Monday, July 26, 2021

Aunt Agony: Valentine’s Day Woes

Story by | Agony Aunt 

Illustration | Ishmam Ahmed 

February 2021 

Welcome. Have a seat, dear. For those of you who might not know what I do, as an Aunt Agony, my role is to provide advice to those who have romantic problems. While I hope to keep things interesting for readers in the way I write my responses, the advice I give will be practicable.

Sender One

“Dear Aunt Agony,

My partner and I have different love languages: I am all about verbal affirmation, giving gifts, and showing how I feel in actions. My partner, on the other hand, is the type to know that we love each other without feeling the need to put them into action: they barely text me first, doesn’t give me gifts on special occasions (even our anniversaries or my birthday) and rarely calls me. But when we do see each other I can really feel they love and care about me. Is it selfish or a turn off to be asking for these things? If I need to ask for it I would rather not have them but I get quite jealous when I see other couples do things for each other…

I get anxious about our future knowing that my partner is not financially ambitious- they grew up in a comfortably rich family whereas I struggled a lot trying to afford school etc. Our difference in upbringing, of course, leads to different outlooks we have on life, but I’m scared that I want somebody who is capable of being financially independent and that if we struggle living together in the future I’ll be disappointed in them.”

Dear Sender,

I can tell you this and I can tell you it for free: the real problem in your relationship is communication. Now I don’t mean to imply that this communication issue is inherent in the relationship. It exists on at least one of three levels:

  1. You personally: Are you scared of open conversations about your differences? Are you assuming a priori that your partner will not be receptive to these conversations? 
  2. Your partner: Has your partner done their best to ensure that you feel comfortable to communicate openly with them? 
  3. The relationship generally: Have you as a couple created a norm of open communication? Can you be vulnerable with each other? Can you let each other know your needs and wants without taking things personally?

You deserve to be loved on your own terms, and while relationships are work, they’re not 5MC mods in emotional labor. Tell your partner exactly how you want to be loved, and there is no reason they wouldn’t try to accommodate you. Alternatively, if you’re not a confrontational person and don’t want to have a sit-down conversation with them, you might say something like, “I really liked it when you got me that gift,” or “I love it when you compliment me.” 

As to the second part of your question, this is a you problem. I understand that you both have different approaches to money— we are all products of our upbringings so if your family struggled with money, it’s understandable that you would be more conscious of it. 

However, if they don’t have the same stress about money, then good for them. It’s not every day The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism. They’re probably not stressed because they know or believe something you don’t. Maybe they know their parents will support them financially, or maybe they are more liberal with their money because they just have more of it. The question you should ask yourself is this: are they living above their means for someone of their means? If they aren’t then great, but if they are, maybe it’s time for another conversation. 

If this is pissing you off from now, though, imagine you’ll feel when you’re trapped between the lines of a BTO contract. You’re already doing compare and contrast with other people’s relationships over comparatively small things. Imagine how this will feel when it’s over the 5Cs instead. You will end up resenting this person for not helping you build every part of the life you wish you had. 

You need to be more honest with yourself about what you want in a partner, while also believing in your right to have it. I’m not suggesting you throw in the towel, but, as you mention, in the long-run these issues may be more serious than they currently are. Communication, however, will help resolve these issues as they arise. 

I think it’s great that you are aware of these issues because now you can begin to work on them together to come to a mutual understanding moving forward. All the best and invite me to your wedding. 

Sender Two

“Dear Aunt Agony,

I am evergreen. I have never been in a relationship with anyone in all my years of growing up. It’s not that I’m antisocial or that I don’t know how to talk to people. It’s just that I don’t know when things should move beyond friendship and into the realm of relationships. Especially in Yale-NUS, where everyone knows each other (almost), relationships that go south just leave a bitter taste in your mouth. How do I get started, and do you have any tips for getting into relationships in general? Perhaps I’m coming to terms with the fact that I have to be content with being single first, ain’t it?”

Dear Evergreen,

How about don’t start with “I am evergreen”. It’s giving incel energy. 

In all seriousness, you’re right to question whether you’re ready to date. Dating will reveal things about you that you never even knew, and will therefore require a lot of introspection which can at times be emotionally exhausting. Being happy by yourself is a good measure, but remember not to expect to be perfect. 

If you are ready to date, then go ahead, but I’m going to give you advice which some people wouldn’t agree with. Don’t shit where you eat. 

Many of us arrive at college with little to no romantic experience and are therefore eager to start dating in this exciting new environment. At this point, tinder has become Yale-NUS’ eleventh common core module. 

However, this lack of experience means that things can get messy very quickly. Dating is a skill: if you don’t practice it you’ll never learn how to do it. It’s not easy to simultaneously learn communication, compromise, and commitment in addition to R-Studio. 

Navigating dating within such a small community can, and more often than not does, end badly. As you mentioned, too many times friendship groups have been torn down the middle by romantic relationships which ended sourly. If these people had taken time to practice maturity outside of YNC, the community would probably be in a better position. 

My advice would therefore be to get to know people on a romantic level within explicitly romantic contexts before dating within the college. When I say explicitly romantic contexts, I don’t necessarily mean dating apps. You could ask your friends if they know anyone who’s interested in dating, for example. The key point is that you should both know that you’re pursuing something romantic, rather than platonic. 

Going on dates with people who you know for a fact are at least interested in you removes the first question of whether or not they like you. Your time dating will allow you to learn how to navigate romantic relationships for yourself, and once you have practice, you can use your skills to start dating within YNC if that’s what you want.

No matter where you want to date, though, it is important that you follow auntie’s golden rules of dating:

  1. Be sincere about your intentions with people. If you like someone and want to know them better on a romantic level, then just ask them on a date. Life isn’t a K-Drama and crushing on people for weeks/months without telling them is a bit creepy, and to be honest quite sad. On the other hand, if you’re not looking for anything serious, be open about it with anyone you’re dating from the start. No one wants to feel led on. 
  1. Be mature. If you do ask someone out and they decline, don’t take it personally. Rejection is a part of life, and it is necessary. Understand that romantic rejection is not a rejection of you in your entirety. Rather, the other person just doesn’t want to take the relationship to a romantic level, and that’s okay. Don’t jump into the rabbit hole of questioning why things couldn’t work out. Instead, accept your emotions, feel them, and when the time comes, move on. 
  1. Make sure to communicate. I would say that 75% of issues in dating and relationships can be solved through open communication. As I said to the previous sender, communication should not be sporadic, or when the relationship reaches breaking point. It should be a norm.
  1. Don’t just date— date around. When you’re inexperienced, it’s hard to know what you like and what you don’t when you’re only going on dates with a single person. You wouldn’t buy the first house you looked at, so why would you date the first person you liked? Take time to explore what you like in different people before committing to a single person. 

Don’t be so blue, Evergreen. Follow my advice and one day, you’ll find someone. 

Have a problem? Send it to Aunt Agony at https://forms.gle/RuKiXGFjCVeKqGgk7

Disclaimer: The advice provided in this column is no substitute for professional advice, and should not be treated as such. The Octant understands the sensitivity of such issues. If anyone has any complaints, concerns, or comments please feel free to contact The Octant at yncoctant@gmail.com.

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