If you’ve ever experienced the following:
1. Felt a connection with someone
2. Became entangled in some sort of love-making
3. Realized you were thinking about your potential future with this person
…then you understand how love and commitment are related and how easily our minds connect the two.
It troubles me, though, just how connected we treat these two very different things.
What is love?
Love, as it turns out, is a feeling (no surprises there). We get tingly and joyful. We get excited. We love. We hug and kiss and wrap our bodies around each other because it somehow expresses this feeling. “I want to smoosh my body onto your body” is probably the best way I’ve heard this described, in one of the best explorations of this topic I’ve ever read.
What is commitment?
Commitment, on the other hand, is a decision. Based on some combination of feelings and logic, we make a decision about our future plans. We are used to doing this, and we recognize that it’s possible to make both good and bad decisions. Earlier today, for instance, I decided to put honey mustard and swiss cheese onto a panini with arugula. That was a great call. Last night, I decided to stay awake till 2am. Probably not the best. Last month, I decided to act on feelings of love. A year ago, I decided to be single. Some decisions affect your life more than others.
So what’s the problem?
People seem to have a pretty good understanding of what love feels like, and we do a good job respecting love as an important feeling. But our culture sends a pretty contradictory message about what commitment is. We say marriage requires love and commitment, and yet somehow “love is all you need” prevails as a logical sentiment. Our collective divorce rate speaks for our confusion.
But commitment isn’t somehow wrapped up into love. It’s a (totally optional) thing we decide to have with someone. If your relationship ends, it is because you, your partner, or both of you decided to stop committing to being partners. It doesn’t necessarily have to do with love.
And why does all this really matter?
Well, what happens when someone breaks up with you? Or you break up with them? Or they break their commitment to you by being with someone else? What then?
During this time (and unless you married your high school sweetheart, you’ve certainly experienced some iteration of it before), you want to minimize pain and discomfort. So it helps for both of you to understand that commitment is not a part of love. It’s not a requirement of love. Your love won’t end just because your commitment does. Your love will probably subside in a reasonable amount of time, into a manageable piece of your heart and mind, which might at times re-ignite, and also might not.
But the act of loving someone doesn’t require you to be committed to them, and getting “dumped” doesn’t necessarily mean someone stopped loving you.
It’s powerful to understand and believe this to be true. Commitment is not somehow part of love.
“Love is All You Need”
So love is all you need… to an extent. For having incredible sex? Sure! For feeling like your heart is beating out of its chest and there’s nothing you can do to keep it in? ABSOLUTELY. But for being in a relationship? Not so much. I love the idea, I wish it could be true, but unfortunately, it’s just not the case.
To be in a sustainable relationship, you need other things too, and many of them are outside of your control. Love is something you own within, along with your decision to commit to your partner. Other parts of the partnership, however, are very much independent of you. External forces, such as careers, sickness, money, family issues. Your partner’s commitment to you. Your partner’s ability to deal with stress. You can’t control that.
Keeping Commitment Away From Love
So maybe it’s not really about keeping these things separate — maybe it’s more about keeping commitment away from love. To keep commitment from burning the perfect-golden-brown toast of love.
Why not keep love the glorious thing it is? Love everyone that makes your heart sing, with abandonment. Don’t commit to a partnership unless you really mean it — unless it is really the decision you want to make. And understand that the commitment isn’t part of your love, but rather, something you decided to add to it.
I’m used to dating the bad boy type of guys — misunderstood, tough, rough, hot guy. The guy that everybody seems to want and chicks go for, with the thought that they’d be different and that they could change him into a better person.
Yep, that type. Obviously, those didn’t end too well.
The time I met you, there were also other guys who were trying to vie for my attention. They lost to you though. There was something about you that caught my attention and has kept it for longer than I wanted to. You were different. You weren’t flashy. You weren’t overly sweet and caring to the point that it makes me question your sincerity. You were just simple. You were a really nice guy. In everything you said and did, I felt the sincerity. You were a breath of fresh air.
I wanted you and I thought you wanted me too. I’ve gone through a lot of efforts to seal the deal, thinking, “you couldn’t possibly not like me after all these”. God, I was wrong. From having daily communications, things suddenly dwindled down to a couple of exchanged messages in a week. From you, always being the first one to initiate our conversations, to me, trying to reach out to you. Until suddenly, nothing.
I went back through all the conversations we had and every single moment when we were together, trying to determine where it went wrong.
I’ve gone through everything numerous times trying to understand how I could have possibly lost you just like that. I couldn’t understand and I couldn’t accept it. It made me reach the point where I thought maybe you weren’t really as nice as I thought you were. Maybe, it was all an act and I was just deluding myself.
It came to me just recently though that you wanted and maybe, were even in love with someone else. It hurt me. It did explain everything though. How you just suddenly seemed to just change your mind about me. How just like that, you were gone and I was ignored. I want to believe that you aren’t as nice as I thought you were. I wanted to believe you were an asshole for treating me the way you did but somehow, I couldn’t.
I have read that, you could not hate someone because they chose someone else. It hurts me so much until now and I find it really hard to move on but somehow, I don’t hate you. I can’t hate you. In fact, I can’t help but admire you, for giving her all your attention, for not stringing me along and taking advantage of my feelings for you. I know for a fact other guys would. In the end, you are still that nice guy I thought you were. I still wish I was her though.
Assholes may hurt you but nice guys hurt the worst. It is a struggle to move on and get over you. I am taking everything step by step. I know I’ll get over this someday. Someday, I wouldn’t feel this pinch in my heart whenever I hear your name or remember something associated with you. Someday, I’ll be free of you. Someday, I’ll have my nice guy too.
1. You get to be the center of your own life, not a supporting role. This is an incredibly powerful notion.
2. You’ll be the best aunt/uncle/godparent/friend to parents ever. When you don’t have kids of your own seeing them is a special treat. You have extra money to buy them presents and probably don’t mind babysitting for free every once in awhile. And when you do, you have boundless energy to play with them and support the parents.
3. Having a consistently healthy relationship with your partner. Parents, especially new parents, operate on some next level shit. I don’t know how they do it but they are dealing with little human(s) who demand constant attention in addition to every single other task they have in their lives. Because of this, your relationship with your partner can often suffer because it’s health is secondary to the kids, keeping up with work (so you can pay for your kids, keeping the home clean (since kids make it messier), etc. Not having kids allows you to focus on your relationship and ensure you’re growing together, not apart.
4. And if you can’t have a healthy relationship — you can leave if that’s the right thing to do. You’ll never have to stay with anyone because you’re worried about your children’s emotional health, or worse, whether you’d ever get to see them again.
5. You are mobile. If you get a great job opportunity in another city, it’s relatively easy to pick up and move. On a smaller scale, if you’ve had a rough week, it’s easy to get in the car and drive somewhere relaxing for the weekend. Or say yes to a last minute happy hour, another glass of wine at dinner, or hitting the snooze button for the 10th time on Saturdays.
6. Realities that are not a part of your life: diaper blow outs, constant screaming, nonsensical crying, accidentally getting peed on while changing a diaper, dragging a screaming child around Target and getting The Look.
7. Since having kids is the de facto path that most people choose, there’s a certain kind of authenticity to your choice not to have them. The fact that it would be easier to have kids adds a little weight to the “yes” column whenever you wonder if you’ve pursued the things that really matter to you in life.
8. Anecdote: I had a bad day, so to relax I spent the last three hours reading instead of going to bed (which I’d have to do if I had kids so I could wake up with them). In the middle of that very peaceful time the answer to what I was stressed out about occurred to me out of nowhere. I texted my (also childless) friend who was also awake at 2am (because again, no kids) and we talked about a plan of action. By having the luxury to take mental space the minute I felt like I needed it, I turned a seemingly unsolvable problem into something I won’t ever have to worry about again.
9. $$$. It costs 4,900 to raise a child until it’s 18 (and that’s just if you make under 100k to begin with).
10. People will take you more seriously at your job if you’re a woman. Okay, this is actually really icky because I wish women who had kids all had partners who were willing to be at least 50/50 — so this would apply to both genders equally at least. Regardless, there is a cache in people knowing you’re never going to have to duck out of an all hands on deck scenario because your kid has pinkeye.
11. Your conversations with your friends are not entirely monopolized by your children/breast pumps/parenting stuff. Since you have the time to read actively, you can talk about that.
12. Adult vacations like backpacking, relaxing on a beach, exploring historical Europe > Disneyworld or any other vacation that needs to engage a kid’s brain instead of your own.
13. A lot of parents I know, in speaking talking about childless people focus on what is going to happen when childless people are old — don’t they want family around them? And that’s great, that that is (hopefully) going to be a reality for everyone who has kids. But it also forces you to think about your mortality and pursue whatever it is that is going to make you feel like you spent your life right when you’re looking back on it. You can’t assume you’ll be able to be distracted by family, you need to really investigate those questions.
I don’t always identify as a feminist. To put it out there: yes, I believe that men and women should have the same rights. And the feminist movement has a lot of merit, but please see point number one before you tell me that I actually *do* identify as a feminist.
As a society we value the freedom to form our own opinions about political and social issues, but it seems in this particular arena we have forgotten about others’ rights to do the same things. This is a very delicate and divisive subject but maybe we could find some common ground if we stopped saying these three things:
1. “If you believe _____ , you are a _____ .”
How about you worry about what you believe and how that translates into how you identify as an individual or which political, social, religious or other schools of thought align with those beliefs, and I’ll do the same for me. As feminists you do not have the authority to tell other people their beliefs automatically qualify or disqualify them from identifying as anything.
2. “Feminism is for everyone!”
It’s great that everyone is welcome to be a feminist. Fantastic!
But at some point this morphed into the idea that everyone who is a decent human being should be a feminist. It became commonplace to publicly shame those who do not identify as feminists. Don’t get me wrong, blatant discrimination of any kind deserves the backlash. But someone who doesn’t actively support the cause isn’t automatically a ignorant, sexist, or an asshole. There is a big difference between belligerence and apathy. Most people fall into the latter but have the potential to become the former if incessantly confronted with your preachy, shame-y shit.
3. “That (image) is offensive to women.”
I am a woman and I will decide for myself what offends me and what doesn’t.
Maybe something is offensive to you and your circle of friends, but perhaps it is not offensive to all women. And that should be okay. We all come from unique circumstances that give us different outlooks on everything we encounter. You really don’t need to be the authority of moral standards for media.
There are so many positive and productive ways to talk about this subject but the overarching generalizations need to stop.
Do you know what it feels like to feel ugly all the time? I do. I know. I am not beautiful. Not even pretty. I don’t go through a whole week without having a pimple on my face that came out of nowhere. I hate my hair, how I look in pictures, and how I smile. I don’t know how beautiful people could smile and walk and do everything as gracefully and as effortlessly as breathing. It’s like they were born with it. Like they could do it while sleeping.
I do not have the ideal proportion. In fact, I’m even miles away from the ideal. I look for jeans sizes in hushed voices to avoid everyone having to hear my waistline.
I hate my palms that sweat a river whenever I get nervous.
I live on a tight budget every single day and limit myself to adoring designer clothes and fancy restaurants from afar. I’m choose from old high school t-shirts and hand-me-down clothes and faded jeans everyday. During lunch, I break my instant noodles into half to have enough food for dinner. I bookmark sites to download movies and keep from going to the theaters. I barely have enough to pay for rent, and so spending money just for the fun of it was already out of question.
I am socially awkward. I can’t make small talk without overthinking it, without practicing in my head the words I have to say. I can’t keep up with trends and the latest gossip. And you might only end up thinking that I’ve locked myself from the rest of the world since I was born. I don’t like eye contact. I hate noise. I’m no good at dancing. I don’t invite someone over to have movie nights or sleepovers or parties mainly because I don’t have anyone to invite. As if anyone would even think of going.
I will embarrass you. I will talk nonsense if we go out and I will ask you senseless questions. I will ask you when you first had a pet, why it died, or why it’s still living with you. You will let go of my hand when we’re together and you see your friends at the mall or even forget to introduce me to them altogether. The term girlfriend will have you chewing the insides of your cheeks like it was awkward to have it rolling in your tongue. Like it pained you to say it out loud.
And no matter how hard I try to not embarrass you – to give you gifts on simple occasions and hide the fact that I haven’t paid my phone bills yet, or dress nicely, no matter how uncomfortable I get, just to make you feel that I want to look pretty for you – I know some other girl out there doesn’t even have to try. She will love herself enough to love you the way you deserve.
But I will not be that lucky girl because I’m not good enough, and no, I do not deserve you.