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Did He Or Didn't He?

Question:

Many years ago now I became involved with my college professor-mentor (although we were obviously attracted to one another while I was a student, there was no physical contact until I graduated and went on to graduate school in his profession). The relationship went on for many years. He was always ambivalent about it and me: one minute he would be passionate, the next he would tell me that he never cared about me, that we were never more than friends, and that our relationship was all in my head. I would have done anything, said anything or been anything in order to just have him tell me that he loved me. After many stops and starts I finally broke contact with him, married a wonderful man and became a professional success. The Problem: I still think about him much more than I should, and want more than anything for him to tell me that I wasn’t crazy — that he did care about me. He would be happy to be “friends” (I think that he is proud of my accomplishments in our shared field) but refuses to talk about the past, or to in anyway acknowledge that we were ever intimate. Given that my life is really quite good, why does this still matter so much to me?

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Answer:

Why do you still care? Only you can answer that question. Perhaps because you loved him and you never really feel that it was reciprocated properly. Perhaps because you suspect what I suspect; that your professor-mentor was (is?) a bit of a narcissist (there are more than a few living in academia) and primarily cared only for himself and his needs during the period of your intimacy. As you likely know, it is considered unethical in most professions for a professor to become intimate with a student. That your intimacy occurred after you were in graduate school doesn’t really lessen the unethicalness of his actions towards you. Simply by being older and more established in your shared field he was taking advantage of your inexperience and relative lack of power, the students tendency to idolize their professors, etc. That he was ambivalent towards you during your period of intimacy fits my case as well. It seems that the situation actually resolved itself well, no thanks to him but rather to your recognition of the hopelessness of that relationship. But this desire for you to get an admission of love from your old mentor-lover is a continuing problem. Rather than track him down with demands which likely will not be met, I’d use this unresolved bit of the past as a jumping off point for self-discovery. Maybe find a therapist or a friend or your husband and talk about what it means that you are still thinking about this past event. I’m willing to bet that there is more gold to be found inside yourself than in any statement from your former lover.

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