There are only two possible outcomes for a romantic relationship– either you break up or one of you dies. At least that’s what I told my fiancée, Ashley, on our third date in an attempt to explain why I wasn’t ready to commitment (which, incidentally, she never requested).
It may surprise you to learn that I’ve always considered myself a romantic. As a teenager, every time I encountered a cute girl my brain would immediately try to picture our lives together. I desperately wanted to find “the one.” But after a few promising relationships ended, I started getting worried. Soon, my anxiety over not finding the one turned into a fear that I might end up committing to the wrong one. This dread occupied my mind on almost a daily basis for the better part of a decade.
As I write this, Ash and my wedding is less than two days away. While I can’t say I’ve figured out all the secrets to a happy marriage (ask me again in twenty years) I can share how I overcame my fear of commitment to land an amazing life partner.
The most romantic thing I’d every heard
A few months into my relationship with Ashley, things weren’t going well. I was unwilling to get serious, out of a fear that I’d end up hurting her, which made her less than thrilled about our prospects. We were fighting a lot, to the point that a few months in we decided to take a break.
Shortly after we got back together we were discussing my anxiety around commitment and Ash said the most romantic thing I’d ever heard:
“I’m not looking for my soulmate. I’m looking for a partner.”
When I heard it, things suddenly got quiet in my head. I’d spent the last ten years assessing every single romantic interest to determine whether they were “the one.” The resulting chatter in my head was so overwhelming that I rarely felt present with any of my romantic partners. As the meaning of her words dawned on me, I realized I’d been going about the search all wrong.
I had imagined that my perfect person was waiting to be found. She wasn’t. She was waiting for me to put in the work.
Building your ideal relationship takes time, lots of communication, and a willingness to round out the rough edges of your own personality. Instead of waiting for someone who’s already your ideal fit, find that person who makes you want to put in the work.
The upside of commitment
A few months after we got back together, Ash and I started talking about whether we should to move in together. I had never cohabited with a girlfriend before, and always thought it was a step toward losing freedom. As it turned out I was completely wrong.
As soon as we moved in, everything got better. Gone were the tedious logistical conversations about who should sleep at who’s place. We both got more comfortable being silly and vulnerable with one another. Instead of avoiding conversations, like you can when you live apart, we confronted problems directly and became better partners to each other. In fact, I’ve found that every time I’ve committed more to our relationship it’s gotten better and better.
Decide with your head, and your heart
I remember the exact moment I decided to ask Ashley to marry me. She was on stage singing a karaoke version of “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips
. Watching her sing and dance with abandon, a wave of certainty washed over me, and I knew this was someone I couldn’t live without. The next morning I started Googling “how to pick out an engagement ring” (which could be the subject of a whole other post).
But before that moment came dozens of practical conversations. Where did we want to live? How many kids did we want? How did we want to spend our weekends? Do we like the same art? Not all these were explicit questions. Some were things we found out about each other by spending time together. The important thing was that she wanted most of the same things I did.
For such a monumental decision I needed my head and my heart to come to an agreement. My rational goals had to align with Ashley’s. If not we would end up rowing in opposite directions and never achieving a life that either of us wanted. But I also needed my gut to get on board so I could avoid second guessing myself. Once the two were in agreement all I needed to do was convince Ashley
Don’t feel bad if you still have more questions than answers. That’s probably how it should be, since who you choose to marry is the most important decision you’ll make in your whole life.
Of course, none of this advice has been truly tested yet. Ash and I still have a lifetime of learning ahead. I don’t imagine that we’ll always be able to live up to our ideal selves. But I know we’re both the kind of people who will commit to putting in the work.