Commitment means making a choice to give up other choices (Scott Stanley Ph. D). Narrowing of the options is not something, however, that we are at all accustomed with in today’s society. Advances in technology and human development, have meant that in life, there are now so many choices. Among any number of the technological gizmos and gadgets which exist there can be found an array of choices; each clambering to be the best. In an even more abstract way, socially and politically, we thrive on ideas like diversity, multiculturalism, and tolerance which attempt to suggest through very post-modern lens, that there really is no longer one correct way to view the world. Whether or not we buy into that philosophy lock, stock and barrel, we can perhaps all agree that the way we view the concept of choice, is perhaps having an impact on the way we are able to experience commitment.
If Scott Stanley’s definition of commitment is true, and I suspect that it is, it would seem to suggest that commitment involves abdicating one’s right to have other options. If I am committed to a person, a cause or an ideology, I have more or less decided to ‘forsake all other options’ for the sake of my specific choice. My commitment requires that I do this. Because, however, we live in a society which popularises the notion that we must always keep our options open, how practicable can this old-fashioned understanding and practice of commitment be? Even in the area of professional development we are now encouraged to be multi-skilled, multi-taskers, whose expertise or skill-sets, should span a range of areas and not just one. The concept of having a range of options to choose from and switching up these options as we see fit, is one of our very post-modern realities. While I am not necessarily criticising each of these social developments, it is necessary that we understand how our changing social mores, will have an impact on how we engage our relationships.
This brings us to the question of marriage and why men seem to fear it today perhaps more than any other time, in recent history. Traditionally, marriage was viewed as one of the most popular ways for a man to affirm his sense of manhood based on what society determined was essential. His sense of leadership, his ability to provide for a family, his ability to father in a controlled context, were some of the esteemed social values attached to marriage. Women were therefore “needed” for a man to “become” a real man. Enter our 21st Century postmodern age of “standardless” living or at best of shifting standards, where almost anything goes, where traditional values are scoffed at as antiquated; are we really surprised at how this has impacted an institution like marriage?
Let’s look at some of these shifts in their rawest forms. There is no order of priority nor am I suggesting that some of these changes may not have good merit. In fact, while I believe that some have been a step in the right direction, others I believe have been counter-productive and have negatively affected our own social and moral development. The fall-out has of course been felt in our relationships and families. Of course for the purposes of this article I will generalize, fully acknowledging that there are always exceptions to the rule. At the same time, we are examining a particular social trend.
Social Shifts in Relationships
- Marriage is no longer necessary to “legitimize” the birth of children
- Women are now better educated and more financially independent
- With the advent of sperm-banks, male-female relationships are no longer necessary for the start of a family
- Marriage as a unique, singular, institution, defining male-female relationships, is actively being redefined
- The concept of “family” has also been redefined and is now all-inclusive of any union, including gay couples with children
- Women no longer “need” men for financial or social advancement
- Men have been “forced” to redefine their concept of manhood as this pertains to socially expected behaviours
- Women, for the most part, have been socially liberated
- Many women are generally “anti-men” and some (particularly the uneducated or unemployed) view them only as financial conveniences
- Men feel little social or emotional responsibility towards the women they have impregnated or are sexually involved with
- The suggestion that morality or values should guide adult sexuality is labelled as regressive, conservative, insular and politically incorrect; (the idea is that consenting adults should be free to do whatever they want with sex, sans values); this leads to a reduced barometer for males to regulate their personal sexuality
- Sexual safety is mainly defined by a greater emphasis on condom-use with little thought for the emotional fall-out of broken or failed relationships; again this absolves men of their emotional responsibility towards women
- Marriage is viewed as an expendable legal contract as opposed to a life-long covenant
- Individual satisfaction always supersedes the “greater-good” of the couple or the family
- Cohabitation as a viable social arrangement has grown in popularity
- Sex outside of marriage is no longer a social taboo
- Divorce is easily accessible in case we make the wrong choice
While I am not making any attempt to excuse men for their failure to commit or for their lack of interest in marriage, I want to suggest that at a subconscious level, marriage is perhaps no longer a pressing concern for men in relationships. Let’s face it; for the most part, marriage is no longer necessary for a man to get what he wants sexually from a woman. (Of course there have always been men getting sex outside the context of marriage but I think you get my drift). It no longer guarantees the benefits of emotional and social esteem which it did previously because as a social construct, it has been redefined. Men may tend to feel more like expendable commodities because women no longer “need” them as they may have before. Some men, being the selfish creatures that they often are, have also grabbed at the opportunity of having their cake and eating it too. Why bother to commit to one woman when there are so many women to choose from? Why buy the whole cow when you can get your milk for free? (Sorry about that analogy ladies).
It is my suggestion, therefore, that the reality of these social changes, may have caused men to revert to emotional protection mode. That is, they will take as much as they can get from a woman, while attempting to preserve or hold on to their own flagging sense of machismo. This is perhaps achieved by bedding as many women as they can, fathering children from different women and emotionally detaching themselves in relationships in an attempt to preserve a false sense of power or control. Since women are now viable competitors in the work place and every other sphere of life, the notions of chivalry and being protective of the “fairer sex” has been thrown through the window. Who wants to marry his rival? And what’s the big deal anyway; she doesn’t even want to be defined as the “fairer sex”!
Now lest I be misunderstood, I am not suggesting that we revert to the old, caveman days of male dominance and superiority in home and work life or that the battles won by the feminist movement be trivialised. I am simply suggesting that as a society, in our quest for equal opportunity, we may have literally shot ourselves in the foot. Men and women most decidedly are equal but we are not the same. While as women we have fought and worked hard to demand respect in all spheres of life, we have somehow failed to communicate, (or have failed to admit) that our emotional needs have not really changed. No matter how successful or accomplished a woman is, she still desires the security of a loving, committed relationship. There is something instinctive in us that demands intimacy and connection. Yes there are a few exceptions but most of us women want that proposal, the ring, the ceremony and the whole nine yards. So here is a decided anomaly. We want to be respected on new relationship terms but our old girlish longings of the heart, of having a guy sweep us off our feet, still remain the same. Do guys even understand this? Do we understand this ourselves?
Some men, on the other hand, instead of re-writing the script in terms of how men and women should relate, have bailed out in fear of confronting a stronger woman. Some men are only comfortable with a relationship context where they maintain one-upmanship. As a result, such men have sub-consciously decided to take their relationships thus far and no further. Coupled with this is the idea that life is so much about diverse options and the need to experiment with them all, that there are no longer any social pressures to guide a man’s thinking towards commitment and marriage. He’s literally scared out of his wits and let off the hook; all at the same time! Men are not normally in the business of pinning themselves down in a scenario where they feel uncertain, powerless or not in control. That position is actually called vulnerability and this is still very much a bad word for many males.
Vulnerability is, nonetheless, also the place of love and commitment. Love, and its movement toward serious commitment, occurs in such a place where we are unsure of what we are navigating or of whether we will be hurt. True love demands that we be willing to take the risk. This brings me back to my original quotation by Scot Stanley. If commitment is a choice to give up other choices, it is also a place where I expose myself to the possibility of hurt and disappointment if my choice does not pan out the way I expected.
Instead of men allowing fear to keep them from this place, they must literally step outside the box of male experience, to allow this place of uncertainty but also of complete trust, to guide their own growth and personal development. It is a new age of relationships and we can perhaps never go back. However, balancing the positive traditional values of male-female relationships (qualities like chivalry, selfless commitment, protection, leadership) with the more modern redefinitions of interdependence, shared decision making, and mutual parenting, should make for the emergence of an interesting 21st Century relationship, which boasts the best of both worlds.