• Other Friendship Advice

Can a mentor be a friend? Not always

Published: May 4, 2011 | Last Updated: April 2, 2016 By | 1 Reply Continue Reading


Hi Irene,

I’m female in my early thirties and my female college mentor is in her mid-50s. When I was her student she invited me to her house to help me study. I thought it was kind of odd and crossing boundaries but I needed help in the class so I went. The way she had looked at me deeply in the eyes and asked me if I wanted help gave me some sort of “vibe.”

She is married and so am I. Both of us have kids; her children are in college and mine are toddlers. She always would compliment me on my looks. We text messaged each other a couple of times related to school (all the students have her number—not just me) but it seemed as though we got sort of close.

She invited me to her house again to study but that time I said I thought I would be fine without the extra help. One day when the semester was almost over she said if I ever needed anything at all to call her and even if it was late at night. Unexpectedly, I had to do that one night and sent her a message at midnight. The next day she sent a message back saying that it was too late and I woke her up.

I felt hurt because of her previous statement so I told her I would never talk to her again because I felt like a burden. Well, then a few weeks passed and school was over. I felt badly about what I had said (even though I felt hurt because she totally contradicted herself) and I emailed her and apologized. She won’t accept my calls either.

I’m obviously done with the “friendship” but I am hurt because of my apology that was never accepted. How can someone just cut someone off like that? She was the one who “initiated” all of the invites to her house, for help, etc. What the heck happened?? I will never get to talk to a person I really looked up to again and I am sad.




Dear Margie,

Don’t look back and forget about this relationship.

It’s okay for a mentor or boss to invite you to her home or extend an offer of help but if you get the vibe that she (or he) is acting solicitous because she or he wants more than a platonic relationship, you need to be cautious. This does violate a professional boundary.

If your mentor offered her help because she wanted something in return, she may have gotten angry when you didn’t respond as she had hoped. Since she never said or did anything explicitly inappropriate, the possibility exists, too, that you may have misread her intentions.

Yes, suggesting you text her at any time and then getting upset when you did—did give you a mixed message. Your professor could have simply ignored the text until it was convenient for her to respond.

Even though it had to be upsetting to be reprimanded by someone who you once admired (and who may have power over you and your future), you probably shouldn’t have reacted to her mixed messages by telling her you would never talk to her again.

At this point, this relationship seems to be very confusing and over the long term, I don’t see any solid basis for her being a friend or a mentor to you. Mentors can play important roles in nurturing our careers but choosing a good mentor requires due diligence.

Hope this helps.


You may be interested in this article I wrote several years ago for ScienceCareers.org about mentorship:

  • Getting yourself mentored

These are prior posts on The Friendship Blog that touch on mentors:

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Category: Workplace friendships

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Wow, thank you for such the great response. That was helpful to me. Its nice to hear an outsiders opinion. There were way more details that i didnt share…but it would have made the story way to long and my main question is what I needed help with and you are very kind to respond.

    She would always sit CLOSE to me, and when she had invited me to her house the first time she asked like 2 times and I finally said yes, all of the other students she helped them but didnt offer her house, just the college…which I thought was strange. Her daughter and husband was there and her daughter was at home visiting from college and she asked her daughter when she was going to leave, like she wanted her too…it was weird. She kept asking me if I wanted something to eat or if I had to use the bathroom. Both things twice and I was only there for an hour…she could have been being nice..but it seemed odd. Maybe I did misread it. She just gave me a vibe and then after I had already been to her house once she asked me if I wanted to go over there again to study…I know we were both Females but i just think that is crossing boundaries as a teacher to invite you to her personal house…it is nice to offer your help but just seemed a little too close.

    I guess I will never get to talk to her again since she wont accept my calls and she never replied to my email. But I just think it was really rude to not even get a response from her…

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