Campus Life advice

Infinite love and finite questions

Auntie Matter on polyamory and insecurity

If you have questions for Auntie Matter, please submit them at Questions have been edited for length, clarity, and content.

Dear Auntie,
I love my girlfriend and we’ve been dating for about four months. I’m an MEng student and haven’t ever felt this way before. The thing is, she really wants us to explore polyamory together. She considers it almost part of her identity, though she’s not certain. On the surface, that sounds great and I really do think that love is infinite but I also just can’t shake the feeling that I’ll feel weird and jealous knowing other guys are sleeping with her. I can really imagine a long future with her, but when I think about inviting her to meet my family, the idea that she has other partners also pains me.
— She’s Poly

Dear Poly,

It seems that you have to find out what you want in this relationship. Auntie sees several possibilities. One possibility is that you agree to explore polyamory with your girlfriend. The two of you can experiment — you mention she’s not totally sure about it as well, so this could be a good opportunity for you both to find out what you like firsthand. Depending on what you learn from this, you and your girlfriend can decide what you want to do.

Another possibility is that, upon reflection, you could decide that you’re not open to trying polyamory. Then, either your girlfriend would have to agree to be monogamous with you, or you would have to break off your relationship.  

In any of these scenarios, you need to pay attention to your emotional responses to the situation, both because they could be clues to figuring out what you want, and because you need to communicate your feelings with your girlfriend.

You say you can’t shake the feeling that you’ll feel weird and jealous if your girlfriend has other partners. Even though you support the concept of polyamory, it could be that you are not interested in pursuing it in your own relationships, and that’s okay.

Auntie believes that, no matter what you decide, you will be fine in the end. You say you haven’t felt this way before, but that doesn’t mean you will never feel this way again if you break it off with this girl. Especially because you have only been with her four months, it doesn’t seem reasonable to think that you could never find the same thing with another partner. Auntie believes you could find love again.

Dear Auntie,
Why do jerks always seem to get ahead in life? Why do those who pretend to know what they're talking about gain respect, while those who tread lightly and only ask questions when they're unsure of something get looked down upon and lose the respect of their peers?
— Just Trying to Be Nice

Dear Trying,

Auntie doesn’t want to be too hard on you here, so I will say this first: it seems difficult to be you right now. Clearly, there is something going on in your life that seems unfair. Perhaps you’ve been passed over for an honor, or a grade in a class, or a UROP position. It really stings to see someone else get the respect or honor you want, especially when you think you deserve it more.

However — you criticize people who ask questions too frequently, or seem to “pretend” to have knowledge they don’t have. I urge you to consider that both asking questions, and, indeed “pretending” to have knowledge (some would say attempting to participate in conversations where one is not an expert) are useful skills. If you are getting upset at question-askers, for example, because you think it is unfairly to their advantage to ask questions, you might consider that there is a simple solution. You too could get the benefits of asking questions. How? By asking questions.

In fact, Auntie suspects that you wish you could ask questions, but you find you cannot. If this is the case, it might make more sense to develop your own confidence than to get angry at those who are confident themselves. I don’t think your anger here, the anger I read in your question, makes much sense — I think you are insecure, and that is why you are angry. Another thing Auntie suspects is that you may be from a foreign country, where the cultural norms around questions differ. If this is the case, Auntie has a great deal of sympathy for you. It will be uncomfortable, but it is to your advantage to try and understand the culture at MIT, which is fairly accepting of questions.

If you are not facing cultural barriers, perhaps you are simply insecure. Why are you insecure? I don’t know. But instead of focusing on all the “jerks” who get ahead in life, you should face yourself. If you cannot “get ahead in life,” no one else is going to do it for you. To be perfectly honest, you read as very entitled in your question. I am truly sympathetic to the fact that your life seems difficult right now, but entitlement will do you no good. Whether or not you ask questions is within your control. Ask some questions.