I am 23 years old and a computer science major so naturally I spend a lot of time around men. This is great. I have a tight bond with the few women that also study in my year, but I am also excessively fond of dick jokes and beer and get along well with a lot of the men here.
I had some really awkward teenage years and I am finally learning to appreciate and love myself. I am very positive and outgoing and I know this is what attracts a lot of men. I dress “prettily”; I like dresses and since I recently lost some weight I’m just enjoying experimenting with fashion. I do not, however, fancy that I am especially wonderful and unique — it’s basically just that these guys don’t meet a lot of women in their day-to-day lives and I smile and seem fun and then they all think they are in love.
One issue this causes is that it’s pretty painful “breaking” all these hearts. Most of the time I consider these men to be my friends and to hear them profess their love for me and then reject them really hurts. I mean, we all know what it feels like to be rejected, right?
The other issue is respecting professional boundaries. I have started teaching and last Friday one of my students kissed me at the university bar. It is frowned upon, but I’m not sure I can actually lose my job over it. I realize the appropriate response is to wait to date him until after the course is finished, but it’s not that simple because I am already seeing one of my other students (in secret). I started dating him because I had taught him longer than the other guy (whom I didn’t even realize that I liked until Friday) and I justified that I’d probably teach him after summer as well so why not just start dating him now (horrible justification, I know; I learned my lesson there).
So please teach me to set boundaries, because somewhere along the way between happy and hanging out and then falling in love I must be neglecting something, right? — Heartbreaker
Yes, you are neglecting the divide between appropriate and inappropriate behavior. I find it difficult to believe you don’t know how inappropriate it is for a teacher — even a T.A., if that’s what you are — to date her current students. In fact, I believe you know very well how inappropriate it is but you just don’t care. And that’s the problem. You don’t care because so far the consequences for your inappropriate behavior haven’t been anything too unpleasant. But what happens if/when you get discovered and then reprimanded for dating a student? What would happen if one of these boys you’ve kissed decided to press charges against you for sexual harassment? What if Boy 1 found out that you kissed Boy 2 behind his back, decided to make you pay for that indiscretion, and told the dean that you’ve been forcing yourself on him? Don’t think that could ever happen? Well, it can. Anytime one person is in a role of authority, she is vulnerable to such claims. Don’t think just because you’re 23 and you’re pretty and charming that you’re invincible. You aren’t, and sooner or later, your bad judgment is going to catch up with you.
Speaking of bad judgment, I have a feeling that all of these men who are professing their love to you are led to believe those feelings might be at least a little bit reciprocated. Most guys aren’t in the habit of professing love to any woman who wears dresses, smiles at them, and acts “fun” — even if their interactions with other women are few and far between. No, something tells me YOU are giving them some indication that you’re interested in them as more than just friends. At the very least, I suspect you like the attention and you seek it out. You say your teenage years were awkward and it’s only recently that you’ve begun to come into yourself a bit more (and have lost some weight). And now that you’re surrounded by guys all the time, it’s natural that you would experiment with some of this newfound self-confidence and see how powerful it can be in attracting attention.
Self-confidence in a cute, outgoing, smiley 23-year-old who likes dick jokes can be intensely magnetic. Now you know.
If it hurts so much to have to break so many hearts by being so intensely magnetic, stop creating the illusion of hope if there is none. Instead of hanging out with your male classmates outside of class, hang out with your female friends or with your male friends from other majors who aren’t as starved for female companionship. Or! Do everyone a favor and invite some of your female friends to join you and your computer-major guy friends when you’re hanging out. Introducing a few other ladies to the group — especially ladies these guys wouldn’t normally get to meet — would go a long way in taking some of the attention off you. But, of course, you have to be willing to share some of the attention. From the tone of your letter, I’m not so sure you are. So maybe that’s your best starting place.
If you want to set boundaries, just set them. But to stick with them, you have to convince yourself of their necessity. (Other people’s) broken hearts are one thing. Getting your own heart — or, worse, your professional reputation — broken is something else altogether. If you don’t start behaving with a little more decorum and maturity, you’re going to find that out first hand.