Does he love me?
Q: What is your definition of “commitment”? My partner “Jon” thinks that commitment just means living together. I moved in with Jon in January; we’d been dating for eight months. We didn’t talk about commitment at the time or what it means. But I guess I thought that Jon knew what it meant. After all, he grew up in a family with parents.
Well, I sure had a surprise. I thought moving in together also meant commitment–like. I can always find a roommate; that’s not what I wanted. And he knew it. I know that we didn’t have a ceremony or anything. We haven’t exchanged rings either, but Jon said – when we made the decision to move in together – that it was “time to take our relationship to a new level.” Now, I have to wonder what level we are on.
Jon has made it very clear that he is not interested in sharing money, only sharing our common expenses. OK, so maybe I can handle that. But when he recently told me that sex with other guys is OK – for him or for me (how generous of him) – I dropped my teeth. I asked him if he has been having sex with other guys while we were dating because I was under the impression that I was the only one he was having sex with. He said that he had sex with a few others, but he doesn’t feel connected to them in the “same way” as he feels with me. That is supposed to make me feel special, I guess.
Jody, I thought I found the love of my life, but I’m not sure that I am the love of his life. I had this idea of what our relationship would be, but it’s not shared. I don’t know what to do now. I still love Jon. I guess I just feel very disappointed. I don’t even know what my question to you is. Maybe you can find a question in this.
A: I’m sorry for your pain. It seems there is a big communication issue here. Like, a lack of it. The problem with your “assumptions” is that’s exactly what they are: merely assumptions, not reality. And another problem is that there is a tendency to believe that we all agree on the meanings of words, like commitment, love, friendship, and on and on. But the fact is, these words have different meanings to different folks. That is why it is so important to first communicate words, instead of assuming things, and then to find out what the other person means by these words in real behavioral terms. For example: We want to move in together and have a relationship. So, what does “committed relationship” mean to both people in that relationship? Does it mean pooling financial resources? Does it mean monogamy? Does it mean having children? How will roles be determined, like who does the cooking, pays the bills, cleans the refrigerator, walks the dog? Those – and many more – are all the important decisions that need to be made in a relationship. It doesn’t matter how you decide them, but just that you do.
The success of a relationship is predicated on successfully negotiating these issues before – and when they come up, renegotiating them. This is why you have become disillusioned. You didn’t communicate your expectations of the word “commitment”; therefore, you didn’t address the minutia of life’s details involved in the concept of “commitment.” It’s not necessarily too late for you and Jon. But since you both don’t communicate well, I would suggest you find a counselor who will teach you both how to communicate your thoughts and needs to each other, and how to resolve conflict of expectations. If Jon doesn’t want to go, I hope that you will still go so you can have a healthy relationship someday. Good luck.