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I’ve never thought of myself as a commitment-phobe.
I’ve been a serial monogamist since middle school, when I used to spend hours on the phone after school with my boyfriend who I was too shy to talk to in person.
Since, I’ve had long relationship after long relationship, with two marriages under my belt. From the outside, commitment may look like a strength. But inside, it is a different story.
My early forays into love—my sixth-grade crush and my high school boyfriend—enjoyed full and impassioned dedication. I never questioned my judgment or my feelings, which felt solid as facts. I was confident in who I chose.
In the present day, buzzing with all of the jumbled thoughts and doubts about the partner I’m with, I contemplate leaving whatever relationship I’m in weekly. And if I’m not actively thinking about leaving, I’m passively imagining a relationship with someone else.
With my first husband, we moved to a rural farm so he could pursue his dream to raise animals. At one point, he referenced staying on the farm for “the next 30 years.” I felt sick to my stomach, and then an instant tightening in my chest. I wasn’t exactly sure why.
Perhaps it was that my ability to make big, autonomous decisions felt ripped out from under me. Maybe it was a long look ahead, with nothing new or unexpected on the horizon. Or it could’ve been the finality of being with him until the end of my life.
In other relationships, too, the forever idea was off-putting. I was constantly evaluating my partner. Was he the right one? Am I happy? Did the flowers he left in my car make up for his pessimistic worldview? In my mind, even though we may have built a life together, I always had the option to leave.
It was something of a pressure valve, allowing me to continue on when things felt less-than-ideal.
My past significant others would say that I was always scanning the landscape for other potential connections, that I wasn’t good at loyalty or firmly staking a claim to someone. They were right.
Commitment, it turns out, has nothing to do with other people and everything to do with your connection to yourself. Mine, history revealed, was shaky.
The ability to truly align yourself with something—a cause, a decision, a relationship—first requires a deep knowing and accepting of yourself. We must know what we are about, what our truths are, our values, our nonnegotiables. We must know our passions—what lights us up—and our boundaries.
Because if we don’t know those, we don’t really know if we can commit to something or someone. Options may appear through the lens of past trauma or negative beliefs. The commitment, then, is flimsy because it isn’t rooted in who we truly are. It is like pouring over a menu, trying to decide what to have, without knowing our own unique tastes. We may end up with something we like, but we robbed ourselves of the possibility of something we really loved.
Commitment is also about submitting, converging with something bigger than ourselves, and relinquishing some of our power. This feels incredibly threatening to someone who doesn’t fully know who she is, who has hidden and unexpressed parts, who isn’t living from a place of authenticity.
So the road leads back to strengthening the relationship with our inner selves, figuring out what delights us and makes us feel most embraced so that we can identify it when we find it out in the world. It requires an unapologetic commitment, first, to one’s self—practicing over and over again what brings us joy and affirms our deepest sense of connection to ourselves.
And until we intimately know and honor exactly who we are, we will show up in relationships as transients, wondering what else is on the menu.