Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Commitments

I know I said that barring something catastrophic, there would only be one more post for 2016.

I lied.

That post is still being written and rewritten. In the meantime, I'm off today, I stumbled across an article that by turns intrigued and offended me, and I feel like writing.

Article here: "Why Some People Just Won't Commit".

It's a short article, and it barely even offers a stab at the question its title poses. It got me thinking about commitment, though, and how I view it. It also coins the term "ambivalationship", and then offers a definition of that term I am uncomfortable with. It's a great word: I have a better meaning for it which I think describes more than a few relationships I have seen and even been in.

Before I get to that article, permit me to ramble.

When I first outed myself -- accidentally -- as polyamorous, I was subjected to a barrage of invective that would have knocked me flat if I hadn't steeled myself against it. "Why did you get married if you were just going to fuck around?" was the first response and it went downhill from there.

"Why did you get married if you were just going to fuck around?"

I didn't hear the proper comeback to that for more than two years. The proper comeback is, of course, "why did you buy a house if you're just going to visit other houses?"

I've explained several different rationales for polyamory in my musings since, and I'm not about to repeat any of that here. But I want to talk about the wrongness, for me, in "just fucking around".

The "for me" is important. There are many marriages and long-term partnerships in which "fucking around" is an accepted part of the order of things. Many of them. There is nothing wrong with "just fucking around" if it is conducted ethically, i.e. with the knowledge and consent of all involved. 

But "just" fucking around is not for me. And I think the reason why can be traced to being largely friendless for most of my formative years. Simply put: I don't like to let people go.

This isn't to say I won't. If someone makes it clear to me that their relationship with me no longer serves their highest purpose in life, I would be some kind of monster to insist the relationship continue. But on my end: I commit. 

I committed to Eva in 1999 and formalized that commitment the next year. The commitment was one of the easiest decisions I ever made: having lived without her for 27 years, I simply couldn't imagine living without her again. The marriage? For me, it had several important functions.

  • It was a very public announcement of the commitment we had made to each other. That appealed to me. It still does. It is a strong statement, made in full view of anyone who cared enough to see it, that this relationship matters
  • Our vows concluded with "I marry you, and bind my life to yours". The word "bind" was deliberately chosen to symbolize not just the commitment, but the strength of it. 
  • I am a child of divorce; my wife is a product of a family with several long term marriages. We got married in the same church her parents had. I saw a lot of mistakes made growing up. I couldn't guarantee I wouldn't make some of them myself, but I sure didn't (and don't) want to.
  • Marriage confers certain legal benefits. This was far, far, far from top of mind for me, but it did register.
Eva is not the only commitment I've made in my life. Far from it. She's the only one I have formalized. As of right now, concurrent commitments can not be formalized to the same degree (although I just discovered it is possible for a person in Canada to be simultaneously legally married and in one or more common-law relationships, which is really cool). 

There is also handfasting. This is a Pagan and Wiccan tradition, dating back to the ancient Celts. It was originally a betrothal period, a sort of "trial marriage",  lasting a year and a day. (Aside: not a bad idea, that. Many marriages dissolve in the first year, after all.)  Now, handfasting  is an element of a commitment ceremony: not legally binding in and of itself, but symbolically binding "for as long as love shall last". 

I like that. I like the public declaration of it. I like what, as the link says, is the "focused intent". ("Focused intent" is merely another way to say "magic".) I would not be averse at all to a ceremony of commitment, to whatever degree suited. with another partner. I would joyfully attend my partner's ceremony of commitment to another. And that's because commitment means a great deal to me. A great deal.

So when I see an article titled "Why Some People Just Won't Commit", it interests me in the same way an alien species would prove interesting to a scientist. 

Unfortunately, this article doesn't have much meat to it, and it is more than a little normative in its definition of "commitment". Marriage is the only commitment worth making, it seems to say, which is certainly not my experience of life. 

Those who refuse to "commit"

tend to be people whose past romantic relationships have ranged from disappointing to disastrous; therefore, they are reluctant to arrange the next possible "failure." Sometimes they are people for whom life, in general, has been a series of unresolved issues and existential confusion and so they may not be able to commit to anything, let alone a romantic partner.

I think the first commitment you must make is to yourself: determine what it is you wish to experience in life. Follow that, and don't waver from it (much less allow someone to pull you off your chosen path), unless or until you choose again.  The second commitment you must make is also to yourself, in a way: it's to those people (and yes, that's very deliberately plural) who best embody the next greatest version of the grandest vision ever you had about Who You Are. Those who do not contribute to that vision must be allowed to walk their own paths.

Enter the "ambivalationship". The writer defines this as a state in which both people in a relationship

...want the relationship, and even seem to want it to be permanent. They act and feel like half of a typical marital relationship, and yet they resist the conventional route that long-term couples generally travel, i.e., marriage.

Oh, hello there, relationship escalator.

Marriage was an important declaration FOR ME. It isn't for everyone. It is certainly not necessary for a fulfilling life. Nor it is a necessary component of fulfilling relationships--and come on, this is not rocket surgery: we all have friends we're not married to, after all.
I know people who did go through a disastrous marriage (or even two) and vow never again...only to meet someone who isn't disastrous and eventually marry them. I know others who have been through those disasters, vowed never again...and kept their vow. And I know still others who never married at all, had the full range of relationships from disastrous up to transcendent and all of these choices are valid. Further, there is nothing ambivalent about them. They are conscious choices freely made.

Ambivalationship. Great word. Shitty definition.

What if an ambivalationship is defined as a relationship in which one party is pulling towards a greater degree of formalization of commitment and another is not?  The article even details one such relationship, and laments the lack of communication.

"I feel like I'm not in control of my life...she is."

I heard this recently and immediately called bullshit. Probably a little too hastily.

I mean, in one sense, you're always in control of your own life: to cede control, to cede agency, to another person is to give up your freedom. Even in bondage and discipline, the sub willingly gives up their freedom to the Master, within parameters set and agreed to, and is much more in control of the relationship than may be apparent. If you are unwillingly giving up autonomy, there are two possibilities. Either your partner is a sociopath, or you're weak and dependant.

But there's that damned relationship escalator to consider. How many people take the next step on that fucker because it's the expected thing to do? Because parents, siblings, and society in general demand it? How many people sacrifice their own long term happiness to the gaping maw of societal approval?

If you and your partner(s) agree to move up the escalator, by all means do so. If you don't, you're in an ambivalationship...and resentment is building somewhere. It's best not to proceed, let alone formalize, in that situation...the more you unwillingly invest, the more your partner will view it as a willing investment.

Define yourself. Define your life. Define your commitment(s). And don't be ambivalent about any of it.

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