I don’t recommend), tell him thank you and that it is time to say good-bye and you wish him the best). Keep it short and sweet. You don’t owe him any explanations. Don’t let him goad you into saying anymore.
Anything we focus on gets bigger, whether we like it or not. You’ve built up so much momentum that it will be a challenge for you to turn your attention in another direction. However, you can and must do that. Know that it will gradually get easier. I don’t know whether you are continuing your education or getting a job, but anything you can do to distract yourself from Paul would benefit you. Spend time with friends. What are your interests? Goals? Dreams? Are you interested in dating?
It is your obsessive thoughts about Paul that are driving you. You can gradually turn those obsessive thoughts into positive thoughts as you focus on other things – anything that makes you feel good. Know that you will eventually look back at this part of your life and be grateful that you were able to move on and become a self-confident and worthy individual, dependent on nobody but yourself.
I’ve been very blunt with you. I hope you are OK with that. I don’t mean to lecture you, but I sense that you already know that continuing this relationship with Paul will not have a happy ending. You deserve better, sweet girl.
I’m happy to talk with you further if I can be of more help. Wishing you confidence, clarity, and much happiness as you move forward.