Once you’ve stopped singing that Van Halen song, let’s talk for a moment about how “Hot for Teacher” is a trend that has been escalating in the New Adult genre over the last year or so.
Most of the people I have talked to about this are pretty grossed out by the concept of being attracted to your teacher. Before New Adult, the trope may have been found most often in self-published erotica, fan fiction, and porn. But with college comes a new age range and new possibilities for this trope to be socially, or at least legally, acceptable.
Recently, I read Cora Carmack’s Losing It, in which Bliss, a virgin, sets out to a campus bar where she seeks to lose her virginity. At first, she’s hesitant, but soon falls upon a hot man reading Shakespeare in the bar—best of all, turns out he’s British!
Cut to a few scenes later and Bliss is about to Lose It with Garrick (hot guy from the bar) when she freaks out, realizing that this isn’t how she wants “It” done.
Leaving a half-naked and confused man in her bed, Bliss goes back to business as usual, finishing up her final semester of college. When she walks in to her final acting class she realizes that she recognizes the man standing in front of the classroom because…it’s her almost one-night-stand.
H.M. Ward tackles the same issue in her books Damaged, Volume 1 and Damaged, Volume 2 but with a much darker tone than Carmack takes in Losing It, which is honestly one of the funniest books I’ve read in New Adult and reads like a well-written rom-com. But I digress. Sidney hasn’t had the easiest life. She fled her family and an abusive ex-boyfriend to go to school as far away as she could—Texas. She hasn’t had many (read: any) boyfriends since she’s moved away from her last less-than-desirable situation, but she’s giving it one more try when she agrees to a blind date. Sidney goes to the restaurant and sees an unbelievably hot guy sitting at a table by himself. As any person would do she assumes this is her blind date—as teachers, parents, friends across the globe can attest “You know what assuming does, don’t you? It makes an ass out of u and me.”
The scene with Sidney and Peter (hot guy from the bar…hmmm, I’m beginning to see a trend…) is hilarious and only made more so by Sidney’s friend coming over to get her for the real blind date (let’s just say he leaves much to be desired). This date, as can be expected, is awful and Sidney gets anxiety over being with a man who seems to want nothing but a physical relationship with her and will be pushy to get it—an anxiety that wasn’t there with Peter.
Sidney ends up running into Peter again, they have mild hanky-panky but Peter shows her to the door before things can go all the way. Once again flash-forward and we find out that Sidney’s professor that she was going to be TA-ing for has unexpectedly died, and his replacement is none other than Peter.
Now, in both of these books there are elements that could potentially skeeve out even the most seasoned of readers, but I think it’s worth looking past these elements into the heart of the story, or at least understanding why some of them aren’t as big a deal as they could be.
Age is Just a Number, but It’s Not Really So Remember One-Half Plus Seven
Forget about the creepy vision of Victor Garber feeling up Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde (The most tame skeevy professor/student relationship I could think of)—that’s not what’s going on in these books. Damaged's Peter is a recent PhD Graduate and this is his first major job out of school. That makes him between 28 and 30. Now, for those of you not familiar, one of “The Rules” of modern dating is that the socially acceptable age difference between couples is half the age of the older partner plus seven. If Peter is 30 that age is 22—right there at the age you graduate college.
Carmack’s Garrick is even younger. He was a well-respected, recent graduate returning to his alma mater after going to graduate school up North to teach for one semester while another professor was on sabbatical. That makes him probably no more than 26, making the age difference between him and Bliss even less. As I mentioned, the student/teacher relationship had mostly been relegated to the realm of porn until New Adult entered the field. There’s still a sense of the forbidden, but in the case of New Adult, it’s not because of the age difference. I might be coming from this from a different angle than most, though, as my parents had an 18-year age difference and while I don’t think they’d be thrilled with the idea of their daughter coming home with her college professor, they’d have to swallow any comments about the age difference.
The Forbidden Fruit, or Sneaking Around Seems Fun Until You Get Caught
As the story goes, the couple will always get caught. A member of Team H&H recently said that all stories have to have a time limit—X must get done by Y time. In the case of the student/teacher romance, the reader is always left wondering, “Can they keep this hidden until graduation/can they keep their pants on until graduation?”
The answer is almost invariably no—but will they get caught? Each university is different as far as their rules for staff-student relations. My own university was very lax with it and I knew of at least one professor who had married a student and another student who met his long-time girlfriend while she was his TA.
In Damaged, the couple are confronted by the dean of the school who sees them out to dinner together (before they actually get together) and cautions them to end whatever is going on between them and says that if they don’t, the dean will fire the professor or terminate the student's work-study money—talk about intimidation!
In student/teacher romances, this is the main conflict. Will they get caught, should they even be together? For the most part in these two books, the couples don’t get together fully until it’s acceptable for them, meaning the student/teacher relationship is at an end or almost at an end. Sure, there’s some making out and heated glances, but they don’t have sex until the threat of discovery is almost eliminated as they will graduate. In Damaged, there are some extenuating circumstances in which Peter and Sidney have to make a choice between staying a couple or one of them leaving the university since they are discovered before Sidney can graduate.
The choices these couple face are tough and some people are grossed out by it. But I ask you, how is this so different than the relationship between a boss and secretary or any other office romance, or the guardian/ward romance found in many historicals?
Authority Figures, or Who Wears the Pants in This Relationship
Right here is the one place where the student/teacher, guardian/ward, boss/secretary romances can get tricky and a little bit pervy. This person has a direct correlation with your success or failure in a position. The teacher can give you a better grade than earned while together, and fail you after a breakup. The boss can give you a raise or fire you, and the guardian…well I imagine a dowry might factor in somehow.
The power balance is always important in a relationship, and the push-pull can be sexy if done right, but in these tropes, the balance is pre-established by society. The teacher has the power over the student, the boss over the secretary…you get my point.
In Carmack’s Losing It, some of the characters question Bliss getting the lead role in a play. As the reader we know Bliss was amazing, breathtaking, perfect for the role that made her question her career path and how she thought of herself as a person. The few who knew Bliss and Garrick had “a thing” questioned whether she should have gotten the part, that she probably just got it because she slept with the professor. The issue isn’t huge in this book, and therefore it isn’t hugely dealt with, but because of Garrick’s authority, he and Bliss do have to be extra careful of where they do that making out and share those heated glances I mentioned earlier.
I don’t go searching for teacher/student romances, but recently I’ve found a lot of them in the New Adult genre and have enjoyed them not because of the trope but because of the intricate conflict and deep characters that comes with it.
Do you mind the relationship? Like the tension? Will you try, or have you tried, the books I’ve mentioned?
Jennifer Proffitt is a Midwest transplant to New York City. She spends most of her time reading and writing about romance, but you can follow her other adventures on Twitter @JennProffitt. She works for Heroes and Heartbreakers and Criminal Element.