“To Do or Not to Do”: That Is the Commitment Question
Marie longed for a deep, intimate, permanent relationship, but always seemed to gravitate to men with “a commitment problem.” They were: married, from another state or country, getting over an old girlfriend, available by email but never in person, living with an infirm mother, workaholic, involved with another woman, finishing a book, and on and on. Unavailable, in other words.
“Why are men so terrified of commitment?” she would lament to her friends.
What Marie didn’t recognize was that she was exhibiting the same conflict over commitment as the men she was criticizing. True, she wasn’t running away from permanent relationships. In fact, she appeared overwhelmingly focused on love and loving, and completely willing to commit. It was Marie who always wanted more out of the relationship, and the men who wanted space.
“Then it dawned on me one day that if I keep finding myself with men who are running away from commitment, then I’m running away, too,” she said. By choosing men with one foot permanently out the door, Marie kept her own options always open.
Marie’s “passive” avoidance, as compared with the “active” avoidance of running away, is perhaps less recognized, say Steven Carver and Julia Sokol, in their book He’s Scared, She’s Scared. But it is no less common.
Commitment and Life
Like Marie, many of us fail to understand the ways we avoid commitment and the ways in which this hidden conflict may be creating chaos or pain in our personal lives. And if we don’t understand how these feelings affect our behavior, we run the risk of sabotaging not only our relationships, but other areas of our life, as well.
“Commitment isn’t just about romance, it’s about life,” write Carver and Sokol. “If you are hypersensitive to commitment, your struggle is going to emerge in more than one area.”
Commitment conflicts can influence the way we handle our career, our money and our friendships. Consider some of the following:
• Are you hard to reach and don’t like to make plans?
• Do tape recorders and journals make you nervous?
• Are you militantly self-employed (“I’d never have it any other way!”) or are you constantly searching for the perfect profession or perfect job?
• Do you think of your living quarters as temporary, taking pride in your ability to move at the drop of a hat? Does buying a house sound like a nightmare?
• Are pets an overwhelming responsibility? Kids?
• How hard is it to make major purchases? Does making a choice drive you crazy because it limits your options?
“To the outside world, you may look solid, sound and committed,” say Carver and Sokol. “But inside your brain, your conflicts are raging, and you always have a contingency plan.”
What drives these conflicted feelings about commitment is a complex and very individual stew of anxieties, worries and concerns. Unexamined, these “ingredients” blend to create a powerful recipe for difficulty in finding and keeping love and happiness.
What We Fear
There are probably as many reasons why we worry about commitment as there are people who worry. A few of the multitude of fears that can present themselves:
• losing freedom and personal space
• giving up control
• being bored
• being stuck
• losing individuality and sense of self
• loving too much
• being dependent on someone else
• being “found out”
• giving up your lifestyle
• making another mistake
• being financially responsible or sharing your money
• making life more complicated
It’s important to remember that the problem is not having the fear. Everyone has fears, to greater or lesser degrees. The question is whether your fears are driving you away from good choices and pushing you toward partnerships that are ultimately unsatisfying, hurtful or painful.
Establishing and sustaining a genuinely committed relationship isn’t simple, particularly in a society that promotes so many misunderstandings, myths and fairy tales about them. The chief myth is that of a soul mate, that perfectly matched man or woman who will reflect our taste and status, see us for who we are, love us for all the “right” reasons and help us become the person we want to be. Few partnerships consistently live up to this ideal.
To make commitments that count, Carver and Sokol suggest some of the following:
Acknowledge your conflicts and recognize your fears. Quit blaming your partner or looking for excuses. Examine how your fears have caused you to choose or behave badly. Realize that just because you’re anxious doesn’t mean you immediately have to do something about it.
Make a commitment to yourself. Construct a meaningful, connected and full life. When you can commit to yourself, you can more easily commit to others.
Don’t think too far ahead. It’s too overwhelming. Keep your intentions good and make the best decisions possible moment by moment. Pray for the best.
Be present and accountable in all your relationships. Don’t hide your feelings, thoughts or true self. And if you say you’ll call, visit or meet with someone, do so.
Stop falling in love with potential. This creates “if only” fantasies that never, ever go anywhere. If you want change, you have to work on yourself, not your partner.