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Connection and Commitment


Many people don’t know the difference between connection and commitment, but there’s a huge distinction—big enough that you could fall into the chasm separating the two and really hurt yourself. The confusion between them most often surfaces in relationships, be they platonic or romantic, but the dynamics remain the same.

My client Ruthie is a prime example. A lovely, attractive person with a tendency toward low self-esteem and co-dependence, she always found what she called “the wrong men” when she was searching for Mr. Right. “Why do they always pick me?” she’d wail. “I can’t seem to shake them.” My job was to teach her that these men will always be out in the dating world, but that she didn’t have to establish any kind of relationship with them. “But” she’d respond, “We have such an awesome connection, I can’t say no.”

Which is where I began to lay out her problem: confusing connection with commitment. When I speak of connection, I nearly always look back to sitting next to a man several years older than me on an Amtrak train some 50 years ago. Those hours between leaving New York City and arriving in Boston were some of the most emotionally intense ones I’ve spent in my 77 years. This man, whose name I of course don’t recall, and I clicked emotionally almost immediately and divulged things to each other that we’d barely admitted to ourselves. Boy, did we connect—and that happened precisely because we knew it was unlikely we’d ever see each other again.

Commitment involves taking things to a higher level through action, showing up and having behavior match words. If behavior doesn’t back up talk, talk is meaningless. For example, my client Stu bought an answering machine (yes, this was back in the stone age) after his first date with the man who later became his husband so he wouldn’t miss any of his calls. The two followed through every step of the way and moved forward in their romance because they were committed to the relationship. 

Alternately, a friend or lover might do anything for you, while you only feel a meh connection to them. Maybe they’re uninteresting or you function on different levels. Or commitment scares you and someone befriending or loving defective you is consciously exciting but unconsciously terrifying. What happens if after all the work to make the relationship flourish they find out what you’re really like, how imperfect you really are?

If you, like Ruthie, value connection over commitment, you’ll get periods of intense rapport alternating with the other person distancing themselves from you. Your best bet is to seek out and insist on a relationship that involves connection and commitment.