#199: I have an embarrassing, unshakeable crush on my teacher.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I am 21 years old. I am in a long term relationship, which will be going on four years this spring. He and I have had our ups and downs, but for the most part our relationship has been great. We have a lot of fun together, and have been through so much together. He is my best friend, and also a great, adventurous, and generous lover. We have great sex, and frequently. I love him. I love his family. I love his friends. I love his taste in music. I love his warmth and humour. I love our life together. I feel like being with him has made me a better person. But recently, something has happened that has things all messed up and confused for me.

That thing is this:

I’ve developed a huge infatuation with my college professor. (I’m wary about saying “I’ve fallen in love with my college professor”, because I know how silly that sounds)

I still love my boyfriend so much, but recently, nearly all I can think about is this man, lets call him Dave (not his real name). Dave is old enough to be my father, and he’s married, and I’m pretty sure that he has grown up children around my age, not to mention the fact that I am a student of his. These feelings should not be happening for many reasons, and yet I just can’t stop them. I’ve never fallen for an older man before, let alone such an older man. He is the smartest person I’ve ever met, and he talks to me like he thinks I am very smart as well. I get nervous around him. I want him to think that I am clever. I could listen to him talk for hours. He is so warm and kind and has a great sense of humour. It doesn’t help that he teaches in a field that I have a profound interest in, and is a well respected authority in the field, so I see him quite often. He is super confident and knowledgeable, and really, really handsome (and sexy).

I often find myself trying to think of great questions to ask him regarding this field, partially for my own interest, but mostly so that I can have his full attention for a while. I get butterflies in my stomach when I see that I have an email from him, or pass him in the halls.

The upside is, I’ve been working really hard in school lately to impress him. The downside is, I feel so much guilt for having these feelings. I love my boyfriend so much, and I feel terrible for fantasising about this man (although it’s quite possible that my man fantasises harmlessly about other women from time to time without acting on it). The feelings that i am having for Dave would be so wrong even if I was single.

I’m starting to get worried by how much this is consuming my thoughts. Sometimes I actually start to think that Dave is interested in me too. I sense some sexual tension sometimes, but I’m 90% sure that this is just me projecting my sexy thoughts onto him and he is really just trying to be a helpful teacher to an interested student. I’m worried that things will get out of hand, and that I will do something to embarrass myself, and/or hurt more than one person.

How do I rid myself of this infatuation? I just want everything to go back to normal! I don’t want to feel this way.

Yours Truly,

Hot for Teacher

You have this crush, or limerence, because learning is awesome and working at something you’re great at is awesome. What he’s doing in his class is creating an experience where you are actively learning about stuff you care about, where you feel respected and safe to ask questions and express yourself. If it’s as great as you describe, and he is as adorkable as you say, I can understand why you are crushing. You’re not alone in wanting to send an email with the word “sans” in it.

This calls back a little bit to the feelings are not reasons discussion of the other day. Your prof may in fact be noticing you back. But there is so, so much to lose and very little to gain by declaring your love or propositioning your married professor. If he says no? Weirdness. If he says yes? Weirdness.

Mostly what will make this go away is time. You can do a few things now. If you’re feeling truly off-kilter, do seek out a counselor who can help you find strategies to retrain your intrusive thoughts about this guy. Don’t guiltily admit the crush to your boyfriend. Do channel the attraction you feel into screwing your boyfriend’s brains out. Do watch out for mentionitis (Not only will it give you away every time, talking about your crush to other people gives it life and an audience and makes it more real). Do keep telling yourself “This is a crush, it is a normal part of life, it will pass, don’t do anything stupid.” Do forgive yourself for fantasizing – we all do it sometimes and crushes of the intellect can be incredibly motivating and fun. Do put more energy into your other classes, friends, family, exercise, activities, whatever. Do make friends with other people in the class and get some of your positive lift from them.

This will be something you look back on and laugh, I’m pretty sure.

56 thoughts on “#199: I have an embarrassing, unshakeable crush on my teacher.

  1. Once again, the Captain gives good marching orders, and the LW would be wise to follow the links and do the recommended reading.

    Dave is old enough to be my father…
    …he talks to me like he thinks I am very smart as well.
    I want him to think that I am clever.
    I’ve been working really hard in school lately to impress him

    The LW has a loving, wonderful boyfriend. Does the boyfriend not talk to her like he thinks she’s smart? Does he not think she’s clever? Is the boyfriend not impressed by her efforts in school? It doesn’t sound like this professor is giving her a kind of attention that is (on it’s own) fundamentally different than the attention and validation she gets from her partner.

    Not to get too Freudian here, but how’s the LW’s relationship with her father?

    I sense some sexual tension sometimes

    Fixed that for you. You’re sensing tension. Not sexual tension, just tension. He is probably quite aware of the eagerness to please and your focused attention, but to acknowledge it would be crushingly embarrassing if he didn’t reciprocate, right? And there’s really nothing he could say or do that would change those feelings, right? So he has to ignore it and wait for the limerence to dissipate and act like nothing is unusual.

    1. I don’t know. There’s a big difference between my husband telling me I’m the best at what I do and someone that that’s the top of my field telling me I’m doing great work. I believe my husband, but we’re not in the same field. It’s kinda like the difference between your mom telling you you’re beautiful and getting a modelling contract. They both may be right, but the praise has a different weight to it.

      1. Thank you; I wanted to respond to this and wasn’t sure how to phrase it. But yes, thirded.

        I have a great relationship with my dad, learned a lot of science from him when I was a little kid, and cannot really put him in the same mental compartment as sex (because ew, and also, meh). I also regularly get academic crushes. It annoys me when people take female issues with approval (or worse, sex) and leap to explain them as “daddy issues”. Human beings tend to like and seek approval (and, with exceptions, sex). Women are human beings–no need to dig further than that.

        1. Forthed! Would anyone have said “How’s your relationship with your mother?” if this had been a guy writing in about a female professor? I suspect not.

  2. Carolyn Hax also suggests imagining your crush doing boring and annoying things like burping, farting, leaving dirty laundry/dishes around the house. When you crush on someone, you don’t think of them acting normal and picturing them as normal can help dampen the attraction.

    1. It’s not a crush I need to get rid of because it’s a celebrity, but I’m now imagining Benedict Cumberbatch doing all those things and it’s hilarious. Thanks. 😀

      1. *snort* Heartily hearted for this.

        The celebrities I crush on reveal a ton of their personal lives through their blogs or Twitters; they already paint themselves as normal so no dice there. (They’re all Japanese by the way.)

  3. I read an essay once by Cynthia Heimel about bad boys that seems like it might apply here. You may think you want to be with this guy, but it sounds like what you really want is to BE him.

    So do it! Just like the woman who is drawn to emotionally unavailable motorcycle-riding artists may be better off just buying an easel and a motorcycle, you will be better off thinking about how to build a career in this field you clearly love and end up as this guy’s respected peer, not his girlfriend.

    1. Yeah actually, when I’ve had girl-crushes It’s been this for me, people so cool that I want to be them.

      1. I was going to say this – I used to get all fluttery about impressive older women on the regular, despite my raging heterosexuality. Once I realized that I just want to be like them, not with them, it all made complete sense.

    2. Thirded!

      I’m firmly of the belief that part of the reason we form crushes (especially on unavailable people) is because they represent something powerful that we desire for ourselves. It’s just that the message gets jumbled up when it tries to work it’s way through all of our animal and human instincts, sometimes tumbling out as a physical infatuation.

      Additionally, LW, I would be wary of the desire to “impress” instead of “share.” That implies a power dynamic that ultimately won’t serve either of you well, but especially you. Remember that this man is a person, too, and focusing only on the qualities that you find provocative will only create an unrealistic concept rather than a human being. From the personal experience of somebody who once got involved with a person I admired (read: overidealized) in addition to being attracted to, don’t. Getting rejected by your peer hurts. Getting rejected by somebody on whom you project a certain level of authority is absolutely devastating.

    3. This made me want to read her essay. Do you remember which was its name or where did you find it?

  4. I don’t know. I think I’m going to disagree with the cap’n a little bit on this one.

    I say this because, well, crushing on your prof is kind of an occupational hazard for a likes-smart-nerdy-types person who’s going to school. It happens to me less now that I’m in grad school, and I don’t rotate through a new crop of professors every year, but when I was in undergrad I basically developed a new crush every semester. Some were short and sweet, some were more intense and lasted longer. Even now I occasionally develop a crush on a prof I take a class from or spend a lot of time with.

    I can totally relate to the constant thoughts about a prof, enjoying being made to feel smart by them, imagining that I feel sexual tension with them, going out of my way to attend their seminars, etc. but my advice would be twofold:

    1) Acknowledge it to yourself. Not in a shameful way, just in a matter of fact, “this is what’s going on in my head” sort of way. Become clear in your understanding that these are YOUR feelings and YOUR thoughts, and there’s no reason to believe they’re shared by the other person, and then..

    2) Let yourself enjoy it! Don’t stalk. Don’t be a pest. But let yourself feel it. Having a crush on someone is fun! Since you’ve made a deal with yourself that feelings aren’t reasons, and you’re not going to act on them, let yourself enjoy the feelings. Here’s a great dude who you think is awesome and who you are happy around. So be happy. And I don’t know your boyfriend, or your dynamic with him, but when I get a crush I mention it to my partner. Not in a guilty, “admitting” sort of way, but in a “hey, here’s a fun thing that’s going on with me right now” kind of way. I mean, hell, we’ve been together for almost eight years, with no end in sight. It’s silly to pretend we aren’t ever going to get crushes on other people in all that time. Don’t make more of your crush than it is, but give yourself permission to let it be what it is, and enjoy.

    The captain is totally right about time being the cure-all. If you know that the crush is going to end (or at least lessen in intensity) given time (and it is), that lowers the stakes.

    Also, does this crush give you something you’re not getting from your boyfriend? RodeoBob asked if your boyfriend wasn’t making you feel smart and clever and validated, and that’s a fair question. Because if he’s not, maybe that’s something to mention to him. I DON’T recommend comparing him to your crush, but maybe this crush is a symptom that you’re craving that kind of validation, and you can mention those desires to your boyfriend.

    Anyway, it seems to me that the only thing about this crush that is bad is the fact that you’re bothered by it.

    1. I just wanted to clarify my last bit. I’m not trying to belittle or invalidate you being bothered by this crush. I’m just wondering if re-framing the crush as a fun or value-neutral or at least not-shameful thing might be a way to make yourself happier, because it’s not the last time you’re going to get a crush on someone you can’t date.

    2. I agree with most of this. I think crushes are funny, complicated things that can be a lot of fun if they aren’t interfering with your life. If this crush is inspiring you to work hard at things you enjoy working hard at, I don’t see it as a problem at all. Also, I think West has a good point about maybe wanting to be like the person you have a crush on. Again, if that’s the case, go ahead and do it! Be amazing in your (and Dave’s) field. You might need to talk to him for advice, which is cool because it means you get to hang with him without having to think of some awkward excuse, and also because it means you get to impress him with your drive and ambition.

      However, I would agree with the Captain that propositioning him is a very bad idea. It puts him in a very uncomfortable position, and has the potential to ruin any future interaction you have with him. Enjoy the crush for what it is, and enjoy being awesome and making yourself more awesome.

      1. +1 to this answer as well, Ruthie.

        My thing was “Crushes = normal! Propositioning professors because you really like their class = weird!”

        I’ve been on both sides of this one, maybe I’m a little too close.

    3. Jake, I like this answer a lot! I get crushes ALL THE TIME and they are generally great.

      Thanks for a really valuable perspective.

  5. Question for Captain Awkward: Do you and Sexy Typewriter coordinate your posts, or is the timing on this just a coincidence?

    1. I had this one in the hopper (I have many, many things in the hopper), and then read Sofi’s post and thought “Well, it must be awkward teacher crush day!”

  6. I don’t have anything big to add, just sympathy. I have been where you are, LW, and I have the t-shirt. Some years ago, still in college and still with my first boyfriend, I fell head-over-heels in crush for a professor in my department. And like the Captain said, it was all tied up with what I was learning, and how I was maturing as a student and a person, and I was just brimming with all these excited feelings that got all over the place, and I fixated a lot of it on him. Years later, it’s a little embarrassing to think about, but he was such a good sport about it (I think this happens a lot to professors, honestly) and I didn’t do anything too mortifying. Fortunately for me, I was also so mind-bendingly innocent at that time that I wouldn’t have even known how to go about seducing him.

    Crushes happen, and they can happen when you’re in relationships, and sometimes they have nothing to do with the state of the relationship. The relationship I was in at the time ended later for reasons unrelated to my brief but intense crush.

    1. “Crushes happen, and they can happen when you’re in relationships, and sometimes they have nothing to do with the state of the relationship.”

      Second, thirding, and fourthing through seventeening this; possibly even upgrading the ‘sometimes’ to ‘usually,’ based on my personal experience.

  7. LW, I’ve definitely been there. I am a professor, and I still get occasional crushes on colleagues, because they are smart and cool and dedicated to a subject I love. And seeing somebody teach or lecture just compounds it. In that situation, good teachers are at their smartest and most powerful. Plus, if you’re a student, you get the flattery this smart, powerful person’s attention. It’s an illusion (the smoke and mirrors are clearly visible from the professor position at the front of the class), but it’s a powerful one, and getting a crush is a pretty natural response to this illusion.

    What has worked for me is sublimating my crushes away from the person and toward the academic subject. Honestly, I think that’s where the feelings come from in the first place: the sexy professor is getting their glamor by knowing their way around really cool subject matter. Eventually, the crushes evaporate, but I still have all the work that they fueled.

    From the other side, I have had a few very enthusiastic students, though (thankfully) no student has ever confessed a crush on me. I assume that whatever those students think of me, their real love is for my amazing subject matter, and I should do my best to encourage them to learn. Of course, it is my job to make sure that appropriate boundaries are respected, but I’m not going to think badly of a student just for being in love with a subject that I am in love with too. (I promise that in general, your professors do not spend their evenings dissecting what a socially awkward weirdo you are.)

  8. Oh my gosh, have I ever been here. My young hot lecturer, a published author, decided I had potential and adopted me as a protege, through my undergrad and honours years. I wanted to impress him and have him like me and approve of me because I had all these fluttery FEELINGS, so I worked hard and took his advice to heart and read all the articles he gave me and tried to be really witty in my emails to him and studied ahead so I could keep up with his discussions – all of which turned me into an excellent, dedicated student and a pretty decent academic. And now he is a mentor-type person I see occasionally, who I still want to impress, and I still want him to like me and approve of me, but that is because he is an excellent person who has helped me a lot, not because of FEELINGS.

    As the Captain says, feelings are not reasons. It sounds like you have an excellent relationship with your boyfriend, so work on it! If you feel like maybe you need more validation from him, say something! It also sounds like having a good, professional relationship with your professor could help you a lot if you want to pursue work in his field, so cultivate that, if that’s something you’d like to do. If not, come end of semester, thank him for his time and move on.

  9. To be quite honest some of us (or maybe all of us?) just have a few wires crossed in the part of our minds that tell us we’re enthusiastic about something. So his good looks have you momentarily preoccupied with him as well as his subject – ain’t nothing wrong with that. An academic crush is something to quietly enjoy and a good piece of extra motivation to show up to class.

  10. Chiming in to agree with the Awkward Concensus yet again! If you care about a subject, especially if you’re just discovering it, crushes happen. They’re a problem if they detract from the fun and love and sexy things happening in your real life, and there’s almost no way it can go right if you act on them, but there’s no harm in them per se.

    Part of this is that we are never tipped off to expect exciting butterfly feelings coming from our brain. Our culture treats study and fun as diametrical opposites, so when we get a blissful rush from exercising our minds we misinterpret it. I’m fairly sure students have occasionally crushed on me, thankfully with no awkward fall-out, and I have enough self-awareness and access to mirrors to be fairly sure it’s not my tubby thirtysomething self they’re having feelings for, it’s Science, or the Life of the Mind, or whatever else you want to call the pleasure of a long hard think.

    1. ‘Love at first sight,’ some say, misnaming
      Discovery of twinned helplessness
      Against the huge tug of procreation.

      But friendship at first sight? This also
      Catches fiercely at the surprised heart
      So that the cheek blanches and then blushes. — Robert Graves


  11. I’m a professor myself, and a few years ago at a community college where I was adjuncting a young woman approached me because she said she had a crush on me. It was the middle of the semester, and as gently as I could, I turned her down. Out of what I’m assuming was embarrassment, she didn’t show up to class for two weeks, but then managed to come back and work extremely hard and do very well in my class anyways, but she never made eye contact with me and stopped asking insightful questions or drawing attention to herself in any way. I tried to give her the space she needed, but I did miss having such an enthusiastic student who raised the level of the conversation in class for everyone, not just herself.

    However, I wish someone had suggested to me Heimel’s advice. I hope somehow my former student comes across it – I have no contact with her now. I dearly hope she has become someone she likes, someone that I could be honored and proud to call a colleague. She was clearly already on her way there. LW, I echo the Captain’s advice, I don’t recommend sharing these feelings with your professor, but do recognize it as a life experience that can make you wiser, more insightful, and use the energy it gives you into your education. Good luck!

  12. LW, I could have written this letter, except that you have a partner and I am single. My professor is the most adorkable person in the world, and even though my mother had never even heard his name before when she met him at my graduation, she watched us talk to one another for 5 minutes, she pulled me aside and said “I hope you can find someone like that for yourself someday.” My mom is not normally very perceptive about me. This is the guy who taught me another language (and I was waaaaaaay ahead of the class curve because I was crushing on him) and, since no one else could understand what he was saying, it was like 4 semesters of inside jokes, since I was the only person who understood them, half of the time. This is the guy who gave me renewed enthusiasm for my thesis every time I wanted to give up (I was writing about sci-fi novels, and he is a big nerd, and when I was tired of analyzing them, he and I would sit down and just chat about how awesome they were for an hour and I would get an nth wind). This is the professor who was very confused when I could not speak in class because he had traded his usual black long sleeve shirt for a red short-sleeved polo shirt and I could see his arms for the first time.

    I can’t tell you what will work for you, but here are the steps that worked for me, though I still have just a teeny bit of crushy-type feeling towards him. It helps a lot that I graduated and no longer see him in class or on campus. I do keep in touch, and do coffee MAYBE once a year, but that is also because he is one of the most enthusiastic references I have. SO:

    1. Tell yourself that your professor is busy. He probably is! He makes time for you! That is awesome! But maybe he would appreciate more time to work? Or meet with other students? Or whatever? All those times you think of something to say just to have his attention – take at least half of those times and tell yourself – no, he is busy and I don’t really need the answer to this question. If you are truly interested in his field for the field’s sake, then spend that time doing more research! Then your (less frequent!) conversations with him will be even better and more academically useful! Maybe you will discover a flaw in his arguments that will make him less attractive? I don’t know – but try to take better advantage of his awesome willingness to be there for you by A. Respecting his time (using it efficiently) and B. Doing more work on your own.

    2. Make his family real people in your brain. My professor would use dialogues between himself and his wife for class, and would sometimes tell stories about his kids. I saw him with his kids and wife at an event once and it gave me a mental picture of his family I could hold up in my brain to say “SEE? DON’T DO ANYTHING STUPID.”

    3. Don’t listen to terrible friends. I confided in a friend, who was also a student of this professor, about this crush, and he would push me to go talk to the professor, or say things like “I think he’s having marital problems” just to torment me and was just generally NOT HELPFUL. Stay away from these people.

    4. Do not, under any circumstances, see this person in a state where your decision-making is compromised. Before my graduation, there is an annual party where everyone gets terribly drunk and the seniors have dinner with their professors. I do not know what would have happened if I had made it. Thankfully, I decided to take a nap instead. I would at least have gone in for the Most Awkward Hug Ever. Don’t do this.

    5. Recognize the power/knowledge/experience gap for what it is. My professor also made me feel smart and awesome, but I realized at some point that much of this was him seeing where I could end up in 10 years and encouraging me to go for it. It was very much a mentor thing, not a “we are equals” thing. Try to reframe your interactions in your head as mentoring, not flirting.

    6. I did a lot of fantasizing, actually. And what always happened at the end was “And what about his family?” – If you fantasize realistically, you will always come up with the “he gets fired/divorced/dislikes you for being part of the thing he did to hurt his partner” – nobody wins! Especially not you! Crush feelings are not good at listening to logical consequences, but actions are somewhat better at it.

    That’s what I’ve got for now – but I second the Captain saying “channel that into your sex life wit your partner.” Identify the things you like about your professor that your boyfriend also has or has the potential to have. That is good learning about what attracts you, if nothing else.

    Good luck!

  13. I read a really thoughtful series of posts on teacher-student relationships and crushes by a feminist professor/blogger I like, so I’m going to link them here because he goes into detail about all the dangers of entering into sexual teacher-student relationships (much of this spoken from personal experience, which he openly admits to having engaged in for a few years and deeply regrets).

    His assessment of student-teacher crushes is this: “I’ve rarely met a genuinely talented prof of either sex who wasn’t the object of desire from at least a few students. A truly effective teacher will often be the object of desire, regardless of what he or she looks like. Student crushes, I am convinced, are less about the physical attractiveness of the professor and more about that professor’s passion, certainty, and competence. Those three attributes are, for lack of a better word, intensely sexy for many people!”

    and, “Students don’t get crushes on me because they want to go to bed with me or be my girlfriend or boyfriend; they get crushes on me because I’ve got a quality that they want to bring out in themselves. They’re externalizing all of their hopes for themselves.”

    I’ve had crushes on professors myself, and I think all the things he writes about are right on the money. I’m also deeply grateful I never did anything like pursue anything with my crushes, as they have long since faded and I can barely imagine horror I would have felt upon ruining marriages, my career, or their career.

    All the posts I’ve linked raised interesting points from someone who has actually been there and observed what happens (first-hand and third-hand), which can sometimes be more compelling than just reading people saying, “it’s a bad idea” without first hand experience (though that is helpful as well!)

    1. Hi, thanks for your thoughtful post. I don’t link to Hugo “I Jizz On Your Face (Respectfully!) and Learned Not To Bang My Students (By Regularly Banging My Students)” Schwyzer here so I edited out the links – Seriously, I HATE that guy. But you had no way of knowing, and thanks for your thoughtful input.

  14. Letter writer here,

    Thanks to the Captain and everyone else for your sage advice. I’m feeling less weird about the whole thing already. Hearing that others have been in similar situations has made me feel less like The Most Awkward Person Ever.
    I have to say that reading the Captain’s advice as well as many of the comment sort of made a lightbulb switch on in my head.

    For the last few years I have been going through a bit of an “oh God what am I going to do with my life” thing, with mostly disappointing results. I’ve been doing poorly in school and just hating it, mostly due to a lack of interest, and I’ve dropped out of a few programs. Then I found myself in this man’s class and suddenly I loved school. All of a sudden it was coming so easily, but also challenging in all the right ways. I started taking different courses within the field, and suddenly I was among the best students in my classes. I guess maybe I confused my excitement over finding a subject that I am both interested inand good at with romantic feelings, which I feel pretty dumb about now. I just knew you could set me straight.

    1. Oh LW, you shouldn’t feel dumb! But I wish I’d seen this before I posted that super-long comment, haha.

  15. One topic that isn’t often discussed in most educational settings these days is known as the “erotics of pedagogy”. Many of the most famous Greek philosophers had theories about how learning/teaching was an inherently erotic activity, and believed that a relationship that blurred the boundaries between a desire to learn and desire for the one teaching you was a natural (and actually desirable) aspect of good teaching. (It was also, according to one of my own professors, linked to the fact that ‘education’ in those days involved a lot of lounging on cushions, eating good food, drinking good wine, and talking about the world for hours at a time. Certainly sexier than desks bolted to linoleum floors.)

    This one writer, Michele Le Doeuff, spells it out a bit more clearly, referring to the teachers who suddenly switch on lights in your brain, wake up thought processes that never occurred to you before, and excite your intellect, speaking of “This privileged teacher…the one who finally seduced you…captured your desire and turned it into a desire for [the subject discipline]”.

    So, you can understand why most teachers don’t want to talk about this concept in the classroom– there are a million ways it can be misinterpreted as “I am your teacher, and I am trying to sleep with you”, which isn’t the point at all. The only time I ever heard a lecture on the subject was in a graduate literary theory class, where the professor enjoyed throwing us off-balance in our assumptions. There was definitely an odd tension in the room as she slowly described the erotics of pedagogy, looking each of us in the eye, challenging us to either giggle OR deny it– which, of course, was impossible. Those of us who love learning know the visceral rush that comes from listening to a great mind expound on ideas that thrill us. We might not normally think of it as “erotic”– partially because we think of education as a continuum that begins in kindergarten and continues through to adulthood, and that would be gross– but the processes in our minds are certainly similar.

    So, while I agree with the Captain’s excellent advice about giving yourself a break and regulating your reactions, there’s also the fact that what you’re describing is so commonplace, the ancient Greeks talked about it! Encouraged it, even! You don’t really want to sleep with your teacher, the theory goes, you want to sleep with comp-lit/psychiatry/nuclear physics/veterinary science/whatever your field is, and some of that field has been personified for you in the figure of this professor who you don’t really know that well, and might not even like very much if you did. The next time you have a hot fantasy about this guy, remember that your crush is actually on communications or theatre or GWS, and imagine lovingly turning the pages of an anthology instead.

    1. I’d love to post this elsewhere, and it would be great to have your permission (and anywhere to send credit). The bit about capturing desire rings sooo many bells.

      1. Go for it! Learning about the theory made me feel better about having brain-crushes on all my smartest professors.

  16. Oh man, between Mentionitis and the “Crushes on cool people that you want to BE” this letter is so me. People who are good at something (cooking, music, calculus, electrical engineering, etc.) are crazy attractive to me, and guess who has an incredibly specific and refined skill set? Professors. And thus, all my boners, especially if they’re mildly good looking.

  17. Oh LW, I know I am late, but I feel so much for you.

    As an academic, I’ve seen this before, and my heart aches for you. I know a professor who was on the receiving end of such a crush, but the graduate student confessed, and it was awkward and embarrassing for everyone involved. Especially since she did it publicly, slightly drunk, at a departmental party, and she opted to express herself with a tearful confession of her her infatuation and attraction to her married-with-kids advisor. Unfortunately, she’d really convinced herself that it was only her own lack of courage holding her back; she thought that once she confessed her feelings, the gorgeous professor would immediately toss aside said family and clasp her to his bosom. He was completely baffled by all of this. When he told her (in the center of a circle of fascinated colleagues) that he liked her very much as a person and appreciated her as a student but had no sexual attraction to her, she responded by passionately listing all the interactions in which he had shown her approval, preference or positive reinforcement, which she had interpreted as signs of his secret affection. She had never told ANYBODY about this crush, which allowed her to think that it was increasingly REAL MUTUAL ATTRACTION!!11!!! It was really, really heartbreaking, because here was this brilliant, nice, sweet woman who had bottled up all of these feelings and carried them around for years, until they finally exploded in a hot mess in front of all of her colleagues, with mortifying results.

    And the sad thing is, you could kind of see why it happened: Gorgeous Professor was an enthusiastic, outgoing, top-of-his-field type of guy who had been on fancy science documentaries, and he had a nice way of looking at you with full eye-contact when you were speaking to him, like you were the most important person in the world and he was sure that you were going to say something brilliant. The feeling of that massive intellect and attention focused on YOU could be pretty thrilling. And his eyes were really pretty lovely. But if she had spoken to her friends about all of those little crumbs of attention, they probably would have told her that was how Professor treated all of his students, male and female alike, and perhaps she wouldn’t have self-reinforced until it became true in her mind.

    The student ended up finishing her PhD, but Gorgeous Professor felt uncomfortable being alone in a room with her after that, and the gossip spread like wildfire and it was really, really horrible for her. It’s cruel and unwarranted and horrible, but in her field she is always going to be Feelings!Vomit Girl who confessed her Undying Love for Gorgeous Professor at the Christmas Party and Was Really Serious About It, Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Hire for Post Doc.

    Anyway, this is not going to happen to you, LW, because you recognize that it’s not real. NOT REAL. Not real, not going to happen, not in any possible alternate universe, never-ever, end of story. What you want to know is how NOT to be Feelings-Vomit Girl, and how to get your sexual feelings for this man out of your head in a fun, healthy, productive way. The Captain and the Awkwardeers have great advice for you, but on the off-chance that you wanted a cautionary tale, there you go.

    My advice would be to acknowledge it, laugh about it, repeat that it Will Never Happen, keep yourself out of situations where you might inadvertently express your feelings, remind yourself of his Very Real partner and children, work out the lust with your boyfriend and vibrator, and realize that your current hot masturbatory fantasies will be as embarrassing in two years as your steaming-hot crush on Orlando Bloom’s Legolas ten years ago. Because now you’re more of an Aragorn girl, come to find out, and while you’d happily meet Legolas for a coffee, he doesn’t turn your crank any more than a toaster does and it turns out that his mismatched hair and eyebrows are kind of a turn-off. So, yeah. Good luck, LW.

    1. Off topic, but the mismatched hair and eyebrows never bothered me. Probably because my best friend in grade school had honey blonde hair and black brows. Therefore I can continue to freely crush on Orlando Bloom with no awkward feelings 😀

    2. Ok, I’m going to say something here and I’m not sure how I feel about it, so I am open on being wrong.

      I think the power-dynamics with a professor make a difference in what is and isn’t an appropriate response on their part.

      I think a normal person is entirely justified in deciding they don’t want to be in a room with someone who publicly and embarrassingly feelingsbombs them, making it very clear that they have a long standing imaginary romance in their head.

      On the other hand, I think a professor might owe the student a little bit better than avoiding her while rumors run wild and she’s embarrassed, Not because he’s to blame, obviously not. But because he’s the one with power, I kind of think he should get over it enough to that if he never wants to be alone with her he handles it quietly so no one knows he’s making sure about that. And he should not make his own discomfort around her publicly clear, although he can certainly make private arrangements to not be alone with her if that seems necessary. Because like it or not, at fault or not, the professors decisions following something like that have a huge impact on the student’s position in the program, and I think they may have an obligation to react better than a normal person, at least publicly because of this.

      I’m not sure if this is entirely right. I just am uncomfortable with the power dynamics. Thoughts?

      1. I get what you’re saying here, but despite the power dynamics, Gorgeous Professor would be putting himself at significant risk of a lot of things by being alone with her after that. the rumors might shift to suggest he’s having an affair with her. She might do something else totally unexpected and accuse him of taking advantage of her. I don’t begrudge him his CYA move here because really, good lord.

        Also I think the real issue here is that you can’t unring a bell – after a student does something like that, no matter what the professor does, it will be an unavoidable subject of gossip and rumors. He simply couldn’t protect her from the consequences of her actions, as harsh as that may sound.

        1. My point wasn’t that he should ever ever ever be alone with her. Obviously, that’s risky and foolish, and he should take steps to ensure it never happens. And obviously it’s an unavoidable subject of gossip. What was making me uncomfortable here is that this third person who was at the party knows so well that he was terribly uncomfortable and refused to be in a room with her. Which sounds like the professor publicizing his discomfort. A valid discomfort, certainly, and valid concerns. But by making those concerns publicly known to everyone (and I could be wrong, maybe the person telling this situation was particularly close to him or something) he is making it worse for her than it already would be. My point wasn’t that he should ever be alone with her, or relax boundaries even a little bit. It was that professors may have a responsibility to enforce such boundaries as discretely as possible, not make it publicly known how uncomfortable they are.

  18. What does your partner do, LW? Other commenters have mentioned that a possible cause for having a crush on your professor is that zie is teaching something which zie is extremely passionate about. Passion is totally sexy! So, I am partnered with an artist. My artist is very passionate about what he does. Sometimes he lets me tag along with him to the studio, and there is something so sexy about watching him be so immersed in what he is doing that- well, we often can hardly wait to get home, and sometimes we haven’t made it there. He swears he feels the same way when I passionately rant about the nineteenth-century roots of this contraception debate or whatever.

    Basically, I am advising you and your partner to spend some time together watching each-other be sparkly and passionate and sexy about the things that you are good at. That is what my partner and I do, and we’ve never stopped having the kind of chemistry that had us in bed within 72 hours of knowing one another and living together in 4 months, and that was 4 years ago!

  19. Oh man, LW, I’ve been there. I got over it, but it was a semester of distraction.

    I’ve also got a sorta-related thing right now — anyone have advice for how to deal with a *friend*-crush on a professor? Like, you think the professor is really cool, and would like to socialize sometime outside of professional stuff, but do not want to actually sleep with, make out with, or otherwise do sexual or romantic things with the professor.

    …is it also to get over it? Because I can, but 😦

    1. I don’t think it’s weird to stay in touch with professors after you take their class if it’s a close working relationship. Plenty of my students will sit down with me for a coffee or a drink after the cycle out, time permitting, and a few of them have become legit friends/colleagues. I teach at an art school that’s extremely informal, so YMMV, but it’s not totally out of the question to keep in touch.

    2. I might just be a stiff, old-fashioned type of person (which makes things especially interesting since I’m going to a college where my professors are all, “Call me Liz!”) but I would wait until after you are finished taking the class, and maybe any additional classes you plan to take with that professor. It might be difficult for both of you if you are friends but also in a business relationship in which one of you is grading the other- kind of like how it is extremely difficult to negotiate living situations with friends. Or how it would be if you were working at a restaurant as a server and also hanging out with your Manager, which is to say, not impossible but difficult to handle for both parties. Especially when there is discipline involved (like your friend the manager has to write you up for being late all the time, which they hate doing because you are such a great person! But it is their job.)

      I would say, though, that if you still feel that way after you have moved on/graduated, you should totally ask that professor out for coffee! You never know, they might always say yes. Someone upthread mentioned having someone regular coffee dates with a former prof, so totally not out of the realm of possibilities.

      1. As a side note, this (my aversion to calling professors by their first name- it feels so weird!) has amusingly led to emails back and forth between professors and I like:

        Dear Professor Smith-Jones,

        I have a question about the midterm. Blah blah blah.

        Full Name

        Hi Full,

        Here’s the answer to your question.


        Dear Professor Smith-Jones,

        Point of clarification.

        Full Name



        I am pretty sure they all think I am a stuffed shirt over here but I can’t help it! I am not a California girl by any means. Hella.

      2. Yes, if you think you could *genuinely* be friends with the prof–like you click and s/he reminds you of your other friends and laughs at your jokes during office hours and compliments your cool shoes–there’s no harm in asking said prof out for coffee after your official student/teacher relationship is over. I’m a grad student, and one of my closest friends is a former prof of mine. I had a little mini-crush on her when I started her class, but quickly realized that she reminded me of my friends from college. After a long post-class discussion that veered way way way off topic in a delightful way, I said “I hope this isn’t weird or anything, but I’d kind of like to be friends with you”–so we agreed to get a beer after the academic term ended. Now, four-ish years later, we are super-close–but she’s also in my age group, which I think made her more confident that I was actually a potential friend and not an infatuated student.

        All of this is to say, professors are people, and some of them think you’re cool and wouldn’t mind staying in touch, too. But you should never ever ever sleep with them, ever ever. Ever.

        1. On the other hand, when I was calling alumni to ask for donations to my college, one of my favorite couples to call was a former professor and his thesis student who fell in love and both got kicked out and got married and have 3 kids and are deliriously happy with one another and still give to the college despite being kicked out because it brought them together…so…(they were both unpartnered when they met, but there is a significant age gap between them).

        2. This all makes a lot of sense, thanks! And the advice to do it after the term is ended is probably on-point.

  20. I;m a crush addict myself, and I think of them like waves at the beach.

    Most of them are just “ooh, that’s chilly on my nipples!” Some are “wheee!!! I’m ALIVE!!! WHEEE!!!” After a while you get a little cocky, and one comes along that’s more “ok I’m upside down right now and my back is definitely getting all twisted around and I definitely can’t breathe at all and OK I’m definitely drowning and OH SHIT THERE’S THE SAND pftpfphthft…”

    Those aren’t really that fun. They do go pass, however. Good luck.

Comments are closed.