When I think of the word “commitment,” another word comes to mind, as well. Phobia. I was about to start this essay by saying that I am afraid of commitment, but I’m not sure that covers it. I believe commitment is the thing that will set me free, yet I keep it at a distance, looking toward greener grass and other horizons while imagining my life cloaked with circumstances not my own.
The thing about commitment is that it does not come without stipulations attached. Once you commit, you are opening yourself up to the possibility of disappointment. If you want something really, really, really badly and then you don’t get it? Crushing disappointment. If you love someone so hard with everything you have and they still end up betraying your heart? Horrific disappointment. If you commit yourself to a change in lifestyle and you don’t follow through? Disappointment. Your own disappointment, but disappointment nonetheless.
Commitment does not come without its little potential consequences. It’s easier to believe that, if you never commit, you will not suffer as much. If you want something, but always keep yourself open to another thing, then the safety net is always that other thing. If you keep your foot poised just a bit outside the door ready to flee at the slightest chance of disenchantment, then you can leave without disturbing much. It’s an escape hatch—the not committing thing. It leaves you open to shrugging your shoulders and saying to yourself, “Well, I didn’t want it that bad any way.”
Committing to a project, a person, a job, a location, a pursuit, anything, means you are jumping off the cliff not knowing where you’ll land. If you never commit, you’ll always have the control. You’ll know how far you’ll let yourself go before you start to pull back, retreating to what’s familiar. Committing—purely and with enthusiasm—is terrifying. You are essentially blindly thrusting yourself toward a day to day action without knowing what will happen, what the outcome will be.
To relinquish such control is not easy and I do not relinquish most of anything without a fight.
Commitment is my Everest: that looming mountaintop I can’t quite conquer. I keep myself indecisive and fill my pauses with “I don’t know” and “maybe” and “we’ll see” like I’m stalling for more time. I’m stingy with my love and my commitments which is something I learned how to do when I was young and too sensitive to the whims of people and the world and the uncertainty of everything. I learned how to protect myself, to keep everyone and everything an arm’s length away. If the world was going to hurt me, I’d be ready. I still have that imprinted on me and I keep trying to unpeel that truth from my skin. I’m still learning how to be open to people and situations and love while still maintaining my strength. I learned how to harden against the world, but now I’m softening. Yet, I’ve never known softness and love and commitment and devotion and staying long enough to be known without also knowing pain. It seems I can always love a person or a place or a project when I’m certain I can unlove it. Until I see the escape hatch, I’m pushing, pushing, pushing away.
I sense that this resistance I feel to commitment is simply an indication of how much I need it in my life. I have to commit to commitment. (Oh dear god!) Because, even if it’s scary and even if I don’t know what the outcome will be, I have to know that it’s worth it—if only to know I can do it. Shying away from the potential of disappointment leads—quite poetically—to a very disappointing life. And, I know if I found myself at the end of my life unscathed or unbruised or unsullied from my years, I would not be proud. Had I committed myself mercilessly to the parts of my life that need devotion, I wouldn’t even care about the outcomes. I’d care about the pursuit. I’d be happy that I’d done the things, that I’d let my life beat me. It’s going to beat me any way. I don’t get out alive. Might as well go down with a fight.