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Non-student Non-professor Attraction
February 12, 2014 8:32 AM   Subscribe

As a late 20s non-student, how do I proceed with my attraction to my late 20s non-professor? Please share your perspective and experiences.

I am currently between jobs and decided to take several classes for fun at my local university. I didn't want to pay for the classes and had no desire to have these classes recorded on a transcript. So, I emailed the professor of each class to ask for permission. They all wrote back and said yes.

The instructor for my favorite class is not a professor. He is a 4th or 5th year graduate student working on his dissertation. I already have my degree in a different field.

Usually, I am fairly adept at reading body language and can tell when someone is attracted to me. However, it is hard to tell in this context and I err on the side of caution for school environments -- I have many friends in all levels of academia and there is a lot of pressure to keep interactions with 'students' on the professional side.

I participate in discussion more than other students in class, keep my time in office hours focused and to a minimum, and ask fairly sophisticated questions about the reading material. The instructor and TA have thanked me numerous times for taking the class.

In all other circumstances, I'm introverted and am often mistaken to be extroverted, not shy, flirtatious, warm, and say off-the beat things. In class, I tone all of these things down, but remain outspoken.

Given that I am not a student, he is not a professor, we are about the same age, and I don't want to make the rest of the semester awkward:

1) What is the best way to get to know this instructor / grad student?

2) If I ask him out, do I have to wait until the end of the semester?

3) Are there any particular give-away behaviors that would signal his attraction?

4) Academics: have you been in this situation before?

-------------------

All the extra disclaimers:

I have searched the web and Ask Metafilter far and wide with no results that address my specific situation. Most websites talk about body language in general, or frame the student-professor relationship in scandalous or unethical terms. My situation does not fit all of the search results I see.

I am an active MetaFilter member, have met many members of the mefi community, and do not want to be identified with this question in RL. I don't want to worry about my friends (or the instructor) associating this questions with me. I would prefer to keep this aspect of my life private. Thank you very much.

Throwaway email: dancing.answers@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
It sounds like it would be perfectly fine to ask him out but only at the end of the semester. Even if you aren't a "real" student, you and he both don't need the distraction of this creeping into the classroom.
posted by dawkins_7 at 8:35 AM on February 12 [26 favorites]


1) What is the best way to get to know this instructor / grad student?

Invite him out after the semester is over.

2) If I ask him out, do I have to wait until the end of the semester?


Yes. He may still say no, because of the mere appearance of how it may look, but definitely wait until the semester is over.

3) Are there any particular give-away behaviors that would signal his attraction?

Now you're just trying to play games in your head, seeking to analyze every interaction with him. Let it go and ask him out at the end of the semester.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:41 AM on February 12 [12 favorites]


He has a lot more to lose than you. In the eyes of the other students you are a fellow student and he is a prof. Deepening on the school culture, gossip about teacher-student relationships can tank opportunities for the professor - especially as he is not protected by tenure. You might also want to look at your universities policies - the ones I have looked at have not excluded auditing students from the general student population. You are rationalising that he isn't a "real professor", but in this situation he has all responsibilities of a professor with none of the protections.

Relationships are all about timing. Wait until after the class is over to approach him. If you approach now and are rejected he may be unwilling you later for a number of reasons, including wondering about your judgement in making a pass at him while he was in a professional role.
posted by saucysault at 8:43 AM on February 12 [4 favorites]


Wait. If he's got a brain in his head at all, he won't want to do anything that even has shades of unprofessional conduct with a student.

Even though you aren't really a "student", you look to any 3rd party observer like you are one.

Keep being an engaged student, make sure you have his personal contact information, ask him out the day after the class ends (and, if you want, explain why you waited).

Good luck, cute intellectual dudes are the best!
posted by sparklemotion at 8:44 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]


Agree with the above, however: you are only taking the class for fun. If you'd rather date the (non) professor than take the class, you should stop attending, let him know why you've stopped attending, and then ask him out.

Whether or not he accepts, you shouldn't go back to the class once you've asked him out.
posted by yawper at 8:46 AM on February 12 [4 favorites]


Don't get distracted by irrelevant technicalities. I would definitely reframe this as something other than "non-student" and "non-professor" - for all intents and purposes, within the context of this classroom you ARE functioning in the role of student and he is functioning in the role of instructor. Proceed as if this is the case - look through some of the previous student/instructor attraction questions here, because again, that is the dynamic even if you'd rather think of it otherwise - and wait until the end of the semester to do anything.
posted by DingoMutt at 8:47 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]


If I ask him out, do I have to wait until the end of the semester?

Are you just sitting in on lectures, or are you completing homework/tests that he's grading you on? If it's the latter, then best practice would be to wait til the end of the semester, regardless of whether you're getting an official grade in the class or not. For example, I'm taking a continuing ed class this semester from a long-term friend. I'm getting graded in the class, even though I'm just taking it as a one-off and the grade won't be recorded on a transcript anywhere. Even so, I consider it my duty to be more conscientious than I would in a regular class, and never ever ask for a favor or turn things in late. That way my friend doesn't have to be put in the position of having to decide, "well, do I give her a little leeway on when this was due? I know she had [blah] going on last week." It would make me uncomfortable if I knew that a professor was going by different rules for their friend, no matter how little it might affect the class as a whole, so I practice what I preach.

Are there any particular give-away behaviors that would signal his attraction?

If you ask him if he'd like to go out on a date and he says yes. (Not to be too flip, but if you're in your late 20s you're old enough to know that this is the only way to know. Reading "signs" and behaviors is for teens who are still scared of rejection.)
posted by MsMolly at 8:51 AM on February 12 [2 favorites]


Conversely you could "unenroll" in the course, and ask him out. Depending on your personality (and his) you could just level with him and say 'I took this course for genuine reasons, but I would really like to get to know you better. I'm pretty busy in my other courses anyway, so I'm not sure I can keep attending this class. But I'd really like to take you out.'

Or something like that.

It's your call really. The 'risk' of missing out on the rest of the lectures in your non-course doesn't seem that huge to me.
posted by jjmoney at 8:52 AM on February 12


You should consider that if the administration ever has any question about the appropriateness of his relationship with you, the fact that he offered you a free class is a big strike against him. Most schools have strict policies against free classes, even though that sort of thing goes on all the time.
posted by hydrophonic at 9:00 AM on February 12 [4 favorites]


As long as you are a participant in the class, he is your student, regardless of your enrollment status. Thus, he should not date you and you should not approach him with that intent. Just wait until the class is officially over.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 9:08 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]


You've got plenty of good answers on the first two questions, but I wanted to weigh in on the third.

Are there any particular give-away behaviors that would signal his attraction?

No, if he's someone worth dating you won't get a clear signal from him during class. If he just acts interested in your skills, your career and your ideas, that's part of the job and not a social cue one way or the other. Other things that are just part of the job: smiling at you, making eye contact, chatting with you before or after class — those are all things that good instructors do to be friendly, approachable and encouraging, and they don't signal any sort of personal interest.

If he goes any farther and gives you signs of unambiguously sexual interest while you're in class with him, that is seriously unethical and a really really bad sign.

I don't just mean "it would be against the rules." I mean "that's the sort of thing that nice people absolutely do not do."

You sometimes hear about GSIs and (more often) professors who hit on students visibly and unambiguously, and I've known a few in person. Those people are sexual predators. The students they flirt with are ones who strike them as likely victims. The flirtatious attention they give those students is either coercive pressure ("You're stuck here in this room three times a week with me, and if you don't show up I'll dock your grade, so I can stare at your tits as much as I want and you can't stop me") or else it's grooming ("I wonder, are you the sort of person who would stand up for themself if I said something sexually inappropriate and passed it off as a joke? Let's find out").

It doesn't sound like this guy is doing anything like that. Which is good! I'm glad the guy you've got a crush on isn't acting like a sexual predator! The point is just, look, don't expect signals from him — even if he's secretly into you — because if he gave you one it would be a really gross thing for him to do.
posted by this is a thing at 9:11 AM on February 12 [10 favorites]


2) If I ask him out, do I have to wait until the end of the semester?

No, there is no conflict of interest here. He is not grading you, you are not paying to be there. You are not a student in a meaningful sense of the term. Ask him out.
posted by spaltavian at 9:12 AM on February 12


Please don't ask him out now. If word gets back to his department head, just the mess of having to explain your status etc. to other students will do him a great disservice. He might even get in trouble for allowing an unenrolled student to sit in. Grad students do not need this kind of trouble. (And as others have said, it looks terrible to the other students.)
posted by wintersweet at 9:19 AM on February 12 [3 favorites]


No, there is no conflict of interest here. He is not grading you, you are not paying to be there. You are not a student in a meaningful sense of the term.

The reason this isn't correct is that this is the kind of situation in which the non-student might very well ask the non-professor for a letter of recommendation. You should wait until the end of the semester, and if you do ask him out, however he responds, you should accept that this means you can't ask him for a letter.
posted by escabeche at 9:20 AM on February 12 [3 favorites]


1) What is the best way to get to know this instructor / grad student?
Do nothing even remotely not professional until the end of the semester.
2) If I ask him out, do I have to wait until the end of the semester?
Absolutely, yes you do. Even though you do not have a formal professional relationship to him, you are still invading his professional space in a way that is a lot more serious, meaningful, and permenant than enjoying coffee at a cute barista's shop. Regardless of your enrollment status, or the fact that he lack a conflict of interest for grades; he is still functionally stuck with you, you still have a hell of a lot of potential to affect classroom dynamics in unpredictable ways, having to say no would still be more than just extra stressful, and getting to say yes would still be sketchy and extremely complicated at best. Asking him before the end of the semester is a giant mess all around.
3) Are there any particular give-away behaviors that would signal his attraction?
Academics are people too, and there really would be no special tricks, but that you have no idea is a good indication that he is good at his job.
4) Academics: have you been in this situation before?
I have been a male presenting TA who seemed to generate a lot of student crushes. A necessary part of being both a good instructor and not a creepy instructor is realizing that student crushes are, for the most part, 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), and particularly the awesome feeling of learning about something cool with an expert who guides you into the wonder of it than anything related to who I was or even what I looked like. I really beanplated the fuck out of them, and the weirdness they represented, as part of that stupendously easy yet sometimes subtle task of not being a creepy TA - particularly since smitten students of all sorts of genders really really aren't anywhere near as subtle or mysterious as they think they are. It was nothing like navigating the much more treacherous minefield that female TAs regularly had to go through but for me, just starting out with teaching, dealing with it in the classroom really was just that much more deep end to be thrust into all at once.

I'd caution you that you only know his professional face, which in front of a classroom can be a deceptively shallow aspect of someone and will also not reliably broadcast his availability or orientation, but luckily unlike more traditional students all of the other complications will disappear the moment the semester ends. If you want to succeed make sure to give him space to think about it and a clear way to gracefully say no.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:55 AM on February 12 [12 favorites]


No, there is no conflict of interest here. He is not grading you, you are not paying to be there. You are not a student in a meaningful sense of the term. Ask him out.

As an academic, I can tell you with authority that this is very, very bad advice. Part of the reason that instructor/student liaisons are deprecated is because of the affect they have on the classroom dynamic; it is considered unfair on the other students in the class (who, presumably, know nothing at all of your status as "non-student") if they have reason to suspect that the instructor has a relationship with one of the students. It raises doubts in their minds about fairness, it raises--very unpleasantly--the question whether the only way to do well in the class is to hook up with the instructor etc. etc. etc. If another student were to make a complaint there is a very good chance that the university's disciplinary body would find your "non student" status irrelevant in deciding whether or not to sanction the relationship--and the consequences for the instructor could be serious.

Wait until the end of the course and when you no longer have any kind of relationship to the institution, then ask him if he's interested in a date. Or quit all the courses you're taking at the institution and then ask him. Anything else is putting him in an untenable and dangerous position.
posted by yoink at 9:58 AM on February 12 [12 favorites]


In addition to the fine points being made above... You've already got a fine line to walk as someone not paying tuition who is demanding the resource of instructor attention in the classroom. You must be certain that your contribution to the classroom outweighs the cost to other students who have less time to ask questions, have less time to make contributions to the discussion (especially if this is a factor in their grade) and get less feedback from the instructor because you are taking up time in class. It sounds like you feel you are well into the positive on that score, and I have no reason to doubt you.

If you were to try to date the instructor, that balance could be disrupted as he pays even more attention to you and less attention to other students. Even if he wasn't giving you more attention, that might be the perception of other students if it got around you were dating.

Wait until after the semester is over.
posted by BrashTech at 10:13 AM on February 12 [7 favorites]


"You sometimes hear about GSIs and (more often) professors who hit on students visibly and unambiguously, and I've known a few in person. Those people are sexual predators. The students they flirt with are ones who strike them as likely victims. The flirtatious attention they give those students is either coercive pressure ("You're stuck here in this room three times a week with me, and if you don't show up I'll dock your grade, so I can stare at your tits as much as I want and you can't stop me") or else it's grooming ("I wonder, are you the sort of person who would stand up for themself if I said something sexually inappropriate and passed it off as a joke? Let's find out")."
Seriously this. To the cluefull instructor student brains pretty much come with a control panel for the operant conditioning buttons drilled into all of us by primary and secondary schooling that can be easily manipulated to dramatic effect, but even clueless instructors wield an incredible amount of power over vulnerable students. Watching someone teach, away from their bosses or peers, really is an opportunity to learn some specific but deep things about their character. If you look closely, it shows you what they do with the ability to control others and power over their fates. There are a lot of really cool subtle kinds of insights you can get into people, but also a lot of crude, brutal, creepy ones - using that power to troll students for dates, among other things, speaks very very loudly.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:14 AM on February 12 [4 favorites]


I agree with the point raised by yoink regarding fairness and have to add to BrashTech's comment on contribution the following:

The institutions I am familiar with would not readily accept a non-paying participant, sometimes they do and then either as someone who gives input for specific lectures or is an ongoing observer over the semester. The observers are precluded from taking up time in class, because it would be unfair to the regular students.
We accept "senior-students", mostly retired folks who want to engage their brains again, who sit side by side with regular students. Note, those are paying folks with a career, some are real experts in their field. And they are explicitly told not to take up too much space in class. The paying students get grades for class participation, have to earn a degree and make a career. So I am a bit flabbergasted that your Uni would have completely different rules up to the point where you get thanked by your instructor and TA for your participation!?

Whatever you do, keep in mind what colossal impact this can have on the professional life of this instructor. This guy needs his prof and the administration in his corner, he hasn't even received his PhD yet.
posted by travelwithcats at 10:53 AM on February 12 [3 favorites]


It's not even a question of getting grades or recommendations. Every time you speak up in class or he responds to something you've said, there's a certain dynamic which would be pretty different if you were dating the professor (which functionally he is). You might feel confident that both you and he would be able to keep the dynamic unchanged, but it's not something I'd bet on. I've been in a class where it seemed like something was going on between the instructor and one of the students, and it wasn't pleasant.

Also, asking him before the end of the semester would put him in a really problematic ethical situation if he wanted to say yes, and in a more than usually awkward situation if he wasn't interested. In the latter case, would you still keep going to the class? What if he's the type who'd feel really awkward teaching you after having turned you down?

Basically, it seems both more ethical and more respectful to him to wait until the choice is unencumbered.
posted by egg drop at 11:54 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]


As a TA I encountered similar situations fairly regularly, and found that this is quite true:

Student crushes are, for the most part, 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), and particularly the awesome feeling of learning about something cool with an expert who guides you into the wonder of it.

This isn't to say that what you're feeling isn't real, but that it could be colored by this facet of human relations. And it's also quite possible that the TA is aware of this, and will see you this way.

That said, wait until the semester is over, and then see what happens when you ask him out. That's the easiest thing for both of you.
posted by Capri at 12:42 PM on February 12 [2 favorites]


Drop the class. Ask him out.
posted by zscore at 12:44 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


Also, if he isn't interested and finds the situation inappropriate, he may feel really awkward about seeing you every few days in a situation where he can't leave. Wait or drop the class.
posted by you're a kitty! at 2:22 PM on February 14


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