You Need Help: The Woman I’m Falling In Love With Happened To Be My Teacher 15 Years Ago

Q:

I have a dilemma that has affected my day-to-day life and now I’m stuck between decisions in a way that I can’t make heads or tails of. I’m hoping some gorgeous advice from yourselves can give me some clarity of what to do.

I’m in my early 30s and recently I reconnected with someone for the first time in nearly 15 years. The current state of this reconnection is different to our previous knowledge of each other. I recently bumped into a former school teacher of mine and we have been on a couple of resoundingly successful dates since — but my internal debate of “is this right?” has not ceased.

Our chemistry now is something I haven’t experienced before, not even in my previous serious long-term relationship. We make each other laugh, we talk about serious societal subjects (and see eye to eye on 95% of those), and even down to the small romantic moments that I honestly thought would only belong on AO3.

She is 9 years older than me — and I would like to make explicitly clear that nothing romantic or sexual happened when she was my teacher. When we had field trips that spent time away, we didn’t have 1-on-1 time or anything similar. I just want to make it very clear that at that time I had NO feelings in that way for her (I was very much mid-teens when I knew her last) and she has said the same. I had no reason to think that at the time, and looking back, there are zero similarities to the way she is with me now.

The situation has made me feel messy. I have no friends from school left (unfortunately I attended somewhere very homophobic and none of my peers have outgrown that) so I have no one to bounce this off of. The relationship feels genuine and between two adults, but I don’t know whether I’m making this issue up or not. I haven’t spoken to her about this yet because I can barely get my own thoughts in order, but we speak every day and I forget this is even a thing when I’m with her/talking to her.

This may sound contradictory because I’ve referred to her as such throughout, but I don’t see my former teacher there. I see a woman that I’m already falling in love with. It’s just a fact — she is my former teacher. I’m worried that I’m overlooking this fact just because my heart and soul feels enriched in a way it never has before. Thanks for reading my message, I hope you can maybe sprinkle some advice on this dilemma, and I send all my love and solidarity to all the workers of Autostraddle.

Big love.

A:

So first off, because this is going to live on the internet and I am well aware of the comments I might get I must do a disclaimer: I obviously have to say that I am not advocating for teachers to fuck their current students (in any stage of schooling even college), that I am not advocating for adults to have relationships with minors in any way, that I am aware of the power dynamic that exists between students and teachers, and that I am also not an advocate for grooming. That’s all the disclaiming I am going to do ‘cos I know folks will find a way to ick me regardless.

Now, I am so happy that you are finding sweetness, romance, and love in a way that you never experienced before! That’s so sweet and beautiful! Now to jump into it, TO ME, this is literally fine and I think that it’s not even a thing. With all the information you gave, it seems like you met someone who just so happened to be your teacher when you were younger. If you’re telling the truth and you didn’t seek them out, you never thought of them romantically before (and vice versa), AND you have both acknowledged all those things, then I don’t see an issue.

I do see why you wonder if it is right or not though, so let’s break down the other side of why other people who are not me could think it’s not fine. Some may think it’s weird, and others (me) may think it’s just a fact.

Why do I think it’s not a thing and just a fact?

Several reasons actually, but mainly these:

  • You never had feelings/thoughts for this person when they were your teacher, and they never had feelings/thoughts about you when you were their student — This is the most important thing that can make it either weird or just a fact. If you never in the slightest way had any other thoughts for this person when you were a student other than acknowledging that they were your teacher and vice versa (and I mean even the tiniest crush) then that is good news to me. It means that you both weren’t waiting to act on it anything until “the time was right”, and that you were going about your lives over the years. It makes your reconnection even more chill because you were probably just another person in their long list of students they had over the years — not someone they thought of in some sort of fond remembrance and waited for.
  • You are 15 years removed from your connection as student/teacher  — This was so long ago and you kept no connection during the time that passed. You are both adults and can acknowledge that you have an age gap and at one point they were grown when you were not. But I don’t think that is something to harp on because there are many folks in age gap relationships. If you have some years between you, than y’all will always be able to look back and think things like when you were 10 they were 20, or when you were getting into college they were signing their first mortgage. But I don’t think folks who are in age gap relationships (even if they weren’t student/teacher) focus on that — it’s just a fact.
  • It’s simply a fact — It is what it is. This person used to be your teacher and you used to be their student. It’s a point that cannot be argued but can be obsessed over if you allow it, but like — don’t.

A conversation between autostraddle staff about a YNH question.

Why will others think it’s weird?

These are just the main reasons I could think of why other folks may say this is def not a good idea:

  • Because at one point there was a major power dynamic  — This person used to be your teacher, and that means at a certain point in your life there was an imbalance of power between the two of you. Because of that, it means that there is a possibility that imbalance of power will always exist and that they will be able to improperly act upon it. There is also a possibility that even if they don’t act on it, it will be lingering in their minds that they in some way could.
  • Because they will make assumptions that assume the worst  — This is an extension of the power dynamic bit. For some folks once a type of relationship is established, in this case student/teacher, there is no way for that to evolve into something else in the future — no matter how much time has passed or how grown you both are. Folks will think they waited for you to be legal, that they always had a thing for you, etc. And it’s fair for them to think that because 8/10 those are the horrid stories we have heard.

A conversation between Autostraddle staff about a YNH question

Now that you have a sorta vibe for what feelings may be on both sides, I suggest taking them in and talking to yourself about what you truly feel. You should also have a conversation with her, telling her the emotions you’ve been having around it and letting her in as best you can. You have to have a talk about it because it’s affecting you and your dating life with her. Also, you have to chat so that if you do decide to carry on, you don’t have to have multiple deep talks about it. There is nothing wrong with reassurance, but what you don’t want to do is land on you both being cool with everything, but then constantly bring it up and keep it a big thing instead of letting it naturally whittle down to a tiny one that soon just goes away.

People will always have something to say about anyone’s relationship — especially if things about it are atypical. But you have to decide if you are going to let others’ views about it (when it’s not illegal/harmful, just could be viewed as weird/odd) affect you in such a way that you don’t go forward with it, or let it ruin it in the long run.

Hope this advice helps, and as you can see in the photos for extra clarity I added in some thoughts on both sides of the coin from other AS staff. <3

Happy Dating,

Shelli Nicole


You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.


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Shelli Nicole

Shelli Nicole is a Detroit-raised, Chicago-based writer. Her work has appeared in Bustle, HelloGiggles & Marie Claire. She is terrified of mermaids and teenagers equally.

Shelli has written 178 articles for us.

72 Comments

  1. I don’t know if I agree with this unfortunately. As a high school teacher, this is super weird. Even with my students who I have become friends with, there’s still a power difference and it is just weird. I agree – I don’t want to kill the vibe but this seems like a major issue in this relationship.

    One side effect of this is that the teacher may need to move schools. There was a situation at my school where a teacher married a former student and it sounds similar (a male teacher tho) and the kids never let anyone forget. I was his coworker and I honestly always felt weird around him bc he married a student. And the kids were always whispering about it. Now, he was also a shitty teacher and the kids disliked him so perhaps it is different, but still, marrying a former student did NOT help. So, if it becomes serious, probably moving schools and then not telling anyone would be best.

    Good luck. Seems more trouble than it is worth to me.

    • Seconded. I’m not a teacher, but a teen librarian and dang, I couldn’t imagine dating any of the youth that came through my library no matter how old they were. For me, it’s still a breach of that trusted adult bond. Also, it would be really gross for me to have helped guide them through teenage awkwardness/drama and then years later be making out with them.

      I think there’s strong boundaries like this for a reason- to keep adults from preying on kids who trust/look up to them. It’s a hard no for me. I’d be really suspect of a colleague if they were in a situation like this.

    • Your coworker that married a student, was it a recent or semi-recent grad? Because to me, it’s the 15 years of no contact that make a big difference. After that amount of time, there should be no reason the school should be involved, at that point it’s just two adults in a relationship.

      • Same situation- it was like 10 years later they got together. But theres “should” and there’s reality and the reality was the kids thought it was super creepy, made social media profiles making fun of it, etc. They had a big age difference – like 20 years. I don’t know man…. It was just, a lot. He retired now so I don’t work with him anymore but I just couldn’t ever forget that he had married a student.

  2. I think it’s completely fine and I wish the letter writer the happiest dating possible.

    For me personally it might depend on how long she’s been my teacher, if I remembered her well as my teacher, if she was an important mentor and vice versa.

    Because that memory would probably interfere with the relationship for me even if there was no sexual or romantic attachment before.

  3. This is the red flag statement right here:

    “I haven’t spoken to her about this yet because I can barely get my own thoughts in order, but we speak every day and I forget this is even a thing when I’m with her/talking to her.”

    You’re talking every day but haven’t processed this major aspect of your dynamic?? Does she know you are her former student and hasn’t brought it up, or does she not realize and you are keeping that detail from her? The letter says you “reconnected” so I assumed it was clear to both of you from the jump that there was this previous student-teacher relationship, so that should be the first thing addressed in determining the course of this new adult connection. The fact that it is not gives me PAUSE to say the least.

    • From the letter: «I just want to make it very clear that at that time I had NO feelings in that way for her (I was very much mid-teens when I knew her last) and she has said the same.»

      I read this as they both are aware and have talked about being teacher and student 15 years ago. It’s the «is this right?» part the letterwritter hasnt talked to her about.

  4. Hmm this is a tough one. I think Shelli brought up all the good points to work through. When I think about this dilemma from the perspective of the advice-asker I don’t have a problem with it, but when I put myself in the former-teacher’s shoes I get soooo squicked. I’ve been a music teacher for 20 years and I put intentional mental work into creating the appropriate dividing line between myself and my students. I don’t know how I would even go about deconstructing that boundary to date a former student, even in the situation described. Sooo I guess my take is: is it automatically unethical or harmful? No. Is it a confusing and potentially problematic mental shift for a teacher to make, even 15 years later? YES YES YES. If I was in the teacher’s shoes I would dig DEEP on my *real* history of feeling for the student, preferably with my therapist.

    • Wow, initially I was absolutely this is ok especially after 15 years. But people have made many good points, including yours, why this may not be ok.

      What struck me about what you wrote was you make a great effort to create that boundary line between student and teacher. If you break that barrier even once, even after 15 years later with a student, does that change how you would look at your current students. I could see a teacher thinking to themselves, maybe this is someone I want to date in a number of years fron now……

      Your right, it does get pretty creapy, pretty fast…..

      Thanks for your perspective….

    • Yeppp. Even if the teacher treats the LW well and doesn’t take advantage, the division between personal and professional relationships will be (has already been) damaged and the teacher will be more likely to cross boundaries with current students. That’s not a risk worth taking and it’s not okay that the teacher isn’t bringing that up at all. Honestly I think it’s a huge deal breaker that the teacher hasn’t asked the LW a LOT of questions about how this dynamic is unconsciously affecting them both.

      • I think the thing about teachers carefully, intentionally maintaining appropriate boundaries with their students is a really good point, and led me to ask, is the teacher in this situation still a teacher? I don’t think the letter indicated either way. I feel much better about it if she’s moved on to a different career where she’s not still having to manage teacher/student relationships on a daily basis. The 15 year remove is important in my eyes, but this may be at least as important in combination.

    • I don’t see the inherent breaking down of someone’s boundaries with current minors / students because they are now attracted to someone who used to be a minor and used to be student.

      It seems like a leap to say everyone is going to get all confused and slide down this whole slippery slide. Someone might, I guess. But it doesn’t seem logical to me that most people would.

      “Wow, I’m attracted to Sam, who I sorta vaguely knew as a kid but now have a totally different perception of. I will now see Joe as his potential adult self because I have destroyed my boundaries!”

      This sounds like sci fi or some post modern treatise on an author’s struggle with delusion… not like real life idk 😐

      By this logic, if I look old family or Yearbook photos of my girlfriend as a kid and am able to conceptualize her as once a youth and student, suddenly I am now going to see potential girlfriends in kids and students everywhere

  5. I agree with Shelly.

    Disclaimer I’m not a teacher or teacher adjacent. But I do hate that teacher-student trope exists in the lesbian community and I refuse to watch any movies or read any books or fanfic that uses this trope because it’s not romantic – it’s creepy.

    To me this seems different. While we do have to trust that both members of the couple that neither of them were crushing on each other while LW was in school, 15 years no contact seems like a long enough time to have cleared the air of any power dynamic. While a relationship doesn’t actually start from scratch it seems like it is most likely built on their current activities without stuff from 15+ years really having much influence.

    But I do highly encourage LW to talk to her girlfriend. If she can’t talk about things that are concerning her, then that doesn’t bode well for the relationship because of that.

  6. I don’t see an issue. If the time between being her teacher and dating was only a few years, that might be different. 15 years later, is a long time between the student-teacher days and all that entails.

    Everyone deserves to find the love of their life and I wish them all the happiness!!

  7. The thing for me is the letter writer says it IS an issue for her and makes her feel messy, plus she hasn’t been able to share these feelings with her date/ex teacher. If she said “it doesn’t feel weird to me at all but I worry people might judge me or think it’s weird” I might think differently. But it seems like it feels off to her and is making her anxious. It’s also unclear whether she’s spoken about this with any of her friends which is a concern for me.

    We also need to know the exact age she was her student and how much time they had together. If it’s like “she was a teacher at my school but never taught my class” that feels better than “she was my weekly English teacher for 5 years”.

    I also want to know more about how bumping into your old teacher turned into dates!!

    • Yes! Came here to say this. Regardless of anything else it’s clearly an issue for the LW to the point she has written to AS for advice – and to me that seems like there is some discomfort with the situ. I agree we’re missing key details but if the letter writer is able to talk to her gf about it and still feels the same afterwards it suggests that it might not be ok for them.

  8. Listen, there was A Whole Thing at my high school that makes me the first person to squick out at the thought of student/teacher relationships, but this one doesn’t bug me at all. I think the 15 years no contact is really key. You’re both entirely different people than you were then, in a totally different place in both of your lives. And if you weren’t even close when you were in school, either, and with only a nine-year gap? I think you’re fine.

    Like, there were teachers I got along perfectly fine with whose names I don’t even remember and who I’m sure don’t or barely remember me. (Especially in high school, where you were maybe one kid in thirty who she taught for maybe 45 minutes a day for maybe a semester or a year, at most? I appreciate the teachers who have this as an unbreakable boundary, but I do think there’s a level of unconnected-ness between the two people where that boundary isn’t really necessary anymore.

  9. 15 years before?? You’re in your 30s???? This is definitely fine.

    It seems fairly clear that she is not fantasising about you as a teenager who she has power over because….you are no longer a teenager she has power over?? If that had been the appeal, it would have been a problem then. I don’t see that there is a possible power imbalance here because you are not in the relative power positions that you were in before. You are now both independent adults. You almost certainly don’t look or act like your teenage self. I kind of don’t see the problem?

  10. If your chemistry is based on who you are now, and not on some student-teacher kink, you have nothing to be ashamed of. Don’t let other peoples opinions keep you from something real. Laugh it off as an unorthodox “how’d you two meet?” story and focus on what transpired in the present when you share the romantic evolution of your relationship.

  11. I can feel both perspectives on this, and I think a key piece that is missing is what the girlfriend things/feels about the whole situation.

    I think just generally in power dynamics (say, workplace rather than student/teacher) the person in the position of power tends to underestimate how pervasive or affecting that power dynamic is, in all kinds of subtle ways.

    As some of the other commenters have mentioned, the fact that the letter writers deeply complicated/fraught about the situation (which admittedly could be partially internalizing others’ perceived responses) – but seemingly hasn’t discussed their history or her feelings about it with her girlfriend – seems to me the most concerning part of the letter.

    I totally hear folks on the “15 years have passed” piece, which does seem significant. On the other hand, a power dynamic and student/teacher history when one person was 14ish and the other was 23ish, then reconnecting a dating 15 years later, still seems like a sensitive history to have compared to, say, a 25 year old junior employee and a 34 year old boss, or even a 25 year old grad student and a 34 year old assistant professor reconnecting 15 years later.

    To me it’s not just about the student/teacher dynamic, but about the formative age/stage at which their previous acquaintance played out, and the vastly different life stages/emotional maturity/personal sense of self and identity they would have been at then.

    If this letter was coming from the grad student/professor dynamic and all the other conditions were the same, I would be much more inclined to comfortable side with the “it’s a fact not a thing” argument. Here, it still gives me pause.

    Ultimately, though, I think they just need to talk through both of their thoughts and feelings about the situation as soon as possible, as that seems the key factor to guide them. Beyond that, it doesn’t really matter what other people think, and especially if the LW isn’t in touch with anyone from that school, who has to know or care?

  12. Is this person still a teacher? If so, this will definitely impact her career, and she will be open to an added layer of homophobia, as “gay teachers prey on children” is very much an enduring stereotype. And I’m afraid the reaction may be even worse if the former teacher is more masc in her gender presentation.

  13. I’m not a teacher, so when I read this I was shocked that this could even be considered an issue. I would be very surprised if most of my teachers even recognized or remembered me FIFTEEN YEARS LATER. Jfc, yall are very much adults – not even young adults – and can do as you please. There isn’t anything skeezy about it…not inherently anyway

    But former teachers did bring up some good points that the extent of your previous relationship might matter. No teacher helped me navigate through my awkward phase and there were only like one or two I felt more close with on a “mentor” level, but only to the extent they told me I was a good student and wrote college recs. So my opinion of this is informed by the fact that I view very VERY few of my teachers as particularly formative or memorable on an individual level.

    And comments from teachers did make me realize that there might be a risk to your lady’s profession if someone was trying to smear her or word about this got out. It wouldn’t be RIGHT in my mind at all, because again, adults in their 30s/40s here…but teachers / people who work with youth can be held to unfair standards. If she isn’t even a teacher anymore, works at a different school, or is just willing to not worry about…then I wouldn’t worry about it either, though I’d likely keep your relationship away from the students / parents / school. Not because you should be ashamed, but because people are jerks.

    • exactly this. to even think this is inappropriate is wild to me, but i have never in my life viewed a teacher as a parental figure of any kind. perhaps i would feel differently if i had. and agreed that this could harm her career. that would be deeply wrong and homophobic, but it could happen

  14. OK I have seen a lot of “i’m not a teacher/former teacher” in the comments. As a former teacher, I am on the side of not supporting this.

    1. it feels weird to you. that’s possibly enough. i echo the commenter above who said if you felt fine about it, but worried about the optics, that would be one thing. but feeling this way about it is a red flag. see point 3.

    2. it would feel weird to me if i was the teacher in this situation. 15 years is a looong time, so i don’t think it’s ethically wrong or anything. but i’d still feel weird. i think i’d feel weird about dating anyone who i knew when they were a kid and i was an adult. maybe that’s just me.

    3. i think the point not mentioned enough, but mentioned by commenter K, is … is this amount of trouble worth it? like, this person isn’t like your soul mate, one true chance at love. you went on a couple dates and like each other, it’s not like you’ve been together a long time. there are other people out there you can date and love who weren’t your former teacher. starting a relationship when this is the situation seems like more trouble than it’s worth. you can date someone else. you can love someone else. it’s ok to not date someone you feel like you want to date. it’s ok to not date anyone at all.

    so: i think it’s fine if you wanna do it and can wrap your mind around it and converse with them about it openly. but you don’t have to. it’s fine to just be like “damn, too bad. this is too weird for me” and move on.

    • Honestly, I think this situation is totally fine. They’re adults, so much time has passed, and the author makes it clear that there doesn’t seem to be a power dynamic at play.

      Tbh I get really tired of how policed every relationship is especially in the queer community, so much discussion of age gaps being horrible and predatory, this and that being problematic and the Worst when it’s all so contextual and generalizations rarely make sense. It honestly feels like a combination of respectability politics and internalized homophobia (I grew up with the “all gays are predators” message and it’s messed with me).

      There’s certainly situations where even as adults I’d consider a relationship with a former teacher unhealthy, but I truly don’t think this is one of them and I think they’re adults and can figure it out for themselves

    • Not to pile on, but as a current middle school teacher I couldn’t agree more. Would never consider dating someone who I had a deeply ingrained power dynamic w, even long ago. I think it’s normally messed up. I don’t blame the question asker here, just the former teacher.

  15. I’m going to my thoughts as someone who was in a relationship with a former teacher and who still is sorting through ways it messed me up six years later.

    There are a lot of aspects that were different. I’m aware my experiences aren’t universal, and I don’t say this to project, just to add another perspective.

    As others have pointed out, I think the fact that the teacher’s primary context for you was as a child is a red flag. Yes, you’re both consenting adults now, and I don’t think that means the teacher should view you still as a child. But that still makes me cautious.

    The other thing that gives me pause is that you compared your relationship to stories on AO3. I get how that may seem nitpicky, but as my relationship was happening, I ended up narrativizing it. And friends did that as well when I told them about it. It felt like I was living out a fanfic, and it made me less aware of my emotions because I kept seeing the relationship from outside myself. It made me second guess my doubts and treat myself more like a character than a person.

    I think the responses by Autostraddle staff in the screenshots also kind of exemplify some of that (and personally did make me feel uncomfortable as someone who’s seen the other side of a former teacher/student relationship). It’s easy to get swept away in the thrill of it when you’re framing it all as a story, and it makes you box yourself into a trope.

    It sounds like you’re asking yourself a lot of questions, so there’s a good chance that’s not what you’re doing, but I think it’s worth making sure you’re grounding yourself in your emotions and not the emotions you feel you should have as a person in this scenario.

    Finally, I just want to second what Abeni said. “it feels weird to you. that’s possibly enough.” Trust your gut.

    There are great points others have made about it as well. I just wanted to add my two (very lengthy) cents.

  16. Wow now here’s a decisive one! Strong lines being drawn in the comments!

    All I’m saying is that if my former teacher was able to /see/ the adult in front of her rather than remembering some gawky teenager (the way this letter has been written sure does seem that way) and is attracted to me for who I am now (repeat previous parenthesis), then that’s all I’d need to know! Although I was paying a mortgage by the 90s so she’d probably be geriatric by now and not bound by what seems to be the teacher’s version of the Hippocratic Oath.

    Side note: I’m sorry about your situation, writer, but I also want to see a full series with this playing out (with accompanying AS weekly review of course). How did you bump into each other? What type of dates are we talking here? Would it be inappropriate for a simple title pun – Educating Rita adjacent? How is it that time and distance has made it feel like meeting someone anew? You mention homophobic peers – is this true of her environment too? Okay, I’m paging all the queer TV writers (not you, Ryan Murphy).

  17. Okay so as the daughter of some educators, I HAD to get my parents’ opinions on this and interestingly they were quite chill. They both read the article and they know someone who this happened to and, to my shock, I know them very well. According to my mom, it caused a little stir at work but because none of the other educators knew the ex-student, and that SO much time had passed, people didn’t give a shit. Maybe that’s the answer? Enough time has passed that the people who would’ve found it objectable have long gone? Like a recency bias but…applicable to this. Small Asterix tho that this is a cishet couple so the rules are different for them.
    Anyway, I’ve known them the whole of my life and they are the most loving, committed couple I know. I’m actually shaking writing this cause I literally just found out that this is how they met

  18. My current partner is 30 years my senior. We met as neighbors and found we share many interests including having similar professions.

    I’m aware of the power dynamics between us and I’m vocal about them resulting in mayor breakthroughs and positive changes in our relationship.

    Our main struggle is his mental health. He’d suffered from mood swings throughout his life. This leaves me wondering what’s my role as his partner and if I want to continue working to build a future together. Which breaks my heart because he is a fantastic guy.

    My family in general is not supportive which makes everything worst. On the other hand I feel welcomed and loved by his family and friends.

    I agree with the advice given. If I can share any other piece of advice will be to have a community of people who appreciate you both and support you in this path together.

  19. Hi, sorry, I just wanted to point out that your statements “teachers fucking their students, even in college” – it’s important to call a spade and spade and a teacher doesn’t “fuck their students”, a teacher rapes their student (a minor in high school). Can we be clear teachers don’t “get into relationships with students”, teachers prey/groom/coerce. Just so everyone is clear. Thank you.

    • Hiya,

      Shelli Nicole here, the writer on this piece and Culture Editor here at Autostraddle.

      Your comment is an attempt to educate me on something I am very well versed in and also do not condone.

      I said at the top of this piece, that I am not an advocate for relationships with minors in any way and that very much so—and obviously—extends to not being an advocate for any harm done to minors, sexually, physically, mentally or otherwise. I also stated that no matter how many disclaimers I gave—folks would find a way.

      Please be careful when making attempts to school writers (who is giving advice solicited by an adult) as you may come off as someone who is trying to put a badge of shame on them that they did not deserve, no matter how well meaning the comment may be.

      Thanks for reading tho!

      • Hi, it’s me Vanessa, the editor of this piece and the You Need Help column.

        I just want to back up Shelli 100%. Regardless of what anyone thinks about this question (and as the comment section shows, there are a LOT of polarizing feelings here) I think it’s an incredibly bad faith reading to imply that anything Shelli wrote condones the harm of minors (especially when she actively wrote what she is not advocating for at the top), and I would really challenge commenters to consider how they can articulate their own thoughts and opinions on this subject without making accusations toward Shelli.

        That said, I will take this moment to say aside from the ungenerous reading here, I really appreciate all the different perspectives in this comment section, and as is always my hope with You Need Help, I hope that both the original LW and many other readers will find our advice useful for their lives. Grateful to everyone who trusts Autostraddle to offer help!

        • How is it “ungenerous” to say “your word choice here reinforces a harmful stereotype, could we use a different one?” I didn’t see this as implying anything about Shelli’s intentions, just a critique of word choice. It’s the kind of criticism that seems super par for the course for this kind of space??

    • oh yikes, I’m disappointed by the response from author here.

      as someone who was groomed/coerced by a college professor into having a relationship I – at the time – thought of as deeply romantic and in retrospective see as extreme harassment that left a host of scars, I’m of the mind we can’t make the kind of clarification you recommend often or hard enough. especially given the fantasy-laden nature of this, it’s just so fucking important that we talk about how incredibly harmful these relationships are.

      (also I recognize we’re far from the actual situation in the piece, but regardless, I appreciated your comment)

      • I thought Megan’s comment came off harsh, taking on a bit of a shaming tone beyond just educating. But this is a critical & emotionally charged topic! So I was extra disappointed in both AS writers’ responses. Writers should expect some criticism—they can clarify their intentions & challenge a commenter while still learning something from the critique. Just because the commenter came in hot doesn’t mean they should be shut down as if they were a troll. They had a valuable point that the writers didn’t acknowledge. In my opinion, AS should role model the tone they want to see while still creating space for people who don’t (yet) match it.

  20. Teachers should not date their ex students at any age, with any amount of time between teaching and dating. It’s not the responsibility of the OP to “sort this out”- the teacher needs to recognize the dynamic they once have (and still have – 9 years is no joke) and have/maintain professional boundaries.

    As someone already stated, this could have professional implications for the teacher, or just reputational damage/loss of respect from colleagues. That’s a consequence of her choice to date a former student.

    The dynamic of teacher/student doesn’t just go away with time. This person had an important role the OP’s development, was a mandatory reporter for OP, was a trusted adult, maybe consulted with the OPs parents, and helped determine the course of OP’s academic career (if even just a little). This teacher took a part (even if it’s a small part) in raising OP at one point in time. OP got older, but the teacher was an adult the whole time. Is that not icky to someone else? Where do you draw the lines with boundaries and abuse of power?

    I don’t trust many people when it comes to abuse of power, but listen, just because the teacher says she sees the ex student as an adult now and never had *impure* thoughts about them as a child doesn’t mean it’s true, yknow? Or doesn’t mean that the age difference and former status doesn’t benefit the teacher in some way. We’ll never know. Teachers are like therapists – we all want to fuck them, that’s part of feeling safe and heard with someone. I don’t think it’s okay in the case of therapists, and I don’t think it’s okay in the case of teachers.

    And again, 9 years is an age gap that has inherent power in itself. Have that conversation and take it from there!

    • This is it!! I was torn on this topic when I first read it. But if you consider it as if the teacher was a therapist, it is NEVER appropriate for a therapist to date their former client even if they had spent 30 years no-contact after their therapist-client relationship before starting a dating relationship. And *especially* if they met when the therapist was an adult & the client was a child.

          • i feel like the reasoning they gave for it was not necessarily a strong one, and also to refresh, the reasoning was literally “teachers are like therapists – we all want to fuck them, that’s part of feeling safe and heard with someone” which itself is quite a leap

          • then respond to the reasoning? but just saying “why make an analogy here” seems so dismissive to someone trying to think through this issue – which, as much as so many people are fine to think is nbd, has clearly struck a pained tone w a lot of people. but that seems to be the tone from staff in the comments here (besides Abeni) I guess?

          • Perhaps the fantasy is a bit similar because both teachers and therapists are off limits and have power over us.

            But I think the issue with the teacher vs. therapist analogy is that ALL therapist/client relationships are built around emotional intimacy; you are telling a therapist private details of your life. With teachers there’s a lot more variation, some will become quasi-parental figures who are very comparable to therapists, others will just be the person who hands out assignments and knows nothing about you. (I’m not endorsing a former student having a relationship with the latter type of teacher, just pointing out that they don’t really compare to a therapist.)

          • ok, i will respond to the reasoning! i don’t think the analaogy works because i don’t think it’s true that everybody wants to fuck their therapist or their teacher. it’s certainly not true for me or any therapist i’ve ever had, and i’ve had many! i remember having a crush on one (1) teacher in high school, but just the one.

            a therapist sees you one-on-one for weeks or months or years, knows deeply about your life in a way often nobody else does.

            meanwhile a high school teacher (which seems to be the case here based on their ages) teaches you and a class of students a topic in a classroom — i don’t even know if i remember the names or faces of all my high school teachers. some i do, and some i was closer to — well, i guess, there were two specifically that i was close to, and i suppose if one day one of those two teachers wanted to date me, it would be very weird because we did have a close relationship that extended outside of the classroom when i was a teen and they were in their 50s. (this was at boarding school so there was a lot more “hanging out at your teacher’s house” cuz they all lived on campus and you were stuck on campus, and really they were the only ones who could take you on trips to the 7-11 or the diner unless your parents came to visit) i did talk to them about my personal life at the time, i did see them as father figures. (which i lacked in my own life.)

            but the OP was very clear that she didn’t have a close relationship with this teacher, she was … just her teacher, who taught her a topic in school for a limited period of time

    • Aye, thanks pepitagoya. I also raised an eyebrow at an age gap between 30-40 year olds being an “inherent power differential”… and overall how Lain is defining “power”. Honestly, in your 40s you could start experiencing ageism to a greater degree than a 35 year old, so in some ways a 35 year old is the one with power bahah. I’m in my 30s, though – so apologies to any 40-somethings I might have offended (;

      I think we draw the line at power abuse when someone actually has power and when they are actually abusing it. An adult over a minor. A teacher over a CURRENT student because they currently control your grades and success in the class and school.

      A teacher is also generally in no way comparable to a therapist. I did not talk to my teachers like that- or hardly at all.

      Other teachers bring up good points that the quality and extent of their relationship 15 years ago matters, and I think that might be true, but reading so much predatory behavior into this girlfriend and her existence in a broad or inherent way seems to be exactly the “secret truth” OP is sweating buckets over somehow missing the memo on. But it seems so far from the truth that it makes me sad to read posts like this. You’re seriously telling OP to not believe the girl she’s dating and to carry around some underlying assumption that the teacher was attracted to her as a child and may still be attracted to children?? Even though she’s in a relationship with and expressing attraction to, like, a 33 year old?

      • To clarify, if OP had any evidence this person was attracted to children she should act on it, but you seem to be implying that somehow there is already evidence of it when there appears to definitely not be.

    • I’m currently training to be a teacher. I’d always thought of being a teacher as similar to being a therapist, like you. It blew my mind when, in one of the very first training sessions, my tutor said “As teachers, we are not therapists, and we shouldn’t be. That’s not actually what our students need us to be.” And I think she’s completely right. Seeing your role as a therapist as a teacher is actually kind of shitty. You’re not trained. You don’t have expertise in responding to trauma, mental health issues or disorders. You don’t have a one-on-one relationship where you can offer targeted, confidential, consistent help to every student. Your emotional intelligence or care for your students is not the same as being their therapist and it’s kind of self-centred and arrogant to think it could be. You’re a teacher, you’ve got too much admin and lesson planning and pastoral duties to claim you can be that to every individual you teach! Obviously this doesn’t mean that you don’t need to support your students’ emotional wellbeing or that you don’t need to be good with people. But ultimately your students need you to care about them and care for their education, not to try to do a job you’re not qualified for. Your job is to keep them safe and help them learn. Those two jobs are just not the same thing.

      Tl;dr I don’t think the analogy holds. Also, I don’t think everyone wants to fuck their therapists and teachers. (Although I did have a crush on the tutor who told me that teachers aren’t therapists. The irony!)

  21. Oh hai.
    I’m a former teacher, and also someone who had a super fucked up and toxic relationship with a former teacher for like a decade after she stopped being my teacher. I have a LOT of feelings on this topic.

    This is the first former student/teacher situation I have ever heard of that I didn’t immediately NOPE. I think that the zero contact for 15 years is important to this situation. Both people became entirely different humans entirely separately from each other, so there wasn’t (necessarily) a lingering power dynamic as the relationship slowly evolved. No watching the student ‘grow up’ or opportunity to be a continued adult mentor figure. I think that is really important.

    I also think a key piece of the puzzle is how close this person was to the teacher when they were teacher/student? Is this a choir teacher you had a class with every day for 4 years and hung out in the choir room before and after school and did musical rehearsals with etc? That relationship would be very impactful and will most likely still linger. Or was this person her teacher for one class for one year that she saw for 45 minutes a day and never talked about anything outside ‘here is your test back’? There is a big difference there.

    But I think the red flag for me is that the former teacher hasn’t brought this up, and it doesn’t seem like they think it’s something that needs to be addressed. I can not imagine ever dating a former student at all in any universe period, but IF it was someone in this kind of circumstance, I would be the first person to be like “yeah this is a THING and we need to talk about it and make sure we are on the same page.” The fact that it is the former student who is uncertain about having this conversation and how it will be received gives me a LOT of pause.

  22. Great discussion and insights. My naive initial response was “sure its ok after 15 years” and then I waffled on that with every great point.

    From the discussion came to these three salient points:

    1. Relationships are complicated.
    2. Think through the issues carefully before diving in.
    3. Consult with the AS community to identify all of those issues.

    My own relationship (which explains my naiveté) with my partner of 30+ years goes like this:

    1. I had a car and could be her chauffer
    2. She could cook and feed me
    3. We both liked the sex

    30+ years later, it still is pretty much the same foundation (seriously!!).

    Transportation / Food / Sex: prescription for a long term relationship

  23. frankly, it’s the former teacher and not the former student who should have written in for advice – it’s their ethical quandary to deal with and it’s they and not the LW who should be wrestling with their gut on this choice.

    • My image of someone asking me “a lot” of questions about this is pretty toxic and overbearing. What kind of a lot of questions? How often should someone realistically be checking in about this? It sounds like they did have a conversation about it, and repeated convos would almost be continually recontextualizing the relationship in a creepy way by bringing up the past over and over again. If the ex teacher is not uncomfortable – doesn’t or barely remembers 15 years ago, is 100% attracted to only adults and this particular adult – why would it occur to ex teacher to keep checking in? She probably doesn’t want to freak the LW out / make her think she is hung up on this old/possibly forgotten dynamic!

      I think the collective wisdom of 60+ comments on this thread did yield a couple pretty good questions – a couple! – that the two could ask each other / check in about going forward, but not everyone has access to a huge community or an advice column to have the perfect language or questions in their back pocket in those first weeks of dating. It sounds like an acknowledgement/attempt was made to open the line of communication if LW felt uncomfortable, LW purposely held back because she wanted to get her thoughts in order first, and all this seems perfectly reasonable?

  24. I think the letter writer is fine. “I just want to make it very clear that at that time I had NO feelings in that way for her (I was very much mid-teens when I knew her last) and she has said the same.” So they’ve talked about it, and they’re on the same page about it, and it’s been fifteen years of no contact since they knew each other in that context.

    Also, I know a couple who met that way and they’ve been happily married for thirty years. Would it be different if it was much less time than fifteen years, or if they had feelings for each other at the time? Yeah. Ezra from PLL is a perfect example of the fucked up version of this.

    I think there’s an understandable amount of skepticism when it comes to possible power imbalances, and it’s great to examine those dynamics for yourself, like LW is doing here, but given all the information provided in the letter, I don’t think there is anything *inherently* wrong here. And I wonder who it serves to be didactic about which relationships are inherently abusive, and which ones deserve less scrutiny because they don’t tip off any red flags.

    • i think this is a very good point!! —> “And I wonder who it serves to be didactic about which relationships are inherently abusive, and which ones deserve less scrutiny because they don’t tip off any red flags.”

      • Yeah, I feel like the LW has already addressed the things that could have played into the power imbalance between them, and is now just trying to deal with the taboo of it all. And the people in this comment section who are closer to the taboo (current and former teachers) are understandably freaked out. But just because it’s a little freaky doesn’t mean it’s inherently bad, and I bristle at the idea that all or nothing rules can automatically save someone from dangerous or abusive situations.

  25. This comment section is wild to me and also makes me sad at how much people internalize ‘queer relationships are problematic’ or the idea that grown adults in their 30s/40s can be pedophile/pedo adjacent. Homophobes are going to be homophobes no matter what, so being worried about the optics of a former teacher/former student relationship is just ridiculous to me.

    Anyways…. I agree 100% with Shelli’s advice, I also think that the letter writer is getting too hung up on the optics and not what makes them happy because it seems like their ex teacher makes them happy.

  26. I’ve been debating about whether to jump back into this fray, but I think there’s a point that’s maybe being missed here that I’d like to bring up.

    There’s a fairly consistent divide in these comments between self-identified teachers/ex-teachers finding this situation a bit off, and non-teachers thinking it’s just fine. I obviously can’t speak for every other teacher here, but for me, the thing that nags at me isn’t that I think this ex-teacher is a pedo, or might become one, or is in an inherently problematic queer relationship(?). It’s that teachers are in fact, legally and eithically, in loco parentis with regards to the students in their care. Maybe from an outside perspective it can seem like someone is just delivering a topic to a class, but teachers are trained to literally have the duty of care to stand in as parental figures for their students. So for me, the taboo about student/teacher relations runs so deep that I cannot fathom an ex-teacher being unbothered by the idea, even if a long period of time had passed and the former student was an adult, any more than I could fathom dating someone I used to babysit, or the grown-up child of an old friend.

    I’m not here to tell anyone how to live their life; there’s nothing illegal happening, and nothing non-consensual. The LW is an adult and they can do what they like. But the teachers in the comments section here aren’t unreasonable or misguided for finding the ethics questionable.

  27. Yes yes yes this exactly. It isn’t about even being queer at all – that isn’t even a factor (tho I think we all know the “rules” for us are different. Just turn on the news.)

    As a teacher, I have a duty to care for my students, protect them (literally from school shooters or any issue requiring a mandated reporter), teach them and help them grow. I take it so seriously, it just seems so odd to me that I could ever just “turn that off.” When I see my students from 10 years ago, even tho they are adults, I still see my kids. It would be so weird to not!

    I agree with above – ultimately yeah, you’re an adult, do what you guys want. I don’t think she’s a pedo. I just think it’s uncomfy and goes against my ethical understanding of being a teacher and working with youth.

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