Choose Your Own Adventure – Authentic Commitment for Every Relationship Model

We spend our lives like sponges immersed in a cultural bathtub, soaking up ideas about love, romance and relationships. This is occurs as a result of a subconscious process and many of us aren’t exposed to alternative viewpoints, or those viewpoints are portrayed overwhelmingly as deviant or repulsive. As a result, many of us aren’t easily afforded an opportunity to examine whether those concepts and expectations actually match the reality of our lives and authentic values. We learn to equate commitment with finding our “soulmate” who “completes us”, exclusivity, cohabitation, getting married, and having children. This perspective of the natural progression of romance has been termed the “relationship escalator.” But is that really what commitment is, and is it really a one-size-fits-all version of what’s best for everyone?

I propose that this interpretation of commitment is at best, a fantasy that only some of us may find fulfilling or are even able to achieve, and at worst, emotionally unhealthy and not necessary for authentic commitment according to any relationship model, from monogamy to polyamory and other forms of consensual non-monogamy (CNM).

The myth of the “One True Love” who fulfills all of our needs, saves us from ourselves and is our one in a million destiny is pervasive. But is it healthy? Realistically, most of us would be able to have perfectly fulfilling romantic partnerships with a wide variety of people. And in reality, healthy individuals aren’t broken people who needs to find the perfect person who fills in all the gaps to be complete.

We are likely to have at least some some conflicts about what we need, what they need and what each of us is able and willing to contribute with any partner. Human beings are social animals and do need relationships of all kinds, from friends, to family to romantic partnerships and larger communities to provide companionship and mutual support. But each of us can fulfill our social needs from a wide variety of those sources, whether we’re monogamous or practicing some from of CNM. As an added bonus, those who are not monogamous even have a unique chance to find partners who can meet needs that another partner is unable or unwilling to meet, and our relationships can have less pressure to be provide everything to one another.

And we can’t actually “save” anyone else. While we can and should provide some support to one another, it is up to each of us to make the best decisions we can to fix our own problems, make our own choices, do the work, and find any necessary help that it takes to be healthy and happy and whole.

Does marriage or exclusivity = commitment? For some people it can represent that, but is it necessary to be married or exclusive to have commitment, and does it guarantee longevity? Again, I would argue the answer is no. In the U.S. at least, monogamous relationships and/or marriages often result in cheating (with estimates of between 25 – 72%), more than half of marriages end in divorce and studies show that monogamous and polyamorous relationships have similar rates of longevity. Exclusivity is no guarantee of connection. Polyamorous/CNM people can have deep connections in relationships, even if they have multiple ones. I was with my husband and partner for 25 years, and we were never exclusive, and yet deeply devoted to one another. I have had loving, committed relationships with my other partners as well, even though I was married to someone else.

Does living together and having children = commitment? Again, they are choices that people who want those things can commit to, but not all committed relationships are between people who live together or have children. There are many ways to choose connection without cohabitation. I know both polyamorous and monogamous people who have been in partnerships for decades but live apart. Frida Kahlo and Diego Riviera were married but famously built two seperate houses for themselves connected by a skywalk. And many people in relationships choose to remain child-free. My husband and I never chose to have children, which did not damage our commitment to one another.

The real question is, what IS commitment, if it isn’t taking the traditional relationship escalator route? At its most basic level, it means to me that you have one another’s back. You’re in each other’s corner. You are committing to maintaining a healthy connection with one another. You show up in support of your relationship and your partners, to the benefit of their health and well-being. You support a shared vision of your relationship while respecting your individual differences.

Some concrete, real world examples of cultivating connection other than just the relationship escalator standards include making dates, providing companionship, expressing love, physical and verbal affection, and for many, sexual connection. For many it shows up as sharing hobbies or collaborating creatively. You keep the other(s) in mind or consult them in important life decisions. You can be there for one another during emergencies, illness, death of loved ones, or any kind of loss or grief. You can also be there for one another to celebrate successes and life events such as graduations, promotions, birthdays, and holidays. You can choose to share finances. You may stick with and support your partner through hard times, body changes, and mental health challenges. You could spend time and bond with, even become part of one another’s families, whether biological or chosen.

Key to all of this, however, is that our relationships don’t HAVE to include any particular earmark of commitment. Rather, commitment in a relationship can be a “Choose Your Own Adventure” story, where we agree on what fits and is healthy for our unique connection. When we look past what we are taught relationships are “supposed” to look like in mainstream culture and examine what actual works for our own lives, we can have relationships that are much more authentic and more likely to be more fulfilling and beneficial for everyone.

Because we are unique individuals discovering where we connect in relation to one another, we get to choose and agree on what kind of commitments we make with one another. Different levels of connection are not only okay, but desirable. We can be our authentic selves in different relationships, connecting in our unique ways and balancing our commitments. Even monogamous people must strike a balance between their relationship, friends, families, children, school, work, hobbies, health and recreation. Polyamorous people can do it too, with lots of good communication to facilitate a shared vision of commitment and clarify and agree on expectations in each of our relationships. All relationships would benefit from this level of communication and consent, no matter what model they follow. Monogamous or not, we can make conscious choices about the paths we wish to take together, rather than just being herded onto the relationship escalator.

1 thought on “Choose Your Own Adventure – Authentic Commitment for Every Relationship Model”

  1. The concept of choosing your own relationship commitment structure is kind of mind-blowing to me. I’ve gone through life thinking that it can only go one way. I guess what’s hard for me to grasp is how you find someone who might agree on alternatives to what we think of as “normal”? I’m starting to believe polyamory might be an option, but I still struggle with the idea that many people might not want to move in or have kids or whatever?

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