5 April 2008

Is it acceptable to be good friends with a teacher of the opposite sex?

Is it acceptable to be good friends with a teacher of the opposite sex?
I’m 17 years old at an only-girls school. I am really close to a male teacher (even though he is not currently teach me). I met him when I was 13 through a sporting activity. Over the years we have grown closer, and have become friends. He is 37, and is married with kids. We have the same interests and have long and fulfulling conversations. Me, him and my friend (also 17) are best friends and do so much together. Recently the 3 of us went to a different city for a concert, and had the best night ever. Our relationship is not sexual in any way, though we do greet with hugs sometimes. I do love him, but only as a friend. He feels the same way. A lot of people find this friendship weird, and many disapprove. But he looks after me, and is definitely young at heart. I can see us being friends forever. I love every minute I spend with him.
I don’t know what to think/do, and whether this relationship is truly wrong or weird? Please help!

sarah eidelmans

Hi Jo,

Thank you for your question.

It sounds like you are feeling really confused because you feel like the relationship you have with your teacher is a really good friendship, but that other people think it is “weird.” It can be really hard when people around you talk or act about things in your life that you see from a different perspective. It is really hard to say what is or what is not acceptable in terms of complex relationships such like the one you have with your teacher.

While being friendly with teachers (or people who used to be your teachers) can be great (teachers can be very smart, interesting and devoted individuals), there is also a certain element of such relationships that concerns differences in “position” or status, as your teacher is in a position of authority over you, which is different than when you are friends with some of your fellow classmates or someone closer to your age group.

This may be the reason some people close to you are reacting negatively to this relationship. Again, teachers are, ultimately, in a position of authority over students, and while this may not feel like it is coming into play when you are hanging out with this teacher, who you consider your friend, you remain in different stages of life, in terms of social circles, work and marital responsibilities, etc.

Because of this authority and because of this difference in life stages and objectives, there may be a risk that individuals in a position of authority abuse those they have a certain degree of control over. This is why you should be careful and stay away of situations where awkward intimacy may develop. Doing activities within the context of a group may help, as well as limiting the amount of physical contact you may have with this person.

However, the best signal that something is wrong is your own level of discomfort with the situation. You are saying that you love him as a friend : I assume that this means you don’t think you are in love with him, and does not wish to pursue a romantic/sexual relationship with him. If this was the case, other legal issues could arise, since in most countries, individuals in a position of authority such as teachers are not allowed to have romantic/sexual relationships with students who are under the age of 18.

That being said, it sounds like you have a really good time hanging out with this teacher, and that you have a valuable friendship. It can be really fulfilling to have “grown-up” friends who are interesting to talk to and may have different perspectives than friends your own age.

Ultimately, it is up to you to decide how you feel about this relationship. No one can decide for you if any relationships you have are “wrong or weird.”

Feel free to write back again if you have other questions,

S, for AlterHeroes.