A big part of every meaningful romance is commitment. Without commitment, a romance has no more depth and meaning than a dentist appointment. It’s a big part of the process that comes with loving someone enough to want to sacrifice for them. Being willing to sacrifice, share, and understand is part of the foundation that makes a romance work.
I say all this because we, as a society, do a piss-poor job of fostering commitment. The fact that I’m saying this shortly after my rant on marriage and divorce is not a coincidence. This is an important issue that involves major expectations (some of them flawed) and important life lessons (that are difficult to heed).
I discuss this issue with the full admission that I have a difficult history with commitment. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a steady girlfriend and, without getting overly personal, none of these relationships progressed beyond a certain point. We never lived together. We never shared a bathroom. We never shared a toothbrush. We never really got the chance.
So please don’t think of me as an expert on this issue. I’m not. I’m just someone who deals with commitment out of necessity. As a romance/erotica writer, I have to understand and explore it on some levels. Even without relationship experience, this is surprisingly hard.
There are all sorts of jokes we can make about commitment these days, but there are a few common themes. Like many flawed concepts, these jokes have a clear gender disparity. Commitment joke for men are very different compared to women and it shows in our assumptions about each other.
Most of these jokes and flawed assumptions can be boiled down to a few simple stereotypes. Women want commitment from men. Men want to avoid commitment at every turn. Women want someone to provide for them and cater to their every waking need without question. Men want to be able to put their penis in whoever they want with as little effort as possible.
Are these jokes funny? Hell yeah! I laugh at them all the time. Are these assumptions flawed? Definitely. No man or woman fits perfectly into the stereotype that manifests in every sitcom, Beatles song, and Hugh Grant movie. We are a diverse and varied species, both in appearance and in thought. It’s just too damn hard sifting through all that variety. We just try to make it easier on ourselves by making assumptions.
However, making assumptions is not the problem. It’s when those assumptions turn into expectations that we get problems. We’ve raised an entire generation of children to believe that the world operates by the same rules as Disney movies. Then, they find out how much we lied to them and wonder why they’re so jaded and bitter. What else explains the rise of hippies, hipsters, and reality TV?
For women, the expectations place a heavy burden on men. As young girls, movies and TV give the impression that they’re all princesses and one day they’re dutiful prince will come along. He’ll be big, strong, handsome, and understanding in every way. Most importantly, he’ll be 100-percent dedicated to them and only them. He’s basically a pet who owns a castle and pays for their shit.
For men, it’s just as bad, but in a different context. Growing up, boys (at least those without personality disorders) don’t see themselves as the Prince Charming that the girls want. They see themselves as the heroic underdog, fighting against the odds and overcoming them so they can get the glory, the fame, and the pretty girl that comes with it.
They think that the dynamics of every Rocky and Karate Kid movie ever made are accurate representations of how the world works. They’re destined to be just as disappointed as the girls who think they’re princesses waiting for a Prince Charming.
They think that just being the underdog and having the drive to overcome the odds is enough. Things like talent, chemistry, and understanding are all secondary. They just need to stick to the script, wait for the pretty girl to fall into their arms, and let the credits role.
Given these laughable expectations, is it any wonder that we suck at commitment these days? By we, I don’t just mean me. I’m referring to society as a whole when it comes to romance. Men and women place all these ridiculous expectations on their relationships and how they approach themselves. Then, they get upset when those wholly ridiculous expectations aren’t set.
This is akin to lighting a fire-cracker, holding it in your hand, and getting upset that your hand got burned. We set ourselves up for disappointment, get upset when that disappointment hits, and blame others for it, which in turn gives us more reasons to not commit to one another.
It’s a sad and brutal cycle. It’s a self-inflicted wound that manifests slowly and subtly, torturing us like death by a thousand paper-cuts. It’s at a point where women don’t just expect a Prince Charming and men don’t just expect a pretty girl. They think they’re entitled to it and will gut punch anyone who may deny them.
This is a dangerous mentality that plagues both genders, but being the optimist I am, I see glimmers of hope. I even highlighted one this past summer when an X-men comic showed that the relationship between Cyclops and Jean Grey didn’t have to stick to overplayed Disney tropes. I think an emerging generation is realizing that these old expectations are bullshit and we, as a people, need to refine our understanding of commitment.
There are still extremes. The contract Christian Grey wanted Anastasia Steele to sign in “50 Shades of Grey” shows that we can go overboard with our expectations. At least in Christian Grey’s case, he presented a legally binding document that limited the ambiguity. I don’t think we need to be that legalistic in the real world, but the concept is sound.
First, we acknowledge our expectations. Second, we share them with others and do our best to ensure they’re understood. Finally, we recognize that sometimes we’re the asshole when our expectations aren’t met.
At the end of the day, commitment is a two-way street. Sometimes the lanes in that street are uneven, as I pointed out in my divorce post. That just means we have to navigate that street more carefully. There are going to be differences and not just between the genders. Those differences are bound to change as time goes on. The key, in the end, is to find someone whose differences and expectations match your own. That’s what makes for meaningful commitment and more meaningful romance.