Hello, world. My name's Stephen LaConte, I'm a writer here at BuzzFeed, and sometimes I give our readers advice.
So I've invited you to message me on Instagram and Twitter (@StephenLC in both places) with your biggest problems. And I'm solving 'em right here on BuzzFeed, one DM at a time. Let's get right to it.
Today, we've got this young man, whose friendship with his former high school teacher is starting to veer in uncomfortable directions. Here's what he wrote to me, via Instagram:
So, let's start by putting a name to this behavior: Your former teacher is harassing you. She makes comments insinuating that she wants to watch you have sex, she demands constant communication from you, she manipulates you into complimenting her, and she gets angry if you try to pull away. It's completely inappropriate behavior from anyone — let alone someone who used to be your teacher.
You say that whenever you've tried to voice your discomfort about this, she "doesn't take it well." So my advice for you is simple: Let her not take it well. Voice your discomfort anyway.
There are times in life where upsetting someone is a perfectly acceptable outcome. This is one of them. If you're a people-pleaser like me, that can be an intimidating, daunting prospect. But you need to remember that it is not your responsibility to keep this person happy or to shield her from the consequences of her own inappropriate actions. Do what you need to do to protect yourself — whatever reaction she has will be her problem, not yours.
So, what steps can you take to protect yourself here? Let's break this down.
At an absolute minimum, you need to establish some hard rules for your communications moving forward, both in terms of how often you talk, and what you talk about. I'm all for keeping in touch with past teachers, but those friendships should have boundaries. Your former teacher divulging her sexual fantasies to you, contacting you 24/7 for emotional support, and sending you frequent gifts are all over the line. If nothing else, those behaviors must end.
But I have to be honest: I think you'll need to go one step further here and cut off contact with this woman entirely. She has already shown you that she does not care about boundaries. She's not likely to start caring now just because you set new ones.
I worry that if you leave even the smallest window of communication open between the two of you, she will eventually bust it wide open again. Harassers and abusers don't really do gray areas. It's better to leave no ambiguity in your path forward: "Please do not contact me anymore." (BTW, the "please" is optional.)
As for how to deliver this message, I think you should pick the medium you're most comfortable with: a call, text, email, letter, etc. The only way I would not deliver it is in person, where it would be much harder to get away from her should things go south.
Ideally, this conversation should be brief and to-the-point. She will likely try to draw it out with her best excuses and/or apologies — that's what manipulators do — but I would encourage you not to engage too deeply with any of it. Tell her about the boundaries you need moving forward, and then end the discussion.
At the end of the day, you are not responsible for protecting your harasser's mental health. You are responsible for protecting your own. You write that her presence in your life makes your mental health "so horrible." That is the only problem you need to solve here — your teacher's problems are hers to solve. I hope she gets the help she needs, but it cannot come from you. Good luck.
That's all the advice I'm giving today, folks, but if you've got any words of wisdom for our DMer, share them in the comments! I'll be reading...
Want more advice and updates on previous DMers? Follow me on Instagram and Twitter (@StephenLC in both places). And if you want to submit a question to be featured in the column, DM me — just be sure to read the rules below first.
Check out the full archive of advice columns at Hey Stephen.
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