For most of my life, I suffered from it: the fear of commitment. I would like a guy, I would get to know him, I would like him more. But then the moment would come. The decision would have to be made. Were we going to continue on, make plans to watch movies together and eat our ice cream in the park, holding hands and stop by the pond to look at the ducks? Or was I going to return back to where I had been before I had ever met him—planning my days around myself alone, spending my time studying or seeing friends. Once that decision announced itself—to continue on, hand in hand, into the sunset or not—I would flee. It didn’t matter how much I liked him. It didn’t matter how cute his hair was or how easily he made me laugh. I did not want to commit. Or rather, I thought I could not commit.
For a long time I couldn’t even understand what was happening. Why couldn’t I be like my friends who liked someone and went for it? Who got with a boyfriend then broke up with said boyfriend and then just started seeing someone new? Even the word boyfriend felt elusive to me. It wasn’t that I had any trouble falling in love. I was quick to become the heart-eyes emoji. It was just that no matter what, no matter how much we liked each other or how nice our time together, I couldn’t call him my boyfriend. It felt like a special place, a special title, and I just hoped that I had it in me to be able to be someone’s girlfriend and think of him, in heart and mind, as my boyfriend one day. To be able to make a decision in one moment and remain loyal to it in the days to come. But the opportunity to become “boyfriend-and-girlfriend” would present itself and I would run for the hills or intentionally sabotage what we had begun—too afraid of something I couldn’t pinpoint. But when I was alone again, I would become sad and angry with myself because I had said goodbye to yet another great guy that I could have grown to love a little bit more.
So I tried to figure it out. I tried to examine in myself what would happen when I first began to recoil, hopeful that examining it would help me overcome it:
1. I was quick to become “all hearts and our names in the margins” so quickly that it took me awhile for me to realize what I was falling for wasn’t the person, exactly, but my idea of the person. Or: I loved the freshness of new relationship, the excitement of the first encounter, then the following pursuit. When I began to get to know him a bit more, and the idea did not match up to my ideas, the conversations left a lot to be desired. If the night at his apartment watching him and his friends play video games wasn’t quite what I pictured, I would run.
2. I realized that I would too easily allow myself to be convinced of the logic “If I can’t see myself liking him one year from now, if I can’t see us being compatible then, then I don’t want to even try now.” Once that thought emerged—that uncertainty of how I would feel in months—I would be unable to continue as I had been before, running towards something that I wasn’t sure would become anything.
3. I was afraid that a relationship would get in the way of me honoring my goals and dreams and pursuing them, and that I would get too distracted and would forget who I was and who I wanted to be.
Then one day, I met my now-boyfriend. I wish I could say it was like, BOOM or POOF, and suddenly a spell cast upon me was undone, but it wasn’t like that. All my hesitations, all my fears, all my relationship habits were still there. He just gave me a reason to try and think about them differently. To be a bit more patient with myself and with him. After our first date, I declined him walking me home, and took the long slow way home so I could think about it. I looked up at the moon through the trees. I liked him. I wanted to see him again, and then again, and then again. He was sweet and he was earnest. Then that thought came: but what if you won’t be compatible a year from now? What if you get bored? It was the very thought that would make me start ignoring calls and dropping hints. This time another thought emerged on top of the first: What does it matter, you like him now, don’t decide tonight if you’re going to see him a year from now, just decide if you’ll see him next week for lunch.
I saw him for lunch, and soon it became dinner, breakfast, camping trips and long car rides. He became my boyfriend. At first the word sounded strange and silly in my mouth, then it became natural. I waited before thinking of himself that way, referring to him with that title. I wanted to take it slowly until I realized a few crucial things:
1. I didn’t need every conversation to be fascinating and every night to be magical. Sometimes we could sit in silence on his balcony and watch people walk by. Sometimes I could do what I didn’t really want to, watch a sports game with him, and that would be okay, because he did what he didn’t really want to with me and for me, like watch Mean Girls with me and make hot chocolate and play Taylor Swift songs.
2. I enjoyed the day-to-day life with him and didn’t worry about what would come of it, only that yes, of course we should make smoothies and listen to our favorite eighties tunes.
3. He showed me how he supported my goals and dreams. He respected them. I got to know his dreams and goals, and of course I wanted him to work towards them, for his dreams to come true, too. Sometimes this meant that we would spend hours apart, busy working on separate projects, and that was okay. It was more than okay, because at the end of the day we would talk and ask one another how it went, we celebrated our accomplishments, we comforted each other through our failures.
But more than any other realization that helped me break from the fear of commitment, there was this moment:
Recently, we were walking through a pretty park. By now, we had been together for over a year. It was raining lightly. It was spring, so the branches of trees were covered in blossoms. Maybe we were talking and maybe we weren’t, but at one point, without even thinking about it or realizing what I was saying, I blurted out, “I want to be with you.”
“But you are with me.” he laughed, “We’ve been together for months.”
It occurred to me then that I had finally found the antidote to my life long fear of commitment. Agreeing to be with someone fully in the present didn’t mean that I had made a final decision for the future me. Nor did it mean that I could neglect nurturing the relationship in the months following the decision to be together. Time could pass and the thought could still take me by surprise: that I wanted to choose us. I liked that. I liked that it was still a decision I could make. Not to protect me from changing my mind, but to change the way I approached our time together, if every few days I thought to myself that yes, this is what I want. I tried to explain this all to him. He thought about it for some time. He nodded. We continued our walk.
Days later I did a silly dance in the kitchen while we waited for the grilled cheese to finish cooking. I want to be with you, he said to me, and I knew exactly what he meant.