4.6
September 21, 2014

The Commitment Illusion. ~ Caecilia Raeder

Holding Hands

A lot has been happening in the relationship world around me over these past few months.

Couples moved in together, got engaged or had their first baby.

Some broke up and are back in the dating game, on the search for that special person to sweep them off their feet and mesmerize their senses—if only it could be that easy.

It seems we can’t help but overthink and overcomplicate things at the point in relationships where it really should be simple.

The story goes something like this: you meet someone over friends, at work or on tinder. You like what you see and go on a few dates. You start spending more time together until one fine day one of your friends asks the deadly questions: “So, are you guys seeing each other now? Have you had the chat? Do you think this could have potential?”

Believe it or not, it’s a game changer! We were happy to spend time getting to know this new, amazing person. Now we suddenly start to think and analyze not just about how we feel, but also about the other person’s point of view.

Before we know it, we feel an incredibly strong urge to define what this “new thing” is and can be—to the point where we can’t help but get it off our chest and confront the other person involved.

And then this: a friend tells us excitedly about this awesome new person they are seeing, and a couple of months later we rock up to their house with a box of tissues because a “commitment chat” ended in an epic disaster and crushed hopes.

Occasionally, we all come across people who play games or simply don’t want a relationship, but what about the ones who actually long for romance and partnership? How is it possible that someone is all loved up in one moment, and shuts down as soon as commitment becomes a topic?

We all know affection for someone doesn’t disappear overnight, so it seems the problem isn’t commitment itself, or our feelings for this special someone. It’s the need to talk about it, the need to lock someone in, the need for clarity and perspective.

We may as well consult our lawyer and draft a contract, bottom-line: “Please sign here to confirm your formal commitment to this relationship.”

Truth is, head and heart aren’t always on the same page. While our heart is in the present, nurtured by the beauty of shared experiences and positive moments, our mind is hung up in the past or flying into future scenarios.

Verbalizing an emotional matter too soon can suddenly bring up fears, worries or pain from the past. Our positive feelings of freedom and flexibility in this effortless romantic liaison are suddenly replaced by insecurity, anxiety and question marks as to where we actually stand with the other person. We start assessing compatibility, potential and possible future challenges as a couple. This shift from heart to head creates heaviness where there was ease. Expectations build and pressure increases.

Welcome to our world of targets, goals, strategy and security. We are used to quantifying things, having control, forecasting results and setting rules to minimize our risks. We constantly need to know where we stand with our friend, boss, trainer and partner.

We are terribly afraid of finding ourselves in a grey zone or an unpredictable situation.

Many of us are scared of love because we can’t touch it, we can’t see it and we can’t guarantee it won’t change—love isn’t tangible! As the mind-driven people we have become, we hope labelling something gives us control over it. By giving romance a name we make it feel more predictable, and by committing a person to a relationship we feel secure and reassured.

But is verbal commitment real? Does it save us from being hurt? Does it make our partnership any better or worse?

Reality check: It’s an illusion we like to use when our innermost fear of abandonment is creeping in, our fear of total vulnerability.

We all have our own story, reasons why we need to comfort our mind, but deep down, we know that a relationship isn’t a contract and our lover isn’t a business partner. Plus, not everyone we meet knows exactly what he or she is looking for. Some people may be quite content with their life as it is, so when they fall for someone it might just take them a little longer to re-arrange their mindset and make some space for this new person in their life.

Someone said to me recently that love itself is the strongest commitment.

Let’s assume for a moment we would never have the chat. Suppose we would just continue to spend time collecting unforgettable moments together. Suppose our feelings would grow stronger. Suppose we would simply trust life and the universe a little more.

Would we not just enjoy getting to know and exploring each other? Wouldn’t we long to show the other person they are special to us and put a smile on their face as often as we can?

Wouldn’t our heart just naturally commit to the other person over time and wouldn’t we show this by integrating them in our lives and making them a priority? Wouldn’t a partnership develop organically? And wouldn’t we simply take on the challenges that come up along the way and grow together?

Actual commitment grows stronger through positive times together, through learning to love each other’s imperfections and through making our chosen partner priority.

We need to come back to the core definition of a partnership, the stuff that creates the reality between two people: affection, care, thoughtfulness and dedication. Maybe we should simply go with what we see, let things flow and trust life.

We meet people for a purpose, they come and go. All we can do is be ourselves, vulnerable and loving. We can’t foresee the future but we have a major impact on the present moment—besides:

“Nothing is forever except change.”

~ Gautama Buddha

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Jen Jul 28, 2015 11:37pm

I dated a man a while back, and was determined to not try to pin down the relationship, particularly because I knew he had ideas about still wanting to play the field. He was sweet and kind and we always had an amazing time together, and every day I would let go, saying to myself 'if that was all, I am still grateful'. As time went on, we grew closer, moved in together, built our lives together and are married. It was a very scary thing to do each day, to let go, but I am quite sure that it gave him the space and time to fall deeply in love without feeling any pressure. We still tell each other that if you need to go, I will set you free, because things can change. It feels risky, but it's worked for 11 years so far.

Sally Feb 4, 2015 4:15am

I have a really hard time with this idea. Not talking or "having the talk" is not creating boundaries. In order for relationships to grow and flourish, there needs to be boundaries. I want to know where I stand by hearing and seeing what my partner has to say and do. I think instead of saying "don't have 'the talk' and go flow the flow", I would say, change the conversation. Bring it to the present first and work your way to discussing if there is a future together. I spent six years in a relationship with a person who avoided talking or stopped the conversation when they got uncomfortable. But I stayed because of the promise to discuss things in "more depth soon…" Going with the flow is great for some reasons but for me, it is not not okay when I don't know what is expected or hoped for our relationship in the long term, if there is going to be a long term. If they don't know yet, then I need to hear that. So I can have the information I need to choose for myself what I am going to do next. I want to make a definitive choice, when the time comes, to be with my partner and commit to what ever we agree our thing is (understanding that things may change along the way). I want the same from a partner. I want to feel secure, not unsure about my role. I may know what I want my role to be but if I don't know what my partner's role is or what they think my role is, then we are in big trouble. I spent six years with a person who avoided "the talk" but gave me enough to keep me around. It was devastating when we broke up because I waited so long and trusted they wanted to be with me. Only to find out they wanted something else entirely different out of life. Boundaries are everything. I am not sure how the author got the skill of being to just go with the flow in deep relationships but I commend them and congratulate them for their amazing experience. That experience however will not be reality for the majority of us. Instead of suggesting to not have "the talk", I suggest changing the conversation to one that both partners can determine what will be discussed and the process to discuss it. I have complex ptsd. The worst thing I could ever do to myself is to not set boundaries in relationships and then stick to them as best as possible. Either my partner will be with me or I am out. (not that easy)

Victor Jan 19, 2015 7:54am

Interesting post. I have never heard it verbalized that the problem with having discussions of "are we a couple?" "are we in love", "are we going to move in together"….etc….is that you are taking something spontaneous and heartfelt and weighing it down with labels, expectations and control. It's similar in my mind to seeing and feeling the beauty of a sunset one night and then deciding to analyze why it's beautiful, will there be another sunset tomorrow night, will it be as beautiful tomorrow night, etc, etc. The fact is we generally destroy the most wonderful things in our life with a thousand small cuts. As a man, when the deeper discussions begin I start to gird my loins realizing that a little part of the free and easy relationship I had has just died and now I need to start making decisions, commitments, and proclamations. Two people simply being together and enjoying each other never seems to be enough. I also begin to see the insidious way in which the screw begins to turn and the woman starts to feel the need to control and change. Going back to our sunset image, this would be akin to looking at a glorious sunset and saying…"yeah, it is amazing, but a little more orange in that cloud, and more purple over there, would make it even better." So many women hide behind the mantra "I just want honesty" and then they are too dishonest themselves to proclaim from the start that what they are really looking for is the ability to shape, control and modify you and the situation into something which comports with their perceived wants and needs. Structure has its place and it's good to know in a general way that another person has your back, will be there for you and won't harm you in any way, however, we should also remember that that which we control we destroy.

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Caecilia Raeder

Caecilia Raeder (CC) grew up in Germany and has been living in beautiful Sydney since 2011. CC works full-time in HR, follows the paleo diet and can’t live without music, literature and yoga. On a typical weekend you can find her sweating at a yoga class in the morning, followed by shopping and drinking coffee at one of Sydney’s fabulous markets, sunbathing with a book by the beach in the afternoon, and then dinner and live music at night. CC is constantly trying to learn about topics like self-development and growth, talent management, emotional intelligence and dynamics in relationships. She lives by the quote: “Trust dreams, trust your heart and trust your story.” (Neil Gaiman) You can connect with her on InstagramFacebook or via email.