Blogconfidential: Dangerous liaisons

Each week, Dr Margot Feelbetter poses a dilemma and offers advice for readers to respond to online. This week: Dangerous liaisons

January 13, 2011

One of my students this term seems to have developed an unhealthy interest in me. I am a man in my late 30s and she is a relatively mature student in her mid-20s.

Early on in the course, she asked to be transferred to my tutor group, a request I granted not knowing she had ulterior motives. Soon she was requesting to see me over "clarifications" about an assignment and leaving an array of messages in my folder, by email and phone.

At first, I admit, I felt rather special and amused. However, recently it all got a little out of hand. Despite the fact I have never given her my address, I received a Christmas card from her at home. When I arrived back from my new year's holiday there was another message from her in my letterbox, asking to see me urgently about her assignment. It concluded: "Did you miss me? xxx."

Complicating matters, two years ago I entered into a relationship with a colleague at work, which got rather "messy". It culminated in her leaving our department after the relationship ended badly and I know that other staff members blamed me.

With redundancies pending in our department, this new business makes me rather vulnerable. My preferred option is to talk to the student discreetly, but if it gets worse my academic lead might conclude that she can dispense with my services. It's quite a worry.

You are right - you do need to take action. Unfortunately, you have been too slow in making it clear to your admiring student that your relationship is purely professional.

You say that you felt "special and amused" by her attentions; are you sure you were not actually playing along, subtly encouraging her?

What you do now depends in large part on how honest you have been with this student and whether you in any way returned or colluded with her infatuation. If your behaviour has been immaculate, send all the details (including any correspondence you have kept) to your academic lead, and let them deal with it.

If matters are more delicate, you must arrange a meeting with your student at the university - but make sure it is in a public place such as the refectory - and sensitively explain the need to maintain a professional boundary in your relationship with her.

In my experience, there is a good chance that she will be extremely embarrassed that her behaviour has drifted too far, and swiftly bring herself under control.

It is time for new year's resolutions for everyone, so here is one that you should follow: establish and maintain your professional boundaries.

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