A committed relationship can be a scary thing, especially if you are, like me, a child of divorce. I grew up with divorce as the norm. Estranged from my father’s family, I spent holidays shuttling back and forth between my maternal grandmother and my maternal grandfather.
My mother’s four brothers completed this extended family as I watched aunts come and I watched aunts go. I had cousins, for sure, some closer than others, depending on how the marriages and the divorces worked.
Cheating was commonplace in my mom’s family, hiding in plain sight, always there, but never talked about, much like our family’s problems with mental illness and abuse. The shadow casted over us even in the sunlight.
I learned from a young age that you could be one of two things in a relationship, either the abused, the cheated on, or the abuser, the cheater. It was either hurt or be hurt and it was showed to me repeatedly as the person who had the power or the person who had no power.
I still don’t know which side of the coin I was more afraid of. I was quiet, and kind, and caring, and in this way vulnerable to being taken advantage of. But I was also stubborn and fierce and was likely to shatter you at a moment’s notice if given a reason to do so.
I was afraid of someone holding power over me, controlling me, but I was equally afraid of wielding that power over someone. Could I manipulate and control someone? Cheat on someone? Was I capable of that?
Everything I read and watched didn’t help. Relationships talked about and portrayed as a ‘game’ to be ‘won’ with rules to follow and keeping the ball in your court metaphors.
Were relationships like a game of chess?
Strategically maneuvering around the other person’s plans, manipulating their movements to fit your own goal, and ultimately taking them down until they have no more power left, lost in a checkmate? It seemed to me that they were. And I wanted no part of that.
So, I didn’t. I didn’t have a relationship lasting more than a couple weeks until I was 25 years old. Not until I had started to unlearn these lessons. Not until I was able to leave home and discover a bigger world than the one that I had grown up in.
A world that taught me that against all odds, a committed relationship built on a partnership was not only possible but something that I desperately wanted. I was so motivated to find the relationship that I had never seen before. Motivated to heal and learn and grow from my past so that I could find a committed relationship partner. Motivated internally because I just knew that there had to be more to relationships than a terrifying game of chess.
There had to be more in this world for me.
I was still scared of it going wrong. And it did the first couple times. My past relationships didn’t crumble in spectacular flames like the relationships I saw when I was a child, but they certainly didn’t last either. Until I found the one that did. The sweet, kind, goofy, intelligent, passionate partner who also didn’t want to play that game of chess.
And while we continue to be happy, I can’t say that it wasn’t scary. Committed relationships are a scary thing. It’s like standing on the edge of a cliff terrified that if you jump you will fall. But I hadn’t found a person to be there to catch me. No, that wasn’t what I wanted. I found the person who would hold my hand as we jumped off the cliff together. And it was then that we learned together, we could fly.
So, I leave you with this thought about commitment. Whether you are committing to someone or something, commitment works best when you are motivated internally. When you have decided you want something better for yourself and you are ready to go out and get it.
By: Mandy Doyle
I am from Florence, Massachusetts with llamas and vineyards, but I currently live in Boston. I am a sexuality education teacher and self-defense instructor for people with disabilities. I also run my own private tutoring business. I have lived in Zaragoza, Spain, Majuro, Republic of the Marshall Islands, and Buenos Aires, Argentina. I love being a nerd girl and fan girl, I love baking, and I love earrings.