I have the hots for my stepson

He's 17, and I know it's wrong, but I think he has the hots for me, too.

By Cary Tennis

Published July 17, 2007 10:04AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I'm a 35-year old stepmom and mother of a 5-year-old daughter. I find myself attracted to my 17-year-old stepson and, more worrisome, I think he is attracted to me. He lives with his father and me half the time and with his mother the other half. I've been in his life since he was 9 and his brother was 7, and we're pretty much a blended-family success story. Everyone gets along, my stepsons are both great kids, and my daughter worships her brothers. My husband and I love each other and are good partners in working as a team, taking care of the kids, home, work, extended family, etc., though "marital relations" are close to nonexistent, due partly to the usual stress and partly to my husband's low libido.

The kid I used to know has grown into a charming and attractive young man who looks even older than his age. He's tall, dark and handsome.

I'm sure I can't be the only stepparent, male or female, who must try to quell feelings of attraction to an attractive teen stepchild. I mean, we're human. I wasn't worried about suppressing my own previously fleeting feelings of this nature until recently, when we seem to be catching each other's eyes more, and he seems to be making efforts to be around me more than he needs to, bringing up casual topics of conversation, just so we can spend more time talking. I find myself wanting to do that too, and thinking of him when I shut my eyes at night.

Not good! I know I'll never make a move on him. But I'm kind of trying to prepare myself, both my thinking side and the depraved side that hopes for such a thing to happen, for the time when he may approach me when we are (thankfully rarely) alone. How will I respond in a way that acknowledges and expresses appreciation for his feelings (and even mine), preserves our relationship, and crosses no lines of no return?

This is probably a no-brainer, advice-wise. I guess I also wouldn't mind some reassurance that I'm not that depraved, and how to reconcile my feelings in a somewhat holistic way. As Woody Allen, famed movie director and stepchild-marrier said, "The heart wants what it wants." On the other hand, I consider him a creepy perv.

Attracted to My Stepson

Dear Attracted,

There are times when it is more important to be clear and definite than it is to be appreciative of feelings. This is one of those times. You and he may be having all sorts of feelings. But your job is to maintain clarity and boundaries. To that end, I do not think it is a good idea for you to try to discuss with your stepson any possible sexual attraction between you.

If you are getting off on the way he looks at you then that is a private matter for you. And if he indeed is sexually attracted to you, that is his business. Most likely he is not sexually attracted to you. Most likely what you are responding to is his sexual attractiveness itself. He may also have learned recently how to make women respond to him by acting in a seductive or flirtatious way, and he may be trying out that behavior in all sorts of arenas. But even if he were attracted to you in that way, you are a role model, mentor and authority figure to your stepson. You are a guide, teacher and example. You are a source of support and comfort. That is the role you need to play for your stepson.

He does not need to learn from you the power of his youthful sexual allure.

Instead, analyze why he has been wanting to spend more time with you lately. It may be that he needs more of what you offer as a stepmother -- more support, more encouragement, more clarity about his choices in the world.

There are several reasons why his approaches to you may feel sexual. It may be that he is learning to use his seductiveness as persuasion and power. It is also possible that he is using interaction with you to learn about how to interact with adult women. That is perfectly normal. To that end he may try out various behaviors on you, flirtatious behaviors that have gotten a certain reaction from girls his own age.

The most productive work you can do, in my opinion, involves bringing greater vitality to the roles you are playing as a woman in your family. Try to strengthen and clarify these roles so that you can strengthen the boundaries between them. To move from the relatively concrete to the more visionary, perhaps you can consider these roles as archetypes, and see how those archetypes are being thwarted or challenged. An obvious example is the sexual stalemate in your marriage, but there may be other examples as well of how your archetypal energy is being stymied or distorted. I suggest you look into doing some depth work with a therapist to discover and define the deeper wellsprings of energy and passion that are with you day to day so that you can more clearly see what it is that you want and need from others in this world -- and also what you have to offer.

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