Dating and Mate Selection — 23 October 2003
To commit or not to commit?

Everyone knows at least one person who has struggled with committing to
a relationship. Some people have repeated difficulties with making a
permanent choice of a mate.

Our culture promotes relationships, love and couples. It starts from an
early age. We ask kindergarten children if they have a “boyfriend” or ”
girlfriend”, we delight in watching couples in their absorbed

connection. Marriages are endorsed for the creation of healthy families.
We have a huge industry surrounding weddings and often create an excited
fervor about that one of a kind day. Society supports lovers and treats
long term couples with reverence. Happy couples are looked up to as
models to be emulated.

Yet, more and more couples delay tying the knot. Some live together for
many years without the public exchange of vows, and others question the
wisdom of making a life-long commitment.

What accounts for the discrepancy between societal values and couples_
practices?

Well, the obvious reason for fear of commitment is the frightening
frequency of divorce. If your chance of successfully staying coupled for
life, is less than fifty percent, your reluctance to commit may be very
reasonable.
Many people sadly observe that their paired friends and relatives seem
less that enthralled with their partnered lives. If this decision can
end up being less desirable than your current state, and if you may end
up being “stuck” for life – why rush to commit?

For some people the enormity of the choice is too daunting. Selecting
one individual to whom you pledge eternal love- requires careful
selection. How can you promise to continue to love the same person in
ten, twenty or more years? If you can not do so, then perhaps this
choice is not the right one for you.

Maybe the myth of the “match made in heaven”- is the one that keeps you
at bay. If you believe that when the “right” partner will appear, you
will be so sure of the choice, so happy to commit, that doubt will never
plague you again. Perhaps all you need to do is wait for that “magical
one” to present himself or herself to you and the rest will be clear and
easy.

Some singles wait for the right time to begin the mate search. The right
time may be after completing schooling, after five years on the career
path, after traveling and seeing the world, after accumulating enough
funds, after purchasing the first home, or after reaching their creative
dreams. Whatever the designation is, the “right time” is just another
delaying tactic.

It may sound like a wise life plan _ and for some people it may be so.
However, the underlying assumptions that all the personal goals have to
be attained before one is ready for partnership, does not bid well for
the view of couplehood. Is it still the confining, jail-like,
restrictive, unhappy state in which one can not flourish?

And then we have the individuals who are honest enough to state that
their personal self-interests may preclude them from choosing to commit.
I have even heard some individuals say: “I don’t think I will make a
good husband, I am too self _involved.” Or “Being a wife is not what I
have envisioned for myself- I have other plans.” These individuals are
honest about their view of themselves and their life plan. It does not,
however, prevent them from dating and unintentionally delaying other
people’s opportunities for pairing.

It must also be mentioned that mating is a biologically programmed need
created for the continuation of the species. Few defy this innate need.

If you are a person who finds him/herself struggling with the decision
about commitment, please consider these points:

  • The choice to partner or not to partner is rightfully yours.
  • Family and society’s pressures to commit should be secondary to your
    needs.
  • Divorce rates are high, but the choice to commit and create a happy
    relationship is very much up to you.
  • There is no “perfect partner” _ If you choose to love and commit to
    this partner- you have found the right one.
  • Your judgment about other couple’s level of happiness, or even their
    reports, may not be reliable.
  • Marriage is what you two choose to create.
  • You can accomplish your dreams and goals within the context of a
    healthy relationship better than on your own. Research indicates that
    married medical students do better in school and report being happier
    than their single classmates do.
  • If you doubt your ability to be a good partner- seek professional help
    to assist you in ascertaining your beliefs.
    Commitment is actually a freeing act- it allows you to take the first
    step toward a steady and supportive love.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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