Escalation of commitment. It happens when we can’t walk away from something that’s failing because of all of the resources we have invested (e.g. time, money, etc.) in that something. It can happen in any aspect of our lives, including our relationships. It’s that nagging feeling of “you should break up with them”, but hesitating because you’ve been with that person for x number of years or you’ve already moved in together or they’ve met your family already or.. The list can go on. It doesn’t only happen with the extreme of breaking up, but it can also be to the extreme of getting married. It’s that nagging feeling of you shouldn’t get married just yet, but feeling like you need to because you’re getting pressured from all sides or you’ve already made the announcement or.. Again, the list can go on.
After being with Andrel for so many years, we were mindful of escalation of commitment. I never wanted to be in a position where there were so many red flags, but we couldn’t leave each other or slow down because we’ve been together so long and we’ve been through so much. It’s a dangerous place to be in. So, I set up safeguards for myself. People may not agree with some of them, but keep in mind while reading this post that I did what I evaluated would work for me. You’re more than welcome to tweak what I’ve listed to suit your needs or simply ignore them altogether. What I do hope you will take from this post is to be mindful. Be mindful of the possibility of escalation of commitment and figure out ways to prevent it in your relationship.
1. AVOID BEING FOREVER ETCHED IN FAMILY MEMORIES.
There’s this episode of “How I Met Your Mother”. It’s Lily’s birthday and every year on her birthday, Lily takes a photo with her cherished group of friends. The episode revolved around Lily’s annoyance with Ted always bringing someone he was dating to the party and including them in the photo. Needless to say, his party date never lasted until the next party, which meant every photo included a girl that the group never saw again. As Lily browsed through the album of photos with Ted, some girls triggered bad memories, while others were forgotten entirely. (Season 5, Episode 18, if you’re interested).
I never want to be that girl.
In 2016, Andrel’s family planned a family trip. It was a big deal for them because they haven’t gone on a family trip to a place other than Jamaica, I think, ever. At this point, Andrel and I had been dating for about seven years. But that was the thing: we were only dating; I was just his girlfriend. Don’t get me wrong. It would be understandable for any couple dating for so long to include each other in their family trips. But it just didn’t sit well with me. Andrel’s family graciously invited me, but I graciously declined. Going on the trip with them meant being included in all of the photos and memories. It would be fun and memorable for all of us at the time, but then what happens if we broke up? Although Andrel and I were already talking about marriage at this point, I was aware of the small possibility that it could still not happen. I would be that girl in all of the photos of this significant trip in their family’s history that either no one really remembered later on in life or everyone had a bad taste in their mouth about.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t be included in any family photos, but I’ve always avoided or stayed in the background during the “big deal” photos and moments like Christmas family photos or significant family experiences. It’s a boundary that I set for myself. Granted, you could get married, be included in everything, and then get divorced. But I’ve just always felt that a girlfriend, no matter how many years you’ve been dating, is still just that: a girlfriend. Treating a girlfriend like a wife escalates commitment and makes it harder to leave if need be.
2. HAVE YOUR OWN GROUP OF FRIENDS
There’s this random show on Netflix that I watched. For the life of me, I cannot remember the title. It was a satire comedy. (Is that a genre?) They purposefully over-exaggerate relationship situations to highlight the irony, comedy, or outright outrageousness of it all. There was this one particular scene where a couple was out with their group of friends at a bar. For some reason that’s beyond me, they end up having this big dramatic break up over something silly. After they both decide to break up, they go back to their group of friends and tell them to choose. Their friends have to choose who they want to continue being friends with and whose side they’re taking in this break up. It was definitely exaggerated. However, it does raise an interesting point.
Andrel and I have gone to the same school since grade nine, which means we have a lot of friends in common. We don’t just know of each other’s closest friends; we know each other’s closest friends. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with sharing friends. The danger is when the only friends you have are your shared friends. There’s merit in having your own circle of friends that your significant other has a relationship with, but their relationship still differs from your relationship. Your relationship with your own circle of friends goes much deeper, beyond the surface. Over the years, I’ve learned the importance of having my own friends. In my last blog post, I explained how I let my relationship consume me to the point that I started feeling lost. Some of the first people who will always ground you are your friends: people who know you intimately enough to bring you back. There’s power in having that friend circle that can give you advice, wake up calls, and so much more.
3. LIFE TOGETHER, LIFE SEPARATELY
There’s this statement that a lot of us love to use when describing our significant other: “I can’t imagine life without them.” As much as I think it’s a sweet sentiment, I also see it as detrimental. When people can’t picture life without someone, it makes it that much harder to leave when all signs point to the exit door. Whenever things got difficult for Andrel and me while we were dating, I would stop to evaluate if I was staying to make it work because our issues weren’t red flags and were worth fighting through or because our issues were red flags but I was scared of not being able to find someone else or find another relationship or be by myself. Because that’s the fear: If I leave this relationship, can I even start at square one? It’s what keeps people in a relationship longer than they should be in that relationship.
Escalation of commitment can become dangerous in relationships. It’s what get people stuck. Whether it’s fear or the amount of energy and investment we put into something, it can immobilize us. Our feet are afraid to move. Our minds are afraid to think alternate realities. And we settle. There are other ways to avoid escalation of commitment. Have you figured out other ways?