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Clinginess mode: Activated
February 27, 2013 2:35 AM   Subscribe

The age-old "crush on teacher" dilemma: I'm getting too attached to my TA and it needs to stop. How can I dial it back while maintaining a friendly, professional relationship?

Background: I'm early-mid 20s, female; he's late 20s, male. I don't want to divulge too many details, so I'll just say that he oversees the clinical training of a small group of students within my year, and I'm in that group.

Previous groups he's tutored have raved about how awesome he is, and that he's the best supervisor out there. We've had him a few weeks and I can already see why: he's engaging, compassionate, competent, super-smart, and goes the extra mile to make sure we learn as much as possible in our precious weekly sessions (by giving out handouts, asking lots of questions, giving us insider tips etc.). I'm screwed because authority figures like this hit my buttons and hit them hard.

He added all of us on Facebook last week, which I initially thought was weird, but apparently he's done that in previous years in order to create discussion/feedback groups. (I don't know if that was his intention this year -- he hasn't set anything up yet.) He also messaged me asking about one of my hobbies, I messaged back, a conversation started up, and since then we've been chatting almost every day.

I think it's platonic on his end and maybe he's just super-friendly, although I get the sense that he might be a little bored and lonely (other than teaching us, he works long hours most days, and I can't imagine that someone with a busy social life would be messaging so frequently). I don't really care what his motives are -- or at least that's what I'm trying to tell myself. My main concern is that our conversations were a mild amusement in the beginning, but now it's almost an addiction for me. I feel relieved when I get a reply and I have that slightly anxious, waiting feeling for all the time in between. I haven't managed to muster the motivation to tactfully disengage, partly because I don't know how and ... partly because I just don't want to.

The boy I liked recently started dating another girl in my class, so I'm fresh off a rejection and extremely vulnerable to validation right now. I knew I was really screwed when we had our latest session -- I was off my game because I was hypersensitive to every interaction, and irrationally jealous of my clinical partner (also female) for knowing all the answers to his questions. I mention 'female' just to say that there's definitely a romantic component to it, but I don't think I'd actually want to be romantically involved with him. (Not that that would be even viable while we're still TA and student.) I think I just really need his validation, in a way that's becoming unhealthy. He's going to be our supervisor for the rest of this year, so I'm really going to need to nip this in the bud.

Steps I'm taking so far:

-- Getting a discussion group going on FB. I want to encourage communication between my supervisor and the other group members -- as far as I'm aware I'm the only one who's been in contact with him outside clinic hours, and I'm the only one who has his number (and he mine). Even though this secretly pleases me, I am uncomfortable being his sole spokesperson, and I do get lightly (if harmlessly?) teased by classmates whenever I tell them "he said he'd be late" etc. The last thing I want is to foster gossip about favoritism, or worse things.

-- Meeting more people outside my field. I went to a meetup the other day and it was a totally different crowd with dateable cute guys. I think doing this regularly will help me a lot.

-- Trying to talk to him less. This is difficult because 1) I genuinely enjoy talking to him, 2) I cannot stand unread messages (the red notification number! argh!), and 3) whenever I'm quiet for a bit he'll gently prod the conversation along, and sometimes ask where I've gone. This is the step I need the most help with. Is there a way to wean off contact without making him think something's wrong? Should I just talk about this issue (the unprofessional aspect, not romantic) directly with him? And if so: how?
posted by cucumber patch to Human Relations (19 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Have you started the discussion group or is it just something you're thinking about? Maybe you could bring it up around that, in a light-hearted way - "I was waiting for you to set up the group but you were taking so long I had to go ahead and do it myself / I see I'm going to have to do it myself...can't have the rest of them thinking its just between you and me. No one like's the teacher's pet!" That way you're not suggesting there's anything romantic about the fact that the contact is exclusively between you, but lets him know you'd prefer if it was widened out.

It's good you're so self-aware and realise its about validation and a boost to your self-esteem following a rejection. But its also ok to think "I'm really attracted to this guy" and not beat yourself up about it. Enjoy the butterflies, its nice to feel you have a connection with someone you find interesting. It doesn't mean you have to do anything about it. Just know your boundaries - "I can chat to him but if he starts talking about X I'll back off by letting him know I like and respect him but don't want to complicate our professional relationship."
posted by billiebee at 3:07 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


You might benefit from reading this previous question, and particularly rumposinc's excellent answer.

That said though, as a former TA myself, students' crushes are generally a lot more obvious to instructors than students seem to think they are. It is indeed flattering, though a necessary part of being both a good TA and not a creepy TA is realizing that student crushes are, as you've already found, much more a function of stuff going on in students' lives and the really hyper-specific kind of teacher charisma that is valuable to cultivate as an instructor (but really does not translate outside of a classroom) than anything related to who you are. Facebook is a really weird and new tool that maybe he is just trying to use in a way that is not boundary pushing, though that is plainly not the result, but students having the cell phone number for their instructor outside of maybe weird safety related purposes is way over expected professional boundaries and pretty unacceptable. Messaging a student who you are currently instructing once on a subject not related to class is boundary pushing, almost every day is way way over the line.

Especially the kinds of teachers who are good enough to hit those operant conditioning buttons that all students have drilled into them for ease of learning don't do it by not being aware of when they're hitting those buttons or what kind of buttons their pushing exactly. I'd bet dollars to cortex doughnuts that this guy knows exactly what he is doing and is taking advantage of your buttons, his professional position, and his ability to create the fucked up classroom dynamics you've described to stroke his ego. Doing this kind of thing is would be at best manipulative and cruel but if it is a pattern of behavior from him profoundly fucked up.

Is there a professional staff person in your department who manages TAs who you can feel comfortable talking to? You don't need to go full drama or anything, but just mentioning to them that the student teacher boundaries that have developed make you uncomfortable could start a professional conversation that this dude really needs to have.

Also, there is a really uncommon amount of self-awareness in this question that is pretty cool.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:45 AM on February 27, 2013 [17 favorites]


"Even though this secretly pleases me, I am uncomfortable being his sole spokesperson, and I do get lightly (if harmlessly?) teased by classmates whenever I tell them "he said he'd be late" etc. The last thing I want is to foster gossip about favoritism, or worse things."

When I say unhealthy classroom dynamics this is really what I mean, it is also not the kind of thing that develops by accident.
posted by Blasdelb at 4:01 AM on February 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


Blasdelb is right: this guy is totally getting off on your crush, in a really not good way. You obviously are enjoying the way it makes you feel, and I'm annoyed at him on your behalf.

Stop chatting with him. Delete his number. Stop doing anything that your classmates would tease you about. You can do it suddenly, too. If he asks why, he will be disingenuosly fishing, and you should say (without elaborating) that you prefer to keep your relationships with your teachers appropriate.
posted by Specklet at 4:41 AM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


What would you do if you were not attracted to him and he was exhibiting this kind of behavior? I imagine you would be a bit creeped out, yes, and yet you would also have to proceed delicately because he is still your superior. Do that. Impossible though it may be, you have to ignore your attraction to him for this because, as you said, it's not going to happen and, I would wager, once he is no longer your superior, feelings will dry up on both ends.

Also, however innocent you may think he is, Blasdelb is right: he is crossing some serious boundaries here and it's creepy. Once you stop communicating with him, as Specklet suggests, if he asks why and you don't want to be so direct, use the age old "I've just been so busy; I really don't have time for that anymore". If he pesters you about it, be more direct.

I don't necessarily think there's any reason yet to speak with his superior, unless you have reason to believe this is a pattern of his, but I agree that you need to nip this in the bud and salute you for, as others have pointed out, being so self aware in this situation. Good luck!
posted by pitrified at 4:45 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Scale WAY back. As someone who has been in an all day messaging thing, I totally get how addictive that can be. Stop responding altogether and if he asks you are so super busy with school, family stuff, friends, whatever. Who cares if he doesn't believe you.

Is this class over in May? After that, does he have any power over your grade or reference or something? If not, I'd ask him out then.
posted by murfed13 at 5:10 AM on February 27, 2013


3) whenever I'm quiet for a bit he'll gently prod the conversation along, and sometimes ask where I've gone.

By the way, this isn't platonic. Stop giving him the benefit of the doubt.
posted by murfed13 at 5:14 AM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Have you started the discussion group or is it just something you're thinking about? Maybe you could bring it up around that, in a light-hearted way - "I was waiting for you to set up the group but you were taking so long I had to go ahead and do it myself / I see I'm going to have to do it myself...can't have the rest of them thinking its just between you and me. No one like's the teacher's pet!" That way you're not suggesting there's anything romantic about the fact that the contact is exclusively between you, but lets him know you'd prefer if it was widened out.

We already have an FB group for our group because we share more classes than just the clinical session. Since there's not much on it so far, with the group's permission I thought I would just add our supervisor to it. I've brought up the points you mentioned with him, and he said he's cool with it. He's also mentioned that he'd gladly talk/give help to the others in the group if they wanted it, ie. he's not playing favourites, it's just that so far no one else has asked.

Is this class over in May? After that, does he have any power over your grade or reference or something? If not, I'd ask him out then.

Our year finishes in November. After that, he's no longer our supervisor. But I'd like to keep him as a reference as he'll be the person best suited for it, having witnessed my clinical performance improve over several months. So I guess that rules asking him out, at least until I've got another reference.


Thanks everyone for your responses (I promise I won't threadsit). Getting an outside perspective has made me realise just how dodgy the situation is, and has gone some way towards dissipating the crush already (!). Actively cutting down FB time might be a good idea in any case, so I can get more study done. I so do not need more drama in what is already going to be a stressful year.

I'm leaving this question open for now, for anyone else who'd like to pitch in -- more points of view are always helpful.
posted by cucumber patch at 5:35 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


"3) whenever I'm quiet for a bit he'll gently prod the conversation along, and sometimes ask where I've gone."

Oh wow I missed this part, dude is way over the line, like not even close. TAs have precisely zero business creeping on their students.

Please make sure this gets brought to the attention of his department or teaching specific supervisors if only for the benefit of future students who find themselves both vulnerable and in his class. Actively creeping on current students is less just a Come to Jesus talk his supervisors need to have with him and more a thing that should be documented as something he is capable of and prompt a serious review of whether he is capable of being trusted with students at all period. This is particularly when combined with fostering unhealthy classroom dynamics to hit on students and creating the impression of intimacy and favoritism in the class however cutesy it might be.
posted by Blasdelb at 5:40 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


One thing I should note though: I would consider the culture of the school I'm at to be relatively laidback, even so far as incestuous - I've seen students and clinical assistants having lunch together, assistants flirting with students, students and TAs going out clubbing together, and one of the lab heads has a reputation for flirting with female students. TAs, students and staff have each other on FB and comment and like things on each other's feeds every day. Not commenting on this behaviour, but it might be why I couldn't see a clear line that was being crossed, because the boundaries here are blurry to start with. It's also why I'm not raring to go and take this issue further up the chain.
posted by cucumber patch at 5:50 AM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Is there a professional staff person in your department who manages TAs who you can feel comfortable talking to

Before you go this route and potentially torpedo his academic life on assumptions, scale back on your own admitted desire of communication with him, and resolve your end of the problem - your motivation is known, you are attracted to him. His motivations are being guessed at. If you stop your side, the problem overwhelmingly goes away - which is the goal in the first place.
posted by Kruger5 at 6:53 AM on February 27, 2013


I think it's possible to have a conversation about that w. her real advisor, or the faculty person supervising the TA without it "torpedoing" his career, particularly because it's better to have this conversation now when the TA is also a student then to have it when he's junior faculty some place, or in another professional environment.
posted by spunweb at 7:17 AM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think it's possible to have a conversation about that w. her real advisor, or the faculty person supervising the TA without it "torpedoing" his career, 

I would agree if this was one-sided. But it's not - the OP came here asking how she can resolve her own behavior.

Almost always better to resolve directly before escalating.
posted by Kruger5 at 7:23 AM on February 27, 2013


For what it's worth, you can get rid of the little red "new message" box on facebook without actually reading the message. Just click the red box once to get the dropdown menu to appear, and then click off of it to close the dropdown again. The red notification should go away, even though you've still got a new message.

I think everybody else has covered the rest of the question quite thoroughly.
posted by vytae at 7:24 AM on February 27, 2013


As someone who has TAed, this guy is way over the line. Most schools have specific policies for TAs about appropriate behavior -- if they don't, they usually at least have guidelines. My school has a guideline that TAs should not behave in a romantic way towards students; I don't think there was an official policy on it, but it was so heavily stressed at TA training that there may as well have been. That doesn't mean TAs and students didn't hang out -- one of the TAs I know well went out a lot and would frequently run into his students. I've occasionally seen my students out, but I've been known to come off as flirty in the past so I overcompensated last semester by being a bit too standoffish.

Anyhow, his behavior is definitely inappropriate and don't blame yourself for crushing -- it's easy to get wrapped up in all the attention he's giving you!

And now for the practical advice: take a Facebook hiatus for the rest of the semester. It's a pretty common thing for students to do (you know, remove the distractions), and it dually removes the possibility of him chatting with you daily. He may text you -- but if he does, you can ignore that/say you left your phone at home if he asks/tell him you don't really text much/some other excuse that will clue him in that he shouldn't text you.
posted by DoubleLune at 7:32 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think you've already got really good advice in this thread, and you sound like you've got a good head on your shoulders. In my experience with creepers, sometimes it takes a while to de-escalate your interactions with them, because they really don't want to take the hint sometimes, or they take your no-contact as a challenge. So remember to hold steady, because every time you relent a little, he will probably try and take advantage again, and you'll just have to start all over with the "No inappropriate contact, dude."

And also, in the meantime, I would try and watch what you say to your classmates: even if he's sent you a message saying he'll be late, and everyone is sitting around waiting and asking where he is, I think you'd be better served by not piping up and saying, "Oh, he's at the dentist this morning," or whatever, and just letting everyone wonder. If you seem to really have an inside channel, people are going to start thinking more seriously about favoritism, and if you're taking advantage of that favoritism to get ahead, which means that the teasing might get a lot less friendly and/or people might start forming bad opinions of you even if they don't bother to tell you that.
posted by colfax at 7:46 AM on February 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think you should not consider escalating this, considering the incestuous culture at your school.

If this kind of thing is going on with the full support and approval of management, my gut feeling is that escalating it will just be painting a target on your back and get you a much nastier response than you could proportionately expect.

As always, I'm not saying tiptoe around in a spirit of fear, I'm saying that incestuous environments are a minefield and you don't want to make what you think is a self-protective gesture only to have it blow up in your face.
posted by tel3path at 3:49 PM on February 27, 2013


I don't want to pile on too hard, but your TA (and school environment in general) sounds pretty unprofessional... Hosting a discussion group is one thing, hosting it on Facebook using people's personal profiles? That's like if he decided to hold lecture in a student's living room..... yuck.

Of course the crush-y feeling doesn't usually go away because you recognize someone is being unprofessional. Instead you need a new hobby involving a lot of people, a new part time job (with no computer access), or a new love interest. Something that will drag you away from Facebook. Personally I suggest the job, since students can always use the money, the limits of when you need to be there are very firm, and if you pick the right job you might meet a bunch of new people anyway and possibly achieve a) or c) without much extra effort.
posted by anaelith at 7:02 PM on February 27, 2013


Consider having this conversation with yourself: "of COURSE I have a crush on my TA, because lots of students have that experience. and soon I won't have that crush any more, and I'll feel stupid for having it, so I'll just let it run its course, enjoy the warm feelings, but take no action whatsoever, even if he initiates it."

Then set up a facebook page separate from your personal one for use in school settings.
posted by davejay at 7:49 PM on February 27, 2013


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