On (over)commitment

Commitment is something I seem to find particularly difficult at the moment, in two different ways:

  1. I feel unable to properly, psychologically commit to “big” things: any specific career path; certain kinds of relationship; living in one place for more than a year.
  2. I also struggle to make and uphold commitments on a smaller, day-to-day level: arranging to do social things in advance being the main one.

It feels like these two kinds of difficulty committing stem from different things, but I also wonder if there’s some similarity between them.

I think I’m struggling with “big” commitments largely because I’m afraid of ending up committed to – and therefore constrained by – the “wrong” thing. I’m afraid of getting stuck in the wrong career path and not being able to turn back, of closing off certain options, for example. Similarly, I’m scared of ending up in a relationship that I feel constrained by, and scared of being restricted to one place and not getting to explore other possible places I could be living. In all these cases – career, relationships, where I live – the fear of commitment is in large part driven by the feeling I haven’t explored and experienced enough yet, and that I really don’t want to settle or satisfice.

With smaller commitments, the problem is slightly different – I have difficulty committing to social things in advance because I have difficulty predicting how I’m going to feel about them when it comes to it. I think this largely arises because I fail to properly simulate a lot of small details that might affect how I feel in a week’s time, say – if I’ve had a lot on the previous day or been away over the weekend then I’m likely to want a night in, for example. And sometimes it’s just hard to predict in advance things that might make me feel less like socialising. I’ve gotten better at this – largely by making fewer commitments. But I still feel like I’m treading this very delicate balance between not committing to anything (and therefore feeling bored and/or lonely), and overcommitting (and therefore ending up overwhelmed, tired, and often unreliable.)

The common thread here is that in both cases I generally err towards overcommitment: getting myself into situations where I’m committed to “big” things that my heart isn’t fully in, and committing to way more small things than I actually end up wanting to do. And I think the reason I end up doing this may have something to do with not really, properly thinking about how I feel or what I want. When I commit to big things and then feel trapped by them, I look back and it feels like there was a part of me that was scared of the commitment even at the very beginning – a part which I basically ignored. When I overcommit socially, it feels like there’s often a tiny, quiet voice screaming “this is too much!” which gets shoved down.

Of course, it’s really tricky to know what to do with these voices – vague doubts that something isn’t quite right, fear that something might be too much. Sometimes ignoring these voices can be the right thing to do, I think – if I listened to every time my gut felt something was too much, I’d never get out of my comfort zone, never try anything new. I haven’t totally figured out when to pay attention to these hesitant gut-voices and when not to. But for now – given I seem to end up in too many commitments that I feel constrained by – it might be sensible to pay them a little more attention.


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