Should I contact him, or leave it alone?
July 16, 2007 11:19 PM   Subscribe

Should I contact him, or leave it alone?

Ten years ago, during my first semester in college I ended up nearly failing an introductory-level class (I think I got a D), for a number of reasons (lack of study skills, difficult transition to university, etc.). However, that class remains one of the most influential and memorable experiences of my time as an undergrad.

It wasn't the class itself that made such an impact, but rather the professor (and now you can see where this is going...). He had finished his PhD the spring before, and was about ten years older than me (I was 18 at the time).

I signed up for the class, chose a random section out of dozens of possibilities, and ended up with this professor, L. Who, of course, I soon developed a crush on. He had a personality that was indescribably attractive to me. The fact that he clearly took pleasure in areas both within and outside of his field was very appealing. Further, L. demonstrated a passion for his work, and I admired that very much (and still's something that draws me to people to this day). He wasn't the greatest teacher, told us that what we were learning in the class was basically useless (and he was right!), and was forthright in ways that I liked very much (though I'm sure not everyone did). I found him attractive (though really I think this was due more to his personality than his looks), and the fact that he was from a different country fascinated me as well (again, I was 18 at the time...). Beyond these mudane facts, I can't really say why he captured my imagination so much, but I'm sure you can all relate.

Fast forward to today. I've had a few relationships, have dated here and there, and remain who I've always been: a fairly quiet, introspective person who enjoys spending a lot of time alone, knows who she is and is happy with that, and is curious about the world around her. I'm not in a relationship now, though there is a guy I've known for 5 years with whom I have what we refer to as an inexplicable and confusing connection (he's never wanted to commit to anything, though, so that's that). Through the years, I've occasionally thought about L. and daydreamed about what might happen if I got in touch with him. Obviously I have a crush on him (though I only think about it from time to time), but L. is also someone who inspired me to follow my own passion and in that way one of the best "teachers" I've ever had.

I want L. to know what an important influence he's had on my life, but I'm very well aware that this is not my only reason for wanting to contact him. If it was only about him having inspired me, I would have sent him an email long ago. The fact is, he intrigued me then, and continues to do so. I know that at the time, I was very young, very impressionable, and that this played a huge role in my crush. What I can't figure out is why it has stayed with me all these years, even as relationships, casual dates, and other crushes have come and gone. I've certainly idealized what a relationship with L. would be like, but I also think that if I met him today I'd still be very interested in him.

I realize that by emailing him I risk embarrassing myself (and, possibly, him), but there is absolutely no relationship there at all that I'd be jeopardizing. We work in completely different fields, so it's extremely unlikely that I'd ever see him in person. I might destroy my daydreams about him if I contact him, but at this point I think I'd rather do that than always wonder "what if?"

If it helps, I am currently in the middle of working on my PhD and live in southern California. He now lives in Mexico, and as far as I know (which is not very far) is not married. I have no idea if he ever thought of me "in that way" (or otherwise). It's possible, but doubtful. I don't know if he'd remember me.

Would it be too weird to send him a note like this (adapted from this post)?

Dear [name],

I'm [name]; I'm not sure if you remember me but I was in your [subject] class in [semester] [year] at [university]. I hope you're doing well!

I'm in grad school now (working on a PhD in [subject]), reminiscing about my career and professors who have inspired me over the years, and thought I'd drop you a note. Though I did horribly in the course, your passion for your work shone through your teaching of a tedious class. I've always remembered that, and your example was one factor that inspired me to pursue my own passion.

If you're ever in [city] and would like to meet over tea/coffee, please let me know. I'd love to have a chat and thank you in person for the positive influence you've had on my life.

Anyway, I thought I'd get in touch and check how things have been.

Take care,

I don't think an email like this would be out of line, and I have nothing to lose. It's purposefully ambiguous; L. could read whatever he wants into my interest in seeing him, and he wouldn't feel obligated to respond.

I don't really expect anything to come of this, though of course I'd be delighted if it did. To my mind, the worst that could happen is that L. ignores the email altogether. And the best? Well, you know...! Although I'm a fairly introverted person, in matters of the heart I tend to take risks that some people wouldn't. Life is too short not to take those risks, in my opinion.

Please give me your input on what you think I should do (if anything). I'm wondering if there are any perspectives that I haven't considered or potential outcomes I haven't thought of - and if anyone else has been in a similar situation I'd love to hear your story. (I tried searching for a similar question, but the ones I found were only vaguely related - e.g., here, here, and here.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (36 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, it seems like you have nothing to lose except a whole lot of mental baggage. Go for it.
posted by emptyinside at 11:25 PM on July 16, 2007 [2 favorites]

It really depends on how risk-averse you are. Odds are that nothing will come of it; perhaps he'll not respond, or he'll respond and not make a move (and neither will you, because you're quiet and introspective.) There's a small chance something will come of it, though, at which point it's like most relationships: wonderful and long-lasting, or ill-conceived and disappointing.

Since the deck is stacked against you, ask yourself: do you enjoy the daydreaming? If so, don't go for it; use this as delightful fantasy material. If the daydreaming is driving you crazy, however, then go for it: either it won't work out, and you'll be free of the daydreaming, or it will, and lucky you!
posted by davejay at 11:26 PM on July 16, 2007

i say go for it—just as long as you are prepared to deal with an outcome that might not be what you (secretly) hope for.
posted by violetk at 11:52 PM on July 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

Most profs love to hear that they've made a difference. It's particularly nice to hear that students still learn when they're not doing well in the class.

I'm going to guess that he will see the letter as a kind way of saying he'd made a difference. I'd agree with Violetk that as long as you're ok with this being simply a letter of thanks to an old prof who made a difference, you'll be fine. If you can do that without the expectation that he reciprocate that would make it easier for both of you.
posted by mulkey at 12:03 AM on July 17, 2007

I'd say go for it as well, though I might leave off the bit about getting together for fear of coming on too strong, at least in an initial email. Perhaps others will have more insight on whether or not that particular line is a good choice.
posted by 6550 at 12:05 AM on July 17, 2007

I work closely with a bunch of university lecturers and none of them would be surprised to receive an email like this. In fact they often see recent (ish) students for coffee and talk about their (the students) career. They would, I think, all be very surprised if there was a crush involved.

On the other hand, there is gossip about a lecturer on another campus who has affairs with (past) students... So I guess it happens.

Send it, you have nothing to lose. Probably nothing will come of it either.
posted by b33j at 12:12 AM on July 17, 2007

Go for it!
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 12:22 AM on July 17, 2007

Definitely go for it. There is nothing compromising at this point about the teacher/student relationship and you're past the point of being questionably young. I would even be a little more overt about your other interest in him in the letter, but not blatant.

You have absolutely nothing to lose.
posted by wubbie at 12:26 AM on July 17, 2007

I teach finance part time in London and get emails like this from time to time. Very flattering to hear I've helped out someone and that they value my counsel even now. So that part is fine.

On the crush part I've had a couple students that clearly were smitten, but as I've had no interest it didn't progress. As others mentioned, this (i.e., relationships forged in the classroom) does happen.

I'd suggest starting to email and see if that develops to the coffee / drink / face to face stage.
posted by Mutant at 12:44 AM on July 17, 2007

You've got this all figured out, methinks. Send the letter. Just be prepared for the worst, which could be

a) he replies back that "yeah, great, let's meet!" and he eventually just flakes out on you,

b) he replies back "sorry, I'm busy" or some other excuse not to meet,

or--maybe the worst--c) he never replies, and you'll never know if he's ignoring your letter or if he somehow never received it.
posted by zardoz at 1:54 AM on July 17, 2007

Send it - if his class changed your outlook/lifestyle/person then it would certainly please him to know. No harm there. However, if you are "quiet and introverted" and his class was years back then he may have trouble telling you from his (maybe many?) other students. I would avoid the "want to meet for coffee?" bit just because of this - would you meet someone rather randomly that you don't remember knowing?

Plus, a few emails offers a chance to get an idea of his status. Married? Not? Did he think of you that way?

Have fun!
posted by roygbv at 2:10 AM on July 17, 2007

i think it would be more appropriate to send it when you've finished your phd. more meaningful. but that's just my take on it. i'd still do it though. even if you just got some casual meaningless (for him) sex, there are worserer things in the world. enjoy!
posted by taff at 3:03 AM on July 17, 2007

Send it, of course. But be prepared to have your fantasies crushed. You were 18! You aren't anymore. And he's not the idealized figure you remember. Maybe it would be good for you to have to face that.

My own version of this story: I was 17 and had the best teacher of my life. Much older, so wise, full of passions and enthusiasms, a man who just lit up parts of my brain that I didn't know yet were there. He would take me to the library and fill my arms with esoteric books. I also developed a crush, but I think most of that was due to his awakening so much in me intellectually.
Anyway, I thought of him for years, gradually less in terms of the crush and more just in terms of "the best teacher I ever had, better than anyone at university" etc. Finally, after literally decades, I tracked him down across several continents and sent him a shorter version of your email. And it turns out he lives on some freaky culty commune in the American desert somewhere and, well, let's just say he had changed. It was very sad. But I'll always be glad I finally told him how much he had meant to me.
posted by CunningLinguist at 4:55 AM on July 17, 2007

Go for it.
posted by flabdablet at 5:09 AM on July 17, 2007

eh, i think all you really want to accomplish from this is for him to respond and invite you for coffee. no offense. i understand these kinds of crushes--they can stick to you for years and years. so i do sympathize.

but it's been years. you're completely idealizing him at this point--he's changed, and you never knew him THAT well to begin with. i would say let it go.

or send something polite but not leading, and maybe his polite i-don't-remember-you-but-i'm-glad-i-helped response will be enough to cool your ardor.
posted by thinkingwoman at 5:31 AM on July 17, 2007

I was very young, very impressionable...

Exactly. And so a very deep impression was made on you for practically no reason. You were primed to be deeply affected by practically anything that came along. But as we get older, it (hopefully) becomes easier to focus our attention (and affections) on individuals who make an impression based on actual context with actual relevance to our lives.

I'm not saying you shouldn't send the letter. It seems harmless enough. But the most important factors in your feelings for this person are not his actual merits as an individual, but whatever he symbolized to you at the time that you so desperately needed to connect to, and apparently still do. Whatever you've gone through, you're clearly not through it yet, and it seems a little unfair to me to request to meet another adult under supposedly adult pretenses when the sum of your interest is based on your own deficits. If you want to meet this man, fine, but it sounds like you're laying a trap.
posted by hermitosis at 5:49 AM on July 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

um, what was the question, again?

Would it be too weird to send him a note like this?

why no, no it wouldn't. it's suitably innocuous.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:55 AM on July 17, 2007

I'm not in a relationship now, though there is a guy I've known for 5 years with whom I have what we refer to as an inexplicable and confusing connection (he's never wanted to commit to anything, though, so that's that).

Are you sure you're not just attracted to unattainable men?

What I can't figure out is why it has stayed with me all these years

Because any fantasy guy beats a real flesh-and-blood guy who forgets to call and leaves dirty underwear on the bathroom floor.

I'm not being snarky, really. I could have written this same post several years ago. It took several hard slaps in the face with reality before I got it.

The letter itself is innocuous, but your intent behind it is not. You're not really asking simply for tea/coffee. You're asking to be ravished behind closed doors. Even if he does agree to meet, you are going to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out whether it's just coffee for him or something more. I think your time is better spent focusing on your future (and it's not with Mr. Inexplicable and Confusing, either).
posted by desjardins at 6:19 AM on July 17, 2007 [3 favorites]

Would it be too weird to send him a note like this?

Weird for who? Weird for you or for him?

For him? Naa, he's probably a pretty easy going guy who understands crushes, and although the thought may cross his mind that you're semi-stalkerish, he'll more than likely be flattered, perhaps even charmed.

For you? Well, that depends. You've come to the internet to ask a bunch of strangers what essentially amounts to an "Am I weird" question.

I personally don't think you're too weird, but there are some questions which jump to mind:

- Why in ten years haven't you found anyone else that you're as attracted too?

- Why do you trust your younger, inexperienced self to tell your grown up self what you now like? (Sorry, thats a convoluted statement. What I mean is, can you really trust your memories of this guy? If you met him for the first time today now that you're older and wiser would you be as infatuated as you were at 18?)

- Personally, (and this may not be the case at all) you sound lonely, and I wonder if this loneliness isn't inflating your memories of this early intense crush you had for this guy. You talk about another guy in your life who it doesn't sound like you're that serious with - I wonder how you'd feel about the prof if you had a serious relationship going on. I bet your nostalgia would be greatly diminished.

Lastly, I received an email a few years ago from a high school girlfriend who I had not heard from in 10 years. I was surprised and flattered, but in communicating with her what came through was the fact that she was a very lonely person.

Also, it's interesting to me to see the gender-bias at work here. If you were a male asking mefi if you should email a female professor who haven't seen in ten years I bet the answers would be an resounding NO along the lines of, "OMG! U R A STLKER!!" But because you're female it seems like people are giving you the benefit of the doubt.
posted by wfrgms at 6:28 AM on July 17, 2007

Do it!
posted by zackola at 6:39 AM on July 17, 2007

Go for it. I am actually in a relationship with a man who sounds similar to L. and the age difference and teacher/student issue has not been a real problem. Even if it doesn't evolve into a relationship, in academia it never hurts to have another academic friend or someone to have coffee with when your in town for a conference. Another teacher I had a crush on in high school is one such coffee friend.
posted by melissam at 7:15 AM on July 17, 2007

Keep the fantasy. Don't write. Move on with your life. The odds are so low of success that the fantasy of success is worth more than writing and nothing coming of it.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:50 AM on July 17, 2007

Nth-ing the: "Go for it, dude! What do you have to lose?" opinion. What's the worst that happens, you get disappointed? That's a pretty small kind of risk in the grand scheme of things.
posted by Greg Nog at 8:15 AM on July 17, 2007

Freshman crushes are more common than you assume. He knows this. I think you arent prepared to handle this guy's rejection.

What you should do is try to start up an email correspondence to see if you have anything in common. If this works out then its time to meet up. Meeting up 10 years out of the blue suggests not so rosy things about you.

I imagine if its inconvenient to meet you he probably never will. He has no real incentive and has no idea who you are. If he's in Mexico and youre in, say, Minnesota, and he happens to visit St. Paul for a couple days, he probably wouldnt bother lookign you up unless he had some serious free time.

Seconding keeping the fantasy.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:51 AM on July 17, 2007

I'd only say send it if sending it will bring you closure on this, not if it will open up a new way to idealize it. The sooner you can let go of the ideal, the better, I think.

I'm sure many profs love to hear from inspired students but, as you said, that's not really what this is about.
posted by juliplease at 9:20 AM on July 17, 2007

Go ahead and write. I don't think that you having some unexpressed intent is reason not to do it. It's not like subtexts and undisclosed motivations are a rarity in communication. Sometimes that's just the way conversations happen. You are being honest with yourself and that's good enough, it'll keep you out of trouble. This will go even better if you can make your peace with the possibility of your letter going unanswered or with contact fading after a brief exchange of email.
posted by BigSky at 9:47 AM on July 17, 2007

Definitely go for it!
posted by juva at 10:57 AM on July 17, 2007

I was in a similar situation and felt better as soon as I hit "send". It tunred out that he never replied and I STILL feel better. Nothing ventured, nothing win and I know I gave it a shot.

Good luck!
posted by MiffyCLB at 12:12 PM on July 17, 2007

Go for it! 5 years is longer than just a crush - and, you will never forgive yourself for not trying. So, send the email, and find a hobby to keep you busy until the first coffee!

Wishing you the best!

posted by bright77blue at 1:18 PM on July 17, 2007

Leave it alone. You're setting yourself up for major dissapointment. This man cannot possibly live up to ten years of idealization. If you really only wanted him to know what an important influence he was on you, sure. But that isn't really the case.

If you absolutely have to email him, though, at least be honest about your intentions.
posted by tjvis at 1:49 PM on July 17, 2007

Can't say I know/care one way or the other re: contacting the prof - 'get over it' would be my gut reaction - but I do want to mention the following:
He wasn't the greatest teacher, told us that what we were learning in the class was basically useless (and he was right!)
That sounds like a fucking useless and self-defeating teacher if you ask me. He's tasked with preparing you for more complex experiences and shoots the entire class in the feet this way to show how knowing he is? Fuck that typical young teacher bullshit. He should have gotten over himself and made the class useful.

Look harder at your professors and demand more, friend.
posted by waxbanks at 2:09 PM on July 17, 2007

you have nothing to lose, he won't find it wierd, he will most likely be delighted to find out he had such an impact on someone's life and he will likely respond with a 'nice to hear from you and how you are doing' note. It is unlikely he will interpret your email as anything but that, but who knows, a correspondence may begin and who knows, things may change. good luck!
posted by bluesky43 at 2:31 PM on July 17, 2007

Oh, go ahead and send him an email. Who cares? He'll most likely be very flattered. That said, you're both adults and will probably know what the underlying purpose of the message is (who's that moved intellectually or professionally to still want to contact a colleague 10 years later if they don't also want to do... "other things"... with them as well?) but you've got every right to go for it. And as you said, you've got little to lose in terms of a current relationship or future embarrassment. Might as well.

The only thing I might change about your otherwise spot on message is the meeting up bit. It's a really subjective judgment but personally, I would probably ask more about what he's up to now, after telling him that I still value his teaching, lo these many years later. Then he can respond at his leisure and sort of keep things casual if that's what he needs to do. But hopefull you'll gain some more understanding about the details of his life currently and the possibility of you two getting together.

Good luck! This is all very exciting! :)
posted by smallstatic at 3:57 PM on July 17, 2007

No. He's gonna think who is this weirdo. Some of the crush is going to work itself into whatever you write.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:06 PM on July 17, 2007

Go for it. In a situation like this where nothing bad is likely to happen, it's way better to choose reality over fantasy.
posted by orange swan at 7:21 PM on July 17, 2007

Follow-up from the OP

Thanks to each of you for your input and insights; I found them immensely helpful in thinking things through. I went ahead and emailed L. this morning, and I did indeed feel better to know that at least I gave it a shot. If anything comes of it, I'll follow up again. Here's hoping!
posted by jessamyn at 7:14 PM on July 18, 2007

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