As I continue to read Gerald Hiestand and Jay Thomas's Sex, Dating, and Relationships, I keep having those moments where I think "why didn't I see that?"
In the fourth chapter, they discuss commitment. They point out the two types of dating scenarios: one where the couple is not really exclusive, but only casually dating. The second is the scenario where the couple is exlusive, and there is an understanding that they will date only each other. They are boyfriend and girlfriend.
The first type of casual dating impliles that either party can choose not to date that person without any fear of repurcussion. There is no assumption that they will continue to date. It could be just a one time thing. The second type of relationship imples exclusivity, but can end also because one of the parties, or both, decide to for whatever reason. In both cases, the end of the relationship comes at the discretion of either party. The couple have stayed "committed" only as long as it is convenient or desireable.
The authors point out that this is not really a commitment, although many dating couples will say they are in a committed relationship:
Being temporarily committed is essentially no different from being uncommitted.
When a dating couples says they are committed, to what are they committed? That is the question. When an engaged couple says they are committed, they are saying they are committed to marrying on a particular date. When a couple is married, they are committed to each other for life. Yes, divorce exists, and yes, it is sad, but when a couple marries their intention is that they will remain married.
I was discussing this with my husband last night, and he pointed out that there has to be some period of exclusivity between a couple for them to discern whether or not they want to be married. I agreed, and where I think the problem begins is when the couple who say they are committed to each other, and exclusive, treat the relationship like marriage without the actual commitment. They place expectations on each other, and allow boundaries to be crossed. They are, in effect, playing house. The difference is, of course, that either can walk out with much less difficulty. Dating doesn't teach about being married simply because the level of commitment is not the same. The authors of this book propose that there is, really, no commitment at all. Either party can find him/herself waking up one day to discover that the other person wants the relationship over. Now. And yes, married couples may confront similar situations, but by its design, marriage is not intended to work in that way.
The authors bring with them the presupposition that the ultimate end of dating is marriage. This, too, is another difficulty, because that is not why most people date. They date because they are attracted to another person. The authors point out that many young people confuse attraction and commitment. Attraction can wane, but a commitment is meant to last. I think most couples date for recreation, not for the purpose of marriage, and therein lies the problem. We live in a time where marriage has become trivilized. Is it any wonder young people don't take it as seriously?
I have heard rumblings from young women who actually criticize other young women for dating with the intent to be married. If a young woman goes to college or university hoping to meet her husband there, her friends may very well criticize her. A young girl who goes to bible school, for example, looking for her "Mrs." is seen as shallow, vapid, and silly. Is it really better for someone to have gone through the dating-breakup cycle over and over again than having simply avoided serious commitment until marriage?
When my husband proposed in 1985, in the woods, under a soft snow fall, three days before Christmas, he was making a promise; a promise that we would at a particular day, declare publicly our intention to stay together forever. It was nothing like the first time he asked me out. There was only one promise made that day: to arrive at my house to take me somewhere. In the days and months ahead, I, too, confused what was commitment and what was not, and it often resulted in conflict. My situation worked out, because we did end up marrying. I can't say things ended as happily during previous dating relationships I had. I wish I had understood, and embraced these principles when I was a young person. A lot of people claim that the pain of broken teenage relationships are helpful for future relationshps. I can not say personally that has been my experience.