Fear of Commitment?
If there's one word that strikes fear in some people's hearts, it is the "big C". No, not cancer. "Commitment". To such people, these three little syllables are scarier than the three little words that came before them.
You know the kind: they may love their partners very much, they may have no interest in being apart or being with anyone else, but the mere thought of "committing" to the relationship makes their blood run cold. They will put off marriage or even just an engagement for years, they will put up a valiant fight against pressure to settle down, and will offer myriad arguments as to why they can't promise anything. They often cite previous failed relationships, or the fact that their own parents' divorce ruined marriage for them for life, or quote the now familiar "marriage is just a piece of paper" and "I like us just the way we are now." The excuses are as varied and individual as are the people who use them, but the one thing they all have in common is a profound, almost implacable, fear of commitment.
Why is this? Why are some people so afraid of committing themselves to a relationship that they enjoy and a person who makes them happy? Is it, as most people believe, the sign of someone who can't be monogamous? Is it, as popular television tries to convince us, a sign that the person isn't really in love?
I believe it is neither of these things. I believe the answer to this question lies not in what the commitment-phobe thinks about his partner, but rather what he thinks of himself. As much as you commit yourself to your husband or wife, it's important to remember that marriage is also a commitment to yourself.
When you choose to marry, you are not only agreeing to take on a husband or wife, you are also agreeing to be a husband or wife. You are agreeing to marry and be married. You are saying to yourself that you are worthy of the love of another human being, that you are capable of sustaining a long term exclusive relationship, and that you are mature enough, thoughtful enough, confident enough, to become intimate partners with another human being through whatever storms you may face together.
You are acknowledging that you are a serious, value-oriented person, committed to achieving the very best in life, and worthy of the rewards that come from that pursuit. You're acknowledging that at least one other person - if not more, once the children come - will be able to count on you. You acknowledge that you welcome the responsibility of contributing to a successful relationship, and that you have the self-esteem to expect them to contribute to it as well. You are saying you respect sex enough to honor it with the highest romantic value we have, that you think it's important and special enough to be granted official sanction and celebrated as a glorious expression of romantic love.
You're making the ultimate commitment - you're committing yourself to the most important relationship of your life, with little or no guarantee that it will last, with no assurances that the person you love will continue to love you, and with the certainty that if it does end, it will be a painful experience for you. But you're committing yourself to hope, to the belief that it will work, to the work it may require to make it work. You're committing yourself to the unapologetic pursuit of your highest value, come what may.
This is no small task. It takes bravery, self-esteem, confidence in your own judgment, optimism and an indomitable spirit. Not everyone is up to it. Not everyone has the moral fortitude to jump feet first into marriage in spite of the natural doubts that surface from time to time. Some people are simply afraid. They don't know their own character well enough to make such promises to themselves.
But instead of saying so, instead of understanding this selfish aspect of marriage, our culture turns instead to the "obvious" solution - It's not that I can't commit myself to marriage, it's that I can't commit to you. No one ever questions what personal commitment means to the individual - that it is far, far more difficult to live up to your own standards and expectations than what someone else may expect of you.
We need to focus on ourselves more if we're ambivalent about marriage and commitment. We need to fully appreciate that marriage is the ultimate in selfishness, undertaken for our own well-being and happiness as much as that of our partner's. If we aren't ready for marriage, so be it. Perhaps in time we will be. But at the very least, if we introspect a little more before slamming that door, we'll know for certain whether we fear committing to marriage, or to ourselves.