Recently, I had a conversation with a friend which turned to me landing a second interview for a great job. I went on to tell my friend that I'm happy about the way that my life turned out. I told her that despite what society said, my life was not stifled by getting married young and finding out that we're expecting our first child.
My friend made a face and shrugged, clearly thinking me crazy. It's a reaction I'm used to when people inquire about my life. I have to defend my choices and list reasons why my existence hasn't been ruined by committing to marriage and having a child in my early twenties.
But I shouldn't be surprised. Fear of commitment is a common sentiment, one that I struggled with in my past and sometimes still grapple with.
When I began dating my now spouse, I feared that being in a serious relationship would somehow prevent me from reaching important milestones in my life. I wanted someone to be there, but I felt like being committed would keep me from excelling in my career as a new college graduate, that being "tied" to someone would keep me from being a writer or chasing my wanderlust. But we loved being with each other and didn't want to miss out on something great.
My fears resurfaced when our relationship became more serious and we began talking about marriage. Immediately, the inevitable "ball and chain" metaphor came to mind. Of course, I thought, taking my relationship to the next level would keep me from achieving everything that I wanted to do in life, even though I had evidence to the contrary. Further commitment would condemn my life to bland child-rearing in suburbia. Because I was afraid to move forward, our relationship began to feel strained.
Never mind that my boyfriend supported me academically and professionally. Never mind that he encouraged me to go abroad to Spain for a few months over the summer and even helped me financially. Never mind that he was an emotional pillar whenever I spiraled into an existential crisis about my future. Never mind that he always treated me with incredible patience and respect, and we had the same goals in life, and were deeply in love.
It wasn't until my mom, exasperated at my rants against marriage asked me, "if you got married, why in the world would it keep you from doing anything that you want to do? Give me one thing that you couldn't do when you get married. Has being in this relationship so far taken away anything from you in your life?"
I paused. Could I still have a career while married? Yes. Did I have a valid support system, did we want the same things out of life, and share the same belief system? Yes. Could I still travel? Yes. We both love visiting new countries.
What I was afraid of were ghosts of my own invention, specters wrought into being by my own fears and the angry voice of society that said marriage kills love and destroys dreams. I listened to my own insecurities and wallowed in them.
What I slowly began to realize was that my fear of commitment was my fear of growth and change. I wanted to stay stagnant in my position, instead of moving forward and growing. I was like a plant that had outgrown its pot: needing room to grow but comfortable in my surroundings. But if I didn't embrace this change, this commitment, and leap into my future hand-in-hand with my new partner, then what we had would die.
Now that we're expecting our first child, again I feel some fear and trepidation about the future and how having a baby will impact our lives.
But then I remember that deciding to commit to my relationship didn't take away anything, but actually expanded my horizons in unexpected, but definitely incredible ways. The fear of commitment-not the actual commitment itself or its effects on my life- tempted me to set restrictions based on stereotypes and my own insecurity. Yes, my life is different each time I commit to something new, but it's always made me grow in such profound ways and helped me achieve things I never thought I could.
Of course, choosing to commit is a huge decision and one that comes with great responsibility and growing pains. Great discernment should go into moving seriously forward with anyone or anything. But don't let the fear of what could happen (usually the worst things come to mind) when you commit prevent you from doing so. Look at the matter logically, weigh the pros and cons, and try to screen out unreasonable fears and stereotypes preached by society.
Don't let the fear of commitment sink you into angst. Don't build boundaries for yourself. Commitment is not stagnation, but rather, can be one of the best platforms for wonderful change.