When I say the word commitment out loud, I cringe. The word alone makes me feel as if I’ve been sentenced to prison without bail, or that someone accidentally squirted a slice of lemon in my eye.
This is ironic, since I am a commitment advocate. I encourage friends to fight for their unstable relationships and engage in monogamy rather than becoming serial daters. Yet I find the word “commitment” loathsome. This enabled me to analyze my feelings and try to understand why people detach themselves from its meaning.
Apart from fear of rejection or lack of trust, the first conclusion I came to was the impact of war and our inability to relate to impending tragedy. In the 1960s, the Vietnam War was in full swing, and our parents were affected by the draft. Draftees were obligated to enlist, whereas today’s soldiers volunteer to serve.
Having been a soldier, I feel as though I understand the difference in the priorities and values soldiers and people have today. Draftees embraced commitment and marriage because they didn’t know if they were coming back from war, an experience they didn’t bargain for. They longed to come home to someone and yearned for that sense of security and comfort. Today’s soldiers choose to enlist and therefore comprehend the necessary distance they have with their partners.
Our daily lives involve routine: work, school, shopping, socializing. These perfunctory routines shield us from seeking out and committing to relationships. Although global crises surround us, most Americans don’t fear a great war or misfortune, and therefore do not feel the need to commit to someone in order to gain that sense of fulfillment.
In 1950, the median age for males to marry was 22 and 20 for females. Today’s average exceeds age 26 for both genders. What has prolonged our lack of desire to commit? Does our society encourage dating more than monogamy?
We celebrate being bachelors or bachelorettes by having parties comprised of strippers in order to embrace the single lifestyle one last time before marriage. This celebration compares to eating a giant cupcake before going on a sugarless diet — squeezing in one last hurrah before sealing the deal. Our society allows and promotes this type of behavior rather than encouraging the future groom and bride to spend that night acknowledging the promise they’re about to make.
Perhaps that is why divorce rates are so high; people don’t appreciate the significance of marriage and commitment anymore. It’s easier to get married after spending a certain amount of time together and divorce when things don’t go as planned. Commitment has ultimately transitioned from being a vow of love and trust to fulfilling a societal expectation validated by a legal document.
Perhaps this is why I cringe when I hear the word, because in some ways it has become meaningless. Nowadays, commitment is simply proven by a relationship status on Facebook or a promise ring that represents a couple’s exclusivity.
Online dating also has contributed to our detachment from commitment due its capacity for deception. People can build their profiles on online dating sites and present themselves as a different person in order to attract others. Therefore, the more attraction there is online, the more possibility for potential mates and higher stress level due to more options.
This feeling of stress ultimately exceeds the desire to commit because it’s ego-gratifying and overwhelming. Social media and online dating have provided people with a sense of security: There are plenty of fish in the sea, and committing to one fish is no longer necessary.
No longer does commitment entail a desire to connect deeply and understand another person to a point of singling them out from the rest of the world. Many people have the perception that commitment entails relationship permanence: the inability to ever be with anyone else again, as if someone has forced them to agree to these terms.
People should understand that life isn’t about permanence, it’s about discovery. Commitment is simply an option within that discovery. It is an option that can challenge those relationships and allow people to grow and learn from each other.
When I hear, think, or engage in commitment, I hope to feel liberated and loved. And I hope that others will value the word’s meaning again.
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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 23 May 2014
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.
Walsh, L. (2014). The Law of Unintended Consequences. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 2, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2014/05/25/the-law-of-unintended-consequences/