They say men are afraid of commitment. I'm not sure how I feel about that characterization, especially regarding the rash of studies, both formal and informal, that have put women on par or above men in commitophobia.
That women are afraid of commitment is nothing new, either: Shere Hite (Women and Love, 1989) revealed that eighteen percent of dating women in the adult single bracket (thirty to fifty years old) were admittedly uninterested in marriage. The same book reported that over a quarter of young single women (twenty to twenty-nine) intend never to marry (while remaining the dating "market"), and over half of all unmarried women express a fear of commitment — a bit more even than the most cynical statistics for unmarried men.
Such recluctance — on either side of the fence — is generally traced to a fear that they'll find someone better after committing. As with many aspects of the gender divide in our contemporary culture, of course, men's reluctance to commit is painted in darker tones: "anti-monogamy", Hite says, on the one side contrasts with "celebration of life on our own" on the other.
With that out of the way, and working from the premise that both men and women are equally wary of commitment, let's take a look at the underlying issue: knowing that you've found The One (if you subscribe to that idea) or reasonable facsimile thereof (if you don't).
Exhibit A: myself. Time was, I wasn't wary of commitment. Quite honestly, I had a failure-proof attitude that any commitment I might enter couldn't possibly be the wrong one. I probably (read: "You'd better believe it!") could've been considered under-cautious. Regardless, I'd never have fit the "men are afraid of commitment" stereotype.
I was fairly close, actually, to that permanent plunge I still long to take — with someone I realized was not "The One or Reasonable Facsimile".
That has left me, not afraid of commitment — I still see myself as married before thirty (Given that the median age for men to marry is 27 and for women is 25, I'll not be too far behind, and the standard "half-plus-seven" CreepinessFactor™ would leave quite a few single women in my range, I'm not worried that I'll be too old. Although...) — but treating it with a measure of respect that, in my former hubris, I neglected. That respect comes from a greater personal assimilation of the concept of marriage: while before I considered it an inevitability, and even something which could be not only satisfactory, but transcendant, with anyone matching an objective list of criteria, my views — if I'm honest with myself — have changed.
There's an idea — propounded to me by many people, several of whose opinions I greatly respect — I've tried time and again to believe. The best way it's been phrased, though, is as in the frame above:
I understand now. There's no choir of angels when you meet the right person. It's about growing out of your fears to realize what you have is what you want.
But that seems only a small step removed from my former, now-rejected view.
And I know there's a choir of angels. I've heard them once before. (That fact alone pushes me towards the "or reasonable facsimile" camp.) My greatest fear is not of commitment — commitment remains one of my fondest dreams — but of wrong commitment. I still believe I could set up pleasant housekeeping with anyone who ticked enough boxes on the list. But it's more than that now. I've heard the angels.
I still have a checklist. I still refer to it with regularity.
But I'm waiting for the choir.
There is no Exhibit B.