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Auntie SparkNotes: It Is Okay to Crush on My TA?

Auntie is out today, so we’re bringing you a vintage post from the Auntie vault!—eds 

Dear Auntie,

I have a question concerning the ethics of crushing on a TA. I’m a junior in college and I’ve recently acquired a crush on one of my chemistry lab TAs. I know that TAs are different at every university and some have graduate student TAs. Mine, however, has undergraduate TAs, so the TA I’m crushing on is a senior (around a year older). So, age is not the problem. The professor who heads the lab is ultimately the one who decides grades, but TAs still grade our weekly lab reports and—as I understand it—then turn it into the professor. Would asking him out, or even flirting, be an acceptable thing to do given that he grades my work? I don’t want to get him into trouble or put him in an awkward position.

Which leads to two other slight problems. My original thought was just to wait until the semester was over, but remember, he’s a senior. When the semester is over he graduates.

The other problem is gauging his interest. I love your series on flirting. It has been an invaluable resource for me. But, again, he’s my TA and I don’t know how to flirt with him given that we are in lab full of other people and I’m always by my lab partner. The only time I see him is in lab. Plus, he’s very shy.

Crushes in themselves aren’t inappropriate, but acting on them sometimes can be. Is this an example of a crush I shouldn’t act on? I am interested in him and would like to get to know him better.

And the good news, my darling Sparkler, is that there’s nothing wrong with that.

Unfortunately, I think you already know that the really good news ends there. Because getting to know the guy is one thing; but when you move beyond the getting-to-know-him part, then yeah, you’re basically in a perfect storm of bad timing and crappy circumstances. It’s not strictly ideal to be romantically involved with someone who’s in a position of power over you, and TAs aren’t strictly supposed to date students in the classes they teach for precisely that reason.

On the other hand—and this is neither good news nor bad news, but simply the reality of how things work—the rules and regulations surrounding TA-student relationships have never exactly been much of a deterrent to people who want to pursue them. TAs and teachees have always hooked up, irrespective of whether they’re allowed to or not. And when the people involved in said hookups are all consenting adults, and particularly consenting adults of roughly the same age, is it really the place of some academic administrator (or some internet agony aunt, for that matter) to shake a finger at them and tell them not to?

No, really: I’m asking you. Not that I don’t have my own ideas about how I’d answer that question, personally, but my answer isn’t the point. The question is, do you feel comfortable pursuing a guy under these particular circumstances, or does it strike you as problematic? Are you confident and mature enough to hold your own in a relationship with someone who may be evaluating and grading your work? And can you handle yourself with grace and decency if things go badly — if, for instance, you hooked up, and then broke up, and still had to see him in class every day?

Obviously, the success of a potential relationship also hinges on your TA’s answers to these questions. Even if you’re down with all of this, he might not be (and it’s worth noting that if things go badly, he’s the one who stands to get in trouble for getting involved with you—which means that he might be understandably less keen on flouting the rules.) But if you think you can deal maturely with the various intricacies and potential outcomes of a relationship/hookup/flirtation/whatever, then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t give him the opportunity to return your interest and attention… or decline it, as the case may be.

And as for how to do that, off the top of my head, you could always start by staying after class to ask him for clarification on something science-related—and then add in a little flirting to see if there’s, y’know, a chemical reaction. WINK.

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