Love the Questions, Not the Answers

a net with some purple flowers

Photo by Jenny Downing / CC BY

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

-Rilke

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We, quite unwisely, have an expectation that the most intelligent and capable people will behave in a certain way. They’re the quickfire kid sitting in the front of the class, waving their hand in the teacher’s face, who magically knows all the answers, thinks everything is easy.

But even Hermione Granger did her homework. Studied everything on the subject. Her quickness was the result of a deliberate slowness, a behind the scenes exploration and immersion driven by passion.

Hermione didn’t get it right away. She just did a lot of work that you didn’t get to see. She was confused for a very long time in a variety of ways. Sometimes she was confused about what she was confused about.

And while there are many Hermione types out there with good heads on their shoulders, not every gifted student looks this way.

It’s entirely possible to be sitting in a classroom where everyone seems to be catching on to something but you. One after another. And you’re the one hold-out.

You might feel stupid in that moment.

But I’m here to tell you that you might be the only person in the room who understands how difficult the question being asked is.

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I took a course on complex problem-solving (i.e., spaghetti situations) a while back. Ken Watanabe wrote an amazing book on the subject that I highly recommend. Everything I learned distilled down to this: People spend too little time asking why and rush to saying because.

Or put another way: You need to spend a lot of time questioning the current situation to have any idea what to do about it.

This is part of why I’m always a bit skeptical of poly people who are too confident, who believe they have all the answers. Romantic relationships are complicated enough when they’re one on one — poly networks make this exponentially more difficult.

We don’t have social models for this sort of thing. There’s no road map for polyamory.

And you know what? That’s the best part. Because all the problems we’re running into are novel, we’re forced to really look at the situation as it’s unfolding, to honor the problem without rushing to the solution.

In sit-com TV tropes, I know I’m “supposed” to yell at my husband when he leaves the toilet seat up, but what am I “supposed” to do if I come home and find him using the wine glasses we picked up on a trip we took when we weren’t seeing others and had never used with anyone else with someone new he’s dating? What if it doesn’t bother me? If it does, why does it bother me? And do I want to share this with others or not?

A thousand little weird moments like this happen to me in any given year as a poly person. Things bother or don’t bother me in a stunningly unpredictable fashion. I’m also differently bothered than I used to be. Things like the wine glasses were much more of an issue early on in my poly experience. I found them very bothersome.

On the other hand, in those days, I had a higher tolerance for being mistreated in larger ways, for example, a partner who was taking extreme advantage of me financially. Not anymore.

It reminds me of what I was told by an old teacher of mine, “Education is not about teaching you the answers, it’s about learning to ask better questions.”

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It’s definitely uncomfortable not knowing. But that’s usually the best sign we’re on to something. It’s the times when we are the correct degree of uncomfortable that we truly grow. You’ll get this. Just hang in there. Fall in love with the questions.

 

 

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