Two Probably-Not-So-Great Pursuits

I'm 18 and I'm really into my student teacher (he's 25). He is so smart and handsome and funny, I can't stop thinking about him. He's gonna be leaving our school soon so everything would be legal and he wouldn't get in trouble, but I need him to notice me first! What should i do?
Heather Corinna replies:

My advice is that you recognize you've had a crush on a teacher and leave it be. For both your sakes,. I'm sure you're coming at this without any ill will whatsoever, but this kind of situation is a lot more thorny and problematic than it likely looks from your perspective.

His contract might bar him from relationships with students or anyone he first interacted with as a student: the legality of a relationship with him probably is not just based on your age. However, what is or isn't legal here may seem like the only issue, but that very much is not all there is to this. If the law or his contract do not bar him from that, his own ethics probably do, especially if he cares about being a good teacher who gets to keep being one without any barriers to that. If not his own ethics, his desire to be employed so he can feed and house himself through life.

If he doesn't seem to have noticed you in the way you want, that's likely because he does not want to, isn't interested in you that way, or maybe he is, but his job, and doing it well, matters to him, and so he has no interest in pursuing a relationship with someone who is or has been his student. Really good teachers have really good boundaries. Good teachers see students as students. Dating students is not something that generally involves healthy boundaries, but a real lack of boundaries. It also rarely involves good teachers unless they are messed up in some way at the time.

It's important for teachers to have those boundaries and for students to respect them. The relationship they have with you is one that in few educational settings involves an equal balance of power, especially when you did not even meet them as a legal adult. They also really can't be your teacher if they are also a lover, or you're viewing them that way. That's just not what this kind of relationship is or how it works well.

Too, when you're a teacher, it does not go over well (that is about the understatement of the century) to get involved with someone who is or was once your student, especially without a time lapse of many years in between. Male teachers in K-12 education, specifically, are often viewed with suspicion in the first place, are less likely to be hired than women, and unfortunately have a lot of bad examples of inappropriate male behavior from other men they have to counter. So, right at the gate, men in K-12 education are often having to fight pretty hard just to get these jobs, without having ever done anything shady or ethically questionable.

Getting involved with you, or anyone else who is now or was recently a student could make a mess of his opportunities to work, in the future. Since he's only a student teacher, it could make it harder for him to get hired if before he even finished his education and got a job as a full-fledged teacher, he broke basic protocol by dating a student. Given he clearly wants to be a teacher, that would obviously be bad. Not getting to date someone you might want to and not getting to do the work through your life you want to and have invested serious time and money in being able to do are very different situations. Your life will very easily go on without incident, and without any consequences from not pursuing this. The same is probably not true of his. You'll likely forget about or care little about this crush in a few years. On the other hand, if he gets involved with a student, he probably will never forget about it, and not in the good way.

Don't forget about other people who find out about it, and how they tend to react in the world we live in. In situations like this, if and when a sexual relationship is a thing you both do, he winds up labeled and treated as the creepy teacher no one will ever hire or trust around their kids again, and you get labeled and treated as the slut/whore/jezebel/other-hideous-sexist-term-for-women-who-have-sex who ruined some "sweet man's" life. You both lose, and you both get labeled as bad guys, often in some really ugly, far-reaching ways.

I strongly feel -- and most dedicated educators agree with me on this, as we tend to take ethics and sound care for our students very seriously -- that a teacher who respects and reveres the student-teacher relationship doesn't tend to sexualize or romanticize students, or if they do, will never act on it, even if a student wants them to. You just don't usually see students that way at all (and this is less about age and more about the kind of relationship this is, just like an ethical therapist does not see their patients or ex-patients as sexual or romantic opportunities). If you ever babysit, you probably don't see the kids you babysit them that way: this is similar. The big tangles that can occur from these kinds of things aside, chances are good that no matter what you do to try and get this kind of attention from you? He's not going to give it to you. If he's a good teacher, he has noticed his students: he notices you already. If you feel like he has not noticed you in these particular ways, it is likely because he hasn't, won't, or doesn't want to.

If he's as great a guy as you think he is, the long story short is that he's probably just not that guy, the kind who would get involved romantically or sexually with a student or recent ex-student. The kind of guy who would probably isn't someone you'd think was this great (and that'd be a good thing).

I also want to add, as an educator, that it can feel really uncomfortable when students come on to you in any way. You might assume it's sweet, benign or flattering, but it often really isn't. Really, even if this is not what you'd intend, it's a kind of sexual harassment at work, and sexual harassment at work is never okay or adorable. It sucks, and it makes it really hard to do your job and feel comfortable at work. The fact that it comes from a student doesn't make it any more okay than if it came from a boss or co-worker: we go to work to work, not date. School can be a dating place for students, for sure, but for students, school isn't their job, workplace or their means of supporting themselves. When our work involves serving people, unless we're doing sex work, the people we're serving in our work should afford us the respect of understanding that sex or romance are not one of the ways we are at work to serve them.

So, just like your teachers hopefully afford you the respect of not coming on to you at school, I'd encourage you to recognize this is similarly, for you, about a kind of respect, and urge you to extend that respect to your teacher. You clearly like him, so I've no doubt you want to treat him with respect. I'm not making judgments about you here, just filling you in on some things you probably don't know because being a teacher, and maybe even having (and needing) a job, period, is probably outside your life experience. Good teachers who engage their students are hard to find, and it's hard work, as well as work where having good boundaries and sticking to them is essential to doing a good job and keeping school feeling safe for students and teachers alike.

Crushes come and go, and usually pretty quickly. I'd encourage you to let yours do the same. If you really like this guy as a person, I'd suggest you stick to the kind of relationship -- that of being a teacher, not a lover -- he needs to, and is there for, in order to be that awesome person and spend his life doing the kind of work he wants to do without extra difficulties.

By the way, crushes, no matter who we have them on, are not something we always have to pursue, and can often even be best not to pursue, but instead just enjoy the agony and the ecstasy of until they pass. They do not tend to be very mutual, and do not tend to be based on much reality. The idea of us someone with a crush on us has is more often about that person with the crush than it is about us as crush-ee: crushes generally idealize people more than seeing or knowing the reality of them. And more times than not, if and when someone you have a crush on doesn't seem to be noticing your feelings, that's not what's happening. More often, they have noticed -- let's be real, when most of us have crushes, we can't shut off our moony-eyes and swoony-faces no matter how hard we try! -- they just don't share those feelings or that kind of interest or they are not available, including because they're at work and it's part of their job not to have those kinds of interactions with you.

We can just enjoy crushes for what they are without trying to make them into anything else. We can even use them to inform us about what we find attractive, and what characteristics we may be looking for when we're in the position to potentially pursue relationships with people that start off with us on similar footing -- and sound ethics -- not in funky and problematic power-imbalances like doctor-patient or teacher-student. They can inform us about what we might like when what's happening isn't a one-sided crush, but instead we and someone else having mutual feelings for one another where we're already noticed, without having to push or put on a show to try and get someone else to see us the way we see them.

There are going to be handsome, funny and smart guys in your future who won't be your teacher; who you don't meet as their student but as their peer. There will be guys just as dazzled by you as you are by them, which would be a whole lot better for you: it's hard to have a romantic or sexual relationship that feels mutual, and where we feel like equals, when it's between us and someone we idolize, rather than us and someone who feels...well, more like us. You deserve a more level playing field. There'll be guys that you like and are into who won't have to risk or experience any heavy consequences or have their character maligned as a result of dating you. That's going to be better for you, too. You also won't need to have to worry about sneaking around or pretending you're not dating someone to preserve their reputation or their job: that's something we'll all want to avoid when we can, because it usually takes the fun and sweetness out of romances in a very big way. I feel confident saying everyone deserves relationships that don't resemble what we see on reality television or on the pages of a tabloid.

My vote here is for pursuing those other guys instead. Let your teacher be a teacher, and focus on just being a student who it sounds like has a teacher they enjoy: that, all by itself, is a rare and awesome relationship.

aubrey asks:

One of my guy friends recently told me he would love to have sex with me. We've been talking about it a lot, so now I'm starting to want to do it with him. But, I'm a virgin, and he's not. We don't love each other, it would just be sex. But I don't know what to do. Should my first time be with a boyfriend? Someone I love? Please help me, I really need advice.

My concerns, in reading this, are not that this guy isn't your boyfriend.

It sounds like he's been very vocal about what he wants, and pretty constantly. You seem to describe not being all that interested until after he's been telling you about what he wants. I'm concerned about that for a couple reasons. Coercion -- being talked into any kind of sex; pressuring -- does not tend to result in healthy and happy sexual experiences. It is instead a form of abuse. I'd want to be pretty sure that is not what has been happening here, as engaging in sex with someone who coerces you into it is never a recipe for anything good. Quite frankly, I think any of our best bets with someone who tries to coerce us into sex is to just get away and stay away from them, period.

What I am not hearing from you around any of this is also a big concern: I don't hear you saying you would "love" to have sex with this guy, nor do I hear you expressing anything more than what sounds like a pretty mild interest so far, paired with some big doubts and concerns.

Why not hold off on sex -- both for first times and any times after that -- until you meet someone YOU feel as strongly sexual about as this guy does you? Where you don't have so many doubts, but feel more certain the way it sounds like he does? Why not wait, whether someone is a boyfriend or not, whether sex is more serious or more casual, until you yourself are feeling an earnestly strong desire to be sexual with that other person, without them going on and on about what they want from and with you?

Usually, when we and others have the best time sexually, and when it feels most right for people, it's when our interest in each other is pretty mutual, and equally strong: not when one person is super-stoked and the other is "Well, okay, I guess..." about it.

Chances are mighty good that someone will come along, probably sooner rather than later, where they are super-into you, and you are also super-into them. Where the level of desire you feel is as big as what they feel. Where having sex with them isn't so much an answer to what they want, but a response to both of your wants; where your desire exists on its own already, not just because they want something from you. And where the answer to "What do I want to do?" is not going to be something you probably need to ask someone else, even if you might want to talk to others about it, because you'll pretty much know for yourself.

In terms of deciding, now or later, if you feel best about engaging in sex with someone where the relationship is only or mostly sexual, or where it's also romantic or something else, that's a matter of personal preference. That's about individual people, and what they want, both on the whole, or in a given situation. Some people only feel good about sex with people they are in a romantic or committed relationship with. Other people feel good about casual sex, as well; others still only want sex that's more casual. Much more commonly, most people are likely to find there are times in life they want casual sex and feel good about that and times that they feel good about something committed and ongoing and want that.

So, you'll need to figure out what you want and feel good about for yourself: there is no universal should, right or wrong here, just what you want and feel is best for you at a given time. You might find that reading this, this or this help you think more about that and help you figure out what that is. And you don't have to try and decide about this stuff for a whole lifetime: just for what you feel best about now and think you'll feel best about in the near future. And if, for now, you feel like you just don't know, my advice is to hold off until you feel more like you do.

For now, I'd see if you can't set aside all of what this guy has told you he wants, and focus instead on what you do. It's okay to find we feel more attracted to or interested in people who voice an interest in us: after all, that's part of consent and part of shared desire, which is a lot of what partnered sex is all about. But this really needs to be as much about you as it is about him. If it's not, you're not likely to feel good about this, and the same would be true if this guy was your boyfriend.

You might also ask him to stop telling you what he wants for a while to figure all of this out, giving you some space to figure out your own feelings without his influence and so that if you two do start pursuing a sexual relationship, he's not the driver while you are effectively a passenger just going along for whatever ride he wants. In any kind of sexual partnership, even a casual one, everyone involved needs to be driving. It's really hard for interactions like this to be about mutual pleasure, and things both people want, when one person will not stop telling you what they want, rather than spending just as much time finding out what YOU do.

If you decide you do feel a strong desire to be sexual with this guy, rather than moving into intercourse or other kind of genital sex right away, why not first test the waters and see how other kinds of intimacy or physical affection with him feel to you, both physically and emotionally? For instance, does making out with him feel exciting and fun, and also emotionally good and comfortable? If not, genital sex is not likely to, either. If so, that gives you some more information about how you, yourself, feel, and information to use in deciding if you want to do more than that with him.

But I'd suggest that no matter which way you want to go here, you take whatever time you need to figure that out. Sex of any kind -- or even something like making out -- never has to happen in a hurry. And if someone ever can't wait -- and be quiet for a freaking minute so you can sort your own thoughts! -- for another person to figure out what they need, and what's right for them? They were probably not going to be a good person to sleep with in the first place.

The reason I put your two questions together, by the way, is that both of them involve situations where there isn't a clear mutuality; where one person involved is feeling like they have to do something to push or convince the other person. or where one person is obviously in a pretty different place or position than the other.

Sex with partners really is about partnership, whether it's something done between people who are married, people who are dating, or people who are having sex casually. While we're not the same person as someone else, so our feelings and thoughts are never going to be identical, and it's certainly okay to have ways we are different, if we want to really create the good stuff, we want to try and aim for sexual or romantic scenarios or partnerships where we all seem to be in a pretty similar place. Similar in terms of where we're at in life, what kind of position we're in in relation to each other, and in terms of our wants and desires. Having any stakes be similar is important, too. Having one person be risking a job or a whole career while another doesn't, or having one person feel so sure of what they want while the other is hella uncertain makes things between people awfully precarious. Big differences like that can make finding your footing in something -- sex or romance -- that's already so wobbly, especially when we're new to it all, much harder and also a lot less fun.

So, the crux of my advice to both of you, even in situations that are different, is to do what you can to make sure that when you are considering, pursuing or getting into sexual or romantic relationships or interactions that things feel pretty darn mutual, right from the start. When they don't? Figure this it's usually a very helpful clue that, for you, the other person, or both, this probably won't be something that great, and at worst, could be pretty awful.

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