Sunday, January 10, 2010

One Day at a Time

By Lisabet Sarai

He's a chic lit cliché: the guy who can't commit. He loves the heroine, truly he does, and they're clearly compatible, in bed and out, but somehow he can't quite take that step. He can't make himself pop the question and join his life with hers happily ever after, 'til death do us part.

Actually, it's not a literary myth. My sister's husband was like that. It took five years, two breakups and some therapy before they finally tied the knot. I'm not ridiculing him. It was a painful and difficult process for him to get to that point. Commitment often is.

However, if you don't commit, you go through life skimming the surface, flitting from one person or activity to another, never experiencing the depth and beauty that's available. Commitment brings emotional and spiritual rewards that are well worth the pain.

The general understanding is that “commitment” is a kind of transition, a phase change, a final stepping over some line. Before you make a commitment, you're in one place. After the act, you are someplace else altogether. You commit and then you breathe a sigh of relief. That's over.

That's not the way it works, in my experience.

As I've shared before on this blog, I was anorexic in my late teens. After the acute phase was over and I returned to college, I still had anything but a normal relationship with food. I still weighed myself daily. I binged on calorie-free items like cantaloupe, cabbage and popcorn (without butter). I felt guilty whenever I ate a real meal.

To try and cope with these behaviors and feelings, I joined Overeaters Anonymous. OA is a twelve step program modeled on AA for people who have food-related disorders or addictions. I already knew something about how AA worked, as my mom was a recovered alcoholic. The first of the twelve steps, revised for the OA context, reads: “We admitted that we were powerless over food, that our lives had become unmanageable.” That was me. I wasn't overweight, but food was using up way too much of my mental and emotional energy.

In AA, you make a commitment to stay sober, to abstain from drinking alcohol. No one forces you to do this, by the way. You can come to AA forever and keep drinking; the heart of the program is that you, personally, must decide to become sober. Of course one can't abstain from food. The OA equivalent of sobriety, called “abstinence” is to eat three healthy meals a day with nothing in-between.

I made a commitment to abstinence. I tried to stop my bizarre food behaviors. I tried to release the fear of getting fat. It wasn't as easy as it might sound.

One motto of the twelve step approach is “One day at a time”. The idea is that if you tried to commit to never drinking again, ever, that would seem totally impossible. You would sabotage yourself before you even began. So, wisely, the twelve step approach advises that you simply commit to being sober (or abstinent) today. Today is all you have anyway. You could be dead tomorrow. So don't worry about what you're going to do in the future, or how you're going to survive. Focus on where you are. Focus on now. Make a commitment for today and let tomorrow take care of itself.

Simplistic as it sounds, this approach seems to work.

I've come to believe that this is the essence of all commitment. When I first thought about Devon's topic, I figured I would write about marriage. I've been married more than 27 years now—even though I never expected that I'd marry at all. It's true that my marriage is a bit atypical: we have no children, we are professional colleagues as well as mates, in our younger days we were not sexually exclusive. I suspect my marriage is easier than those of many of my readers. Still, there are times when I get fed up with my DH and really want to walk out, slamming the door behind me. (I'm sure he feels the same about me every now and again.) Or I worry about the future, as we are both getting older (and he is eleven years older than I). How will I manage if I have to be his caretaker instead of his companion and co-conspirator (as we promised in our wedding vows)?

Then I stop myself. I remember that I've made a commitment to love him, share my life with him, take responsibility for him, as he does for me. But I don't need to think about forever. I only need to reassert my commitment now, today.

This is the way that all good marriages are built, in my opinion. One day at a time. Commitment is not a single act, but a process to be repeated each day. That makes it easier—and in truth, making a commitment today is all we can really ever do.


  1. Lisabet,

    A wonderfully adroit summary of commitment. I hadn't thought about the subject in such incisive terms before but I can wholly relate to the 'one day at a time' approach.

    A great start to what promises to be another fun week.


  2. Hi Lisabet!

    Very good post, especially the points you've made about fighting addictive behavior one day at a time.

    Commitment is a difficult thing in relationships just as you describe it. I think its harder for men, though that just may be my limited view. When men and women marry men gamble with their freedom and women gamble with their happiness. On those occasions, and I know a few, when it works its a beautiful thing.


  3. Great post. I particularly like the 12 step comparison.

    As for the shallow skimming, I couldn't help think of a man I once met who was pushing polyamory because "if one partner's having a bad day, you can always go spend it with the other partner. There are no lows." What a way to turn the idea of commitment completely on its head. I think you nailed it in a few words, without making it seem as pathetic for others who seriously struggle with not being shallow.

  4. Lisabet - how did u get so darn smart??? My Christmas card this year said Live, laugh, love in the moment. This after spending 21 years with the same man (we are now separated). I'm this crazy combination of free-spiritedness and commitment and it's always been a struggle for me. I remember some interviewer asking Paul Newman the secret to his happy marriage and he said something like: 'I wake up every day and I stay.' I tried to mix things up in my marriage, change the rules and it didn't work out for me. I envy those of you who have found one partner to go this long, hard road with you....Mary Kennedy Eastham, Author, The Shadow of a Dog I Can't Forget and the upcoming novel Night Surfing

  5. Hey, Ashley,

    I didn't make this up... wiser folks than I discovered this secret!


  6. Hello, Garce,

    I think you have perhaps a too-traditional view of the male/female divide. Women gamble their freedom in marriage at least as much as men, partly because (traditional) marriage restricts women more than men.

    However, it may be that men are more in love with the idea of freedom. There's a Joni Mitchell song I love, called "The Blonde in the Bleachers", that includes the line:

    "'Cause it seems like you've got to give up
    Such a piece of your soul
    When you give up the chase."

    Maybe men romanticize the notion of flitting from woman to woman, conquering and moving on.

    Thanks for your comments!


  7. Hi,Ed,

    To be honest, I think serious polyamory requires a greater level of commitment than regular marriage. You have to balance the needs of three or more individuals, rather than just two.

    I've always been attracted to a polyamorous lifestyle, and I think my husband was too. But we never met the right person/people (though we did go looking).

    Thanks for your comments!


  8. Hello, Mary,

    I think that Paul Newman got it exactly right.

    Despite the fact that I write romance these days, I don't necessarily buy the "one soulmate" notion. Different individuals fulfill different needs. It's also not uncommon to outgrow the person you've been with for a long time, or perhaps, to grow away, in separate directions. The end of a relationship does not necessarily signal a failure of commitment.


    P.S. Looking forward to hosting you at Beyond Romance on Wednesday!!

  9. Exactly. I once told someone that you don't decide to get married once. Instead, you make the same decision every single day. This idea of deciding to be married everyday is often what keeps me from blowing my top and walking out when things are at their worst.

    That and the fact that I would have no idea how to fix my computer if something happened to it after I left the Hubster. He's so good with computers.


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