It seems to be getting harder, these days, for people to make--and keep to!--a commitment, whether to a simple lunch or business date or to a long-term relationship.
Is it just that I'm a crusty old Brit, brought up in a cultural environment in which simple politeness and consideration assured that when you made an agreement, you honored it? Nowadays, I watch askance as people habitually change dates and times without a second thought. For me--as Ellie can attest--it's a major wrench to "let someone down" by calling to change even the most casual arrangement, once made. As for arriving on time, I'm punctilious to a fault. I'm more likely to arrive embarrassingly early than one minute late. My belly starts literally to ache if I find that I haven't allowed the time I need to get where I need to be.
Okay, I'm probably overly obsessive. But the habitual late arrival that seems to be the rule these days never fails to dismay me. I judge it to be rude, inconsiderate, a kind of arrogance that assumes thoughtlessly that my time is less valuable than yours. That's the message that I get. It's a lack of integrity, and integrity is important to me--my own, as well as others'. As I understand the word, it means simply to say what I mean, and mean what I say, and to act in congruity with my words.
As for relationships... well, in our contemporary culture, the divorce rate speaks for itself. But the problem of commitment starts well before marriage, and puts a stop to significant relationships even before they start. I have observed, and heard from many young people who bemoan their inability to find a more than casual partner, and who are too often jolted into a sudden disconnect as soon as a relationship promises to become serious. Having worked with numerous young men over the years, I have always assumed the lack of ability to commit to be more of a male than a female issue, but recently I'm not so sure about that. The gender equality that most of us seek brings with it a different set of social realities.
I wonder to what extent the inability to commit has to do with the vast increase in both opportunity and the personal freedom to exploit it? Commitment to a single, lasting relationship can seem uninviting, I suppose, when the possibilities are endless and when sexual encounters are readily acquired and easily consummated, most often without consequence. And to what extent does it have to do with fear? The fear, perhaps, of ending up with the unhappiness and rancor of so many parents's marriages? The fear of making a wrong choice, a choice that might somehow fail to match up with one's illusory ideal? Of an infringement on what is jealously guarded as personal freedom, of taking on obligations to another person, responsibilities one is reluctant to accept? Or fear simply of the unknown, because who can predict how a relationship will turn out?
Fear can paralyze, or induce flight. The commitment to another human being necessitates risk, uncertainty, a leap of faith that is hard to take. It requires both courage and persistence, and for this reason it is the harder path. If successful, a relationship is the result of constant, continuing, sometimes challenging, sometimes deeply disturbing work, which may not sound alluring. Its success is certainly not a given. And the reward of a relationship is rarely the kind of "happiness" that our culture hypes, and mistakenly leads us to expect. It's a deeper thing and, to my mind, eventually more valuable. It saddens me to know that so many shy away from it, in favor of lesser, if more immediate rewards.
Our fears can be the best of friends, but they can also prove to be false friends. And when they are false, they need to be recognized as such. We are all, surely, aware that nothing of significance is achieved without some element of risk. The greater the risk, indeed, the more we stand to gain. The safest choice is always to stay exactly where I am; it's also often the saddest.