He's a chic lit cliché: the guy who can't commit. He loves the heroine, truly he does, and they're clearly compatible, in bed and out, but somehow he can't quite take that step. He can't make himself pop the question and join his life with hers happily ever after, 'til death do us part.
Actually, it's not a literary myth. My sister's husband was like that. It took five years, two breakups and some therapy before they finally tied the knot. I'm not ridiculing him. It was a painful and difficult process for him to get to that point. Commitment often is.
However, if you don't commit, you go through life skimming the surface, flitting from one person or activity to another, never experiencing the depth and beauty that's available. Commitment brings emotional and spiritual rewards that are well worth the pain.
The general understanding is that “commitment” is a kind of transition, a phase change, a final stepping over some line. Before you make a commitment, you're in one place. After the act, you are someplace else altogether. You commit and then you breathe a sigh of relief. That's over.
That's not the way it works, in my experience.
As I've shared before on this blog, I was anorexic in my late teens. After the acute phase was over and I returned to college, I still had anything but a normal relationship with food. I still weighed myself daily. I binged on calorie-free items like cantaloupe, cabbage and popcorn (without butter). I felt guilty whenever I ate a real meal.
To try and cope with these behaviors and feelings, I joined OvereatersAnonymous. OA is a twelve step program modeled on AA for people who have food-related disorders or addictions. I already knew something about how AA worked, as my mom was a recovered alcoholic. The first of the twelve steps, revised for the OA context, reads: “We admitted that we were powerless over food, that our lives had become unmanageable.” That was me. I wasn't overweight, but food was using up way too much of my mental and emotional energy.
In AA, you make a commitment to stay sober, to abstain from drinking alcohol. No one forces you to do this, by the way. You can come to AA forever and keep drinking; the heart of the program is that you, personally, must decide to become sober. Of course one can't abstain from food. The OA equivalent of sobriety, called “abstinence” is to eat three healthy meals a day with nothing in-between.
I made a commitment to abstinence. I tried to stop my bizarre food behaviors. I tried to release the fear of getting fat. It wasn't as easy as it might sound.
One motto of the twelve step approach is “One day at a time”. The idea is that if you tried to commit to never drinking again, ever, that would seem totally impossible. You would sabotage yourself before you even began. So, wisely, the twelve step approach advises that you simply commit to being sober (or abstinent) today. Today is all you have anyway. You could be dead tomorrow. So don't worry about what you're going to do in the future, or how you're going to survive. Focus on where you are. Focus on now. Make a commitment for today and let tomorrow take care of itself.
Simplistic as it sounds, this approach seems to work.
I've come to believe that this is the essence of all commitment. I've been married more than 34 years now—even though I never expected that I'd marry at all. It's true that my marriage is a bit atypical: we have no children, we are professional colleagues as well as mates, in our younger days we were not sexually exclusive. I suspect my marriage is easier than those of many of my readers. Still, there are times when I get fed up with my DH and really want to walk out, slamming the door behind me. (I'm sure he feels the same about me every now and again.) Or I worry about the future, as we are both getting older (and he is eleven years older than I). How will I manage if I have to be his caretaker instead of his companion and co-conspirator (as we promised in our wedding vows)?
Then I stop myself. I remember that I've made a commitment to love him, share my life with him, take responsibility for him, as he does for me. But I don't need to think about forever. I only need to reassert my commitment now, today.
This is the way that all good marriages are built, in my opinion. One day at a time. Commitment is not a single act, but a process to be repeated each day. That makes it easier—and in realistically, making a commitment today is all we can ever do.