Does he like me too?
March 28, 2012 8:49 PM   Subscribe

Dear mefites, please share your wisdom. I have developed a crush on a guy I work with and I can't tell whether he likes me or not.

Our situation is that we are in the same (small) academic department where I am a (female) phd student and he is a new assistant professor. We've known each other for over a half a year. We are both in our late twenties (he's at most one year older than me) and I know he's single. He is one of the kindest and good natured people I have ever met. On top, he happens to be incredibly handsome, intelligent, and has a really good sense of humor. Overall, I’m very impressed by him and I haven’t met many men that have had this effect on me.

Our interaction so far:
At school we end up talking at length one-on-one (i.e. for an hour) about once a week or once in two weeks, and a bunch of smaller chit-chats from running into each other at school. Our discussions are mostly work related and are on the serious side and not flirtatious. Only sometimes, we are on the border of flirtatiousness (meaning just a lot of big smiles on both of our faces). At school functions, neither of us seek each other out in the crowd and talk. At least he doesn't and I also make a conscious effort to not do that so that I don’t come off desperate.

However, two 2 months ago I initiated that we run together. So in the past 2 months, we’ve been jogging together 1-3 times a week for about an hour to hour and a half. So that’s been our only “outside-of-school” “hang-outs”. I really enjoy our runs, we chat the whole time and rarely about school or work. I find him ridiculously funny and witty, so I crack up very easily at his jokes.

We don’t have a “friendship” beyond this. We’re not at a stage where it’s comfortable for me to suggest we hang out by, say, going for a beer or burger after our run. Also, I think so far I've hid my feelings pretty well in that I don't flirt with him. I tend to tease him rather than compliment or flatter him. He does the same to me. Only once or twice we’ve said genuinely nice things about each other to each other (e.g. him mentioning I’m kind to him when we run by running at his pace instead of mine; or, me telling him how our department got lucky by being able to recruit and attract someone like him).

Signs so far that he at least does not dislike me:
1) Couple months ago, he has offered to work on a project together. Projects in our field are pretty involved requiring collaboration often over 2-3 years. Usually, professors don’t freely dispense to students these offers, and only want to work with students who are good and someone they could get along with.

2) The fact that he’s been happy to run with me and initiates running together as frequently as I do, despite him never running before (or any other kind of exercise) on a regular basis.

3) When we’re in a seminar together, I feel like he tries to check me out but discreetly (i.e. looks away very quickly when I look at him. Of course I always want to look in his direction as well both to check him out and also to see if he’s checking me out but now I consciously avoid looking at him)

I don't think my attractiveness is an issue: I've seriously dated and have been hit on by guys as good looking as he is. But, of course, I could be totally wrong about this or that I’m just not his type.

Possible scenarios of whether he's interested in me or not:
1) He is not interested at all (even if I were to somehow make my feelings explicitly known to him). Part of me thinks this because his actions (really, the lack thereof) should speak louder than any conflicting messages he might be sending.

2) He has not considered me in a romantic way but could if I were to be explicit about my feelings (I thought of this because i've been on the other side).

3) Although he likes me, he is not doing anything because:
a) he is a professor and is hesitant to date a student in the same program
b) he is not sure I’m interested in him and doesn’t want to take any risks. (He’s more on the reserved side.)
c) I’ll be done with my PhD in about 1 to 2 years, so even if anything serious were to come out of this, we’re talking long distance for a while.

Which would you guess it is?

I’d like to resolve this soon even if I were to find out that he’s not interested at all. That way I could move on and stop being so distracted by this guy. But I’m hesitant to make the first move as I’ve never been the one to do so and all my past relationships have been initiated by the other person. What holds me back the most in this situation is the lack of any (obvious) signs or hints from him.

Do you have any advice or suggestions? e.g. should I try to flirt more? if so, what’s a good way to flirt in my situation?

If you've been in a similar situation both as the crusher or the crushee, please share your experience.

It seems the most natural thing to do next (on my part) is to ask him if he wants to grab a burger after one of our runs. But my suggestion to run together in the first place was a pretty significant “first move” and I don’t want to do all the initiating here. Am I wrong to think this?

Thanks so much for bearing with me on my super long and somewhat pathetic story. In case you find the need to email me, please email me here:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (36 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If you are not flirting, saying many nice things about him to him, and don't engage him during group events, isn't it possible that he doesn't know that you like him romantically? Right now it appears that you are sending many "just friends" signals.

What harm would some flirting do? One of you is going to have to make the first move eventually, why can't it be you?
posted by Shouraku at 8:57 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Dear mefites, please share your wisdom. I have developed a crush on a guy I work with and I can't tell whether he likes me or not.

Ask him out.
posted by ferdinand.bardamu at 9:01 PM on March 28, 2012 [23 favorites]

Part of me thinks you just need to start flirting with him and see where it goes. Of course he might be the type of guy oblivious to that kind of stuff, but as my dad used to tell me, feint heart never won fair lady. Flirting is the least you can do if you don't feel comfortable enough to ask him out on a date.

On preview, what Shouraku said.
posted by jabberjaw at 9:02 PM on March 28, 2012

He's a new prof, you're a grad student. If he has half a brain in his head he is NOT going to make a move on you. And even if you make a move on him he's potentially taking a big risk by going out with you.

You, in the meantime are kind of acting like a young teenager. If you like him send him an unmistakable Big Girl signal like asking him out for a drink, but give him an out and don't push it because you're in a professional relationship too. Let him know you're interested but cool if nothing happens too.
posted by fshgrl at 9:12 PM on March 28, 2012 [40 favorites]

I think he's into you and I think you should start being more flirtatious with him. Seriously, this is the most adorable AskMe I think I've almost ever read, and I've read most of them by now.

Ask him out, you have nothing to lose. Either he doesn't respond and you have a decent indication that he's not into you (I doubt this) or he does and you know and you can go from there. Ask him to go have a drink - it's pretty hard to misconstrue that as anything other than a date, I think.
posted by krakenattack at 9:13 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would go for it and ask him out, using the word "date." My closest guess is 3a, and that he's hesitant to initiate due to shyness, the apparent power imbalance, or some combination of the above.

I'd initiate, and keep in mind that you're proposing something that stands to improve his life. A lot.

The running thing, as you've picked up on, looks like he's interested. He seems way more into doing it with you than I am doing it by myself. And I love running.
posted by alphanerd at 9:14 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Please ask him out.
posted by Perplexity at 9:19 PM on March 28, 2012

I don't understand why you aren't at the point where you could ask him out for a drink or to grab coffee. You already chat a lot and jog together, spending lots of time smiling and enjoying each other's company. It seems like it'd be perfectly natural to move on to coffee or a drink.
posted by empyrean at 9:28 PM on March 28, 2012

Please don't initiate a 3 year work project with someone you are crushing on. Just ask him out.
posted by benzenedream at 9:32 PM on March 28, 2012 [9 favorites]

I would go for it and ask him out, using the word "date."

Yes, this sounds sort of like saying, "Actually, you just put your head in the lion's mouth, and the lion does the rest," but it's really good advice.

If you want to make it a bit easier on the guy, you might spin out the request a bit so (on the off chance he needs it) he can devise an excuse for saying, "No, thanks." For example, you could mention the running, and the conversations, and "we seem to get along really well," and "to tell the truth, I would have said something sooner, but I was afraid it might make you uncomfortable..." So by then he knows where this is going. And then you say, "Well, I thought I'd take the plunge. Would you be interested in going on a date?"

Best practice would be to have an idea or two ready for casual, inexpensive things to do in the next week or so: "Great! There's a gallery show I've been wanting to see in [place] at [time]. Maybe we could meet for a drink first?"
posted by La Cieca at 9:45 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I’d like to resolve this soon even if I were to find out that he’s not interested at all.

"Hey. Can I take you out on a date?"
posted by karathrace at 9:53 PM on March 28, 2012

Not to be a Negative Nancy, but I agree with fshgrl and I'm surprised more people aren't on the same train she is. He's a new prof, you're a student... Basically, he could ruin his career (or at least get a bad reputation) right off the bat by doing this- especially if you end up working on his project.

I mean, if you ask him on a date, be prepared for him to say no. I think it would be better to ask him to hang out at a bar or restaurant post-run someday and see what he says. If you don't say date it will be more ambigous, however, he will know what you intended and can decide from there whether he wants to take the risk. If he doesn't, then both of you save face.
posted by superfille at 9:59 PM on March 28, 2012 [15 favorites]

Please, please ask him out.

Academia is different than regular work situations. He's not your boss. There's nothing inappropriate here and trust me, a hell of a lot of much less good natured stuff going on than two cute fun people who have chastely run and had fun talking who then go on dates. I'm dating a phd student now and ohhhh the stories.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 10:08 PM on March 28, 2012

Don't ask him out. He probably likes you, but there's a good reason for him to not ask you out. If it backfires, it could really screw your careers.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:11 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

He may be prohibited from dating you. Many schools have policies against romantic entanglements between professors and students (yes, even grad students).

Even if he is not officially prohibited, you have to understand the incredibly tenuous situation he's in. He's brand new to a department where he wants to get tenure. He needs to prove himself -- not just as a scholar, but as an instructor and a good colleague. Know what doesn't show you'll be a good colleague? Dating one of your students within the first six months of employment.

Even if he's not officially prohibited and, for some reason, your department's attitude wouldn't make it seriously unwise for him to date you, you have to think about what a romantic entanglement with your professor would mean for your education. Know what isn't a good idea? Being committed to a multiple year project with someone you've just started dating. Know what also isn't exactly fun? Breaking up with your boyfriend when he's also your professor. To date would mean either inviting incredibly awkward circumstances into your future or giving up on the idea of collaborating with him.

Even if all of that weren't a problem, your wording makes it sound like, more than him merely being a professor in your department, he is currently your professor. (You say, "When we’re in a seminar together." Does he take seminars without being the one teaching them? If so, this point doesn't hold.) There is absolutely nothing appropriate or good that can come out of asking your professor, who is responsible for assigning you a grade, out on a date.

Maybe he's your soul mate. If he is, your love can wait long enough for you to graduate so you're no longer his student. But now is not the right time. Not for you, not for him, not for either of your careers.
posted by meese at 10:28 PM on March 28, 2012 [15 favorites]

Yes, what meese said. I have taught at and worked at universities where profs were specifically forbidden to date grad students. Maybe he thinks you're the ginchiest, but not as ginchy as his job. This is probably very wise of him, no matter how ginchy you are.

And agree with meese that flirting with a prof you're taking seminars with and proposing research projects to is Not Cool. It's not that it's Not Cool to him--it's that it's Not Cool to your colleagues. And not only will they (justly) be vaguely pissed off that you're taking up their professional bandwidth with your love story, they'll (probably unjustly) smear your reputation every chance they get. Don't get the label of being the person who slept your way to the middle.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:39 PM on March 28, 2012 [7 favorites]

He's not "a guy you work with." He's your professor. The two of you are not on equal footing and this has the potential to be a huge mess for both of you. Don't ask him out.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:55 PM on March 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

There's nothing inappropriate here

Not at some schools. Sometimes this is allowed, sometimes this would mean him getting his ass canned if it was discovered. Find out what your school's policies are before taking any additional steps, please.

And think through your academic career. Even if your school allows you to date a professor, remember that by dating him you can't take classes with him or have him on your committee. Moreover, if he has problems with any other professor (not at all an unusual event in academic departments, where sometimes feuds and squabbles reach the level of court intrigue in a bad fantasy novel), you may not be able to take classes or work with that person, either. There might be gossip issues about you sleeping your way to a degree (or maybe not -- this is by no means a given, but it is a possibility).

And when you finish and go on the job market, will you be seen as a serious academic or as an appendage of him?

This shit is petty, but it's how people think sometimes. You need to look at it with open eyes before you climb into bed with him (especially the university rules on the issue).
posted by Forktine at 11:01 PM on March 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

Academia is different than regular work situations. He's not your boss. There's nothing inappropriate here

I emphatically disagree. It's all kinds of inappropriate.

If I found out that a new hire was going on dates with graduate students in the program, I would ... not be happy when the time came for pre-tenure reviews. Especially if that professor was in a potentially supervisory role---e.g., in this "project" you discussed.

These "seminars": do you mean departmental colloquia, that everyone attends? or are they seminars that are more like classes? Either way, if your hypothesis that he's "checking you out" is correct, it's not cool.

Don't you think it's likely you will have classes taught by this guy?

Sure, it happens that professors date graduate students. Sometimes, even, they marry them. But it's crap for his reputation.

If you care about this guy at all, and want him to be able to remain employed at your institution:
(1) Do NOT ask him on a date. Don't ask him out for coffee. Don't ask him out to a bar.
(2) Do NOT keep flirting with him.
(3) Honestly, I'd not do the one-on-one running, either. It just looks bad. It's bad for everyone's reputation.

And think about your reputation. You want to be judged on your own merits, not on the suspicion of having gotten preferential treatment, somehow, because of a relationship with your professor.

(Who's going to be on your committee? Who's going to grade your comps/quals, etc.? How do you know in the future he won't be in one of these positions? Even if all you did was go on a couple of dates, it looks bad.)

If you want to sleep with someone in your program (a time-honored tradition---my husband and I were in the same graduate program), stick to other graduate students. Or wait until you've graduated.


I’d like to resolve this soon even if I were to find out that he’s not interested at all.

Let it go. Do not push this any more.
posted by leahwrenn at 11:02 PM on March 28, 2012 [21 favorites]

Just chiming in with the latecomers to say that at my institution this relationship is forbidden. The way it works is faculty are considered indirectly responsible for all the grad students in the department, and dating someone for whom you're indirectly responsible is enough to count as a conflict of interest and a professional ethics violation. Faculty can date grad students in other departments, as long as they have no other direct responsibility for the individual student such as actually teaching them in a class. And if your ex-gf/bf of less than a certain number of years prior becomes your student, you have to disclose the potential conflict of interest.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 11:15 PM on March 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

You could try to ask him, with a big smile on your face, "So, I was just wondering, theoretically, whether in our department it would be frowned upon for a professor to go on a date with a graduate student?" ... and wait for his reaction. He'll know you're not asking "theoretically," but the question asked this way both gives him an out and plausible deniability. If he says it's not frowned upon within the department, ask him if it's something he could see himself doing. If so, then ask him out, but by this point I think he'll either have said it's not something he could do or he'll have asked you out. Either way you'll have your answer and you won't have messed up your professional relationship.
posted by hazyjane at 11:31 PM on March 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

Chiming in to agree that, no, you cannot do this while you're working together.
posted by mleigh at 12:17 AM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I had to remove a bunch of favorites I made because, for someone in academia, you should already know if you may date this person or not based on your professional roles and the institutions policies.

You left that out of your reasoning. But even if your institution allows it, there are GOOD reasons for not following through on this, at least, for right now.

What are you thinking??

I feel like you are missing a big part of this puzzle, that could easily become a non-issue (stop crushing on him!) if you were more detailed and thinking this through logically.
posted by jbenben at 12:46 AM on March 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

We’re not at a stage where it’s comfortable for me to suggest we hang out by, say, going for a beer or burger after our run

Yes you are.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:46 AM on March 29, 2012

3a) is the reason, and it's a good reason.

There are some circumstances under which a graduate student can date a professor in the same department.

The circumstance where you're collaborating on a multi-year research project, which would make his recommendation letter a central part of your job applications, is not one of them.
posted by escabeche at 5:08 AM on March 29, 2012 [5 favorites]

(Totally withdrawing what I said above and deferring to people with more familiarity with acadamia.)
posted by alphanerd at 6:49 AM on March 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Nthing that asking him out is a Bad Idea. Even putting the question out there is enough to get him in trouble and your reputation tarnished. Given the personal interaction the two of you have had so far, I'd be surprised if there wasn't already an arched eyebrow or two.

You described this as a "crush". That's good. Crushes pass. You can kill a crush.

Yes, this sucks.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:51 AM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, whether or not it's appropriate, it's a terrible idea. I'm a grad student, and I know all sorts of stories about grad students dating faculty. None of them end well - in fact only one of those relationships is still going on, and the student had to leave the program. She says it has nothing to do with the relationship, but that's pretty clearly not true.
posted by Ragged Richard at 7:35 AM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Clearly he likes you in the sense of thinking you are smart and competent, as well as pleasant to be around.

However, even if--and this is a big "if"--it isn't explicitly forbidden by university policy, his dating you while he is faculty and you are a student in his department would be unprofessional and inappropriate. It would be especially so given that he's invited you to work with him on a project, a situation that will put him in a sort of advisor/mentor/supervisor role with you (and if you are a student collaborating with a faculty member on a project, he will be at least one of those things to you).

No doubt you've encountered a couple or two in academia who got together while one was a student and the other faculty. That doesn't make their decision to date retroactively ethical, professional, or non-risky. They took a huge risk professionally and got very lucky--and they may still be facing consequences you're not aware of, in terms of their careers and reputations.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:36 AM on March 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

So the thing is, if you guys are both the same age and if people see you chatting (even about work stuff) and smiling and spending more time with each other than with other people in your university, people are already going to assume you guys are dating.

The other thing is, you're definitely at the point in your relationship where it wouldn't be weird to suggest a drink or a dinner. All you have to say is "ugh, screw running today, it's too hot/cold/rainy/I'm too sore, want to go grab a drink instead?" Bam! Simple. And then you're spending time with each other when you look nice and aren't sweating and huffing and puffing, and you can see how he acts around you. He probably likes you "like that" if he's already spending all this time running with you.

The other other thing is, it might be against the university policy for him to date you. In which case you guys probably shouldn't date. If you guys really do develop a deep friendship and you are graduating sometime in the next few years, you can always try to date later on in life.
posted by at 8:09 AM on March 29, 2012

"So, I was just wondering, theoretically, whether in our department it would be frowned upon for a professor to go on a date with a graduate student?" ... and wait for his reaction.

Being weirdly coquettish and foisting the ethical matter on to HIS shoulders is a bad idea, because you should 100% be looking out for yourself. Know what's allowed and what isn't, and don't let someone else's conduct set the pace for your adherence these standards.
posted by hermitosis at 8:54 AM on March 29, 2012 [6 favorites]

And think about your reputation. You want to be judged on your own merits, not on the suspicion of having gotten preferential treatment, somehow, because of a relationship with your professor.

I have watched this happen. Once you are known to be having sex with a mentor, your academic reputation is GONE. And once you're known to have had sex with one mentor, people will always wonder about other ones, too. And all your accomplishments, no matter how hard you worked for them or how richly you deserve them, will be tainted.

It's ugly.

I know it's so easy to crush on those professors near ones own age. They're so smart and interested in exactly the topics that interest you, and have the background necessary to understand what you do and that you're good at it, and in some ways they literally understand you in ways no one else can. But that candy, it's poison candy.

In a few years all those lovely men will be your peers, not your profs. Until then. . . find someone else to crush on.
posted by endless_forms at 9:00 AM on March 29, 2012 [8 favorites]

I am also a female PhD student. The dating could never happen in my department, but then maybe standards are different, since even the running would be seen as totally sketchy.

It sounds like this guy is a strong candidate for your thesis committee if it hasn't already been formed. In that case dating him would blow your reputation even if somehow it were technically allowed.

Maybe you can look forward to the first time post-graduation that you run into him at a conference, but in the meantime find someone else to crush on and date.
posted by ecsh at 9:55 AM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

He's a new associate professor. He wants to get tenure, he needs to get tenure. The tenure process can take up to seven years, and should be his largest goal for the forseeable future. Seven years is probably much longer than he could expect a relationship with a student to last and it could seriously damage his chances at getting tenure if he becomes known as the new prof who sleeps with students. That's on his side.

On your side, it could seriously damage your academic career if you became known as a student who sleeps with her professors.

For both of you, if you stayed together, you would have degrees in almost exactly the same thing. This can become a job-hunting nightmare, seriously, unless one or the other of you is the best in your field.
posted by Squeak Attack at 12:21 PM on March 29, 2012

Doesn't matter if he likes you. You are working on a multi year project where he is the boss. Spend more time with men who aren't off limits :)
posted by manicure12 at 6:18 PM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

When a guy is head-over-heels in love with you, you won't have to wonder; he'll go out of his way to ensure you know every single minute of the day. If you're wondering if a guy likes you, he doesn't.

Most likely, this guy is just being friendly. If he was interested in you, he'd have locked down a commitment and seriously pursued you by now. Moving forward, follow The Rules word for word, so that you'll never, ever have to wonder if a guy likes you again. :)
posted by lotusmish at 11:45 PM on April 26, 2012

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