What Would Aristotle Do?

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The Courage to Commit

Fear of commitment is rooted in the demand for perfection

Fear of commitment is rooted in the demand for perfection in an imperfect universe.  The future is uncertain; things do not always happen as you wish; there are some things that are not in your control; and you cannot know all.  This is the human condition. 

“If I commit to him/her, then I might miss the opportunity to meet someone better.”  How often have these words been uttered?  These words are the words of fear of commitment, a demand for perfection that one simply cannot have in an uncertain universe. 

Plato believed that our souls were once split in half and the quest for finding the right person with whom to spend one’s life was that of (literally) finding “your other half.” In contrast, Jean-Paul Sartre, a French existentialist philosopher, would admonish you that the person you choose as your mate will be the right person because you have chosen this person, not because there is a cosmic truth that says so. 

Existentially, truth is where you hang your hat; and that is clearly a lot of responsibility to carry.  You can accept responsibility and live accordingly or you can retreat from it, not act, procrastinate, hold out for ultimate truth, and succeed only in defining yourself as a disappointed dream, hope, wish, or expectation.  The relative truth is that you will find “the one” only by taking the plunge into reality. 

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There is no guarantee that your choice will pan out.  But there is no cosmic necessity binding you eternally to this person.  So the uncertainty of reality is dual edged.  There is no necessity that your choice will go the way you prefer; but there is also no necessity that you must accept your fate.  You can still decide to re-decide.  You are stuck only if you choose to be. 

What will be is not certain, but there is still probably, which can guide you to the point at which you can either take the leap of faith or choose not to act.  Either way you end up choosing.  “I feel comfortable with this person but there is just no spark.  I always thought falling in love would be so different.”  But time is ticking away; and you don’t know if you will ever find anyone better.  What should you do?”   

Sartre’s astute answer is that you should decide.  Decision by indecision is still a choice, but it is usually the poorest one because you sacrifice the benefits of a committed relationship as well as the freedom of having decided to move on.  You can also choose to wait to find that person with “an edge,” the one who has the added wit, sexuality, charm, or whatever other trait intrigues you.  But there is one thing you can be certain about, that this idealized person will not be perfect either, even if you think you have finally “found” your other half.  Maybe he or she will be self-absorbed or emotionally disturbed.  Maybe he or she will have a genetic disease.

There cannot be romance without being romantic; there cannot be love without giving love; and there cannot be anything lasting and genuine without commitment.  It takes courage to act in the face of uncertainty.  You can define yourself as a courageous person by confronting the uncertainty of reality and making a commitment; or you can procrastinate; make your decision by indecision; save yourself for all eternity; or otherwise avoid commitment.  The choice is yours. 





Elliot D. Cohen, Ph.D., is President of the Institute of Critical Thinking and one of the principal founders of philosophical counseling in the United States.


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