I have commitment issues.
The classic kind, like when it’s easy to choose between Chicken, Seafood or Vegetarian at the wedding reception or business luncheon, and hard to choose a meal when perusing massive restaurant menus.
I struggle with committing to future events on my calendar, or choosing which movie to watch, or even committing hypothetically to whether my perfect home is in a city or the peaceful countryside.
Maybe that’s why I live in the suburbs.
I think these commitment issues are unhealthy and neurotic, and do little to help me live my best-possible life.
But there are other kinds of commitment issues, and they often revolve around dating and relationships.
Because I’m single and spend a lot of time discussing relationships due to my writing here, this subject has come up a few times recently, and I think it’s important.
Men often get stereotyped as being afraid of commitment. There are several reasons why—some more noble than others.
But people—especially ones who have suffered emotional trauma from divorce or failed relationships—frequently express fear of commitment because they don’t want to ever feel that hurt again.
It makes sense to me. It’s irrational and joy-robbing, but I get it. We might die from choking or food poisoning when we eat. We might contract the flu from shaking hands with strangers. We might get killed in a car accident during our work commutes.
We fear losing good things ALL THE TIME.
Poor people can lament not having money OR they can feel grateful that they don’t have something they’re afraid to lose or that makes them some kind of target.
Rich people can lament having so much to lose, being targets, and having valuable things to protect OR they can feel grateful for their wealth of resources.
It’s always about perspective.
People who can see and hear and walk could go blind and deaf and become paralyzed from the waist down. Blind, deaf and paraplegic people don’t have those fears.
Parents fear for the safety and wellbeing of their children in profound ways. People without kids rarely think about that at all.
Having something of value in our lives, whether it’s intangible human connection and love, or material possession, often brings with it the burden of being afraid to lose it.
Every moment of our lives involves some kind of tradeoff. To be irrationally afraid of scary future scenarios we totally make up in our heads seems counterproductive.
Therapy. Good discussion. Writing. Deep thinking. All are good tools for overcoming our various neuroses.
But—and I’m admittedly biased—I think there are times when “fearing” commitment is wise and prudent.
People Who Love Hard Should Be ‘Afraid’
Fear is rarely useful outside of prompting us to run from scary things like a fire, or an attacker, or like, a mountain lion or something.
“Cautious” is probably a better word.
Sometimes people tell me they’re surprised I’m still single more than three and a half years after my marriage ended.
But the truth is, I haven’t come particularly close to not being single. Some of that is circumstantial. Some of that is logistical.
But most of it?
It’s because I think I understand what it takes for two individuals to merge their lives into one thing and give it a good chance to go the distance. I think I know what people need to give because I spent a nine-year marriage NOT giving it which predictably ended in ways impossible for me to recognize in the thick of it.
And I haven’t been shy about saying that I’ve been unwilling to give it.
My parenting, life and job responsibilities, and writing pursuits are already more than I can handle. When the day comes, I’ll have to abandon or reshape some of those things in order to give what’s required.
Giving more than I take. That’s what. And until a person can do that, I don’t think they’re ready.
I don’t think I’m ready.
This last part is important to me. Because I think it’s—tragically—a big part of what destroyed my marriage and is likely affecting others’ as well.
My friend said it today. She was talking about some of these same relationship fears. She said “I love hard.”
She means she invests a lot of herself into the other person and into her relationships. In the past, that might have caused her to not maintain and enforce personal boundaries as vigilantly as she would today. And when you don’t enforce boundaries, you can find yourself miles down the road with someone and wake up one day like: “Holy shit. I guess we’re, like, boyfriend-girlfriend or whatever.”
And when you love hard in those scenarios, months turn into years, and Like turns into Love.
And when you didn’t enforce compatibility and/or behavioral boundaries early in the process, the relationship suffers, often breaks, and often hurts.
She felt the hurt. And now she’s afraid. But it’s not because she doesn’t get it that she’s afraid. It’s because she does.
I love hard. Or at least, I aspire to.
I loved my girlfriend before she was my fiancée/wife/ex-wife. And because I loved her, I didn’t understand where the fear was coming from regarding my having not proposed after just a year or so together.
We were too young to say the right words. We were too scared to tell the whole truth. She probably felt pressure to get married because some of her friends were, or maybe because of childhood expectations that it should be by a certain age. Maybe she was too afraid to say that she wanted to know whether I was going to propose, because if not, she was going to break up and find someone who would and not waste her time.
Who knows what I was afraid to say. Probably everything.
But I think I was “right”—if there is such a thing—about feeling fear and hesitancy regarding marriage proposal, or even just giving the idea of a future proposal a bunch of lip service.
When you love hard, and Love = Forever, then tell me the difference between promising a proposal and actually proposing. Tell me the difference between proposing and being married.
Divorce was never on my to-do list. I always believed Marriage = Forever.
I would never commit to someone with whom I couldn’t imagine achieving Forever with.
By virtue of BEING in the committed relationship, I was working toward that goal. And when your brain works that way and you love someone with that level of matter-of-factness, it creates the family and marriage-jeopardizing scenario of totally dismissing anyone who tells you they sometimes feel as if you don’t love them.
You start writing them off as “crazy” or “emotional.” Since you think and feel Love, maybe you don’t feel the need to show it. Maybe that seems dumb to you.
I think that’s why many people get divorced. Different interpretations of verbal and non-verbal cues. It seems too subtle to be the reason everything turns to shit. But it doesn’t make it any less true.
Relationships have phases.
“Just dating” morphs into commitment.
Committed dating evolves into engagement or cohabitation.
And engagement/cohabitation often transitions to marriage.
Do you see?
When Marriage = Forever in your mind and heart, THEN engagement ALSO = Forever. And if committed dating = engagement, then you’re left in the funny little place I, along with many who love hard, or have lost much, find themselves.
If committing to dating someone feels essentially the same as engagement, and engagement is essentially the same as marriage, then—as insane as it might sound to some—committing to dating can FEEL pretty close to promising someone Forever.
After divorce? Children? Hard-earned wisdom?
That manifests as commitment phobia. As being “afraid,” or again, “cautious.”
Maybe some people will tell you that’s irrational. That you’re being “dumb.”
But when our hearts and minds are in the right place, I don’t think so.