Kind of freaking out about commitment.
April 2, 2011 12:23 PM   Subscribe

Why do you commit to being in a relationship with someone?

Let's say you've found a great person with whom you're in an exclusive relationship. Common goals, interests, values, etc. are, for the most part, pretty similar. You have fun together, you fight infrequently, you live together and have found a way to live pretty harmoniously. Let's also say you're in a same sex relationship in a place where marriage isn't legal, there are no kids and no plans to have any, and you're not religious (I'm only sticking this in there because books I've looked up on this subject are often religious). But sometimes it's hard, as all relationships are. What makes you stick with it and work to improve things?

I consider myself to be a pretty mature person but I'm not terribly experienced with long-term relationships. I find myself questioning not if I'm with the right person so much, but more if I'm the type of person cut out for a committed relationship. I was very independant before this relationship and loneliness isn't really an issue for me. I love her, but sometimes I find myself longing for my old freedoms. It's not even a grass is greener question; I feel like if I left this relationship I'd be perfectly happy not dating. I mainly want to hear other people's versions of why it's worth it to stick with it. Or, maybe, why it's okay to not.
posted by shornco to Human Relations (31 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
I committed because it made me happy. Simple as that.
posted by modernnomad at 12:26 PM on April 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's really nice to make a pact with someone so that you can count on each other for emotional support, sharing of delicious food and enjoyment of experiences.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:30 PM on April 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

The commitment for me is about choosing a partner. I mean that in a very literal sense.

It's about having somebody on whom I can depend. Somebody who'll always go have supper with me. Somebody who will look at my latest project and give me their opinion.

Somebody who'll help me bury the body.
posted by Netzapper at 12:39 PM on April 2, 2011 [13 favorites]

I can't imagine my life without her.

When she goes out of town on business (like now), I'm all "Yay, I get the house to myself, woooo!!!"....for about the first 12 hours, and then I get whiny and bored and resistant to going to bed at a reasonable hour, because it's lonely there without her. I do, however cook a big meat dish (she's not an omnivore) and eat it happily. Not that she'd object to me cooking meat when she's home, but generally it's pointless to cook two dinners.

Data points: same-sex relationship, got married (went to Canada for one, and also one in California in the brief period when it was legal). But it wasn't the marriage that made us committed. We were already committed when we decided to get married.
posted by rtha at 12:43 PM on April 2, 2011 [20 favorites]

Life is better with than without. Pretty simple.
posted by something something at 1:08 PM on April 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

I was finally ready. I got really really good at being a lone and loving it. I wasn't desperate to pair up, but I knew I could be a great partner if given the right chance.

Before all of this developed inside of me, I wasn't yet ready.

I did live with someone and get married for a few years. That was an important interim step. Are you maybe doing that now?
posted by jbenben at 1:18 PM on April 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

For me commitment is about building things.

For some people that's about building a family, for some people that's supporting one another in career changes, or selling up and opening a lifestyle business somewhere new, or just buying a house together and putting effort into making it a home.

It's about growing and changing together instead of growing separately or growing apart.
posted by emilyw at 1:23 PM on April 2, 2011 [6 favorites]

I feel like if I left this relationship I'd be perfectly happy not dating.

Oddly enough, this is sorta the clincher for me. If I wasn't with my partner, I wouldn't be seeking out a relationship with anyone else. It's the fact that I'm willing to share and co-opt so many aspects of my life with this man that makes him the right choice for me. It's a form of emotional exceptionalism, I guess: I could live without him, but I choose not to. (Perhaps I am more cat-like in my affections than most.)
posted by mykescipark at 1:28 PM on April 2, 2011 [9 favorites]

1. I realized that there is no such thing as "the right one." Lasting relationships happen because two people decide to make them happen.
2. I realized that all of the things I didn't like about being in a relationship were going to be there, no matter who I was with. Similarly, all of the things I didn't like about being alone were going to always be there. Weighed against each other, I decided I'd prefer to be with someone rather than alone.
3. Then I met my wife.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:30 PM on April 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

Commitment is sort of making someone family rather than companion.

I look at it kind of like work friends versus real friends. Work would be unbearable without work friends, but you aren't really committed to them. If the shop closes, you go your separate ways. The work relationship may run very deeply, but it isn't all that wide. (Otherwise, they wouldn't be work-friends, they would just be friends.)

Making a commitment to a spouse is widening the relationship.

It is also sort of a temporal thing. You are (sort of) giving each other a bit more room to grow/fail/feel/whatever, because you are saying not just "I am here for you" but "I will be there for you."
posted by gjc at 1:32 PM on April 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

I really love being committed, but I feel like in general I have more freedom than I did beforehand! I have the benefit of a supportive partner and it opens up a lot of doors for me and gives me confidence and an amazing "home base".

I'm also in a non-monogamous relationship, which works much better for me than monogamy.

Maybe write a list of the freedoms you feel like you're missing, and see if there's any way you could have your need for freedom met while still maintaining your happy, loving relationship. Maybe you'd like to travel alone. Maybe you want a few nights a week dedicated to your own projects. Maybe you want your own TV.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:35 PM on April 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

I seek a committed relationship because I want to be able to look across the table at someone in 5, 20, 40 years and say "Remember so-and-so/that thing/that time when/the house or place in ____ /etc." and have the person smile with me as we revisit those little moments that we've shared. I want a partner because I want help with the things I suck at, and I want to find someone who - even in some small way - needs my skills (whatever they may be). I want human companionship because my dog is a terrible conversationalist. And I need a "dependent" or a "cofactor" because I demand more of myself when I have to consider another person's preferences, schedule, whims, feelings and hopes; it takes me out of myself and offers me a broader experience. I also thrive on companionship for the simple fact that I am a collaborative problem solver. I have to talk through things and debate them internally and externally to really get a feel for a good solution. Also, economically, a pair bonding is a great way toward a mutually improved quality of life based on the leveraging of pooled resources.

There are things I love about being single though. When I'm single, that asshole who left the dirty dishes in the sink? He's always me; which limits my general frustration with the world by forcing me to hold myself accountable for most of my life. And my priorities are always the most important, which is nice because they can be as all-consuming as I like or as ridiculous as I choose. I only ever have to compromise between my better judgment and my whims and fancies. Also, I get to be really proud of the life I put together for myself because I built it on my own. Probably nicest, I got to pick my own goddamned china pattern without consulting anyone else. But it is also easier to sacrifice on my own. I can choose to go without things that I don't value (currently: cable television and car) without making quality of life decisions for someone else.
posted by jph at 1:56 PM on April 2, 2011 [9 favorites]

Neil Gaiman on love:
Have you ever been in love? Horrible, isn't it? It makes you so vulnerable. It opens your chest and it opens your heart and it means someone can get inside you and mess you up. You build up all these defenses. You build up this whole armor, for years, so nothing can hurt you, then one stupid person, no different from any other stupid person, wanders into your stupid life...

You give them a piece of you. They don't ask for it. They do something dumb one day like kiss you, or smile at you, and then your life isn't your own anymore.

Love takes hostages. It gets inside you. It eats you out and leaves you crying in the darkness, so a simple phrase like "Maybe we should just be friends" or "How very perceptive" turns into a glass splinter working its way to your heart.

It hurts. Not just in the imagination. Not just in the mind. It's a soul-hurt, a body-hurt, a real gets-inside-you-and-rips-you-apart pain. Nothing should be able to do that.

Especially not love.

I hate love.
A clarification: he's not saying commitment, monogamy, etc. is being taken hostage, love is being taken hostage. The real traumatic fact of love is not that commitment limits your stupid freedoms that you weren't really using anyway, but just the act of loving someone is has permanent consequences, regardless of whether you are "committed" or not, and surviving even the dissolution of the relationship if you are. Once you love someone, you can never go back to a time when you didn't love them.

If you feel like you can just walk away from the relationship as if it had never happened, then either you do not love the girl - maybe she's not the one, maybe you entered into the relationship specifying in advance that no other person will ever be allowed to permanently change you - or, you do love her and your question "Am I ready to commit or not?" is an attempt to assert that you still do have a choice, so that you are able to repress, deny, escape from the traumatic fact that you have already been sucked in, and can never actually revert back to a prior state.
posted by AlsoMike at 2:06 PM on April 2, 2011 [35 favorites]

I think that if you're fortunate enough to be the kind of person to be the kind of person who can commit, you reap a lot of benefits. Someone loves you and someone deeply cares about you and helps you take care of yourself and you help take care of them. It's a good feeling that is psychically helpful because they are your family and they are there to help you, and you are there to help them. It is good to be someone's priority and good to make someone your priority. Two heads are better than one.
posted by anniecat at 2:48 PM on April 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Love takes hostages. It gets inside you.

I got taken hostage, btw. It was the best of times and it was SERIOUSLY the worst of times. I felt my autonomy just flat out abandon me. I suppose I got very lucky in the situation and he didn't treat me poorly and dump me and the relationship took. But I remember feeling robbed and I remember having Life essentially telling me I was its bitch and I'd better learn to go with the flow. My previous plan had been to be a sexy person who like a CIA spy---roadwarrior who knew the path to the core of the Earth.
posted by anniecat at 2:53 PM on April 2, 2011

Being in this specific long term relationship is just better than not being in it. That's all it took to keep me here all these years. There is no alternative I can possibly imagine or have ever seen that is preferable to having him in my life, so everything else that I do to keep him there is worth the effort.

I'm also all for taking things as they come. Yeah, we expect to be together forever but the actual staying together, particularly in the early years, was mainly done by enjoying what we have now and assuming the future will take care of itself. Not wanting kids or caring about marriage made that a lot easier, there were no deadlines or clocks ticking, as did starting our relationship really young. Nearly seventeen years together and it seems to have worked so far!
posted by shelleycat at 3:07 PM on April 2, 2011

It took forever for me to finally commit. I was that person who you'd have a great night or even month-long affair, who'd suddenly become distant, stop calling, and needing a lot of space. I was like that for...five years, give or take.

We were friends at first, throughout all of this. Then we moved in together (still friends, with another roommate). She had the same view of commitment I did -- absolute terror and revulsion. We both were pretty burned in our previous long-term relationships. Then things started to change, and then she moved out, and then we finally got together.

I would have told you, years ago, that falling in love is beautiful, passionate, temporary insanity. But I think I was wrong, because I'm more in love than I've ever been, and it's not some raging white water rafting expedition, it's more like fishing together in a clear, calm lake. It's having a partner; not because you can't stand the thought of them with someone else, or because you can't take life without them, but because you simply want to be with them.

Could I have had this kind of relationship before I had my first awful, semi-abusive, volatile, passionate disaster? I don't think so. I'm not even sure I'd have been ready for this a year ago. Maybe it's just not time for you to be in a relationship. I think timing, more than the person, is the most important element of a long-lasting relationship. You have to be in the right mind-set, with the right experiences, in order to navigate life with another person.
posted by jnaps at 3:30 PM on April 2, 2011 [5 favorites]

I did for a lot of reasons, but among them would be when you realize they've seen you at your most awful, moody, whiny, angry, etc. and they still love you. The fact that somebody else wants to be with me instead of anyone else, even in the worst of times, is pretty powerful. And I couldn't imagine going back to having to slog through the crappy parts of life by myself - not because I couldn't do it alone, but because it's so much more fulfilling to know somebody is going to be with you the whole way, and later on you can realize how awesome it is that you went through that together and you're still in love.
posted by nakedmolerats at 3:43 PM on April 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

Because it's harder without her. Some of it is that there is now a shared language, shortcuts in discussions. A few words can tell a longer story, either in joking or in seriousness. There have even been times when we've translated the other person's words and intentions to a third party, when she or I am not making it clear.

And then there's shared burdens, emotional, financial, or other. "For better or worse" can take a lot of the weight off of the unknown future. And now I don't need to put on a show for anyone if I don't want to, because she loves and supports everything that is me.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:09 PM on April 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I find it so easy to be myself around her than anyone else.

Life is suffering. Death is scary. I don't worry about these things as much when I have someone I love.
posted by lain at 4:09 PM on April 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

When you commit to a committed relationship you don't really know what commitment is and your reasons for being in the relationship may be entirely different 20+ years in. What I realize now I'm committed to is the adventure of discovering what a committed relationship is all about. And one of my discoveries is that the relationship has become something fluid, dynamic and everchanging rather than something etched on engraved in stone.
posted by Xurando at 4:13 PM on April 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

I enjoy my own company. I enjoy having total control over my life and not having to bend to anyone else's will. I enjoy privacy and having my own space. Sometimes I briefly think that I could be really happy on my own if my marriage stopped working out.

But in reality, I think I would be really happy for about two weeks. Then I would start to get lonely in general, and to really super miss my husband specifically. So many of the things I love about him are things unique to him, and I'm not going to be able to find anyone else like that.

Most importantly, our many years of shared history are not something you can find in a new relationship. The longer I stay with him, the richer and deeper our relationship continues to get. So chucking it in, even when things are at their worst, might buy me a respite from the bad stuff*, but it will irrevocably lose me something much more valuable.

* In my personal case "bad stuff" is really really trivial and fleeting, like strewing dirty clothes around the house, tiny irritating habits, etc. If I were in an abusive relationship, I imagine that this sort of thinking would still hold and I would be tempted to stay because of it, but then it would definitely be the wrong decision. So I think it is also important to have someone else to check in with about the state of your relationship: a good friend you talk to, or your mum, or something like that.
posted by lollusc at 5:26 PM on April 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

In regards to freedom of being alone vs constraints of commitment, I think that all depends on your relationship and your partner. My wife and I do a lot together, many which we both enjoy greatly. Some things we do together because the other person enjoys them a lot, and the other person goes along because they like to see the other person happy and enjoying something, even when it isn't their favorite activity. And then there are things we do separately, because they are distinctly personal enjoyments that the other doesn't want or need to partake in. If you can set up a balance of these three (together in fun, together in support, apart), you won't feel like you're giving up on who you are because of someone else.

There is a certain amount of give and take in any relationship, even when both parties enjoy most of the same things. Some time, you won't want to go out of the house, but you will because it is important for your partner, and you know they will do the same for you at some point. If you feel too closed in, talk about it. At first, I felt guilty for leaving my wife for extended trips alone or with friends, and all I needed to do was talk about it with her, and not disappear suddenly and without notice.
posted by filthy light thief at 6:48 PM on April 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I was a mess before I met my wife.
posted by the noob at 6:53 PM on April 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Commitment is a way to communicate expectations. When people say "I love you" to each other what they usually mean is "I romantically love you before all others". A wedding is quite explicit about this with a reading of vows about what the relationship means to each other. And, of course, there are a thousand degrees of commitment that happen throughout the life of the relationship. They choose to date. They choose to date exclusively. They choose to be monogamous. They choose to not break up because they forgot about being monogamous. They choose to have children together.

Commitment isn't a bent-on-knee affair only. It is the everyday mechanic of a relationship together.

I believe it is best to be honest with your commitments. If you need to be let off the leash once in a while, tell your partner. It is better to be open and honest about your needs and wants than to let them make you resentful because you aren't happy with the confines of the relationship.

I have been in a relationship for six years now. That last two have been an open relationship and we are much happier for it. That might not be the best choice for you, but it takes all kinds of relationships.
posted by munchingzombie at 11:03 PM on April 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I committed because while the grass may look greener elsewhere, it's probably nowhere near as nice tasting and who's to say you would get any anyways? if you leave your good thing, you just might end up alone and lonely.

or maybe I just feel that way because I was alone for a long time before I met my good thing. It makes me appreciate him, and makes me want to work on our relationship rather than go after ephemeral maybes. because, though he's not perfect, he may be the best, and that maybe is good enough for me. Also, since he has already put up with me for 10+ years, he clearly has the patience of a saint.

we both like to call this reasoning (that we're happier together than apart) "apathy".
posted by jb at 11:39 PM on April 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

but then - you might not be ready yet. I wasn't ready to commit until I was in my mid-late 20s, though we'd been together for 5+ years then. Age changes things, but everyone hit these ages at different times
posted by jb at 11:41 PM on April 2, 2011

Because you prefer depth to superficiality.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:33 AM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Because I can't imagine life without her. This is year 17 and we just get better together, she's fine wine and I'm more old socks cheese but we complement each other.
I would rather spend a day in her company than anyone else's. She lets me be myself for all my flaws, while at the same time bringing out the best parts of me.
posted by arcticseal at 8:31 AM on April 3, 2011

You can totally try it out. Write up a little nerdy contract for like a month or so. "This certifies that until May 3, 2011, we are on the same team and will be there for each other in every way we can manage." And then you both sign it, and then a weird feeling goes through you that's a strange kind of freedom. Like it's okay if you fail at something, 'cause someone you really like has agreed to still catch you. You can feel secure in making plans with each other even for big things, as long as they're within that month. It's a little baby commitment that can help you figure out what a commitment really feels like from the inside.
posted by lauranesson at 11:00 AM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Even people who are "relationship people" occasionally long for their old freedoms and need their space. Part of relationship longevity is negotiating that balance between being your own self and giving over that self to the other person.

There is a territory of joy deep within the landscape of relationships that can only be reached by being with someone, balancing all the while, for decades. There are no shortcuts.

Of course, if all you know is single and autonomous, you may not have heard of, or don't believe in, this territory of joy. Believe me, it's there.

If all you ever know is single and autonomous, then that's all you'll ever know. And that would be kind of a shame. Because everybody has the capacity to love deeper than words, beyond feelings, beyond themselves.
posted by cross_impact at 2:02 PM on April 6, 2011

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