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15 June, 2007

Commitment Ain't What It Used To Be

Daughter alerts me to the fact that something interesting is going on with relationships among the young. It seems that men have started chastising women for their lack of commitment!
However normal this might sound to you under-25s, to those of us brought up in the unenlightened '70s, this is a very weird turn of events. Lack of commitment, you see, has always been what women accused men of. In the good old days, men were the ones wanting to 'play the field', 'sow their wild oats', and generally enjoy their sexual freedom for as long as possible before being 'tied down' to a single partner. Now, it seems, men are getting a taste of what it's like on the receiving end – and they don't like it at all.

And not only are they bewailing their womenfolk's lack of commitment but they are advertising their own willingness to commit as a 'selling point' in the sexual marketplace! Not only has the world gone mad but none of these New Men seems to be questioning the value of this 'commitment' they all now prize so much.

After all, what does it mean? If a man commits to a woman (or vice versa), are they saying something equivalent to the marriage vows? That they will stick to their partner no matter what, till death do them part? With the average marriage lasting under ten years these days, it hardly seems likely. And, anyway, there are plenty of darned good reasons to call a halt to a relationship: infidelity, cruelty, or just plain incompatibility, for example. The idea that you would stay together despite a serious problem like that is just madness – only more pain and unhappiness could possibly ensue.

No, the only sense in which commitment makes sense is an agreement to commit to try your best. This is the agreement Wifie and I have (and it's one we are still committed to after 17 years). No-one should ever commit to staying together no matter what. It's an insane notion. It would mean staying together despite the misery that one or both of you felt, it would mean staying together in a relationship that was damaging or degrading or disgusting. And it would mean making any children live through it too! Which is even worse!

I know women have always gone on about how they want a man 'who isn't afraid to commit.' Now, it seems, the guys have taken up the lament and, in what looks like a rather pathetic attempt to model themselves as 'what women want', they are even offering commitment as an inducement. But take a closer look at what this all means, people! Commitment is a truly hideous notion (like many notions left over from our pre-sensible past) and should be banished from your vocabulary. Ask for someone who will like you, someone who will care for you, someone with a willingness to work through difficulties, someone who will be honest with you and treat you with dignity and respect. But don't ask for commitment and don't offer it, unless you are willing to risk a life without happiness and without love.

Be careful what you wish for!

1 comment:

Katherine said...

I suspect it's down to a change in women's power over the relationship.

In a sense women have always chosen their men. The man's role has been to court, and the woman's to choose between her suitors. But once one man was selected, there were all sorts of taboos against ditching him.

Now, a woman has the luxury of getting to know a man properly - even living with him - before she even considers "committment," and it's perfectly acceptable socially for her to choose against him. I think women nowadays are much quicker to end a dysfunctional relationship than they ever have been.

Which leaves men having to resign themselves to what's become the female prerogative to choose or reject them (I've seen very few cases of boys breaking up with girlfriends - it's almost always the other way). I think young men feel a bit miffed that they can't count on a woman to stay in a relationship anymore. They romanticise their passivity as "commitment," and see the lack of it as a flaw in young women.

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