Living a more entrenched life
October 17, 2012 8:30 AM   Subscribe

What does it mean to be committed to your life? How can you become committed to yourself?

I'm going through what seems to be a long transition in my life (you can check my previous questions if you like), and I'm finally at a stage where I'm relatively stable: post-living abroad, I've found a job, moved to the Bay Area, and actually making a decent amount of money with benefits.

But, I'm still trying to work out a few key things: identity, career, and what "settling down" means to me. When I was reading Mindy Kaling's book, she talks about committment to yourself and to your life in a way that quite resonated with me:

"I'm not talking about commitment to romantic relationships. I'm talking about commitment to things: houses, jobs, neighborhoods. Having a job that requires a contract. Paying a mortgage. I think when men hear that women want a commitment, they think it means commitment to a romantic relationship, but that's not it. It's a commitment to not floating around anymore. I want a guy who is entrenched in his own life. Entrenched is awesome."

She talks about what commitment means to her, but I've found it difficult to commit to staying in one place after an adult life of swanning about. Friendships I don't have a problem committing to, but long-term romantic relationships have been more difficult.

At the same time, I would like to be committed to my own life. How do I do that?

(Also want to point out here that I just started therapy, but I also wanted to bring this up to the insightful readers of AskMeFi.)
posted by so much modern time to Grab Bag (13 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Commit to volunteering somewhere that's meaningful to you. Commit for a full year.
posted by xingcat at 8:38 AM on October 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

The word "responsibility" comes to my mind. I think when people have more serious responsibilities, they tend to be more committed. For example, if at some point you make a marriage vow, you'll experience commitment. If at some point you have a kid, you'll experience yet another level of commitment. If you become a commercial airline pilot, you'll experience commitment. If you become a doctor, you'll experience commitment. When people are relying on you, you'll experience commitment. So take on some important responsibilities where people are relying on you, and you will feel more sense of commitment.
posted by Dansaman at 8:48 AM on October 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't worry about this - it is in part a function of getting older. Eventually you realize it would be nice to have some things that require you to invest long-term - like a yard, a job you can progress in, a relationship, regular contact with friends and family. You just need to stay aware of your evolving life.
posted by yarly at 8:49 AM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, the term "over-thinking" comes to mind here. You have a good job, benefits, and live in a great area. Relax and enjoy it, instead of worrying that you aren't meeting the standards put forth in some book.

You may never want to commit to a yard, and that is perfectly fine.
posted by COD at 9:06 AM on October 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Commitment requires you to first work out what you want from life.

Where would you really like to be in ten years time? I don't mean just geographically, but in terms of how you would be living, what kind of friends and family you would have, how you would spend your time.

Once you have that concept clear in your head, commitment just kind of falls out from it.

If you secretly yearn for a life spent travelling, then committing to staying in one place is not going to work for you.

On the other hand, if you're committed to not floating around any more, you're not likely to get together with Alice who's busy converting a school bus so she can work remotely while travelling the world. But if "not floating around" is really authentically you, then you know that you wouldn't be a good fit with Alice anyway.

If you have no idea at all where you would like to be and what you would like to do, maybe you could commit yourself to finding out! Or maybe you might decide that this commitment thing is overrated and continue to enjoy yourself just the way you are.
posted by emilyw at 9:09 AM on October 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: but I've found it difficult to commit to staying in one place after an adult life of swanning about

Only a year ago you relocated from China to LA, and sometime in the last year you relocated again to the Bay Area. You've barely unpacked! I think it's absolutely understandable that you don't feel rooted yet.

These things happen organically, and shouldn't be forced or you are sure to end up regretting having never [insert wild experience] before [buying a house/having a kid/settling down]. Every once in a while take stock and see if anything along these lines happens:

- your work is meaningful to you so you just lose track of time there
- your social life develops a kind of comfortable rhythm to it rather than frenetic energy and you're ok with that
- you look at your local paper's website pretty much every day and comment on the stories/editorial blogs
- you're involved in the arts scene or Habitat for Humanity or the [whatever] festival enough that you have a separate social life with those people
- you are interested in city council/mayoral races

In the meantime, relax and explore your new city.
posted by headnsouth at 9:13 AM on October 17, 2012 [5 favorites]

When Mindy Kaling talks about "houses, jobs, neighborhoods," it sounds to me like she's talking about stability. She wants someone who is done with swanning about and has settled down and put down some roots.

That doesn't have to be you, not now, or maybe not ever. I think emilyw's answer is great -- you can "commit to yourself" by putting some real thought into who you are, what you want, and how you're going achieve that. If who you are is a world traveler, you might not be Mindy's dream guy, but that's okay.

I also think that being involved in your community in some way is part of commitment. You're not just passing by, you're taking an interest in people around you and trying to help make your community a better place. Even just thinking of yourself as being part of a community makes you a little more settled, a little less transient. But it doesn't necessarily have to the be the city or neighborhood where you live -- your "community" could be people with similar interests.
posted by chickenmagazine at 9:18 AM on October 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It's tough. For years, I've been bouncing from country to country, city to city, job to job, relationship to relationship. I'm in my early thirties and was exhausted with all of this freedom.

I decided to start small. Like you, I am good at friendship. So I worked on deepening existing friendships. I made commitments to my mental health (yay therapy!), physical health, spiritual growth and emotional growth. Turns out, those weren't small changes. Those were the foundation.

After I got "in touch" with myself, my goals and wants in life became more clear. It was easier to commit to jobs/places/people if they were helping me toward my goals. It was also easier to let these areas go if they were holding me back without feeling like I just couldn't commit or stick with something. It was strategy, rather than defeat.
posted by peacrow at 9:49 AM on October 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I really believe that deep inside our brains, we each have a picture of what we want our lives to be. The setting may be a tree-shaded back yard or a high-rise office or a commune. The other people in the scene might include a spouse or friends or professional associates. You might be wearing muddy overalls or a tuxedo. That picture in our brains often gets crowded out by what our parents told us we should do, or what some author declares worthy, or what the marketing-industrial complex is telling us we should aspire to. It takes some long-term thinking to sort through it all.

But that's what you need to do: Sift out the elements that mean the most to you. Take a lot of time, and in the meantime enjoy what the Bay Area has to offer. Pay attention when you start daydreaming about places, people, wealth, career, and who you are in those pictures. Admit to yourself which elements are most important to you, even if they don't conform to what other people are telling you to be. Ask yourself what would have to happen to achieve those elements.

Commitment means sticking with something through the rough patches. It means sometimes setting aside your immediate self interests in order to work toward a longer-term goal. Maybe your goal is building a strong marriage or finishing a research project or setting down roots somewhere. Only you can decide which goals makes you say, "This is more important" than whatever shiny thing grabs your attention at the moment.
posted by Longtime Listener at 9:52 AM on October 17, 2012 [6 favorites]

I would think of this as investment. Investing in, or committing to, your neighborhood might mean volunteering, patronizing neighborhood restaurants, getting to know your neighbors, etc.
posted by bunderful at 10:03 AM on October 17, 2012

She's an actress who has written a pop-culture book. I wouldn't put too much weight into it, especially since many of the things she's talking about could also be described as "taking on potentially-soul-crushing debt."

You could certainly consider your long-term plans- think about where you want to be and who you want to be in ten years, and works towards it.

But putting yourself in chains of debt or a job you don't like in an effort to meet some arbitrary definition of "adult" is not maturity. It's the opposite, exactly. Maturity is leaving behind other people's definitions and becoming who *you* want to be and doing your best at it, whether it's a banker with a mortgage or a hippie backpacking across the Himalayas.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:56 AM on October 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think of commitment as being commited to something greater than yourself rather than neccessarily being settled per se. Whether it's to a goal, a lifestyle, a religion/philosophy, an ideal, a marriage, a family, a job, a project- it's the thing that makes you say "I'm willing to give up a lot of transient pleasures to try to live up to this. I'm willing to change who I am, what I do, how I live- and keep putting in the work and changing- in order to try to live up to this thing that is so much greater than myself, I know I'll never fully achieve it." And to be willing to do it without attention, without showing off, without accolades, without recognition. And to be willing to do it knowing that you don't fully understand what the sacrifices are that you'll have to make, but you are willing to become someone willing to make those sacrifices.
posted by windykites at 12:28 PM on October 17, 2012

Honestly, I think part of it is finding the right partner. Being committed, by Kaling's definition, doesn't necessarily mean being committed to one place. It just means being committed to being an adult. It's funny, but I didn't really see my husband as a serious romantic prospect until I learned he had a mortgage. Not because I saw money bags, but because I saw someone who was mature and had his shit together. I'd never, personally, been in a relationship with anyone who'd had that kind of focus and maturity.

On the other hand, he'd never been in a relationship with someone where his travel-heavy job wasn't a deal-breaker. For me, the opportunity to travel was a bonus. Because of this (and obviously, other reasons) we were a good match. A mere two weeks after we got married we moved overseas, then moved back, and now are ready to move again.

So I think you're taking the "settling down" thing too literally.
posted by Brittanie at 2:08 PM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

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