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I am a recent PhD graduate in mathematics, and I will be starting a tenure-track position this fall at a small liberal arts college in a northern US city.

My graduate degree was completed at a large university in a college town, and I made occasional use of dating apps during my time there. They were only mildly useful at best, but they facilitated interaction with people outside my normal social circle, which I enjoyed.

My instinct tells me that I should avoid such apps in my new position, but I'd like to seek outside opinions. I already have some of my own ideas, but what are some potential pitfalls of maintaining dating app profiles? Should I simply refrain from using them? Would anyone in my department or administration have a problem with me using them if they knew?

Since it might matter, I am a 27-year-old male, and my new city is home to about 100,000 people.

Note: I am well-aware that dating students at my university is a bad idea. (For what it's worth, I am not interested in meeting people more than three or four years younger than me anyway.) I'm looking for advice that goes beyond some of the more obvious points.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – ff524 Jul 30 '17 at 20:19
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    The more important question is probably what kind of information you're sharing or how you're presenting yourself on the dating app. I can certainly think of a few less-than-appropriate things that could very well affect your career (if traced back to you), much like social media can. – NotThatGuy Aug 1 '17 at 14:41
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    Pretty sure I'm located in the city you're in. Academics use them all the time - I've met PhDs, MDs, JDs, etc on Tinder for instance. I don't think anyone will have a problem. Maybe try to avoid undergrads if you feel there'll be an issue, but considering that there's a lack of men here (if you're where I think you are), age-disparate and education disparate relationships aren't really viewed poorly. – Andrew Alexander Aug 2 '17 at 19:34
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    Would the Question or Answers be different for old professors? – Basil Bourque Aug 3 '17 at 6:02
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    Fun fact: I (junior professor) got to know my wife through a dating app... Just for the record... – Patric Hartmann Aug 6 '17 at 13:17

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Professors both young and old are known to use dating apps. So do students, doctors, engineers, lawyers, dental hygienists, and any other kind of person. In other words, there is nothing about being a professor that disqualifies one from using dating apps (or that makes one a special kind of human being in any other way, contrary to what seems to be the popular belief on this site at least).

The only pitfall I can think of is mild embarrassment, but that's true for everyone using these apps whether they are a professor or not. My advice is, go out there and have fun, worry about yourself and don't care too much what other people think. And if you want to date students too, personally I don't see a problem either (especially considering your age) as long as they are not your students and you otherwise behave ethically and responsibly.

(Edit: in certain U.S. institutions there is a general prohibition on faculty dating undergraduates - thanks to @EllenSpertus for the reference in the comments. Given your stated age preference this is not very relevant to your question since students in that age range would typically be graduate students, but it's worth at least checking the policy at your institution to make sure you are aware of the rules.)

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    @DanRomik While you (or in large part society) might not have a problem with the OP dating students, different institutions have very different rules regarding this. This year my university recently passed a recent blanket rule barring any such fraternization. – PVAL Jul 30 '17 at 8:56
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    I don't know where @PVAL is located. I do know that professors dating students is a big no no in Taiwan. I don't know if there is law prohibiting it. But, everybody, professors and students, would think you're a bad professor. Generally speaking, professors earn very high respect here and also expected to have a very high moral standard. You can argue that dating a student is not a crime. Still, ... – scaaahu Jul 30 '17 at 11:30
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    "dating a person who happens to be a student at your university".could become "dating a person who is a student in a class you're teaching" because the student could choose to enroll in your class after she had a date with you. – scaaahu Jul 30 '17 at 12:11
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    @scaaahu by the way, according to your logic, "dating a random person you met online" could become "dating a person who is your employee" if you are anybody who manages people, since the person could at some later time be hired by your company and assigned to your group. (And if today you are not a manager, well, you could become one in the future couldn't you...?) So, basically if we worried too much about this sort of thing, no two people should ever be allowed to date. That's clearly absurd. – Dan Romik Jul 30 '17 at 12:27
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    I know what you're saying. The issue is the professors enjoy high respect, but bound by more moral rules. Same for politicians. (At least in my location). An elected official had endured a lot scolding and curses just because he and his assistant were caught going into a motel recently. – scaaahu Jul 30 '17 at 12:33
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Other than agreeing with @DanRomik, I'll add that I do not believe what you take as an assumption:

I am well-aware that dating students at my university is a bad idea.

Dating your own students is usually a bad idea; but whoever is not likely to be taking one of your courses should be just fine. Avoiding everyone in your university - which may be up to a third of the eligible population in town in terms of age - does not make sense IMO. I mean, the most likely people you would get close to are people who are around you in your daily life, and much/most of that is at your university.

Of course - I'm saying this based on your being 27 years old. The somewhat-older undergraduate student and the graduate student population definitely comes within the age range you're considering, or thereabouts.

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    @EllenSpertus can you name even one college in the US with such an explicit rule? (It still wouldn't support your "many colleges" claim, but it would be something at least.) I am having a really hard time believing this, for reasons that I just explained in my updated answer. And what are "implicit rules"? If there is such a thing as implicit rules, where does one learn what they are, and how is one expected to avoid breaking them? Basically your comment sounds like unsubstantiated fear-mongering to me, sorry. – Dan Romik Jul 30 '17 at 19:55
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    I can name two schools, from searches I did in the past few minutes: Harvard (npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/02/05/384080539/…) and U Conn (courant.com/opinion/editorials/…). – Ellen Spertus Jul 30 '17 at 19:58
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    From my faculty handbook: "Although Mills College does not police the private lives of its faculty and staff members, it expects them to avoid unprofessional behavior. In general, it is unprofessional of faculty and staff to break the bond of trust that exists between an educational institution and its students by pursuing romantic or sexual relationships with students." I stand by my saying dating students would not be wise for a junior faculty member, even though we don't have a blanket ban. – Ellen Spertus Jul 30 '17 at 20:05
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    @EllenSpertus thanks, that's really interesting. I guess my theory that no U.S. institution would go as far as banning all faculty-student relationships was not entirely correct then. I respect your "bad idea" opinion and retract my accusation of fearmongering. At the same time, it's worth pointing out that the policies you cited only have a blanket prohibition on faculty relationships with undergraduates, so this is not very applicable to OP's situation (he is 27 and said he is not looking to date people more than 3-4 years younger than him). – Dan Romik Jul 30 '17 at 20:11
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    @einpoklum If you follow the links, you will see those policies apply to all undergraduates. Whether these are good rules or not are beyond the scope of this question. – Ellen Spertus Jul 30 '17 at 22:18
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Department chair in Mathematics at a mid-Atlantic comprehensive university here, who has been fortunate to recently hire a number of Assistant Professors. If one or more of them were to engage in online dating on my campus, I don't think that, by itself, would be of concern to anyone, provided all your interactions with students were professional. Recruiting new faculty is a lot of work; if we hired you, it is because we think that you are going to contribute to our program and our mission. We want our new faculty to be happy, and we don't want our new faculty telling others that our university is a place where folks cannot develop long-term relationships. The likely reaction of my faculty would be to wish you luck.

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I would set an appropriate date range to filter out the age ranges you might be cautious about. Ex) ignoring ages 18-21. As long as you are aware of it being completely public and are okay with that, then you should be fine, though.

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If you're ok with your profile being seen by your peers, students, their friends and Facebook's and maybe some meme's, sure go for it.

Unfortunately Teachers have to cop it from immature students, just be careful some guy you failed doesn't do something.

Perhaps tell your peers you are single and are any of them match makers or wing-men. Then resort to dating apps, that way the "well, it's no surprise I'm single" justification will work out better.

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    I think some of the warnings in the question is realistic. In particular, just be careful some guy you failed doesn't do something. In fact, not only some guy, but also some girl could do something that will let you regret. – scaaahu Jul 30 '17 at 10:01
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    Warnings are correct but somehow general. I think that using dating applications should be avoided in a relationship, that is. Just keep a sober profile, but this applies to fb, too. Actually your page at the dating site should be sober and minimal. I think. – Alchimista Jul 30 '17 at 10:38
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    I agree the warning is sensible and quite possibly realistic, but people in other professions also "have to cop it" from possibly immature coworkers, subordinates, bosses, friends, relatives etc. I don't think this is a reason to stay off dating apps entirely, unless you are a super sensitive or shy person who can't stomach the embarrassment of people you know possibly seeing your profile. However it is an excellent reason not to post risqué photos of yourself or other very sensitive or personal information, either on a dating app profile or any other place online. – Dan Romik Jul 30 '17 at 12:06
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One important question you should think about is, how will people know that you have a dating app profile in the first place?

There are three ways:

  1. You've included information on the profile that personally identifies you and makes it possible to locate your profile with a search engine (e.g. name). That's easily avoided by being careful about what you include in the profile.

  2. The person found out because they themselves are using that dating app. In this case, there should be no embarrassment because they are doing the same thing as you!

  3. Someone else discovered your profile, recognized you, and then told another person who isn't using the app and whose opinion causes you embarrassment. Since there isn't anything wrong with a human being wanting to socialize, and this scenario is fairly unlikely anyway, I wouldn't be overly worried about it. You can counter this by keeping the profile content appropriate to minimize any possible embarrassment.

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    Professors of a university are held to higher standards than undergraduates. They are expected to show a higher degree of maturity. I don't think point 2 is therefore applicable. "Message me if you want to smash!" on a Tinder profile of a freshman would barely interest anyone but found on a profile of your lecturer together with his face would instantly be shared among all students. I would definitely find it shareworthy. Whether you should be ashamed about it is another question that was already answered. – problemofficer Jul 30 '17 at 18:43
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    @problemofficer I dealt with the "message me if you want to smash!" part in the last sentence of point 3. A well written and respectable dating profile is nothing to be ashamed of. That might be the subject of another question, but it becomes relevant to this if you're going to claim that professors should be held to higher standards when it comes to dating in general (since the OP has removed dating students from this question). I do not accept that as a valid starting point. Why should professors be expected not to socialize outside of work in the same ways as anyone else? – JBentley Jul 30 '17 at 20:00
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    @problemofficer The flaw in your argument becomes obvious with, "they are expected to show a higher degree of maturity". Having a dating profile is not a sign of immaturity. Having an immature dating profile is a sign of immaturity. – JBentley Jul 30 '17 at 20:02
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    There is nothing inherently wrong with dating app and there is nothing wrong in being identifiable. You should start with assumption you will be identified sooner or later, because it's inevitable. The only issue one should care about is what he/she writes in the app. – Agent_L Jul 31 '17 at 11:42
  • Your argument in 3 is untrue (it sounds like you live in an ivory tower). Most students would tell each other when they find their profs in unexpected places (or post this online), just as it is often in CHeap newspapers when promiment people appear in unexpected places. – Thomas Oct 30 at 20:25
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Because you will be teaching at a small liberal arts college, which might have some parochial views, it is a good idea for you to delay your entry to online dating sites until you understand the culture of your new department, the college as a whole, and the town in which you are located. Once you understand your cultural and physical surroundings, you might decide not to use dating sites for awhile or, conversely, you may feel that using such sites are perfectly acceptable.

Whatever you decide, it would be ultimately fatal for you to date students from your institution or any other local school. For any instructor, students-as-dating prospects must remain terra incognita.

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    "it would be ultimately fatal for you to date students from your institution or any other local school": Personal beliefs apart, this is a totally unsupported claim, especially for a 27-years old person like the OP. – Massimo Ortolano Jul 31 '17 at 9:24
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    @Docholl1 my school does not prohibit romantic relationship between faculty and people who are students at the same institution (but not under direct supervision), so your claim "no school at any level..." is factually incorrect. This seems to be a common misunderstanding here, sadly. Would you care to clarify your comment in light of this so that we all become wiser about this topic? And where exactly does one go to "do some research on the issue of instructors dating students"? Telling people to go "do some research" without explaining how they are supposed to do that is not exactly helpful. – Dan Romik Jul 31 '17 at 12:02
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    @Docholl1 with respect, I see no reason for any of us to give credence to your claim about "most schools", particularly when your earlier claim about "no school at any level" was easily refuted. My school is part of the University of California system, which has 10 campuses and is (I think) the largest public university system in the country. All of the UC campuses have the same sexual harassment policy that does not have a blanket prohibition on faculty-student relationships. So my school is very far from being unusual. If you want to convince us otherwise, it's up to you to provide evidence. – Dan Romik Jul 31 '17 at 14:22
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    @Docholl1 That quote contradicts your claims: in fact, a faculty member does not have academic responsibilities with all the students, and certainly not with any student of the other local schools. – Massimo Ortolano Jul 31 '17 at 16:14
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    I hit the send button inadvertently. The bottom line is this: romantic relationships between a faculty member and his or her students are prohibited by most schools. Romantic relationships are strongly discouraged in all cases between faculty and students because, from a Human Resources perspective, all such relationships are asymmetrical and therefore dangerous for the institution. Yes, we'll have to agree to disagree. – Docholl1 Jul 31 '17 at 16:43
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Please be aware of your role in your locale as a Professor. But at the same time this should not prevent you from being involved socially. Being social makes for a good professor in general because you will be empathetic to your students. Let the social aspect of your life lead you to a potential dating partner. If you use dating apps that just asking for trouble anyway. Social life is natural and it takes time to bond with people.

  • I personally think this is the correct answer. In particular, Let the social aspect of your life lead you to a potential dating partner – scaaahu Aug 1 '17 at 3:23
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    @scaaahu This is the correct answer for some people. Dating apps are wildly successful, which suggests that they are more effective than "being social and hoping to meet somebody" for many. – Flyto May 30 '18 at 8:41
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I don't think it would be good to use dating websites, but I believe that as long as you are not currently in a position of authority over say a former student or if there is no chance that you will be in a position of authority in the future, then I feel as if it would be okay to date them that is if you meet someone and you know you're not in a position of authority over them, it would not be breaking any rules.

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There is no general custom of sexual policing of employees by universities - so long as you do not cross legal boundaries or rules on harassment, your dating life is your own business, as is the electronic means by which you facilitate this. As others have pointed out, the only exception, where otherwise innocent dating or sexual behaviour might violate a university requirement, would be if you have a relationship with a student, especially one you are teaching or supervising (though not necessarily limited to this). This is a subject that your university probably has a specific policy and guidelines on. Since you are obviously well-aware of this danger (and if anything, you are overstating the scope of this limitation), you will be fine.

  • Please see Ellen Spertus's comments on einpoklum's answer. A number of universities have instituted blanket bans on professors dating undergraduates. – aeismail May 30 '18 at 4:49
  • Okay, I have edited to give a broader statement. – Reinstate Monica May 30 '18 at 5:10

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