Earlier, I blogged about some strategies that might come in handy when professors have to deal with love-struck students (or just the ones who think they’re going to date you). That post addressed mostly female professors, but male professors also contend with students who find them attractive, though their situations usually differ, as I’ve learned from talking with male friends and colleagues over the years. They have their own concerns and strategies for dealing with these issues. On a related note, learning how to effectively date a former student is of equal importance to men. I offer no judgment, but only point out that I’ve never heard of a female professor marrying a former student. (If you have, let me know.) So, a few more categories:
Harmless Flirts: One friend of mine often gets compared to celebrities by his female students. His most frequent is David Tennant, and it makes him quite happy on the inside. These kinds of situations tend to arise early in the semester, before class. Although I just used the word “harmless,” the male profs still have to be careful in how they respond. First, obviously, they deflect the compliment and try to politely start class. My one friend tells me, “I try to treat that student with respect, but I know if I’m not careful I can wind up either favoring her or looking like I do.” As it turns out, it’s usually the attractive girls who have the confidence and whatever else needed to flirt with professors openly.
On top of that, I’ve learned that every now and then, another male student gets worked up when girls flirt with their male profs. One prof I know got a couple of snarky evaluations from students that read something like, “This guy’s a jerk. Girls waste their time flirting with him, and he teaches nothing.” Jealous much?
The power dynamics shift in cases where female students pursue male instructors. I can’t rule out the possibility of a Fatal Attraction scenario, but I’ve only seen that on the news or in films. Often, the girl isn’t actually interested in her male teacher per se. She just wants his attention, and I would even say she’s been somewhat socialized to believe she has to flirt a little in order to get the grade she deserves. As many of us have learned, sometimes not flirting (or not flirting back) with a professor can have consequences.
In those cases where a girl is flirting too much (yeah, it happens!), some male profs have reported that they try to show indirectly that the girl doesn’t have to flirt in order to be taken seriously. “You just keep doing your job, and don’t be the guy who stops thinking when a cute girl winks at him.”
Now, I’ve also asked some male professors if they’ve ever fantasized about a female student. The answer from at least a couple of them was a resounding yes. Did they feel a teeny bit guilty? You betcha. Of course, I’m not sure if they should or not. These male professors told me it was the taboo that did half the job of turning them on. As far as I know, these guys were able to completely separate their fantasies from the reality of the classroom, and have never once received a complaint about sexual harassment from anyone. They are true gentlemen (I even dated one of them). So, with all of that, how could I judge someone for having a fantasy?
Here’s something that has happened to male profs that I’ve never heard of happening to a female prof: you meet someone in your class, start dating a semester later, and then wind up married. As far as I know, these are perfectly healthy relationships. I just can’t quite understand how it happens. Another friend of mine remembers routinely dating undergrads while working on his PhD. “They were never enrolled in classes I was teaching, so it wasn’t a big deal.”
When I asked some of my friends at a co-ed outing why women don’t seem to date undergraduates as much as men do, we had a fun conversation that led to the following points:
- We’d constantly feel like their mom or (worse) aunt or (even worse) a cougar.
2. We’d have to stop and define and/or spell words for them every five minutes, and they wouldn’t know any of the nice restaurants in town.
3. They probably wouldn’t sit through films with subtitles. Even if they did, it’s not exactly like they’re going to enjoy it.
4. Three-quarters of them wouldn’t be able to buy us a drink, which we’re seriously going to need in order to get through date night.
5. Their parents would probably insist on meeting us early on, and that’s not cool.
6. We aren’t going back with them to their dorms, and we don’t want them messing up our clean sheets and drinking all of our wine. That leaves only the backseat (or front seat) of either partner’s car. Trust me, it gets old (and that one actually had a master’s degree, but was living with his super conservative parents). Besides, they probably have unrealistic expectations about what can happen in a car anyway.
7. Female profs would undeniably generate more gossip and judgment for dating an undergraduate. The Internet would break, for real this time.
8. Some of these boys would definitely brag about us to their friends and tweet all kinds of compromising pics of us while we were sleeping. (Or trying to sleep, but keep waking up every time their phone chirps.)
9. Their taste in music might be…
10. At least 90 percent of them don’t know where the clitoris is yet. (As men tell me, this discovery occurs in their early 20s.) Give them time, and textbooks.
All kidding aside, back to girls flirting with professors. Another friend of mine had to navigate a perilous situation when he taught high school students through an education program. A very smart, mature, and perhaps troubled 15-year-old poet developed quite the crush on him. She probably didn’t even know fully what she was doing or thinking when she asked to read her poetry to him every afternoon after class, or when she unexpectedly threw her arms around him once and kissed his cheek.
“I was more worried about hurting her than getting in trouble,” he said. On the one hand, the student had clearly crossed a line. On the other hand, she seemed to be benefiting a lot from the help. And on yet another hand, she often alluded to trouble with her parents that didn’t quite amount to an abuse report but made her unhappiness at home unclear. What to do? Just like I’ve done, he met with supervisors each time something happened but otherwise tried to keep their relationship stable. It was also suggested a third party stay nearby, within eye sight, if not explicitly “present” for their afternoon sessions. That way, the girl got what she needed and everyone was safe. The End.