• Wed, Mar 14 2012

I Had An Affair With My College Professor – And I Liked It

sexy student

No, I didn’t wear a plaid miniskirt. Because I was in college. And I was an adult.

There are a lot of conceptions about relationships between professors and students. Some of them are sexy. Some of them are horrible. Many of them are false.

I am tempted to say, about my own relationship with a professor when I was a student, “we were different’”. “It was fine for us, because we both loved Foucault.” “It was fine for us because we liked listening to chamber music.” That would be ridiculous. It was no more fine for us than it might be for any adult man and woman. Satisfying relationships are not determined by people being mature and sophisticated and savvy.  They are determined by two people having things in common, and liking one another. That’s been my experience, anyway.

I’m likewise tempted to say that it was sexier than it was. There is an erotic appeal to anything that happens in secret. If I was sixteen, I’d want some sort of Cosmopolitan Magazine advice on how to seduce college professors. “10 ways to eat an apple off his desk sexily!” But there’s no perfect formula to make any man want to be with you.

I do think that the environment I was in contributed towards that relationship. I went to an Ivy League school where the major draw was the professors. If there was anyplace where they were going to be idolized, it was there. Maybe because we were so often told we were the best and brightest, students were encouraged to talk to them socially. Doing so was normal.

So when I had a class with Professor X and we got along well, I didn’t think it was odd to keep talking to him afterwards. I didn’t think it was odd the way you would not think it was odd to want to keep talking to anyone you liked. I liked him. I wanted to keep talking to him because I liked him. He was funny. He laughed at my jokes. I laughed at his jokes. I liked talking to him more than I have liked talking to many people before or after. I am not a great talker, as a rule.

I worry this all carries with it shades of Tracy Flick. In my defense, I can say that I was a legal adult at the time.

It is difficult to explain why anyone likes anyone else. Better intellectuals than I am have tried to explain that phenomenon – but yes, we liked each other.

It might be worthwhile to remark that he was unmarried. He was in his 30′s. He was attractive. Frankly, though, I don’t think these things matter. That is to say, I think that relationships are unpredictable. No one can know themselves perfectly enough to say “I’m not going to fall in love with anyone significantly older or younger, handsome or ugly, married or single.” We can surprise ourselves. We underrate ourselves if we do not think so.

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  • JaneM

    Maybe you didn’t get sexually harassed – and that’s great – but that’s an anomaly. Most of these things don’t play out so well.

  • Cee

    I think the reason for the laws are to protect students from professors with an god or authority complex. They can harass students who really want to pass and use their power to get things they want.

    I mean I have a friend who actually DID marry her professor. Her experience was in ways like yours, she liked him, he liked her..all that good stuff. Which is awesome, they’re so happy and I’m happy for her. I’d also support students dating professors of consenting age in college if it is what BOTH parties wanted.

    But realistically, sometimes, more often than not, things don’t play out this way.

  • porkchop

    I like how there’s an example of a boring illicit relationship. I had very decorous and proper relationships with my professors, but at times even they were more dramatic than this.

  • Alice

    This article blatantly mischaracterizes the CUNY rule, which is advocating banning relationships only between professors and “students for whom they have professional responsibility.” (Yeah, that language is a little vague, but they can fix that, and it makes the implication pretty clear–if you want to have a relationship, get out of a grading situation first.)

    I was the romantic target of my professor. He was my mentor and absolutely the most important figure in my undergraduate career. His importance in my life was akin to that of a family member, which is why it was so disturbing to me when he started trying to pursue a relationship.

    When I became a graduate student, he essentially started stalking me–coming to my office every day and hanging around for up to an hour, calling me constantly, e-mailing me personal stuff. I tried to discourage him, never answering the calls and e-mails, working with the lights off and door closed. One day, he finally cornered me in my office, told me he loved me, and hugged me. I just froze. The next day he cornered me again and tried to kiss me. I pushed him away, started blabbering mindlessly about something, and then left as fast as I could.

    I did not know what to do. He was about to become my thesis advisor. I was enrolled in his class. He was the co-head of my specialty field, and I would have to take him if I wanted to obtain my specialty. Everything he did was patently unwanted, but I was afraid to try to forcefully stop it.

    I finally gave him a letter telling him to stop the next day. But I wanted out of his class, and I had to get departmental permission for that. When I went to make that request, I lost it and started sobbing. I told the department head what was happening and why I didn’t feel like I could stop it.

    Because my school has two sexual harassment provisions (one for unwanted or rejected sexual contact/suggestion, one for “behavior that prevents a student from obtaining the benefits of university education or employment”–like a major specialty or a safe office environment), the department filed a sexual harassment claim on my behalf. I was leery, since what was happening wasn’t overtly sexual, but they assured me that situations like mine were the entire reasons two policies existed.

    My claim was dismissed because, as a teaching assistant, I was technically his coworker. I was told that “there are no rules against departmental romance.” When I protested that I was also his student, it was implied to me that the protections and definitions were for undergrads, that the looser definition didn’t apply to graduate students, much less grad students who also taught. I was ignored and dismissed because the things he was doing that left me feeling helpless, frightened, and jeopardized could be chalked up to an attempt at “departmental romance.”

    He wasn’t my damn coworker. He was my teacher and my advisor and he had a position of power over me that made it very difficult for me to stymie any potential “romance” without feeling like I was jeopardizing my degree. The entire experience left me feeling marginalized and frightened, and it made me question my own intelligence and academic performance. I had to drop out of a class, change my coursework, obtain special permission to get my specialty without taking one of the chief professors again, and change my thesis and thesis advisor. It took me an extra year to graduate.

    I’m glad that your relationship was something you were both into. Mine wasn’t, and there are a lot of people out there who have been embroiled in situations a lot nastier than mine, too. Your article makes it pretty clear that the CUNY rule wouldn’t apply to you and your professor. It’s for people like me, and I, for one, don’t think it’s absurd.

    • misenhammer

      Wow, that was a really well thought-out response. And good point– if the law doesn’t apply to/affect such benign situations as the author was in, then why not let it exist in order to protect those who might actually need it?

      Also, I’m an adult who enjoys plaid miniskirts and wouldn’t necessarily don one just to attract a professor. Actually, I’d be fairly embarrassed to wear one in front of my particular professors.

    • porkchop

      I don’t see how you being a TA transforms this into non-harassment. Even if you were BOTH TAs this would be inappropriate.

    • Lizzie

      Did it all work out in the end? Are you successful now? I want a happy ending because that story made me angry.

    • Jenn

      This sounds like a really horrible experience, but I don’t think you needed to hide behind an “I’m your student so it’s not allowed” rule at a university. This guy was harassing you and stalking you and it should have been taken outside the university when it became clear that this wasn’t an “office romance,” but a case of harassment. Also, I don’t think this case has any relations to rules regarding consensual, mutual relationships between students and teachers.

      I think the biggest issue in this anecdote is the specialization and tightness of academic communities. I’ve had issues with my advisor for most of the 7 years I’ve been in my PhD program, and I haven’t brought most of it to light because he’s respected in my field and it would harm my chances of succeeding in research, even after graduation. I feel the same sense of powerlessness, even without the sexual/”romantic” angle.

    • Alice

      @Lizzie: He’s still employed as a professor at the university. I got my Master’s, but ultimately decided to forgo my planned-upon Ph.D and opt out of education and academia, partly because of how poorly I was treated during that whole scenario. I currently work in civil service, which pays less, but is also much less constrained by the sorts of protections and tightness of academia that Jenn mentions. I’ve also since married the guy I was dating when it all happened. So my life is pretty good, but I still bristle at the idea that he pretty much got off scot-free.

      @porkchop: True. I think, however, that this is part of the problem with the way some people try to frame these situations as romances by default. Of course, there are also huge problems with framing them as necessarily predatory, and I don’t discount that. But I find it troubling that this author insists, because of her case, that these kinds of relationships are never one-sided, or, as she puts it, the results of “seductive masterminding.” I guess what I’m saying is that this default assumption of a romantic endeavor seems to be what made it so easy for the HR department to tell me that I was pretty much only a victim of really clumsy and weird flirting.

      @Jenn: It’s weird, but it’s really only in retrospect that I’ve realized just how stalkerish the whole thing was. The professor in question was very eccentric, and because he wasn’t being overtly sexual, I kept trying to frame it in my head as him just being weird and socially clueless. Even worse, I kept trying to remind myself that I had asked for his attention by considering him a mentor. (And yes, I now realize how messed-up my thinking was.) As for taking it outside the university, that’s easy to say now, but a lot harder when you’re in the thick of it and the harassment is just benign enough to confuse you about what’s happening and thus make you doubt whether anyone at all will take you seriously.

      I disagree, though, that this has nothing to do with consensual relationships between students and teachers–namely because it is exactly the sort of thing that can happen when universities choose not to limit relationships between professors and their current students. I wasn’t “hiding” behind the student/teacher rule–it was an important aspect of why I dealt with the situation the way I did. Because he was responsible for my grade, I felt as thought I couldn’t really confront the situation as it was happening. Because I chose to try to ignore it rather than confront it, I was told the same old bullshit: that I hadn’t made it expressly clear to him that it wasn’t consensual, and thus it didn’t fit the definition of harassment.

      My story isn’t the only one. But neither is this author’s, and the whole question of a “consensual, mutual relationship” can get tricky when power and reputation are involved. I am wary of the way these kinds of rules can be seen as implying that adult students aren’t capable of making their own decisions, as this author addresses, but I’m also speaking as someone who feels she was failed by the rules supposedly laid out to protect her, and who might have been better served by a more specific policy.

    • sowhatbitch

      stfu. what signals did you send? He wasn’t teaching you so literally, you were NOT his student. You were working beside him so literally, you WERE his coworker. Thats what a mentor and an advisor does…. they work with you. you sound like an immature little bitch. You couldve fucked him had you wanted to and not “jeopardized your degree. You didn’t need him, you WANTED him, as I am sure there were other professors in the same field. You didnt have to drop out of shit. You didnt even continue in education anyways. Be a woman and own yours you pest.

      I dont like women like you. you probably walked around displaying your sex appeal, smelling like perfume with you cleavage hanging all out while being “mentored” by your mentor. You probably shared aspects of your life with him that made him feel close to you and if you spent that much time with him… you probably were close, but you were so selfish and oblivious, only focusing on your career goals.

      This country has made women seem helpeless, powerless, and victimized. BUT I tell you this.. so long as I have a vagina between my legs and a brain between my ears… NO ONE with a pen or ph.d behind his name has power over me unless I CHOOSE to give it to him. If I want to fuck my professor and he wants to fuck me… It will happen. IF I AM NOT INTO HIM…. HE WILL KNOW IT FROM DAY ONE!

      I would have done my best to find someone else to mentor me.

      You THINK you needed him. How many other mentors were there?

      grow the fuck up!

    • Advice

      I kind of agree with #sowhatbitch. The professor probably isn’t such a
      dumbass that he would jeopardize his ENTIRE career over one student… unless he was provoked. I’m not trying to accuse you of seducing him in any way, but if you’re sending him signals in some way shape or form, or acted inviting or even flirted with him, that was probably reason enough for him to assume you were comfortable with the relationship. See, I understand what you mean by mentor in a way. I have great friendly relationships with my professors. Especially the male ones cuz we have common interests, BUT (a huge BUT here) if any of them started to act inappropriately, I would end that shit right away and tell them right off the bat I wasn’t interested. Also, men are simple minded. If you’re with a professor late at night working on whatever and you roll your neck slowly to ease the kinks, even if you have no intention of pursuing a sexual relationship, their attention will immediately be drawn to your neck (and guys already think about sex all the time so….) It’s the sad truth, but it is just that. Small things like that and acting a bit too flirtatiously might give them the wrong idea. But you can stop that from getting too far by telling them that you’re not interested in a relationship that way. If they’re smart, they’ll fucking stop.

      To be honest, it sounds like you’re leaving some of the story out…. What was the professors reaction to your letter btw. You never told us. IDK.

      I’m
      not trying to be sexist or anything but now these days, unfortunately,
      women DO have to be careful with everything we say or do. If you feel uncomfortable
      with a situation, don’t just let it happen because you’re scared. You
      gotta step up and knock the bitch ass mofos down on their asses,
      consequences be damned. I don’t care how scared you were of not getting
      that degree chica… if someone sexually harasses you, you need to put a
      stop to it right away. Don’t let yourself be taken advantage of. ESPECIALLY if you were alarmed when he acted differently. The further you let it go, the less they think you are resisting.

  • kt

    So…because you were lucky enough to have a good relationship with your professor/bf these laws have no place? Didn’t the “ivy league” teach you that that anecdotal evidence isn’t much of a grounds for an argument?

  • Eileen

    You didn’t have an affair with your professor; you had an affair with your former professor. BIG difference. Huge, really. In one of these situations, a person with power and influence over your grades/university success is your sex partner; in the other, an older, more experienced, but otherwise non-authoritative guy is your sex partner.

    Where I went to school, there were no rules against professors having relationships with undergrads (although there was a line in the faculty handbook that pointed out, “you’re a lot older, so try to be smart about this”). There was, however, a rule that a student couldn’t take a class with a professor s/he was sleeping with or had slept with. That’s sensible. As far as I know, only Yale has an absolute policy on no faculty-undergrad relationships, which I think is pretty extreme.

  • Eve

    I know that “affair” doesn’t STRICTLY mean that one of the parties involved is married, but that’s what it implies– I think the headline does a disservice, because the author wasn’t a home-wrecker and that’s the immediate image that leaped to mind when I read “Affair.”

    • Jo

      Well she did say that it wouldn’t have mattered to her if he was. The author is obviously not a lady with a strong moral compass. In other words if she didn’t write the title herself then I certainly wouldn’t expect her to be unhappy about the insinuation.

    • ekaneti

      She went to an Ivy League school. What do you expect.

    • 66pugs99

      What jealous, hateful people you two are. Talk about a total lack of a moral compass.

  • KaPOW

    I don’t know how anyone can say most of these relationships will go one way or the other. Like the author said, its based on the specific, individual relationship. There is no way to predict which way a relationship will go based solely on the professor/ student dynamic. I had a crush on a professor at my university for awhile (before I knew what he taught and before I was in his department. I switched to his department before I knew what subject he taught , also). I took two of his classes because I needed him and we ran into each other out one night. We had friends in common, talked and went on a date. The chemistry wasn’t right, we didn’t go out again and I finished that semester like any other. I didn’t change my studying habits to impress him, he didn’t give me a break because he liked me.

    It is impossible to tell how things will turn out, it depends completely on the two individuals.

  • Bell

    If you are going to use an anocadotal case for why a law is unreasonable, then here is another with a similar age difference.

    “Crown prosecutor Marie Grills said 33-year-old Weatherston took the knife with him when he visited 22-year-old Miss Elliott’s Dunedin home on January 9, 2008.

    The knife was found broken and covered in blood after the attack in which Miss Elliott was stabbed or cut 216 times. A pair of scissors was also found bent and bloodstained in the room.

    Weatherston, Miss Elliott’s former boyfriend and her lecturer at Otago University, today pleaded not guilty to her murder but said he was guilty of manslaughter when the charge was read to him on the first day of the three-week trial before Justice Judith Potter and a jury. ”

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/crime/2530634/Sophie-Elliott-killing-Weatherston-calm-collected

    The case went on to get even more horrific, and he’s since been found guilty of her murder. And those stories, rather than the case published here, are why I imagine such a law is being proposed.

  • NastySchoolGirl420

    I want to write about my experience, since I can’t tell any real people about it. I am sleeping with my former university professor. I am in my late 20s and i think he might be in his 50s or 60s I don’t want to know how old he is. It all started with a series of erotic dreams I kept having about him. One night I had a few cocktails and decided to send him an email confessing my fantasy. We set it up so that we met in his office late at night, and after a long conversation that went something like “are you sure? are we crazy?” we started hooking up. We both agree that it is only for fun, to satisfy my schoolgirl crush fantasy and his dirty old man fantasy. It has been going on now for a few weeks now and I really just don’t know what to think. It is still pretty awkward… I am way too nervous, but I am definitely sexually satisfied for the first time in YEARS. I graduate in a few months, so I assume it will be over at that point. It feels good to get this off my chest. I hope to God it doesn’t end on a sour note.

    • nastyschoolgirl420

      the professor took me out to a nice dinner (our first real date) recently, and we had a discussion about the state of the affair. I am obviously too eager for him, and i probably seem impatient; the sexual satisfaction has me a little hooked. I must work on being understanding of our age difference, and therefore our different appetites for sex. HAHA he actually gave me homework: Masturbate more.

    • britt

      hi

  • http://www.facebook.com/fuegoerika Charmaine Salcedo Suarez

    I had a. Relationship with. My. Professor before. But. He. Don’t. Love. Me. At all and. Keep. Playing. With. My. Feelings so I. Decided to. Broke. Up. With. Him. I had. Fallen. To. An. Old. Man. Before. He. Treated. Me. Like. A. Crap. He. Don’t. Feel. The. Same way. Too. He. Don’t. Care. About me. I. Care. About him. A. Man. Like. Him. Is. Such. A trash. And. Worthless.

  • nastyschoolgirl420

    It is definitely me pursuing him, he must have pulled some serious tail back in the day I am insatiable and I am not too bad looking either. I am a lot for a busy stressed out guy to handle, and he’s been married 3 times ouch. I don’t know what to think, but my self-esteem is hurting… oh yeah and I fucking told someone! What the FFF is wrong with me?!?!? I was wasted drunk and I didn’t mean to say it shhhht I hope he doesn’t find out I told someone.

  • britt

    can qanyone give me asdvice

  • Nastyschoolgirl

    We are still going at it every now and then. It’s becoming kind of less stressful, but I do feel guilty sometimes because it is kind of wrong I guess. In fact, I don’t know what is at risk to be honest. I would imagine that his job could be at risk maybe… He has no influence on my grades in any way anymore so there is no conflict of interest. I hope it wouldn’t be some huge tragedy if our affair became public. Should i ask him??????

  • nastyschoolgirl420

    OK it’s over. I graduated and I have bigger fish to fry right now. Sure it was fun but I have a problem getting into these awkward relationships going nowhere and it’s time to grow up.

  • thewiseenthusiast

    I’ve thought about this deeply. Not that I’m the least bit narcissistic, but I often find myself in situations where men I have no interest in are attracted to me and I feel the need to play defense in some socially acceptable manner depending on the situation.

    I’ve received this type of attention from a few former professors while I was in their classes. It was very subtle, but obvious by long stares, and awkward approaches in the hallway rather than treating me as any other student that was there to learn and further their education.

    I feel that this type of behavior may have in some ways inhibited me from reaching my full potential in those classes by my sheer annoyance at the unwanted attention and by not having a professor that demonstrates academic leadership. It kept me from fully poring myself into the subject as I do in other classes.

    For this reason, I believe that it is inappropriate for sexual relationships of any sort to be made acceptable between professors and their students who are currently in their class. Once the course is over, however, it should be acceptable as it is in your situation.

  • orpheus10

    True. I had a similar experience. Thanks for writing this.

  • tt

    Professors… It’s unprofessional. There are 3.5 Billion people of your preferred gender on this planet. Look a little harder.
    Students… Your classmates think you are kind of gross.