If you’ve ever experienced the following:
1. Felt a connection with someone
2. Became entangled in some sort of love-making
3. Realized you were thinking about your potential future with this person
…then you understand how love and commitment are related and how easily our minds connect the two.
It troubles me, though, just how connected we treat these two very different things.
What is love?
Love, as it turns out, is a feeling (no surprises there). We get tingly and joyful. We get excited. We love. We hug and kiss and wrap our bodies around each other because it somehow expresses this feeling. “I want to smoosh my body onto your body” is probably the best way I’ve heard this described, in one of the best explorations of this topic I’ve ever read.
What is commitment?
Commitment, on the other hand, is a decision. Based on some combination of feelings and logic, we make a decision about our future plans. We are used to doing this, and we recognize that it’s possible to make both good and bad decisions. Earlier today, for instance, I decided to put honey mustard and swiss cheese onto a panini with arugula. That was a great call. Last night, I decided to stay awake till 2am. Probably not the best. Last month, I decided to act on feelings of love. A year ago, I decided to be single. Some decisions affect your life more than others.
So what’s the problem?
People seem to have a pretty good understanding of what love feels like, and we do a good job respecting love as an important feeling. But our culture sends a pretty contradictory message about what commitment is. We say marriage requires love and commitment, and yet somehow “love is all you need” prevails as a logical sentiment. Our collective divorce rate speaks for our confusion.
But commitment isn’t somehow wrapped up into love. It’s a (totally optional) thing we decide to have with someone. If your relationship ends, it is because you, your partner, or both of you decided to stop committing to being partners. It doesn’t necessarily have to do with love.
And why does all this really matter?
Well, what happens when someone breaks up with you? Or you break up with them? Or they break their commitment to you by being with someone else? What then?
During this time (and unless you married your high school sweetheart, you’ve certainly experienced some iteration of it before), you want to minimize pain and discomfort. So it helps for both of you to understand that commitment is not a part of love. It’s not a requirement of love. Your love won’t end just because your commitment does. Your love will probably subside in a reasonable amount of time, into a manageable piece of your heart and mind, which might at times re-ignite, and also might not.
But the act of loving someone doesn’t require you to be committed to them, and getting “dumped” doesn’t necessarily mean someone stopped loving you.
It’s powerful to understand and believe this to be true. Commitment is not somehow part of love.
“Love is All You Need”
So love is all you need… to an extent. For having incredible sex? Sure! For feeling like your heart is beating out of its chest and there’s nothing you can do to keep it in? ABSOLUTELY. But for being in a relationship? Not so much. I love the idea, I wish it could be true, but unfortunately, it’s just not the case.
To be in a sustainable relationship, you need other things too, and many of them are outside of your control. Love is something you own within, along with your decision to commit to your partner. Other parts of the partnership, however, are very much independent of you. External forces, such as careers, sickness, money, family issues. Your partner’s commitment to you. Your partner’s ability to deal with stress. You can’t control that.
Keeping Commitment Away From Love
So maybe it’s not really about keeping these things separate — maybe it’s more about keeping commitment away from love. To keep commitment from burning the perfect-golden-brown toast of love.
Why not keep love the glorious thing it is? Love everyone that makes your heart sing, with abandonment. Don’t commit to a partnership unless you really mean it — unless it is really the decision you want to make. And understand that the commitment isn’t part of your love, but rather, something you decided to add to it.