Commitment is a much-discussed topic, and like love, you can gather a host of opinions and understandings of it, depending on who you ask. Some proclaim it is overrated. Some treat commitment as the holy grail of all forms of relationships and seek it relentlessly. The discussion of what commitment is and what it means seems endless. And while we all assume that we share a universal understanding of what we mean when we say the word “commitment,” it is a concept rich in contradictions and potential misunderstandings.
Fear of Commitment
One such common conversation/misunderstanding revolves around men and their supposed “fear of commitment.” Often, I hear both men and women contend that a partner’s fear of commitment is the cause of a failed relationship. I had one of these conversations, with a man, this weekend. As we talked he noted a few of the things that he was not willing to stop doing for the sake of “marital bliss.” One of his hesitations was that he did not want to be exclusively intimate with only his girlfriend. He also noted the things that he was willing to do. This included raising the child he and his lady are expecting, and continually enjoying the relationship that he has with his lady. As he further described how he felt about his partner and his forthcoming child, he said that he basically felt that he was afraid of commitment. I disagreed that that was his fear.
Desire for commitment and fear of commitment are not a gender-specific traits. The ideas discussed here apply equally to men and women. However, it’s important to note that while one particular woman may sometimes be said to fear commitment, it is usually a character trait attributed to men overall.
Women complain that men are afraid of commitment, and the ensuing question is always “why?” Often, the conclusion is that this is one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of all time. However, considering both sides, I’ve come to the conclusion that these men who seem so hesitant to take the plunge are
not simply afraid of commitment, they are afraid of whatever it is to which their partner wants them to commit.
Commitment, a Noun derived from the Verb, Commit
First, let’s define “commitment.” Commitment is a pledge, promise or obligation. A person can commit or pledge to complete a marathon. A person can promise to give you $5. A person can be obligated to re-pay a loan. All of these are actions. When you commit, you commit to do something. You commit to an action, not, as we often mistakenly assume, to a person. Perhaps you commit to give $5 to your son or daughter because you love them and you would not commit your five dollars to just any person. Regardless, the commitment is a promise to hand over $5. The commitment is not (abstractly) to your son or daughter. There is a significant difference. I could illustrate this point ad infinitum, but I hope that you understand the foundation of my perspective: commitment is in many ways, a verb. The concept of committing or not-committing to a person is fundamentally impossible. But we can commit to do something
with or for another.
Reframe the Conversation
So, all you men (and women) who are either labeled or claim to be afraid of commitment, what do you really mean when you say you are afraid to commit? What actions, specifically, are you unwilling (or willing) to commit to? Ladies, instead of asking your partner to commit to you, which is literally impossible, ask him what he is willing and/or unwilling to pledge, promise or obligate himself to doing, particularly concerning you. His answer may be as simple as “I am willing to bring you dinner every-other Tuesday for a year;” or as complex as “I am willing to be at your beck and call for eternity.” In either instance, you now have a commitment. His answer may not be “I am willing to obligate myself to being intimate with you and you alone.” This, incidentally, seems to be the real concern, or the subtext, underneath most of the ladies’ discussion about a lack of commitment. However, even if he were to refuse to commit to sexual exclusivity, this does not mean he is afraid of commitment. In essence, he is no less committed.
Gentlemen, it is not necessary to either question or beat yourself up about whether you are willing to commit, particularly around a partner of interest. Simply ask yourself, “What am I willing to pledge, promise or obligate myself to doing that involves her?” There is certainly no right nor wrong answer, and I am sure that you can easily come up with something. It could be some variation of either of the two commitments in the previous paragraph or whatever. It also may not be a “commitment” to exclusive intimacy. Either way, you are no less committed.
The conversation around an unwillingness to commit will be minimized or possibly eliminated when we understand that commitment to anyine other that ourselves, and a given action is impossible. Once the faulty accusation of being “afraid of commitment” is taken off the table, we can simply and freely admit and discuss what we are willing (or not willing) to promise. Regardless of the outcome of the discussion or the relationship, a mysterious fear of commitment is not usually the issue. It is not the unsolvable mystery either. Instead, give strong consideration to the box that you are either putting yourself in by considering yourself fearful of commitment or by noting this characteristic in another. It is a more honest existence and conversation, and it may bring you closer to asking and negotiating for what you really want in your relationship.