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111. Dudes don’t understand commitment
To all the boys
I recently came across’s piece on relationships, and it was enlightening to get a firsthand look from the other side of an interaction that I’ve grappled with myself: struggling with commitment. Her vulnerability and honesty inspired me to share my own mistakes and learnings. So here’s a peek into my own life for any other inexperienced boys out there.
This grief just radicalizes me to never again lie to anyone about how I feel. I’m going to be the girl who’s too much in the beginning. “I like you, and I want a boyfriend. If you don’t want to be my boyfriend, I’m too attracted to you to be just your friend, so I’ll need to stop seeing you now.”
…I can’t do anything but literally be so hard to string along that it never happens again.
There’s a spectrum of meaning to the word “commitment”. Even as my friends and acquaintances were getting married, on the day-to-day level, commitment to me felt like it just meant, “I’m dating you exclusively.” It meant “I’m not going to cheat on you.” I had an abstract notion of wanting kids but never really worked backwards in terms of how I was going to get there. I never felt the pressure that necessitated that mental exercise.
Guys can pretty much just stick with that idea of commitment from high school and onto old age if they want to. But as girls get older, commitment evolves into asking the tough questions:
Do I see myself walking down the aisle with you?
Will you be a good father?
Can we grow old together?
I don’t think this mismatch always comes from a place of malicious intent. Lack of dating experience on my part meant that I really did not understand what commitment meant for the other party. I had to learn the hard way that even when I thought I was on board with commitment, I was on a totally different page than my partner.
Therefore, I wholeheartedly endorse the advice that girls should talk about commitment early on, even at the risk of feeling like “the girl who’s too much”. Presumably you want a guy who, at the bare minimum, can handle having this conversation, so it seems like a pretty good filter.
The “alone” excuse
In 2021, I dated two guys in a row who had been in several long term relationships, recovering serial monogamists, and were in states of disarray about it…
He had watched girls get disappointed by him over and over as he failed to perform the proper boyfriend duties — out of a sheer non-investment in being a boyfriend, he eventually realized. “Some people aren’t really suited to be partners,” he said. “I’m one of them.”
Reading this passage is what really inspired me to write this because I basically said that final quote once. On a fateful night in a quiet bedroom, it spilled out of my mouth as a way to avoid bringing up any criticism I had of my partner. I didn’t want to be labeled a bad person for having negative thoughts that might hurt her feelings. It was a remixed “it’s not you, it’s me!” that also let me play the victim, a poor soul whose fate was forlorn seclusion.
Reading Crystal’s essay made me realize how pathetic it sounded.
Looking at it now, the statement implies a stunning lack of agency. It implies your partner-ness is something you have no control over, that it’s DNA-encoded. But no one gets to just “be” a partner. If you are committed, you will take actions that keep the relationship alive, no matter your genetic predisposition. Partner is not a state of being but a consistent series of actions. In other words, commitment is not a contract you sign once but a choice you make every day.
So why do guys run away?
Part of it might be a compulsive desire to be in control. Particularly in America, we have become detached from all the constraints that used to tie us together – family, hometown, tradition, etc – in the pursuit of individual happiness. I prioritized my own freedom and desires above any possible communal ones. I lived an independent life and feared losing autonomy. Compromising that meant losing part of my identity.
Another factor is the optionality enabled by modern online dating. Some guys view themselves as temporarily embarrassed millionaire, on their way to bigger and better things. They believe they deserve someone “better” as they head to the top, as if there are different classes of unconditional love that can be acquired with money and status.
But perhaps more common than entitlement is simply fear. Fear of making the “wrong” choice and the regret that would surely follow. But that very phrasing implies that you can determine who is “wrong” from the get-go.It once again implies that there can be no agency from either party to adjust along the way, that happiness is simply found in a relationship rather than something that is built up together.
A “recovering serial monogamist” is someone too afraid to change their own behavior. For them, it’s easier to repeat the same honeymoon cycle with different people than it is to endure the uncomfortable work of confronting their own shadows and growing for the sake of the relationship.
Whether its fear or entitlement, there’s a lot of damage being done by the idea that there is a best option out there. When you have too many options, you actually have none at all.
Nothing can prepare a guy for commitment if they’ve never experienced it before. That’s where I’m at right now. It’s scary. And I’m not saying there aren’t legitimate reasons for a couple to be incompatible. But if you are agreeing to a serious relationship, ask what commitment means. Then decide whether you’re willing to commit.
You’re not being a nice guy by avoiding tough conversations to preserve the status quo. Status quo is a luxury that only guys can afford.
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See: Why You Can't Make Any Important Decision In Your Life and Why You Can't Make Decisions (Overcoming Indecisiveness). Thanks to M.L. for the rec!