I have a much married friend who swears that she is just persistent — She is dedicated to trying until she gets it right. In the matter of Love, my own history bears an unfortunate resemblance to her career. A lady and I looped through several tries (over an embarrassingly long span of years) at getting it right…and failed.
The reason, I think, lay in the dreaded “C” word. We were spiritual twins, intellectual friends and passionately in love. Everything within and without seemed to call for us to be together for the rest of our lives. But we failed because one of us was simply too frightened to make a Commitment without conditions. Surprisingly, as I have enough fears to supply a Balkan republic, it was not me.
This background has lead me to some research into the awful Word. Just what is it about Commitment that can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory? What fear is it that can turn honest, caring people into panic stricken survivalists? After considerable study and thought, I have come up with four possibilities.
Fear #1: We might be making a mistake!
I think this fear takes two forms. On the one hand, we know from sad experience that when our hearts are high and our gonads explosive, our judgement just sucks. Most of us can cast our minds back to some once loved object and be appalled and embarrassed at our lapse in judgement. We know, too, that those charming little eccentricities we so love today can become justifications for homicide tomorrow.
On the other hand, it could be that our latest love object is a good and valuable person. This love, we feel, is no momentary hormonal excursion but a sound and sober appreciation. Not perfect, of course, but…
And therein lies the rub. Most of us have, buried away, the dream that our true ideal is waiting out there somewhere. Knowing that our latest is not the be-all and end-all that we had hoped for, we are always afraid that we might someday glance over their shoulder and spy our true complement walking through the door. And what, we wonder, would we do then? Which betrayal would we commit?
Fear #2: Commitment means the loss of freedom.
Not just the freedom to madly run off with that ideal that may come waltzing through the door, but to be trapped in all sorts of ways. We would have to surrender our precious, hard-won independence. We would be surgically grafted to another psyche, forever condemned to compromising our own wants and needs.
There is a wonderful proportional irony here. We hope and pray to find that special person to whom we could give ourselves completely. But the more complete the commitment we feel called to make, the more complete and final is the loss we risk. If we were really to find that person we could commit ourselves to without reservation, we would find ourselves risking a complete and irreversible loss of our independence.
Fear #3: To bind oneself to another is to give a hostage to fortune. (Apologies to Dr. Johnson)
Most of humanity bears up under their own travails with a surprising amount of silent courage. True, there are the whiners of the world, forever waiting to pounce with their latest updates to their lists of miseries. And, true, these same folks justify their every failing with the handicaps life has provided them.
But these, I think, are the exception. A far more common experience seems to be that the better we come to know people, the more amazed we are at all the crosses they have silently borne. The human animal seems to have a talent for accepting whatever fate we are given. Oddly, we will bitch about the light stuff while silently shouldering the heavy.
The same does not apply to those we love. The person who bears up under their own slow, fatal cancer will be devastated by their spouse’s heart attack. To love another is to offer a chink in our armor for whatever blow may come. Our secret fear is that when the gods turn against us, it will not be we who will be attacked, but the ones we love.
Fear #4: To commit oneself is to lose oneself.
I suspect that this rather mystical one lies hidden near the bottom for many of us. There is something about falling in love that feels wonderfully like just letting go. But at its most, love seems to demand more. It seems to call upon us to truly abandon ourselves, to jump into an unknown, rushing river.
Love has a frightening power to transmute. At the limit, it seems to offer/require a chance at a re-birth. But to be reborn, we must first die. To our fears, to commit without reservation means to offer up all that we have in the hope that we will be reborn as something better.
We are asked to believe that if we let go, truly commit ourselves to this buffeting madness, we will still survive. We are asked to believe that some essence of us is so strong that even if we surrender ourselves, it will emerge with its outer self changed, but its inner self intact. We are asked to believe in ourselves.
It has been an interesting study, but perhaps one that has become academic. The result of all our fears may be that the idea of complete commitment to another human being has already become a practical anachronism. Our time has intellectualized Commitment, redefined it and repackaged it. Like life insurance, relationships now offer two plans, both guaranteed to be free from any dangerous product liabilities. They are the Term Commitment and the Whole Life Commitment.
The Term Commitment contract reads something like: “Yes I am committed to you and will stay that way as long as things don’t get too bad or until someone better comes along.”
The Whole Life Commitment contract reads something like : “Yes, I am committed to you and plan to stay with you for my entire life as you are safe, undemanding and have enough flaws that I will never be tempted towards any dangerous loss of control.”
After all, between “No Risk/No Gain” and “Safety First”, how can there be a real contest?