I'm (no longer) hot for teacher, can I attend his class?
October 15, 2013 10:52 AM   Subscribe

How bad of an idea it is to attend a university class given by a lecturer I've secretly dated?

I'm an early thirties female student, back in school for a PhD. Last year I had a short affair with a guy I met socially through a friend. Said guy was in an open, long-distance relationship. It was mostly flirting, we didn't sleep together. We stopped seeing each other once his girlfriend moved here. He kept texting with me behind his girlfriend's back for a very long time. It took me more than six months to get over all of this. No one knows about this except our common friend.

Said guy is an assistant professor in my department, but within a different research group. He's giving a class I really want to attend, which relates directly to my current research project and would be useful in the future. If this guy would not have been lecturing, I would have definitely attended it.

How bad of an idea is it to attend this class?
posted by anonymous to Education (33 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Get someone to tape it for you.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:55 AM on October 15, 2013 [7 favorites]


Are you sure you don't want to take this class at least in part BECAUSE he's the guy you were hot for once upon a time? Maybe you want to prove something to him, to yourself?

Think about it a lot before answering it to yourself.
posted by rhythm_queen at 10:57 AM on October 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think this would set both of you up for a world of hurt if you take the class. I vote 'no'. Taping it is not a horribly bad idea, but really, do you want to be listening to this guy's voice again, even from a distance, especially if it took you more than six months to get over the dude in the first place, and not so long ago?
posted by nanook at 10:57 AM on October 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

Ask a friend to take notes and get any handouts.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:59 AM on October 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

He kept texting with me behind his girlfriend's back for a very long time.

So much for his "open" relationship, eh?

I'd say taking this class is a bad idea. It took you six months to get over your non-relationship with him; I think you are setting yourself up for significant unnecessary grief here.

Do a gut-check: imagine you see him flirting with another student after lecture, or you see his girlfriend run up to him and kiss him. You OK with that?
posted by nacho fries at 10:59 AM on October 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

It took him 6 months to stop contacting you? Whoa.

(edit: it took you 6 months to get over it, but he went behind the gf's back for a long time? Still very bad news!)

Can you attend/watch the class online?

I think you should not sign up for the class, tho, because you don't want him to see your name and stir it all back up again.
posted by jbenben at 10:59 AM on October 15, 2013

It's a bad idea. Is no one else ever going to teach this class?
posted by sm1tten at 11:07 AM on October 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

I wouldn't take it for credit b/c that would carry too many traps for the unwary. But if the topic would indeed be helpful to you, audit. That way you will have less contact and little or no reliance on his favorable view of you for a grade or clear feedback. I am assuming that this will be a class size of at least 30 so that you need not be directly under his nose.

If, however, you think that attending the class would open up the emotional turmoil you went through or encourage him to try to revive the relationship, consider whether the class may be offered by another lecturer in the future.
posted by janey47 at 11:08 AM on October 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's hard to imagine a subject where there aren't other avenues to make the material available to you, which makes the whole thing scream ulterior motives -- even if none exist, I would assume that "ulterior motives" would enter his assumptions on seeing you enrolled, because it's easy to: not enrol.
posted by kmennie at 11:10 AM on October 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

Only you know how you feel about him, and if it would bother you to see him in class. If you'd be ok, I say go for it, but first contact him, and make sure he'd be comfortable with you in his class too. Just keep it professional.

I guess the other concern, aside from the emotional, is possible conflict of interest in grading. Maybe audit the class, or take it credit/no credit if that is a concern, or if anyone might find out about your past relationship.

But I think if you can both handle it, why miss out on a class that you would otherwise be very interested in?
posted by catatethebird at 11:12 AM on October 15, 2013

How bad of an idea is it to attend this class?

To answer your question:
Bad enough that you posted it on MetaFilter.

There is no spin where one of the two of you is not compromised in a student / teacher environment. If it is strictly a lecture, no credit, tape it, take it remotely, or anything to avoid being directly there.
posted by Nanukthedog at 11:14 AM on October 15, 2013 [10 favorites]

If he's "lecturing" and you would only be attending, not registering, then this is an undergrad class, no? If you're at a PhD level, it's hard to see how you'd get a ton of value-added from just listening to this guy's undergrad-level spoken commentary on the material a couple times a week. Get a friend to pick up the syllabus, and read through the course material on your own. If there's a class blog or website, maybe check in on that from time to time.
posted by Bardolph at 11:23 AM on October 15, 2013

Presumably you are both adults. Take the class.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:24 AM on October 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Take the class! I mean, unless it's a tiny seminar.

Do you think that you are going to bring bad energy to the class, or do you think that you'll have an awkward first half hour and then everything will be fine? Is he the kind of guy who will grade you down or grade you up or get weird on you?

If you feel confident that you're both relatively adult adults and won't bring the drama, take the class.

Honestly, anyone who is in any kind of specialized milieu is going to run into a situation like this at some point - oh, not exactly like it, but certainly you'll need to take a class from, teach a class to, serve on a committee with or otherwise act in a professional manner around someone with whom you've had a significant falling out. In the relatively specialized volunteer and political work that I do, this is perfectly standard. It's understood that as long as neither party feels that they're going to be compelled to make a scene, it doesn't matter.
posted by Frowner at 11:54 AM on October 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think it's fine to audit it. If going to class is painful for you, you can always stop. I don't think you need to take his feelings under consideration here; as a student you have every right to be there.

I would not under any circumstances take the class for a grade, and it would be highly unethical for him to let you.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 12:11 PM on October 15, 2013

Yeah, if you really must take the class then audit. But to be honest, I think you should not take the class and get the lecture notes instead from someone else. The signs are there that his behavior will effect you in some manner. It is a bad power dynamic because it is secret, your previous association, and it can turn into a potentially bad situation e.g., "..out to get me 'cause I wouldn't sleep with 'em" if a conflict arises, of some sort.

Why do you need this kind of anxiety? Drama, drama, drama. Isn't grad school enough stress without a cliched relationship with faculty?
posted by jadepearl at 12:23 PM on October 15, 2013

Horrible idea. Don't take the class and try to avoid all interactions with him as you progress through grad school. personal well-being aside, You don't want this situation to blow up in a way that can affect your professional career.
posted by emd3737 at 12:29 PM on October 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

fI you think you can handle taking the class, talk to him about it -- in person. Watch his facial expressions and body language.

But really, I think it's a bad idea. He doesn't sound like a guy who cares a lot about doing the right thing.
posted by wryly at 12:36 PM on October 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

No no no. Do not do this.
posted by Scientist at 1:11 PM on October 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't see the big deal and I'm surprised by the number of "don't take it" responses. It might feel awkward for the first session or two, but unless one or the other of you has a huge secret crush on the other you should be able to get on to being teacher and student pretty quickly. That normalcy is (probably) what both of you will be wanting. Most importantly, not taking it would giving him more control over your life than what he ought to have.
posted by LowellLarson at 1:11 PM on October 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Not only should you not take this class, you should seriously and honestly examine your reasons for wanting to in the first place.

You had a secret romantic affair with this guy, that was not consummated sexually, and which took months to get over. Now you're considering putting yourself in a situation where you'll be seeing this person on a regular basis.

This is a terrible idea.

In a way, it would be better if you actually had slept with this guy, because at least then you would have played out your romantic attraction to some sort of culmination and gotten that much out of the way. Instead, your deepening intimacy was cut short by the entrance of the girlfriend -- an external factor rather than problems within your relationship -- leaving you to get over him in a state of unfulfilled desire. And now you're contemplating putting yourself in close proximity to a man who, even if you've moved on, still represents romantic potential and with whom you will very possibly, given enough interaction, rekindle your former sexual tension.

Is it destined to go awry? Of course not. It might all go perfectly well. You might find that you've lost all attraction to this guy, and he likewise might have lost his ardor for you. Or one or both of you could still feel attracted to each other, but have the professionality and good sense not to act on it. All of that could totally happen.

Or, not, and being in this class will just stir up a lot of drama and possibly some illicit action and end up hurting everyone involved, including the girlfriend. Your particular situation might well be completely harmless, but on the face of it, it's absolutely a textbook case of trouble waiting to happen.

The point is, why do you want to put yourself in this iffy situation in the first place? The class "relates" to your research and "would be useful." That's a far throw from "required" or something actually vital to your research. Which means it's strictly optional. If it weren't optional, that would be the time to think about ways to deal with that situation. But since it is, why do you want to place your emotional and academic well-being in a situation where the potential for trouble is so immediately apparent?

I have seen friends in this kind of situation many, many times, and it has always, without exception, been at least partially about an underlying desire to stir shit up. Either they're looking to rekindle the romance, or they're trying to get under the other person's skin, or if nothing else they're just trying to put themselves in a touchy situation out of some emotional masochism or a compulsion to create drama.

Ask yourself with total honesty whether your motivations aren't at least a little bit about something other than the pursuit of education in your field. If you truly feel completely OK and confident in your reasons for considering taking this class, then godspeed. But I suspect you're asking this question in the first place because you are not at all confident in your feelings. For that reason I say don't do it.
posted by Mo' Money Moe Bandy at 1:43 PM on October 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'd take the class. I don't see the problem at all.
posted by robcorr at 2:09 PM on October 15, 2013

relates directly to my current research project and would be useful in the future

It's absolutely possible that this class would truly be useful to the OP's research and career, even if it is either an undergrad class or not technically required or both. For instance, a biologist might want to take a bioinformatics class, or a geologist might find it helpful to take a hydrology class. There are also graduate level lecture classes. And plenty of departments might not have another lecturer who covers the same topic.

OP, I'm sure as a PhD student you are capable of pushing aside a lot of other considerations to focus on your work. You just need to decide if you can afford the emotional cost of that.

Hopefully said guy will be capable of dealing with you taking the class in a professional manner. It seems to make sense that he would want to keep your past history from becoming public, and not do anything to cause you to have any sort of complaint on that grounds, but between how some departments treat complaints of sexual harassment by students and people's capacity to act without thinking there are a lot of ways for things to go south. Give serious and private consideration to whether you should audit the class.

Presumably he knows you are pursuing a PhD in his department. Think about how he would perceive your desire to take the class if he was aware of your research and how it related. Will it be understandable to him that this is strictly for professional purposes? It might be a good idea to make it clear why you are interested in the class -- doing this in person will let you see how he reacts and tell you a lot. Go to his scheduled office hours, preferably at a time when others will be likely to be showing up and waiting to talk to him after you, and talk to him very very briefly about your interest in the class and relevance to your research as you would any other professor (but greet him with his honorific and last name, even if you wouldn't usually be that formal). You'll be keeping the door open (I mean that literally, do not close the door of his office for that conversation -- if he invites you to close it, you need to not do that.)

This will let you gauge how he reacts early on enough you won't be left with a hole in your schedule, avoids surprising him, and signals how you want your interactions with him during the class to go.

Some other considerations that might weigh in favor of not taking the class:
If this is going to be an extremely small class. A class with less than four people changes class dynamics a lot, and it ends up being more personal.
If the class involves travel, particularly overnight travel.
If the class would be expected or likely to involve hands on touching or body contact between the instructor and students.
If said guy's class in any way relates to the study of human sexuality.
If there has been a lot of brushing under the rug of sexual harassment in your department or at your institution.
If he's known to have sexually harassed students.
If he has influence with your advisor or people on your committee.
If you feel you can't keep your own focus solely on the academic aspects.
If he's ever belittled your academic/scholastic/intellectual abilities.
If he doesn't seem to be able to interact with you around the department as he would any other PhD student who worked with your group (might be just nodding in the hallways, or less).

Sometimes moving on from someone and not letting your past with them affect the choices you make in your life in the present means NOT avoiding them. Especially in smaller communities, it can be the case that you'd have to expend more energy and rearrange more of your schedule, your activities, and your life to avoid someone than not. Only you know where your feelings truly are right now, so if you are still left with a feeling of "unsure", listen to that.
posted by yohko at 2:34 PM on October 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Don't let this person prevent you from doing whatever you need to in order to become the most informed, best student and academic you can.

Your past relationship, and his inability to deal with whatever, should absolutely not get in the way of you doing the best you can with the resources at hand, including his class -- which is funded by either my tax money, other peoples' tax money, or the donations of people who were inspired by the university's academic mission - all of whom want you to be educated to the highest possible degree.

If you avoid this class because of a little personal history (assuming there's not more at play than I'm getting from your question), I personally will be a bit upset. I'll understand, and I won't be mad at you, but if his personal issue gets in the way of your education -- that's just not fair.

Do be careful about how you interact with him. Be prepared to send him a message _if it becomes necessary_. Do keep any evidence of his communicating with you in case you have to deal with emotional instability on his part (i.e. the remote chance you have to report his harassing you).

However, you're both adults, and it should be fine.
posted by amtho at 2:45 PM on October 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I can't put it better than Mo' Money Moe Bandy did.

Questions: if his LDR was "open" why did you stop when his girlfriend moved there, and why was he texting you "behind his girlfriend's back" if it was open? Are you saying they had an agreement to close it up when she got back? Which he then broke? Did his girlfriend know they were in an open relationship? Are you sure?
posted by tel3path at 3:04 PM on October 15, 2013

It's absolutely possible that this class would truly be useful to the OP's research and career, even if it is either an undergrad class or not technically required or both.

I thought that as well, but then it occurred to me that if, at some point in the future, anything was to get out about how the teacher had cheated on his GF with the OP, the possibility of (rumored and not factual) academic blackmail on the OP's part might taint the potential value? In this day and age people absolutely still do accuse women of sleeping around to get ahead, and I would personally want to avoid any kind of academic or professional interaction with someone over whom I had some kind of personal power.

I admit I may be more paranoid about this than is warranted.
posted by elizardbits at 3:06 PM on October 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Were the tone of his messages undeniably romantic in nature even after his girlfriend showed up? Have you interacted with this guy at all in the interim in a professional way since then, or were his text messages the last contact? That might give you an idea of how he'd behave in this situation.

Is auditing the class a possibility? That would spare you any concern about him dithering your grade one way or another and pretty much rule out accusations of having a fling with him for a grade as there would be no grade.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 3:52 PM on October 15, 2013

Is this a one-time lecture or a class where you will be submitting work? I'd go to the former and avoid the latter.
posted by barnone at 4:06 PM on October 15, 2013

I thought that as well, but then it occurred to me that if, at some point in the future, anything was to get out about how the teacher had cheated on his GF with the OP, the possibility of (rumored and not factual) academic blackmail on the OP's part might taint the potential value?

The question left me with more of an impression of "this knowledge would be useful" than "this credential will be a feather in my cap". I am under the impression the OP wishes to learn things so that she can apply that knowledge to her research and papers that would be outside the scope of the class.

The OP said they didn't sleep together.

Considering that people accusing women of sleeping around to get ahead don't necessarily verify that the women being accused have ever even slept with anyone at all, let alone who they are accused of having slept with, avoiding any situation where one could be accused of sleeping around is going to be difficult. Personally, I've found that one doesn't need to have ever had any sort of flirtation or even opportunity to be alone with someone to be accused of such things -- so I'm aware that these sorts of accusations may be spurious. Presumably, some of the people that the accused women supposedly slept around with also know that these sorts of accusations can be false in at least some cases. Incidentally, I've also heard men accused using sexual favors to get ahead.

OP, if you become successful in your field and give an impression of being happy in your life, at some point someone may feel upset that they aren't happy and successful themselves and gossip about you saying unkind things that may or may not be true. Avoiding things that people could potentially gossip about will not prevent gossiping -- if people want to gossip about you, they will make things up if they need to, and you might or might not ever hear about them. The sooner you are able to accept this, the less of a hold it will have on you.
posted by yohko at 4:48 PM on October 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you have the option, don't take classes with a teacher that you don't like.
posted by oceanjesse at 5:55 PM on October 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Given how much you slow / down-played the real power dynamics in your description of the situation, and its major effect on you: no, clearly you cannot take this class.
posted by Dashy at 5:59 PM on October 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Audit the class.

Don't limit you knowledge and study because you sort of dated the guy a year ago. Act like an adult - even if he doesn't.
posted by 26.2 at 11:33 PM on October 15, 2013

Not only no, but fuck no. You could not pay me to do this.
posted by corb at 6:17 AM on October 16, 2013

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