The fairytale always ends with living happily ever after. It’s beautiful of course, yet it is still an ending… and I don’t want my story to end… our story… It begins when we meet and fall in love, and it doesn’t stop there. What happens when the story finishes? When the happy couple kiss and walk off hand in hand into the sunset… what next?
I’ve just been celebrating an anniversary – 2 years with one of my loves… an intense and wonderful connection that survives and thrives despite us living 250 miles apart. That has taken commitment from us both – to messages daily, video calls weekly, visits every 3 weeks… or more of any and all of those means to connect, when we can afford the time and money.
I’m also celebrating a new love, a relationship that proximity has nurtured fast, at times bewildering in its pace and in the impact it’s made on both our lives in a few short months. Now both of us have recognised that this really is something we want to invest in for the long term, and we have spoken our commitment and found ways to affirm that between us.
So what does commitment look like? The social scripts, fairy tales, love songs and movies show us commitment takes the form of a promise of forever, an agreement, a contract to bind us. Promises, agreements and contracts can be made and held to – and they can be broken. They are a means of consent to a structure for commitment – a much sought, elusive happy ever after. They are often a source of anxiety and worry – when to commit, when to hold back – will this love last forever?
In the culture of entitlement that I was brought up in (as all of us in western, patriarchal, heteronormative cultures are), if you’re socialised as a woman/girl you are taught to prioritise commitment in romantic relationships. The stories tell us that finding a lasting love means holding back from expressing affection or sexual desire – if you’re too ‘easy’ then you’re not the kind of girl he’ll commit to, or marry. For boys/men the scripts discourage commitment, telling them to avoid falling into the clutches of just one woman, but to sow their wild oats while they are still free. Of course that’s all nonsense – regardless of gender or sexuality, human beings will seek some form of connection and love, and will do what we can to avoid the corollary – loneliness and grief. So when we find love, we seek the reassurance of commitment.
In the name of commitment we may make an agreement, a promise, or a contract if we choose to – it can be a legal arrangement, perhaps witnessed, maybe made before our god/goddess, and sealed with a kiss or with blood. And then what? Does this promise guarantee a lifetime of happiness ever after? Can anyone really promise that they will love someone eternally?
Love is amazing – feeling it, expressing and hearing it when it is felt, nurturing it in the now. When love is felt we want to hold on to that amazing feeling. Feelings evolve, adapt, grow, ease, intensify, relax – that feelings change is inevitable. Commitment cannot guarantee unchanging love – nothing can provide that kind of certainty.
Whether you’re at the beginning of your story or walking off hand in hand into the sunset, if the story is to continue then it begins with what is happening now. The promise of forever is an illusion that distracts us from the now. And now is always the most important time of all.
Commitment, like love, is a feeling. Feelings manifest in the now, in behaviours and actions that demonstrate these feelings are real and authentic. The combined feelings of love and commitment are demonstrated as kindness, communication, honesty, openness. Without that feeling of commitment, love’s promises, agreements and contracts can become dissonant – resulting in anxieties and resentments, conflict or withdrawal.
It is easy to get trapped by thinking the agreement, contract or promise is the happy ending – that once made, that’s it, job done, we can just stop worrying about it now and enjoy the ever after. That takes no account of the shifting, evolving nature of commitment as a feeling.
My friend who has been in a monogamous relationship for about 20 years told me that they have an annual checking in with their partner – time away from the everyday where they focus on each other, explore and question their connection, to revisit (and hopefully reaffirm) their feelings of love and commitment. Rather than assuming that a commitment, once made, is fixed, they recognise it as a feeling – a shifting, changing, evolving thing.
Nurturing their commitment has helped sustain their relationship. Questioning it could, of course, result in
ending a relationship sooner – if the feeling is no longer there. Still, isn’t it healthier to continue in relationships founded on authentic feelings, rather than old and empty promises?
So here is a commitment I make to myself, a promise I want to keep.
I will not promise anyone a happy ever after, forever, eternal, never-ending love. I will express my feelings of love and commit to the now, and to growing together from there. I will discuss and revisit my intention to invest in and nurture that feeling. I will promise to continue to communicate, with kindness, honesty and openness.
I do not want a promise of unchanging, undying love forever. You can love me with all your heart and soul but you cannot promise me your feelings will never change.
We can promise to be authentic to our connection, to hope and to want and to ask, to continue to express our needs and to always try to listen to each other. We can choose to trust that as our lives and journeys intertwine, we are leaning on someone who feels deep love and commitment now – we can trust in a
shared intention to work and build from here. We can consent to invest our faith in this commitment. We can agree
to continue our story, writing a future together, without an ending in sight.
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