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February 10, 2012

Before you commit to the idea of being in a long-term relationship with someone, maintain the commitment you should have to yourself that requires you to act in your own best interests. Always.

I think in the past, a problem I had with relationships was putting the proverbial cart before the horse. Expressing interest meant a relationship, and a relationship meant a future.

When I listen to people talk about some of their dating angst, often with people they’ve known for all of a hot minute, I’d be forgiven for thinking that they must be shackled to what are practically strangers for all of eternity. This isn’t a hostage situation – it’s a discovery situation, mutual discovery at that.

Relationships take time to grow and develop. People take time to get to know. Commitment isn’t a choice you make – it comes with time. (Clarification: Exclusivity is a choice you make.)

I used to think that exclusivity and commitment were the same thing. They’re not. Exclusivity just means you aren’t seeing or seeking other people. Commitment means you have a future together, and an obligation to work on things towards that end.

Early dates are hard for me. I don’t like them, because I don’t feel like myself. I feel like a polished, prettier, more engaging version of myself – and when I get home, a drained, tired, deflated version of myself, empty after so much effort to be better than I am. It’s not about trying to be someone I’m not; it’s about the fact that without commitment, the person on the other side of the table isn’t obligated to deal with my flaws and imperfections, so I hide them. I go into job interview mode – which is exhausting to maintain.

Over time though, commitment grows. The longer you’re with someone, the more likely you are to put up with their quirks.

I’ve been seeing someone exclusively for about a month now, and this week has been filled with “one month in confessions” – I don’t know my right from my left, I spend an inordinate number of Saturday mornings watching the river otters at the zoo, I drink coffee because I secretly like feeling like I’m on speed occasionally. Things I wouldn’t tell someone on a first date, but things that are a part of who I am. And because we’re a month in, with month-in appropriate confessions, they don’t scare him away. (Neither have any of his scared me away.) Small as it is, we’ve developed a level of commitment.

But it’s an appropriate level. It’s not talking about the future, even six months down the road, just because we’ve been together a month. It’s not making plans beyond the next few weekends. It’s not taking space in each others’ medicine cabinets.

Dating is a discovery phase – you can walk away at any time and equally you have the power to opt into what you want to.

We are still discovering each other, and we are choosing to opt-in – slowly and appropriately.

Quotes from Baggage Reclaim.

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