Radical commitment means closing all escape hatches

I am in a nine-month relationship. He said he would like an exclusive relationship. I agreed. Is checking an online dating site appropriate? I met this person from an online dating site. When he asked if I would be his girlfriend, I agreed but made it clear that I felt that, and he agreed, that online profiles should be removed and not used. I have done this and have no desire to go fishing, looking, checking, whatever. However, recently he told me that he still gets messages weekly from the site to "check his matches." He even asked me if I would like to see them. He insists he doesn't communicate and isn't active. Yet it is OK to check the site. This happened in a relationship prior to this. In both cases, the man felt it was OK to have a "curiosity" for women and "just check the profiles" sent to them from the site. I understand that men are visual, but I explained to both of them, that there is a difference between a woman walking by while shopping and noticing her and making a conscious decision to push a button that opens up pictures of women who are looking for matches. What are the "rules" of the online dating game? What are men thinking? Or, am I overreacting, which I have been accused of on this issue. Maybe I am just too trusting.

-- K.U., Las Vegas

Exclusivity and fidelity are not one decision; rather, a series of decisions. Commitment is not one moment in time; it is a developmental journey.

The easy part is the mechanical/social practice of exclusivity. We don't date anyone else. We don't have sex with anyone else. Voila! Looks like we're in a committed relationship.

Well, yes, it is committed. Yet, to our surprise, there remain deeper and more radical commitments to be made.

When alone, we decide never to talk or behave anytime, anywhere, with anyone in a way we would not behave if our mate was standing right there. That's the rule. That's radical commitment.

We are transparent in all our relationships. We might have a more or less separate communion with someone, but never an undisclosed communion. All our friends, whatever their gender, are known to our mate and know about our mate. That's the rule. That's radical commitment.

We don't seek, nurture, or avail ourselves to relationships trading "bumps" of sexual attraction and ego-boost. See, this, too, leaks energy that is rightly owed to the mate. A committed partner seeks the mate's desire. Oh, sure, it's enjoyable when the stranger or co-worker lets us know we are desired. And of course we will regularly enjoy noticing people we find attractive and desirable. But we don't linger in those moments. We don't "grow" them and depend on them. We "bump" with our mate. That's the rule. That's radical commitment.

We don't nurture The Potential Relationship In The Hole. You've seen it: that friend or co-worker with whom you never officially have an affair; but, still, you grow a private and intimate relationship of "what if." Oh, had we met years ago. Oh, if my mate died, etc. It's an escape hatch from the work of radical commitment. So we close all escape hatches. That's the rule. That's radical commitment.

We don't amen ourselves to friendships openly disparaging our mate or our commitment. Yes, we have friends who let us vent during difficult moments in the journey of love; but, after listening, those friends challenge us to do the work of great love. Further, we swiftly and decisively jettison anyone who, despite our clearly communicated status as a committed partner, continues to come on to us, tempt us or entice us. In the end, there is no room in great love for even the distraction of having to say "no." That's the rule. That's radical commitment.

K.U., your man isn't cheating. At least not officially. But his behavior "cheats" the potential of his relationship with you because he's leaking psychic energy he could be using for the next step of commitment.

All of your questions will answer themselves, K.U., if you will but answer this question: What, for you, constitutes self-respect? Answer that, and you will know whether you are overreacting. You will know how deep of a commitment you deserve from a mate. You will either relax and lower your expectations. Or, you will confront him and demand more.

Or you will leave.

Originally published in View News, May 18, 2010.