Don’t get ideas, this won’t last forever

July 30, 2008

This post started about procrastination, because I am doing too much right now. I have a big college crunch and I should be working. Instead, I’ve spent today reading Reginald Hill and helping my flatmate spend money on clothes.

The first SSP post was about procrastination. SJ hasn’t done it all her life, but I have, and it’s a real problem. I’m better than I was, but I still procrastinate, especially working on my own. (Of my three assignments, I’m currently doing most work on the one that involves other people, even though that one has the least scary deadline.) SJ wrote about fear of failure, and I can certainly stick my hand up for that.

But I’m no longer sure whether procrastination per se is the problem, or whether it masks something deeper.

I spent Saturday morning finishing off step 5, confessing my somewhat tangled relationship history to C. And she noticed something that came as a surprise: the common thread is my fear of commitment.

I’d never thought about it like that.

But she has a point.

I looked up the dictionary definition and got the official act of consigning a person to confinement (as in a prison or mental hospital), which made me laugh a lot. But then I got this: The state of being bound emotionally or intellectually to a course of action or to another person or persons. That’s what I’m talking about.

I have had quite a few relationships, and I have twice cohabited with a partner. The second time, I thought we were going to get married, and I was devastated when it fell apart. Cohabitation, that’s commitment, isn’t it? Surely if I share my life with someone, I’m committed to them?

I’m not going to write about that relationship, because he would hate it. But I have come to realise that commitment is not what I believed it was, and that I was not as committed as I thought. In some ways, I was keeping myself apart, expecting that I would have to take care of myself. I didn’t really share myself. I didn’t give up control of my future. I didn’t put the relationship first and myself second. That’s one of the reasons the relationship didn’t work, and I regret it deeply.

It’s similar with work. I’ve never done a job for longer than two or three years, max. When I’ve got bored or the illusion has been shattered, I’ve walked away. And I’ve always been attracted to what I didn’t have and quick to find the flaws in what I did.

I need to learn commitment. I’ve worked harder on this course than I’ve ever worked before, but that’s not the same as commitment. If I were committed, I’d be working, not reading detective novels when the going gets tough.

I need to be committed to the work that I do. I need to be committed to the people in my life. If I am ever to have a relationship again – and I hope I will; I’m not even thirty-seven – then I need to be able to commit to a partner. I need to be committed to myself. Commitment needs to be at the centre of my spiritual practice right now.

I might be wrong. I’m often wrong. But I think that if I were committed, I wouldn’t procrastinate.

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5 Responses to “Don’t get ideas, this won’t last forever”

  1. coughingbear Says:

    I didn’t put the relationship first and myself second.
    I suppose I worry a little that putting the relationship first and themselves second is something that women are often expected to do. I agree about the importance of commitment in relationships, but also very much with SJ’s comments in the next post about reciprocity – I know you agree with that too and that, for example, you wouldn’t compromise your recovery for the sake of a relationship.

    As always the incredibly hard part is knowing when to put the other person’s needs first, when to ask for help yourself, when to find a compromise and when to stay firm. An easy one is that if you’re in a relationship with someone and they are physically violent to you, I think we probably all agree that you should put yourself and your safety before the relationship and that your previous commitment to the relationship should not stop you ending it if that’s what you choose to do.

    Looking back at my own previous relationships, I can see that sometimes I compromised about things that I actually minded terribly about, and then got obstinate about things I cared less about, perhaps because I had used up my compromising in the wrong places. I think – I hope – that I’m more confident about who I am these days, and therefore better able to commit to someone else and to make good decisions about what to do within a relationship. But of course I probably won’t know if that’s true until the decisions are long past.

  2. Francesca Says:

    My mother has a theory that one should fight very hard about a small number of things and give in on everything else. But since my mother’s model of gender relations can be summarised as ‘all men have lizard brains, darling’, I’m not sure if she is really a great role model.

    I know what you mean, and I was aware of the ambiguity when I was writing. Putting the relationship ahead of my own needs every time would be just as destructive as the reverse. But if I always put myself ahead of the relationship, the relationship is doomed. (I should say that I didn’t know I was doing this at the time. It’s much clearer now.)

    I really get the bit about becoming obstinate about unimportant stuff. I remember doing that, and I look back now and think ‘what the hell?’ But at the time it felt like a struggle for my very identity.

    And, yes, you’re quite right. I did compromise my recovery for the relationship, early on, and it’s probably the single biggest reason why the relationship failed. I wasn’t well enough to be in a relationship. And, without recovery, that will always be true.

    It’s very interesting indeed. I don’t think there are criteria for judging in advance what will work and what won’t. Trial, error and, um, lots of prayer.

  3. coughingbear Says:

    As we discussed, I think the compromising-in-the-wrong-places thing is very interesting. I’m sure that sometimes I compromised about things that did matter very much to me, because at the time what mattered most was the approval and love of the other person, and so I was prepared to pay a high price for this. Then later on I would effectively be thinking ‘well, I made that very big sacrifice, why can’t you agree to this small thing?’ (I’m sure this operated in reverse too.) Of course, part of the problem was that I wasn’t saying (or even consciously thinking, always) this, which isn’t fair to oneself or the other person – if it’s something that’s important to both, it matters that this is understood, even if one does end up agreeing to do the other thing. Not in a martyrish way, but because otherwise in me at least it breeds unnecessary resentment.

    And dragging this back more to the topic of the blog, I think it can happen at work too. I am a bit too prone to say, yes, of course I can do that, no problem, and not asking for help when I need it, and then I resent deeply what I think of as other people taking advantage of me and not seeing without my saying that I need support. I need to get better at this.

  4. Francesca Says:

    Yes. I have often become caught between ‘I should be trying to put this person first because that’s the right thing to do in relationships’ and ‘this isn’t working because I am now miserable and furious’. Or, similarly, ‘I need to fight for this because I feel attacked / disrespected / I think it’s The Truth / it would be better for us f I get my way’ and then, later ‘but it really doesn’t matter much’.

    My biggest problem in work right now is that I say yes to everything and then can’t manage my workload. It’s a big part of the commitment thing. If my word really meant something to me then I wouldn’t do that.

  5. Sarah Jane Says:

    I have a few thoughts about this. First, that “because it’s the right thing to do in x situation” is probably one of the unhelpful external motivators I posted about today. And I wonder whether compromising on things that matter and saying yes to everything are both related to confidence? You have said before that it’s important to you that people like you – is there an element of insecurity, of worrying that they might like you less if you say no?


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