Are there good reasons for not contacting this former student?
August 18, 2013 9:46 PM   Subscribe

warning: outside US (cultural caveats apply) I (30) am tempted to facebook message a girl (18) who I taught last year in a nighttime high school for dropouts. She gave birth early this year and dropped out once again before her baby arrived (she was no longer in my class then). I am also working as a tutor in a very flexible and comprehensive special program for socially vulnerable youth, at a different school, which is particularly suitable for teenage single mothers as her. I would like to contact her to let her know about this educational option, offer my help, and maybe suggest a meeting to discuss this alternative. So far, not so bad, yet...

...I would also like to assess the possibility of getting to know her a bit more personally, on condition, obviously, that she seems interested in going that way in a hypothetical meeting. We got on well when she was in my class, although clearly that does not mean much now.
I must say that, to the best of my knowledge, there are no legal barriers to tutor-(adult) student dating around here.
In the context where I work, teenage pregnancy is endemic, and so is (teenage) father-fleeing. Teenage boys (usually from poor homes and unemployed) often panic when they learn their girlfriends are pregnant and vanish. From what I read from this girl's fb latest posts, this seems to be yet another of those cases.
I know it isn´t easy to think outside one's cultural programming (after all, our culture´s a big part of who we are), but I´ve read many articulate and thought-provoking contributions here, so I pose these questions in hope you can give me some guidance:
Is the gap in educational level, positions (and to a lesser extent age) usually a deal-breaker when it comes to dating?
What possible complications (if any) do you see possibly arising if I do contact this girl?
I see myself teaming up with a younger single mom from a different background to form a family. Is the idea itself outlandish?

Actually I was in a somewhat similar situation last year with a 18 y.o. student single mother of a 4 y.o., (child´s allegedly violent father in prison). She successfully completed the program and soon before the end of classes, I once told her we could meet outside English class hours to discuss her future options (she had said she wanted to go to college but had no clue what that was like and could use some advice). Weeks later, on her request we did meet and discussed more than college options, she said she would like to see me again. In the course of the following week, she texted me a few semi-romantic messages (I was no longer her tutor then) and I invited her out to dinner. She said she would love to, but she cancelled at the last minute, stopped texting, and I assumed lack of interest on her part.
posted by Basque13 to Human Relations (53 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Mixed motivations here. If you'd like to ask her out on a date, do that. If you'd like to help her with educational opportunities, do that. But don't invite her to meet you to discuss educational opportunities in order to see if you might be able to ask her out on a date.
posted by arnicae at 9:49 PM on August 18, 2013 [58 favorites]

I don't see any reason not to:
1) ask her out, or
2) invite her to consider the new program.

Do either 1) or 2) but not both. While there may not be laws against student-tutor relationships, there are ethical considerations that include the possibility of perceived or actual favouritism by the school/other class-mates. Also, it places creates too much of a unequal dynamic, exacerbated by your age difference.

Ask her out. If you form a friendship or relationship then you can encourage and support her to pursue further education in the future.
posted by Kerasia at 9:54 PM on August 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

Echoing the sentiment that it should be one or the other, not both. Something about eating cake and then wondering where the cake went.
posted by turbid dahlia at 9:57 PM on August 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Dude, no offence, but this reads as really super sketchy.

You contact not one, but two young (YOUNG! It's not the age difference, it's the age full stop) girls with the pretext of offering education, when you really want to date them.

I'm sorry, but cultural differences or no; this is dodgy as hell and your are exploiting their vulnerability and ambushing them. They are going out to discuss school, and only find out it's dating once out. The fact you seem to be targeting young women who are especially vulnerable (with children) makes this even more sketchy to me.

Do you want to date these girls? Then ask them out on a date. An official date.

Do you want to help these girls with their futures? Then ask them out, preferably with someone else there, and share information.

At this stage in the relationship you can only do one. Personally, I recommend neither. Whether you are still teaching or not, it seems there are vast power differentials in these relationships and I feel it's really not cool
posted by smoke at 9:57 PM on August 18, 2013 [152 favorites]

I see myself teaming up with a younger single mom from a different background to form a family. Is the idea itself outlandish?

Perhaps not outlandish in itself, but troubling given that this is the population that you are working with, a population you characterize as "vulnerable." I just don't see how you're going to keep everything appropriately segregated.
posted by Wordwoman at 10:02 PM on August 18, 2013 [6 favorites]

I'm so sorry, but it seems true for you...

So, you have a Rescue Complex thing going on?

I'm of two minds about this. I'll be brutally honest and tell you why.

Wait. On second thought - I won't tell you about me.


Please do alert her to this program that may help her her.

Please do stay the far away from her emotionally and sexually.

You are playing in Strange Waters.

RUN To Therapy. RUN.
posted by jbenben at 10:03 PM on August 18, 2013 [29 favorites]

You are offering someone assistance under false pretenses. That makes your behavior creepy and borderline predatory, not to mention paternalistic and somewhat misogynistic, like you view yourself as a potential white knight who can come in to save single moms from their plight. You're even characterizing the women you're talking about as vulnerable girls, which to me means you don't actually see them in a respectful, mature light. Don't be that guy, and don't date your students.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:03 PM on August 18, 2013 [47 favorites]

I must say that, to the best of my knowledge, there are no legal barriers to tutor-(adult) student dating around here.

Many things which are legal are also reprehensible and immoral. You should not do this. You should think very seriously about why you are attracted to disadvantaged and vulnerable teenagers.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 10:09 PM on August 18, 2013 [25 favorites]

Adults should not date children, even if those children have children. An 18 year old is still a child. In addition, you are exploiting a power differential and a young woman's vulnerability, in a dishonest way, to your benefit.

A class you teach is not the place to scope out romantic partners unless it's a general interest (non-academic) class of adults. This reads as all kinds of skeevy, and perhaps you should direct your teaching abilities elsewhere.
posted by windykites at 10:09 PM on August 18, 2013 [7 favorites]

Is the gap in educational level, positions (and to a lesser extent age) usually a deal-breaker when it comes to dating?

By "lesser extent" you actually mean "much, much greater extent", right? Because wow. Yeah, this is super creepy, and totally inappropriate.

You're in a position where you should be a mentor, an adult figure to these kids, you should not be trying to use them as your own personal dating pool. Stop facebook-stalking your students and ex-students; find someone closer to your own age to date.
posted by ook at 10:10 PM on August 18, 2013 [12 favorites]

I'd like to third or fourth or eighth the statements that a) you need to investigate what about your vulnerable students is appealing to you and b) it is inappropriate to act on that attraction if it persists. Once she's finished her schooling or there's less of a dramatic and recent student-teacher relationship, that might be appropriate. Not to be mean, but I kind of wonder if you'll be as into her once she's more stable, or if it's the power dynamic you're attracted to.

There are no legal impediments, but consider the situation: these girls/young women are, as you say, often abandoned by their partners and are in a situation where they're vulnerable. You are/were probably one of very few stable and trustworthy male figures in their lives, and that power dynamic doesn't just go away on the last day of class. It is irresponsible bordering on grooming to use your position in their lives to get involved with them romantically. What you teach them when you use your position of authority is what they're already learning: that they are valuable as potential sexual partners, not as clever minds or independent women. The community has placed trust in you. Don't betray it by using your position for your own personal gain.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 10:10 PM on August 18, 2013 [68 favorites]

Also worth noting, "outside the US" is... almost all of the world. If you can update with a specific location and culture, it may be easier for us to tailor responses to your circumstances.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 10:14 PM on August 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Some further context: Put yourself in these young girl's shoes. They have, presumably, grown up in a fairly sexist society, where chauvinism is to some extent relatively normalised. They are used to being treated as little more than sex objects by most of the men in their lives; they are used to men assessing them and valuing them as sex partners and nothing else. They have already been let down and abandoned by the men that got them pregnant presumably.

They have a teacher, someone they can trust. Someone much older than them. Someone whose job restricts them from treating them as a sex object and instead treats them as students, people who can learn, people who can be defined by more than having sex with a man. The teacher seems to believe in them, that they are smart, that they can do more than the script goes for so many girls of their age in their culture.

The teacher says he wants to meet to tell them about future opportunities. They are happy, excited, they have potential, this teacher sees it and believes in them. They come to learn more about this. It turns out, the teacher just wants to sleep with them, views them as a sex object, all those nice things he said and did were probably just to sleep with them; he never saw any potential at all. It's possible he will only help them if they sleep with them; he is just like every other man in their lives.

That's how it could feel for these people. Do you want to be one the confirms the messaging they hear every day? You are given a great opportunity and responsibility in your role as a teacher - and an inspiration - for these girls. It's not an opportunity for dating, though. Use your role wisely; do the best thing for them, not you.
posted by smoke at 10:15 PM on August 18, 2013 [127 favorites]

The number of age gap relationships that end in marriage and true love as opposed to "ugh, what was that creep doing trying to get with me!" five years later is pretty low. I know a lot of age gap couples who are dating, not a lot who are married, or have children together. I don't think it's always bad, I think it can work out, but I think in this situation, it's glaringly bad.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:16 PM on August 18, 2013 [6 favorites]

Also, to be less stern, it is okay to find your students engaging and enjoyable as people. It's likely that your students are funny, quick-witted, bright, observant, wise, caring, hard working, or some other combination of good qualities. Those qualities might seem starker to you because these students are often stereotyped as impulsive, unintelligent or lazy, and you might have had low expectations for them- expectations that they shattered. That is okay, to be impressed by and engaged with your students.

It is not okay to think of them as peers who are good candidates for a romantic relationship with you. Even the most advantaged, well-educated 18-year-old is a very bad candidate for a romantic relationship with a 30-year-old person who was their high school teacher. Please stop pursuing romantic relationships with these young women and only pursue romantic relationships with women who are near in age to you and have never been your students.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 10:22 PM on August 18, 2013 [15 favorites]

Two different comments:

1) Are you certain that your previous student from your antecedent note had "semi-romantic" intentions? Obviously I don't know you or what was in those texts, but based on your previous MeFi questions, you may not be the best judge of these matters. I don't think dating a former student is weird in and of itself, but it's super-weird to conflate teaching and dating as you seem to be.

2) I dated a 32 year old when I was 18. I don't regret the relationship and I'm still friendly with my ex, but in retrospect there were a lot of issues with the age, power, and financial imbalance. I spent a lot of time acting in ways I wouldn't have with people closer to my own age, because I really, really, really wanted to impress this super cool older guy, and I was not in anything close to as vulnerable a situation as the girls you work with, and the man I dated was not my former teacher.

You asked, "Is the gap in educational level, positions (and to a lesser extent age) usually a deal-breaker when it comes to dating?" If you said age alone, I would say it's very often (but not 100%) a deal-breaker, but all of these along with the fact that you yourself acknowledge this girl as "socially vulnerable" is troubling. Quite frankly, the way you describe these girls feels like it's objectifying the girls as victims for you to ~slum it with~ and it's hard to see ways in which this ends well. Like others have said, please don't be that guy.
posted by angst at 10:32 PM on August 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

I see myself teaming up with a younger single mom from a different background to form a family. Is the idea itself outlandish?

What exactly is it about this so much that appeals to you? The world over - Asia, Middle East, Europe, US - when a 30-something man "teams up with" a teenage mother, it usually goes like this:

-The man gets sex with a teenager.
-The man gets a teenager who is totally dependent upon him not only for her own survival but also that of her child, so he has total control over her.

-The teenager gets a bit more in the way of financial resources, sometimes, as long as she stays with the older man.
-The teenager gets a bit of a better living situation, sometimes, as long as she stays with the older man.
-The teenager often finds herself in a situation where she is controlled and where her personal growth is discouraged or thwarted. Or worse.

One of your own tags is "socially vulnerable." What are your thoughts on how to begin a equitable, non-coercive relationship with a person in a VERY socially vulnerable position compared to you? Have you put a lot of (or ANY) thought into that? If so, what ideas have you come up with that would help? Or, just asking, is her social vulnerability part of what is appealing?

I feel like you said these two things --
warning: outside US (cultural caveats apply)
I know it isn´t easy to think outside one's cultural programming

-- to pre-emptively dismiss anyone who objects to this scenario as just a brainwashed American incapable of conceiving of any way to live outside what they've been programmed to think. That ensures that you can easily dismiss any answers that say something you don't want to hear.

What I do NOT see here is you making any kind of connection of equals with this teenager. Not an intellectual connection, not a friendship connection, not a romantic connection. You say you "got on well when she was in my class." Quite weak.

And then you say I would like to contact her to let her know about this educational option, offer my help, and maybe suggest a meeting to discuss this alternative. So far, not so bad, yet...

You're dangling the offer of help in front of her, help in becoming independent. Yet, that help comes with the "strings" of your romantic attention. After all, if you knew she would never have any romantic interest in you, it's quite unlikely that you would still be so keen to have this meeting to tell her about this educational option, right?

Here I see you doing exactly what you described above - exploiting her vulnerability, exploiting the fact that she is having trouble getting an education, exploiting the fact that she needs help to hopefully be able to fuck her eventually. Right?

Separate these two things. If you want to date a teenager, date a teenager who doesn't need any help and doesn't need you at all. A pretty teenager from a stable home who has all the material goods and opportunities she wants in life.

And if you want to help a vulnerable girl, help her with the express understanding in your own mind that you will not have sex with her even if she offers it.
posted by cairdeas at 10:46 PM on August 18, 2013 [85 favorites]

You may have some kind of idea in your mind that "teaming up" with her would be a socially positive thing in a way, to provide a socially vulnerable girl with more resources.

But that is where I think you may have to think outside of your own culture, if finding an older man with more money to reply upon is what socially vulnerable girls are supposed to do in order to survive in your culture.

Society should provide its socially vulnerable girls (and others) with REAL help getting an education, with healthcare, with housing, food, with all of the things they need to get a footing in life, and those things should not come with sexual strings. Socially vulnerable people should not have to fuck anyone to get the help they need, even if some of them might be willing to make that trade.

If they do, it's not "help" and it's not some kind of social service, it's just self-interested exploitation.
posted by cairdeas at 11:02 PM on August 18, 2013 [21 favorites]

I was a single teenage parent.

I'm 46 now, and let me tell you, my daughter and I do not look back fondly on the older men in quasi-authority roles who came into our lives to 'assist' us in various ways.

I personally ask you to please be a better person and limit your dating pool to people who cannot be described as 'socially vulnerable youth'.
posted by Space Kitty at 11:07 PM on August 18, 2013 [66 favorites]

In my experience, the entering dynamics of the relationship cannot drastically change without drastically changing (and typically ending) the relationship as well.

So if you begin and sustain a relationship long-distance, the likelihood of later successfully changing to a permanently short-distance relationship is vanishingly small. And vice versa. Much the same way, if your partner enters the relationship with low self-esteem and social vulnerabilities, your relationship will probably not survive a change to more equal footing.

If you accept that as a premise, that means that in your situation you're placing the longevity of your relationship in direct conflict with your partner's well being.

And that's a relationship you don't ethically want to be in.
posted by vegartanipla at 11:28 PM on August 18, 2013 [6 favorites]

I am not American (although my culture is not SO different). I also have no personal issues with the general concept of an adult teacher dating an adult student, providing there are provisions in place so that the teacher is not grading that student's work. At the university where I work, dating students is not even prohibited.

That said, I find your situation sketchy as hell. What bothers me is that you seem to have a thing about wanting to date and eventually settle down with a "girl" from this sort of background, with this sort of age difference. It wouldn't bother me so much if you had, despite yourself, fallen in love with an individual despite these differences. But you seem to have fallen in love with an idea, despite not really knowing the individual. And I have to ask myself what it is about the idea that appeals to you. I hope you have asked yourself that question too.

And I nth everyone else's reservations about mixing the attempt at dating and the attempt to recruit the woman to your school. Do one or the other.
posted by lollusc at 11:29 PM on August 18, 2013 [18 favorites]

If you want to pursue a relationship with this girl, don't use tutoring as an excuse.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:32 PM on August 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'd like you to try to read your question again as if it comes from someone else, perhaps a collegue. Do you see the inherent problems there? Why do you need to date this woman anyway? It doesn't sound like that you had a deep and meaningful connection that you just have to pursue, merely that you think that something might be there. There are an obvious number of complications here, the main one being the power inequalities between an 18 year old student mother and a 30 year old teacher.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 11:53 PM on August 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

I see myself teaming up with a younger single mom from a different background to form a family.

this sounds quite unhealthy. why are you not interested in women your own age who are single and have the same educational & socio-economic background as you? please leave this young vulnerable unwed mother alone.
posted by wildflower at 12:57 AM on August 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

If you want a trophy wife, go ahead. That's basically what you're looking for: a younger, less powerful woman who is dependent on you and who is entering the marriage as a transaction, trading her affection, body and obedience for security and support. I know a couple of people in those relationships where things have worked out well in that they're both happy with the arrangement. I also know similar differing background couples who fell in love and have non-contractual marriages based on love.

But don't confuse the two.

And I really really would not recommend looking for a trophy wife among your students or ex-students. It's very unprofessional and I promise you, your colleagues are gossiping about you being a creep to girls. Leave the vulnerable students alone. Go to other places to find a woman who is looking for this kind of transactional marriage. Not necessarily bars - in any poor community, there are "nice" young women with clear-eyed practical approaches.
posted by viggorlijah at 1:32 AM on August 19, 2013 [7 favorites]

I'm going to be frank in departing from the "one or the other" camp, here, because I'm honestly not sure that "one or the other" would end up happening. I know you aren't asking for blunt answers, OP, but what you're proposing is reprehensible. These young women sound like they have enough on their plates without having to navigate your skeezy leering on top of it.

Do not pursue relationships with any of these young women, ever, full stop.
posted by Chutzler at 2:19 AM on August 19, 2013 [14 favorites]

Is the gap in educational level, positions (and to a lesser extent age) usually a deal-breaker when it comes to dating?

However, the 'vulnerable' part absolutely is a dealbreaker.
posted by Ashlyth at 2:29 AM on August 19, 2013

American teacher here who has also taught in several other countries on multiple continents. Do not do this. You need to decide if you are teaching because you want to help young people or to meet young girls. If it is the latter then you should resign and enter a new field. If it is the former then you need to stop and recognize that what you want to do is ultimately not helpful to them or you. This comes across as creepy and inappropriate behavior. If you were my colleague I would report you to the administration and anyone else who would listen. Dating students is a major violation of educator ethics.
posted by nestor_makhno at 2:39 AM on August 19, 2013 [26 favorites]

These young women need you to be a teacher, not a saviour. This question makes you sound predatory and I think you should have the mods anonymize it.
posted by futureisunwritten at 3:33 AM on August 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

I would like to contact her to let her know about this educational option, offer my help, and maybe suggest a meeting to discuss this alternative

If this is a co-ed program, do you also do this for vulnerable boys? If it's a girls-only program, do you also do this for unattractive girls? Reach out to her only if you would do the same to a young person you were not trying to date.

warning: outside US (cultural caveats apply)

I can think of a few cultures where everyone would go along with this and the girl herself might even seek it out. But it's not because they don't know what's up. She/they would be using you for your money (and perhaps your foreignness? I can't tell if you are foreign) just as much as you're using her for her youth and vulnerability. It might be ok (as in, no one will freak out) in some places, but they're not thinking it's an innocent romance.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 4:00 AM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

There are places in the world where it is culturally normal for men to marry girls well under the age of 18. There are places in the world where it is culturally normal for men to beat their wives, to forbid them to have driver's licenses or jobs. The fact that it might be reasonably normal wherever you are to date former students does not necessarily imply it's okay.

Yes, some women like the trophy wife thing--but nobody who wants that is looking to hook up with someone at your economic level, okay? Unfortunate truth. You're not looking to trade someone a life of wild parties and privilege for sex/companionship, you're looking to trade someone basic security for the same. This is exploitation. Never, ever, ever put a woman in a position where she has to think about how her kid is going to be worse off if she doesn't sleep with you. Ever. If you want to help, don't bring that into it.
posted by Sequence at 4:27 AM on August 19, 2013 [14 favorites]

Regardless of any cultural differences, the situation describe here made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, particularly when I realised that this isn't the first time.

Contacting this student isn't at all, ever, not for a second, not at all, NOT EVER acceptable.
posted by nerdfish at 4:44 AM on August 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

If you do happen to live in a part of the world where it's acceptable for older authority figures to date teenage girls, consider how that cultural attitude might relate to the unwed teen mother epidemic.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:55 AM on August 19, 2013 [10 favorites]

I'm going to go in a slightly different direction here.

I looked at your previous questions, and a large number of them are in the vein of "I like a woman who I happen to know for work reasons, and I have absolutely no idea how to express this to her."

Agonizing over exactly how many Facebook chats you've had with a colleague, and exactly how to ask her out. Trying to figure out how to invite a (other/the same?) colleague to "a meeting" while somehow conveying that it's really a date. Then you got coffee with (the same?) coworker, and weren't sure of she actually knew it was a date, and then you spent a month worrying about it when she didn't text you back. This is all in the past few months.

Whether these are all the same women, or some combination of different women, one thing seems abundantly clear to me: YOU NEED A SOCIAL OUTLET ASIDE FROM YOUR WORKPLACE. It seems to me that you are probably extremely timid around women, so you never approach them in "real life," so the only women you ever really interact with are your coworkers and students. That's really not ideal, man!

I might be misreading this whole situation, but I'd bet money I'm not. The solution to your romantic woes is not going to be found in the comfortable confines of your school. It's out in the big, scary real world. But it's out there.
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:57 AM on August 19, 2013 [55 favorites]

Unfriend her on Facebook (for your own good) and move on with your life. You clearly need some distance from her. If you didn't know there was something weird about this situation, you wouldn't have posted a question about it.

I'd also try taking on some new (preferably social) activities or hobbies that have nothing to do with vulnerable teenagers, again for your own good. I think it'd be good to meet other people closer to your age and social situation.

In short: while I'm sure you have good intentions, this girl clearly has enough on her plate for now.
posted by Magnakai at 5:00 AM on August 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

excellent reasons. Let me add to the chorus of people who've said this is not at all appropriate. FWIW, something like this happened to my friend when she was 18 (man from former school program contacted her, ended up wanting to date her, power/control issues sabotaged the relationship etc). Even in a healthy dynamic, dating an 18-year-old would be shady, but you are taking advantage of a particularly fraught connection in order to do so and that's an awful, manipulative act. My friend has been in therapy for most of her adult life. Please don't do this to someone else.
posted by orangutan at 5:43 AM on August 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

In the context where I work, teenage pregnancy is endemic, and so is (teenage) father-fleeing. Teenage boys (usually from poor homes and unemployed) often panic when they learn their girlfriends are pregnant and vanish. From what I read from this girl's fb latest posts, this seems to be yet another of those cases.

You've tipped your hand, here. I can't think what possible relevance generalizations about teen dads could have -- except to sell us on the idea that you're a much better person than those guys, so, y'know, we should ignore the age thing and the workplace thing.


The answer to your question is yes -- there are good reasons for not contacting this woman.
posted by vitabellosi at 5:59 AM on August 19, 2013 [5 favorites]

warning: outside US (cultural caveats apply) I (30) am tempted to facebook message a girl (18)

Point to consider: In the US, even though 16 is the age of consent in a vast majority of states, there are closeness in age restrictions in many states for people 19 and under.

It would probably be prudent for you to check out if these exist where you live, given that this is the second 18 year old you have been attracted to...

Rule of thumb, don't date your socially vulnerable students. The power imbalance is obvious.
posted by donut_princess at 6:13 AM on August 19, 2013

Just as the Space Pope instructs us not to date robots, teachers should not date students. Ever.

Leave it alone. Surely these women have counselors who can discuss educational options with them. Perhaps mention your thoughts to her advisor.

It is not okay for you to be viewing your students as potential dates. Don't you think these folks have enough on their plates what with being new parents and all?

As others have said above, there is an educational, financial and experiental imbalance that makes you a preditor, not a potential date. These folks should be off limits to you. Frankly, you already know this because you are asking the question. It's not the age difference, it's the whole dynamic.

I think you need a new job and to interact with women at your own level, educationally, financially and experientially. Perhaps some therapy to understand why you are attracted to these women.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:31 AM on August 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

I see myself teaming up with a younger single mom from a different background to form a family. Is the idea itself outlandish?

In short, yes. If you're viewing your job as a way to meet teenage single mothers to date, you need to get a a new job, because it sounds like you're abusing the trust of these students. Even if this isn't strictly illegal, would you be comfortable telling your boss your intentions to date former students?

You are an adult. Contacting people who you describe as "vulnerable girls" about tutoring and and college applications in attempt to find someone to fulfill your teen mom white-knight fantasy is dishonest at best, and manipulative and an abuse of the power and trust you're given as a teacher at worst.
posted by inertia at 6:57 AM on August 19, 2013 [15 favorites]

At least half of your previous questions have been about dating various similarly aged coworkers. Now you're asking us about much younger students termed "vulnerable." This is all over the past 4-5 months or so. I would suggest you engage in some self-reflection -- possibly with the aid of a therapist -- before you continue down this road.
posted by rocketpup at 7:01 AM on August 19, 2013 [5 favorites]

Looking at your previous questions, I get the idea that you desperately want to be in a relationship, and have not had much luck among women who are your peers. So you've started looking to these young girls. I think the IDEA of a young girl who "needs" you is appealing to you. You don't even know this girl, and you are already imaging being a family with her. It's one thing if you fall in love with someone, but you seem to be looking for a partner among this population of vulnerable girls. That isn't healthy. There is a huge power imbalance, as has been pointed out. I dont think you are seeing these girls as real people, but an idea. Look for women to date who are your peers, of similar age and status in life. Relationships are not for "saving" people, and this wouldn't work out, because its not based on the reality of who she is.
posted by catatethebird at 7:18 AM on August 19, 2013 [17 favorites]

Best answer: What I sense from your current and previous questions is that you are seeking connection, romantic attachment, love even, and that it is sometimes not entirely clear to you about who it is appropriate to direct your desires towards and how to foster relationships (and by 'how', I mean moving from your own desires to the etiquette of approaching, and engaging someone in an actual emotional relationship.)

So I think you have a 'who' and a 'how' problem in general, and I think this is a 'who' problem. Who should a thirty year old guy date, no matter where he is in the world? Not just someone he finds romantically attractive, but someone he respects (and by that I mean you respect her intelligence, her kindness, her skillfulness, her values....something). Someone who he isn't trying to save, or somehow thinks that because she is vulnerable in some way (age, financial status, caste, etc.) that she wouldn't leave him - unless that is the specific arrangement that the two of you come to). Someone who in some aspect (educationally, value-wise, etc.) his equal. Someone where it doesn't put either person into a worse situation by dating (some co-worker situations, or situations where her own community might castigate her). These two girls don't fit that description of who you should date, regardless of whether or not you are attracted to them (and being attracted to them is okay, because we don't choose who we are physically attracted to - but you just shouldn't necessarily date someone just because you are attracted to them.)

There is also a 'how' problem here, which also showed up a bit in your previous questions. If you are attracted - how to do you express that appropriately? And the answer is 'honestly' and 'forthrightly'. So no bait and switch tactics. No 'hey come to hear about the educational opportunities!' and then slide into dating. No, 'hey let's meet to talk about this work thing' and then slide into dating. You want to date someone, honor them by asking them honestly and giving them the choice to say yes or no to your request. It's emotionally vulnerable, and can feel embarrassing, so I entirely understand if in a way this is about protecting yourself - but if you want the brass ring of intimacy and relationship, you have to risk it.

Your situation has me thinking of a guy I know who once saw a crying woman coming out of a hospital. He ran to buy her flowers, but couldn't find her. As this story was being told to me I thought it was compassion that motivated him. Until it became clear that he found her attractive, and thought that it was some 'romantic' approach 'similar to the movies'. This was also a 'who' and a 'how' failure, because in that moment, he saw someone vulnerable, and wasn't really thinking of what she needed, but how giving her something she needed could possibly get him something he needed/wanted. It's not entirely his fault for thinking this - after all you do see it in films and literature every day. But just like me friending you because you have more money than me might feel hurtful to you because it was more about me than you, you offering educational opportunities - using your knowledge to possibly get something from me (a date, my time, sex, even a family), will probably feel hurtful to these girls.

I'm not entirely sure how one learns how to handle the who and the how of relationships - particularly if it wasn't modeled at home for you. I think part of it is exactly what you're doing - asking questions and being willing to hear advice, even if it feels a little brutal. Asking friends. Reading dating advice books, etc. All to say, don't give up on your desire to connect, and to have healthy relationships - perhaps more healthy than you yourself had in your own family life (total guess there, apologies if I'm wrong). But, in a way it is the exact opposite of what you're doing. In terms of 'who': Regardless of how attractive you find the person, Don't seek out women who are vulnerable. Instead, seek out confident women who would want you, instead of need you. And in terms of 'how': instead of seeking out women who are vulnerable, be vulnerable yourself. The right woman won't need you to 'bait and switch' her, and will appreciate that you like her enough to flat out tell her that you like her and ask her out on a date. If she isn't the right woman for you, she'll say no. But the right woman, she'll say yes - and follow through on it, rather than say yes and then flake out. In all of our very human desires to have intimacy, bravery is a must.

Good luck.
posted by anitanita at 7:39 AM on August 19, 2013 [29 favorites]

Also, 18 is VERY young. Just because she's had a child, does not make her a woman, or a real adult. Her brain won't even be finished developing for another seven years.

Point her to classes if you like, but do not develop a personal relationship with her, or other young girls.
posted by catatethebird at 7:42 AM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

You've mentioned here that there was sexual abuse in your family. It follows, then, that you've had an extremely poor example of how males and females relate to each other, and likely internalized some particularly unhealthy ideas about power and control. I can relate to this at the bedrock level, just so you know that I can empathize with some of the things you've experienced.

It's of vital importance that you sort through this with a therapist so that you can better understand your own sexual desires. You're close to unwittingly recreating within your own sexual life the warped power dynamic you were raised with, and it's for this reason I'm very concerned for the young women you're involved with through your teaching. Yes, they're 18. Technically adults. But you've rationalized to yourself what you want from them and why. Until you can be honest with yourself about what you want you will never have a relationship based on honesty with another adult human being.

I'd like to posit to you that your family history has left you with a really hazy notion of sexual boundaries and that it is imperative you speak with someone about this before you find yourself doing something that harms someone else.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 8:05 AM on August 19, 2013 [9 favorites]

I once read an essay written by an older woman describing an experience she had dating her professor in University. Her conclusions were, with the benefit of hindsight and time, that while it was not a damaging relationship and there wasn't any harmful actions on his part, she was still resentful that it had happened. She could see how she had been approached for a romantic relationship because they had common interests and he considered her to be intelligent and curious about the class subject, BUT he had treated the men in the class as a mentor, not as a potential sexual partner. Looking back, she realized how much more benificial it would have been for her to have a mentor and to have been able to explore dating and sex with people on her same level.

Having dated older men as a teenager I really really related to her story. These young girls are not showing you attention because they want you in the way you want them. They want guidance and support. They are still kids!

I agree that your appropriate compass for dating seems really out of tune. It's good that you are asking these questions, it would be even better if you truly listened to the answers you are receiving.
posted by Dynex at 9:48 AM on August 19, 2013 [24 favorites]

I took a quick look at your past questions and it seems as though you're tricking these women to go on dates with you. Stop that. It comes across as predatory even when the women are in your age range.

Don't ask this much younger woman out. Even if you are straight forward, it's inappropriate. She is vulnerable and needy, but she doesn't need you as a romantic partner. This situation is especially deplorable because of her vulnerability.
posted by parakeetdog at 12:02 PM on August 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

A good rule of thumb for large age gap dating is do you, the elder party, talk about the younger party as a fellow adult. These types of age gaps do occasionally work out (yours won't and it is inappropriate because of the teacher student dynamic anyway) but in those rare cases it tends to be an older person who can consider the younger person a peer in some way. In your question you not only refer to this person as "girl" and never "woman" but you also refer to her former boyfriend as a teenage boy and delineate yourself from both these individuals with the designator of adult. Think really hard; could you every see this "girl" as an equal women when it came to say, planning something together? It doesn't seem like you could, so it doesn't seem like you can have an adult, fulfilling relationship.

Another good rule of thumb is that anything younger than half your age plus seven is getting into creeper territory, and the math puts you firmly in the no way zone.
posted by itsonreserve at 12:30 PM on August 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

It would be iffy if you were both wealthy white people at a fancy college in the U.S., she the freshman, you the grad student. This is way, way beyond iffy.
posted by skbw at 1:57 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

100thing that this is not a good idea. When I was 18 I dated a 37yo. He wanted to 'help' me, too. He was in denial about what he really wanted. I suggest you talk to a therapist about why you're starting this pattern and then break it.
posted by lillian.elmtree at 2:08 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: i don't think there are any big reasons to not contact her, it's totally up to you. she may reply or not, you're putting the ball in her court. if there were ever a medium to make this kind of a gesture, facebook message would be it.

unlike other people commenting here, i'm not going to throw out the idea of you dating her as completely crazy.

that said, i think you need to adjust your expectations. first, understand that you don't really know this girl. you really need to get to know her as a friend first before you make any serious moves to date her. considering how little you know of her, i'd suggest being just friends, like meeting for coffee, hanging out in a group with other people, for about 6 months. that is, if she's open to even having a personal relationship with you at all.

as far as dating, there are a few things i think you need to be aware of. if you date, and eventually marry this girl, keep in mind:
- you will be expected to help financially support her family
- you will be expected to financially support her and her child
- as nice as she and her family seem, there's still a chance she, and they, may use you. there are stories all over the internet. she may be happy "dating" you, and accepting all of your financial support, then one day leave you for someone else (more "age appropriate," someone from her own culture).

if you aren't prepared to deal with the first two, and the possibility of the third, i would not even try dating this girl.

- make sure you're aware of cultural norms about courtship and dating. it would help if you would tell us what country you're in. some things that would be normal friend things in the US are considered serious courtship for a serious, long term relationship.

i think a lot of people have latched onto your more aspirational parts of your question.

at this point, you haven't even talked to her, so good reasons to not contact her? no, there really aren't any. you should mention the program in your first message, and if you also ask her to get coffee, be explicit that it's not a quid pro quo situation.

lastly, she may not be a good dating partner for you, but she could be a confidant, and help you navigate dating other women of her same culture. she may have friends, cousins, neighbors who she might want to set you up with. or, she may just block you after the first message. there's only one way to find out.
posted by cupcake1337 at 4:47 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I agree with those who have said that what you are proposing is worrisome. You're investigating a relationship by meeting with someone who you admit is "vulnerable" on false pretenses. That person is someone with whom you have a profound power imbalance on several levels. Education, money, age. You were her mentor. That won't change if you're dating.

Each of these factors represents a power inequity in your relationship.

I've been the White Knight in a number of relationships. The Florence Nightingale. The savior. It can be heady. You get to be the good guy. The guy who's safe and to whom they look up to and respect. The guy who's needed.

The problem is, in my experience this dynamic isn't particularly healthy in the long term. Even though you may not realize it initially, relationships with power inequalities are very much a one-way deal -- not a two way street. Oh, you'll both get something out of it. But to be healthy for both partners, relationships really do need to have a free give and take between them. The person you date in such situations is typically easily manipulated and controlled by you because they need you. You will always have a certain amount of power over them that can't be ignored or dismissed. The respect they show you may not be for you as a person but rather for what you can and have provided them: security, social status, housing, stability, financial comfort. Over time, they may come to resent your power over them as well.

There are dynamics here which are, frankly speaking, minefields. It's not just your age difference. Or your stability versus her instability. Or your education. Or your prior mentor-student relationship. It's ALL of those things bundled into one. One might be surmountable. But all at once is a disaster waiting to happen. In addition, what you are proposing -- luring someone in with something they need when you really want to date them is seriously problematic. All of these factors together push the situation into 'predatory' territory and that concerns me deeply.

Fish elsewhere. It's a big sea.
posted by zarq at 7:24 AM on August 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

i just want to say, a "power imbalance" alone is not necessarily a reason to not pursue a relationship. we have many relationships with people who often have more power than us, and sometimes we have vastly more power than them. and, there are many problems with with thinking about power like this. every situation is different, so what's right in one situation may not be right in another.

the important part for any partnership is for all parties to be at least somewhat sensitive to the needs of other people in the partnership, and to be able to adjust when a mutual agreement can be reached. otherwise, of course, a partnership will dissolve.
posted by cupcake1337 at 10:35 PM on August 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

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