What does committment mean to you?
January 20, 2009 5:18 AM   Subscribe

How do you define commitment in practical terms in your long-term relationship? Simple question, long-winded backstory...

My SO and I are in a committed relationship. We just passed our two year anniversary. SO is currently going to grad school about and hour and a half's drive from where I live. We see each other every couple of weeks or so but mainly communicate through txt messages/quick calls during the day and video skype at night. SO graduates in 2 years, and we will hopefully reunite in the same city at that point. It's very difficult for us sometimes doing the long-distance thing. It's stressful enough sometimes that we don't even want to talk to each other.

SO and I are very different. I always feel like I'm trying to pull any expression out of SO, and SO is often-times backing away. It's very difficult for SO to express feelings and can be very withdrawn at times. I find that when we discuss things involving our relationship, it's often me talking on end for ten minutes and SO going "ok." It's enormously frustrating, and I start to ramble and sometimes say things are off-topic, or are unhelpful.

I often feel that I care more about the relationship and spending time together than SO does, even though my brain knows that SO loves me and just has a very different (if non-existent) vocabulary for expressing love, endearment, etc.

I may be taking a job which will require me to commute, leaving me with about little time to myself: 4 hours a day, in the evening to go to the gym, take care of personal things, and spend time on Skype with SO. I will also have extremely limited to no time during the day to chat/txt/call. In addition, my commute will be in the other direction from where she lives.

This all leads me to have concern for the next couple of years of our relationship. SO is extremely busy with school. Long-distance is difficult enough, but now our schedules will be opposing, and communication is going to be so limited that I worry about how we will keep it up. SO, on the other hand, has absolutely no concern at all whatsoever, to the point where I am thinking, what does this relationship even mean to him/her? (There are other things that make me feel this way, but this post is already longer than it should be.) SO thinks (rightly so, I think) that we need to put our careers before our relationship and we'll just "figure it out." But shouldn't two committed 30-ish adults have a discussion about such things before a decision is made?

I am worried that we are on two separate paths, and have different definitions of "committed." We love each other completely, and do not want to be with anyone else, but what does that even mean? To me, it means we make decisions together; do things together; live together. Put each other first? I don't even know really.

What do you all think? How do you define, in practical or theoretical terms, being committed to your SO? Are there any of you who feel your definition is different from your SO's definition? How does that work?

Throw-away email: committedquestion@gmail.com

Thank you, as always.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Your question was soo simple yet the situation which made you ask is not. To me being committed simply means sticking it out with one person.....how much i call them, spend time with them, or is not part of at least "my" definition of commitment.....The fact that your boyfriend doesn't think much about how much you need to communicate in order to stay together only means to me that he is committed (and in a way it may be a stronger commitment than yours) and he doesnt require much to stay that way.....You in the other hand apparently have a couple of "requirements" that either allow you to stay committed or make it easier for you....one of them probably being NOT BEING IN A LONG DISTANCE RELATIONSHIP.....

It seems to me that you've tried being with this man, are doing your best to stay with him, but it is just not working for you....and now because his needs are less than the ones you want out of this relationship you are wondering if he is just as committed as you are (but if we are keeping up with semantics it seems like he is).....

Sounds to me like this is not working for you...and I am not sure what are you trying to accomplish by debating on semantics.....are you trying to have your boyfriend say, babe I will do my best to make this work, I am very concerned that we dont communicate as much but in reality you only have 4 hours a day to yourself and I dont want to take all of them, yet i am as commited as you are? Please think if him acknowledging that more communication is needed (and thus making your "definition" the "right" definition) will make anything better? At the end of the day you will still be in an LDR, and you will still only have 4 hours a day to yourself and only a little of that time to be with him....

Furthermore I think you want your SO to say you are right we need more communication...we need to live together, we need to do this and do that but WE CANNOT....You need to ask yourself...if this is what you want to hear? What then? Will it make your relationship better?

My answer is that probably not.....and I also think that you should be asking yourself a different question such as......

Given the issues that you and your SO have, should you stay together?
posted by The1andonly at 6:35 AM on January 20, 2009

[copied from email as the above bounced back]

as far as i can tell your relationship is headed in the wrong direction. when i was in school i started out in a long term relationship and later found it to be making my life WAY more stressful than it needed to be. relationships are not without work, but they should be fun for crying out loud.
posted by Macallister Vagabond at 6:35 AM on January 20, 2009

Well... this is sort of difficult to answer. I want to make clear that I'm answering only for myself, because you have asked for that sort of thing. I'm in no way saying this is the only way to see things, or that people who manage to make things work differently are doing it wrong or aren't really in love or any of those things.

Personally, commitment, to me, means that our relationship comes first. My husband and I both feel that careers, while nice and fulfilling, are not as fulfilling as each other. We would both drop our careers at a moment's notice if it was necessary to sustain the relationship, and -- this is the important part that makes it work -- we'd be happy doing so. He works for NASA and I am writing a novel, so you can see that those are both things people must be passionate about to do. It's not as if our careers are unimportant. But nothing makes me as happy as he does, and he feels the same way about me. We also don't care a lot for money. In college we lived off very little money each month and were always very happy because we had each other, and since we've had that experience under our belt, we often say we could go on making as little and we wouldn't care terribly much.

Some people have different priorities, and there's nothing wrong with that. I do think it can be a problem if your priorities are different from each other, however. For example, I do not think I would be happy in a relationship with someone who was my first priority, but I was not their first priority. It would feel too unequal and I would probably feel insecure, most likely seek out someone who feels the same about relationships as I do. I just don't think I would mesh with someone who was focused on their career above all else either. I feel like careers, even meaningful ones, are somewhat arbitrary, but career-oriented people don't feel that way at all -- we just wouldn't relate well to each other.

As far as being withdrawn goes... my husband was somewhat terse for maybe the first four years of our relationship. Some people are just terse. He also doesn't think in words, whereas I do. Until he opened up a bit more, I just had to be patient. Since I knew that he was, above all, an honest person, and not the kind of person to pretend to feel more for me than he did, I trusted his feelings for me. Also, if I needed him to talk, I would explain that I was nervous or anxious about this aspect of his feelings for me, and it's important that he take the time. He was never hesitant to do that for me, even though it was difficult for him, because he understood and didn't think it was unreasonable of me to ask. In other words, he had all the qualities that it seems quiet people may need to make a relationship work. He was not dishonest so I did not have to be paranoid about his being quiet, and he was not defensive so I did not have to feel bad, or like the enemy, for asking for what I needed.

When people are withdrawn and lack those qualities, it complicates things, I think. One can interpret silence as too many negative things in those situations, and it doesn't do a lot for peace of mind. If you haven't tried explaining to your SO why you need him to be more vocal, try it. If you don't feel he's trustworthy, or he gets irritated because you're asking, there may not be a whole lot you can do. Also, my husband opened up after four years or so, but there's no guarantee that anyone will ever do that. Are you okay with waiting around and nothing potentially changing? I was, but I wouldn't blame anyone for feeling differently.

Anyway, the thing that would bother me in your situation is that you say your SO doesn't seem to care what happens to the relationship. When my husband and I were in college, he wanted to see me every single day. When we took internships in different parts of the country, we saw each other every weekend and he was disappointed if he could not see me. Right now we're having to live in different cities for a few months and he calls me every day -- we don't talk long since we both hate the telephone -- and he drives four hours one-way to visit me on the weekends. Now, the amount of time couples want to spend together is another thing that varies greatly, so I'm not saying if your SO doesn't do these things you should break up with him. However, what I am saying is that I have, and have had, all these obvious signals from my husband that our relationship is important to him, and he very much cares what happens to it. Even when he was at his most reserved, I felt that he very much cared about being with me. Do you perhaps have signals you're overlooking, and your SO is giving you clues that he cares about your relationship?

But the other thing is this: in my (admittedly limited) experience, things to do not go well when one partner wants to spend more time together than the other. One person feels neglected and the other feels suffocated. This can be difficult to resolve; the solution usually seems to be that the suffocated person just grits their teeth and makes an effort to spend time with the "neglected" person anyway, and no one is entirely happy. If you're like me, and you want/need your SO to be your best friend, then it's pretty clear you're not going to get that from this guy. There's nothing wrong with him because of it, you just may not be a good match.

From reading your question it sounds like maybe you want to be a relationship-first kind of person, but you're trying to accommodate him anyway. It's admirable to do that for someone you care about, but it doesn't sound like you're getting what you need either, and I'm not sure you guys can get that from each other. Assume he won't ever change. Would you be okay living like this forever? You're not a bad person, or unreasonable, if the answer is no.
posted by Nattie at 6:40 AM on January 20, 2009 [8 favorites]

If I hadn't written this comment in another thread yesterday, I would write it here.

The mere fact that he wants a different amount or type of contact than you do, or that he isn't prioritizing work and romance the way you would, or that he isn't distressed about your separation doesn't mean that he doesn't love you. It's possible that he isn't committed to you, but it's also possible (and I would argue, more likely) that his personality is different from yours and that this situation is working for him.

You need to figure out what you want or need from this relationship in order to feel good about it. Then you need to explain that to him and find out whether that's what he needs, or barring that, whether he's able to do it because it's what you need. Either or both of you can compromise on the give and take of this relationship to make it function better. The only way to find out whether that's going to happen is to talk with him.
posted by decathecting at 7:02 AM on January 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

SO thinks (rightly so, I think) that we need to put our careers before our relationship

This is, to me, pretty much the opposite of commitment. Or rather, that is commitment... to your careers. There are always trade-offs and compromises to be made -- a relationship in which those compromises are more often made in favor of the relationship is a different place than where the relationship plays a distant third fiddle to what you consider the more primary concerns in your life.

I'm not saying "you are doing it wrong" -- I think you both are showing in your actions what is important to you at this point in time. I'm just saying that eventually you will probably be at a place in your life where your priorities will shift, and when that happens you may find that your current relationship will not be as satisfying.
posted by Forktine at 7:03 AM on January 20, 2009

Agreed with a lot of the above... if you're in a committed relationship, the relationship comes first.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:04 AM on January 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

Am I the only one that thinks living an hour and a half drive away isn't much of a long distance relationship; why can only make that drive every couple of weeks? Lots of people commute even longer daily for their jobs so they can spend the night with their SO. I think you are on different paths.
I love how everyone is assuming gender in a gender-neutral question (although OP slips once and calls their SO "she")
posted by saucysault at 7:11 AM on January 20, 2009

Indeed, committment means different things to different people. For some, it is that the relationship comes first. For others, it's that they aren't sleeping with (too many) other people.

And there are different levels of "the relationship comes first". My definition is sort of on a long term "arc". Yes, big personal decisions need to encompass how they affect the relationship. But also, in the other direction- cutting the partner some slack when their instantaneous priorities have to take precedence.

(Example- I was in a quasi-long-distance-relationship. We planned a road trip, and SO came over the night before. I told SO multiple times that I will need to finish up a few hours of work in the evening, and SO understood. But when the time came, SO sulked because the light conversation we were having across the room while I furiously worked to finish my work wasn't good enough. Who is wrong? Is my momentary priority of finishing work so that I can travel uninterrupted with her less valuable than "the relationship"? Which in this case, was not paying full attention to a story about what a bitch Britany from the gym was being today?)

You say you know in your brain that you SO is committed. Are you sure? Are you really wanting in your heart for that to be true and convincing yourself that you know this?

Or, what are you missing out on from your SO? And, consider what your SO is not getting from you? Can you visualize this and figure out how to meet in the middle?
posted by gjc at 7:12 AM on January 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Arrgh. Forgive my typos.
posted by saucysault at 7:14 AM on January 20, 2009

LDRs demand all the responsibilities and offer none of the rewards of a regular relationship but an hour and a half doesn't seem insurmountable if both sides are working at it.

All this daily calling, texting and nightly video skyping sounds like you're expecting way too much contact. In fact, it sounds like borderline stalking behavior. You doing all the work is not going to make it a relationship.

I think you should do your best to enjoy the actual face-time you guys share and lay off the needy, electronic umbilical cord you're desperately trying to maintain.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:57 AM on January 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

How did you make the decision to get into this situation? Was there an option for you to find work in the city where SO is going to school? Was there an option for SO to go to school in a city you could also work in?

Committed relationship is defined by me as no unilateral major decisions.
posted by hworth at 8:07 AM on January 20, 2009

Why aren't you spending weekends together? Really, an hour and a half isn't a long drive. I find in person time infinity more bonding than txt messages or phone calls. I give bad phone. I love to spend time with Mr 26.2, but if I'm traveling for business and he calls to chat I'm not very good. He on the other hand was a call every night guy when we were dating and that was hard for me.

I think you're confusing volume with quality. Being on skype for 2 hours a night doesn't mean you're discussing anything important or furthering your relationship.

Commitment is two people deciding that the relationship is a priority. It's not always first priority in every decision, but always a consideration in decisions.
posted by 26.2 at 9:55 AM on January 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

SO is extremely busy with school. Long-distance is difficult enough, but now our schedules will be opposing, and communication is going to be so limited that I worry about how we will keep it up. SO, on the other hand, has absolutely no concern at all whatsoever, to the point where I am thinking, what does this relationship even mean to him/her? SO thinks (rightly so, I think) that we need to put our careers before our relationship and we'll just "figure it out." But shouldn't two committed 30-ish adults have a discussion about such things before a decision is made?

You're worried about the future, whereas your SO wants to take it as it comes ("we'll just figure it out"). My partner and I have this difference as well. I'm a planner, a worrier, someone who thinks "Let's work on this so things don't go wrong in the future". He's a spontaneous, let's-see-where-this-goes person who thinks "Nothing's wrong right now, so why is she trying to fix things? Does she think things are going wrong?" Note that his reaction can cause him to perceive my safeguarding efforts as criticism of him.

Both of us are committed, we just have different styles of thinking about this stuff. I find that the Myers-Briggs personality inventories describe this difference fairly well. I'm a judger, he's a perceiver. I'm intuitive, he's sensing. Put those differences together and you start talking past each other in fairly predictable ways. (e.g. I plan and try to prevent problems, he assesses the present situation and doesn't change anything unless there's a current problem. I talk and analyze and express my feelings over and over, he assumes we'll re-state things if they change, otherwise it's obvious how we feel because we already talked about it.)

So, just because your SO isn't reacting exactly as you are doesn't mean that your SO isn't committed. It may be that you haven't hit problems because this change is new, and they'll react when they see a need. So far, there hasn't been a perceived need. You're forecasting a need, and they don't sound like they do much forecasting. Part of my commitment to my partner is learning how to find a middle ground and to value these differences rather than criticizing them.
posted by heatherann at 10:31 AM on January 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

To me, it sounds like your SO has a different style than you. The differences and the distance frustrate you, and you imagine that your SO must be feeling [either what you're feeling toward them, or what you'd be feeling if you were acting the way they were feeling].

Some people don't process things verbally ("ok") or express love through actions or loyalty rather than through talking. For you, conversation is important, and hearing your partner express commitment or verbally process what's going on is important. For them, maybe it's enough just to know that you're a couple. Your SO sounds decided and committed to me, whereas it sounds like you need to talk about the commitment. I'd recommend that you either accept your SO is how s/he is and try to understand them on their own terms, while also respectfully asking for the behavior changes that you want, or decide that their style doesn't work for you and go your own way. Either is perfectly legit.
posted by salvia at 11:05 AM on January 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

FYI previous posters: the SO is female (...my commute will be in the other direction from where she lives).

I would consider my relationship "committed" if it weighed in equally with considerations of other really important things (that may be career, college, the marxist party, whatever). This means that when 'moving' came up, the relationship would not be an automatically compromised element. It doesn't mean I would give up everything else; but that said, in the end, you can only have one priority.

One really easy way to face this is to go see your lady and ask, "Are you committed to this relationship?" Nobody is so bad at communicating that they can't understand this; if she can't give you a solid answer then consider it a loud NO and be prepared to either let go completely, or loosen the reigns so much to as to give the relationship a "break" until you're both back in the same city.
posted by tamarack at 11:30 AM on January 20, 2009

I often feel that I care more about the relationship and spending time together than SO does

Just to be clear, two people rarely share the same level of...anything. Expecting such is unhelpful.

My wife was raised in a family with little physical contact. I was raised in a big family where we were always touching each other, for one reason or another. She had trouble with my wanting to touch all the time and I couldn't understand her pulling away. These are exactly the kinds of things that have to be sorted out between people.

I think we often see these little differences as insurmountable obstacles: He won't talk to me. She won't shut up. So we trade one set of differences for somebody with another set.

Relationships are about making one life out of two people. Like pieces to a puzzle the two people have odd little personality 'shapes' that have to be molded to each other. This is a give and take that requires time and patience.

My opinion is that this molding to one another is easier when young and gets more difficult as our personalities solidify over time. As such, the process of learning to fit together seems to require more effort.

What your 'one life' together looks like is something only the two of you can decide. It helps if you can make the choice consciously instead of running the automatic programming of your childhood (which is what we mostly do).
posted by trinity8-director at 12:53 PM on January 20, 2009 [6 favorites]

Ask yourself if your SO will meet your needs and make you a priority, if that is what you want out of a committed relationship (that's my definition anyway). If you are there just as an accessory that s/he doesn't have to pour too much into... well... it's up to you if that's fulfilling enough for you.

I agree with the other posts that committed ADULT relationships are about building a life together, no matter how far apart the two people are. You both put in the effort.

The "we'll figure it out" part worries me because it means there's no plan for the future of your relationship. My two cents. Sounds like it's time for a DTR.
posted by HolyWood at 1:01 PM on January 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

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