Learning from a Crush

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Reader’s Question

I’m a junior in high school and I think I have a crush on my teacher. He started working at my school last year, and that’s when I began having these feelings towards him. I’m not sure of what I feel — I admire him, but then I feel embarrassed and silly when I catch myself staring or just thinking about him. I especially got embarrassed when my friends asked who I like and he was in ear shot of the conversation, so I lied and said no one.

In the past, he helped me when I was both physically and emotionally hurt. And we sometimes spend lunchtime with each other, just talking or listening to music. I don’t really see a romantic relationship in the future; I would prefer a friendship.

How can I make sure these feelings don’t become an awkward barrier between us?

Psychologist’s Reply

There’s an old saying about crushes: we don’t get crushes on people we want; we get crushes on people we want to be like! And that’s probably what is going on for you. Crushes can be fun, exciting and quite useful, so don’t be embarrassed about having one. The secret to enjoying and learning from crushes is to figure out what they mean to you.

Although you didn’t say what he was like in the classroom, I’m guessing your teacher is enthusiastic, talented and interesting. Outside of the classroom, it sounds like he is helpful, nurturing and committed to his students. Who wouldn’t want to be like that? In addition, he probably leaves you feeling excited to learn, energized, and — because of his help when you needed it — cared for. As such, it is completely understandable that you want to feel this way more often and you do so when you are around him.

Once you realize why you’re crushing on your teacher, then you can use that information to help yourself get more of what you want. If your teacher leaves you passionate about learning more about his subject, then find other avenues to explore your newfound curiosity. Read more books, join groups dedicated to the topic or find ways to immerse yourself in it. You can also use your feelings about being cared for in positive ways. From your letter, it appears that you understand that he is not an appropriate love interest for you. However, the way he makes you feel can lead you toward finding an age-appropriate partner who evokes the same kind of feelings. Clearly, you are interested in someone who is nurturing and encouraging, so try to find the same qualities in whomever you would like to date.

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As for the future of your crush and the attending awkwardness, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. If left alone, crushes have a way of burning themselves out. Just make sure that you stay focused on the things you need to do (e.g., homework, extracurricular activities, friends, other dating partners) so that you don’t constantly think about him. What you do not want to do is to put either of you in an uncomfortable position (like finding yourselves alone). I hope that when you have lunch together it is among a group of other students. Although it’s possible that you can be friends with your teacher once you graduate, the current power imbalance makes such a casual relationship now unprofessional (for him) and unsafe (for you both). Consequently, in order to keep this fun and helpful for you, make certain that you treat him like you would any other teacher.

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