217 - Commitment in Non-Monogamy

Commitment is so often misunderstood when it comes to non-monogamy. We discuss definitions of commitment and identifying the traditional markers of commitment we've all grown up with. We realize that it can be difficult defining what it means exactly within the confines of non-monogamy as it doesn't necessarily fit the stereotypical mold (but that is nothing new!). Infidelity seems to be the final end all be all when it comes to breaking common commitment rules in monogamous relationships so what are those rules in non-monogamy? In this episode, we get to the bottom of what commitment means in non-monogamy and how to clearly define what commitment is in your relationship. We also learn a brand new term - sociosexuality and how that might apply to you!

Multiamory was created by Dedeker Winston, Jase Lindgren, and Emily Matlack.

Our theme music is Forms I Know I Did by Josh and Anand.

Please send us your feedback and questions to info@multiamory.com, find us on Instagram @Multiamory_Podcast, tweet at us @Multiamory, check out our Facebook Page, visit our website Multiamory.com, or you can leave us a voicemail at 678-MULTI-05. We love to hear from our listeners and we read every message.


This document may contain small transcription errors. If you find one please let us know at info@multiamory.com and we will fix it ASAP.

Emily: Not to say that this isn't healthy that people can't find a lot of emotional fulfillment by making their relationship the most important thing in their lives. I think for some people that definitely works, but it is important for us to throw a caveat in there or just say this isn't necessarily for everyone and that doesn't mean that you're not committed. If you're happy with the same old ways of dating.

Dedeker: If you enjoy sucking at communication.

Jase: And you have no desire to improve your romantic life, then our podcast might not be for you.

Dedeker: But if you want some out of the box ideas to deepen your current relationships.

Emily: Broaden your sexual horizons.

Dedeker: Develop a better understanding of yourself.

Emily: Or learn more about non-monogamy.

Jase: Then you've come to the right place. I'm Jase.

Emily: I'm Emily.

Dedeker: And I'm Dedeker.

Jase: And this is the Multiamory Podcast.


On this episode of the Multiamory Podcast, we're talking about commitment. What does it mean to be in a committed relationship?

Dedeker: We've got some commitment fans here tonight.


Jase: Is it different from monogamous and non-monogamous relationships? What does it mean to be a commitment-phobe? Do you and your partner see eye to eye on things like commitment and infidelity? Also, we are going to throw at you a fun new science term because we know you love science as much as we do. We're going to delve into the nitty-gritty of what it means to be committed on today's episode.

Emily: Yes, I'm super excited for those. This is an interesting one and a little bit abstract for sure.

Dedeker: Yes. Well, when I hear the word commitment, normally it strikes me as this very concrete concept, but then once you actually dive into the nitty-gritty, then it really is like I don't know what the hell anything it is.

Emily: What is this actually. Yes.

Jase: Right. It's thrown around so often. When I first was talking to my friends about being polyamorous, commitment was the thing that came up as a criticism of, "So you're just afraid of commitment?" That's a common assumption people make.

Emily: Yes, or like, "Maybe when you find the one then you'll commit to them finally."

Dedeker: I don't know if you all remember this, but one of the first emails we got to the show was about commitment. Do you remember that? It was from someone who had a Christian background asking about-- the way they phrased it was about this idea of having a covenant in your relationship, which is a very Biblical term.

Emily: Like with Jesus? Because I learned about this this weekend, like a triad with Jesus.

Dedeker: We can talk about that on our other show.

Jase: That's a different thing. [laughs]

Emily: Okay, to commitment.

Dedeker: Remember, that was one of the first emails that I think I responded to for this show.

Emily: What did you say? I don't remember.

Dedeker: Probably something brilliant.

Jase: Definitely.

Dedeker: They didn't write back because clearly, they were so floored by my response-


-I can't remember the question.

Emily: Okay.

Jase: Well, I think that that hits on something though, that idea of in some ways we associate commitment with a promise. Like I committed to these plans or we had a commitment to meet up tonight, we use it in that sort of sense.

Emily: What is the ring that people you have?

Dedeker: Like a promise ring?

Emily: That's the one, yes.


Jase: Okay, sure, like a commitment.

Dedeker: Yes, that was the thing in the '90s and mid 2000s, that all the tween celebrities were doing and all the tweens are doing too. Yes, it was the ideaof this promise ring, which is like we're boyfriend and girlfriend, but we're intending to get married and so we're exchanging not wedding rings, but promise rings that we're going to be together and not have sex until we're married. It was what was often wrapped up in that, yes.

Jase: Right, but then other times we talk about commitment more to me in perseverance or something like-

Dedeker: Dedication.

Jase: -like dedication. Like I'm committed to my art, or I'm committed to this podcast, or I'm committed to this religion, or whatever it is, that it's not about like a specific promise or covenant or something, but it's like more we use it. It gets used a lot of different ways.

Emily: Yes, well, okay. Of course, as always, we went to the dictionary, various dictionaries.

Jase: Which dictionaries?

Emily: We went to Webster's and we went to Urban Dictionary because that's always fun.

Dedeker: The classic combo.

Emily: Yes, okay. The Webster's Dictionary says that it is an agreement or a pledge to do something in the future, especially an engagement to assume a financial obligation at a future date.

Dedeker: That's not very romantic sounding at all, my goodness.

Emily: It's not. Well, okay, I'm looking up commitment on Urban Dictionary. Here we go. Oh, goodness. Something men are frequently afraid of. Wow, that's ridiculous. Sticking with something long after the mood you have set it in has left you.

Dedeker: There's a story there.

Jase: Yes, seriously.

Emily: To be loyal to an organization, person, or fan base. That's interesting, to be loyal. Yes.

Jase: But what is being loyal mean? I feel like they're all these ephemeral terms that we use a lot, but it's like what exactly do you mean?

Emily: Whoa, something women tend to try to say they want but when they commit to you and you're married and have money, they dump you and you're a dumb shit.

Dedeker: What?

Jase: That's clearly a story of behind that one too.

Emily: Yes, of course. Okay, Urban Dictionary. Okay, calm down. Yes. Also, I wanted to touch on one of the articles that we looked at basically said that commitment is not believing that you have any other options. Yes, options are not a thing in your life anymore. If you do believe that--

Dedeker: I'm assuming this means romantically?

Jase: Yes, that's what it was talking about.

Emily: Yes, romantically. Obviously, that's like a very monogamy-centric type of idea. Although we talked about this a little bit beforehand and we were talking about like, okay, what do options mean in a relationship? Even if you're non-monogamous, it's not like you're switching a bunch of people out all the time. You can still be committed to someone and not go looking for other options.

Dedeker: Right. It's that distinction between dating multiple people and maintaining multiple relationships versus dating multiple people in an attempt to find the best one or find the replacement or upgrade.

Jase: Keep your options open in case a better one comes along.

Dedeker: You're hedging your bets exactly in case something falls through or in case someone better comes along. I'm more taken aback by the phrasing of commitment, meaning that you believe that you have no other options because that sounds more dire to me.

Jase: Well, this is actually something that I want to talk about a little bit later in the episode, but about this commitment formula that some researchers came up with, that does have to do with that. That one of the parts of the formula is not about whether you actually have other options or not, but your perception of having other options.

Dedeker: Yes. I think I know what you're talking about, yes that makes sense.

Emily: Because let's face it, we live in a world of options now, especially here in America. You can go and have 15 different cereal options at the grocery store.

Dedeker: We are certainly spoiled for choice in many regards.

Emily: Yes, and with Tinder or any dating profile, options are abundant but, yes, it is that question of, okay, what do you think? Do you think you have options or do you think no, I'm staying with this person and being committed to them?

Dedeker: Yes, that makes sense. Well, I just want to-- can we just toss out there what are our hallmark traditional markers of commitment in relationships that we all grow up with being told?

Emily: Monogamy.

Jase: Yes, like sexual fidelity.

Dedeker: Sexual fidelity, marriage.

Jase: Staying with someone when they're sick, I guess, or when they lose their job. I don't know. Through the for better for worse thing.

Emily: Even having kids with them or getting married to them.

Dedeker: Yes, relationship escalator stuff. For me, it comes to-- I always have memories of having the talk, the relationship defining talk, or the exclusivity talk when it's like, okay, what are we doing? Are we making this an exclusive thing? Is this going to turn into are we going to decide to commit to this relationship? To the inclusion of any other options, I suppose. I have a fun infographic that I want to talk to you all about.

Emily: Are we going to get to see it?

Jase: I know, I'm like, "This is a good radio," we're just going to talk about an infograph.

Dedeker: No, I'm just going to talk about it because honestly, it's not that great of infographic.

Emily: All right.

Jase: Okay.

Dedeker: This comes from what used to be one of my favorite sites, which was scienceofrelationships.com. Because it was just a big repository of just research on relationships presented in a really accessible, easy to understand way. When doing a little bit of the research for this, I found that they re-branded. So, scienceofrelationships.com now redirects to a URL that I think is pronounced luvze.

Emily: What?

Dedeker: L-U--

Emily: Can't even say it--

Dedeker: I can't even say it. L-U-V-Z-E, luvze. It's still the same content. It's still research-based relationship content. They've made a weird logo for themselves of the setup. I don't know how to describe it. It's sexualized shoes. It's sexualized shoes.

Emily: Excuse me?

Dedeker: That's all I can tell you here. I'm going to tell the people about what's actually in this infographic but I'm going to send you a link so that the twos of you can see it. Actually if you just want to type in luvze.com, then you can see it. L-U-V-Z-E.com or scienceofrelationships.com and it will redirect you. Anyway, so--

Jase: Yes, those are eroticized shoes.

Dedeker: Right, go check out people.

Jase: But they're also gender normative shoes.

Dedeker: Yes, it's very eroticized gender normative shoes, that's all I can say. I don't know what they were thinking with this rebranding, but anyway, still got some interesting content.

Emily: I see what's happening here.

Dedeker: They pulled together an infographic where they were trying to-- they asked a bunch of couples essentially what is the ultimate sign of commitment? The results might surprise you of what people consider to be the ultimate signs of commitment; they found seven displays of commitment that came to the top. 36% of the respondents said exchanging any type of jewelry. That was number one.

Jase: That's it, easy.

Emily: Really? Okay.

Dedeker: I guess very specifically about engagement rings, I'm assuming. I'm assuming, I'm sure it's probably not like--

Jase: There are other things too though like before.

Dedeker: Here's a toe ring and I will accept your ankle bracelet or anklet or whatever it is. I don't think it was that. 16% said and they're already being. Then the next one up, 16% of people said that it was sacrifice, faithfulness, loyalty, honoring, staying together, basically. The next one down, number three, 12% said taking the next step; so getting married, living together, sharing finances.

Jase: The next escalator.

Emily: Yes, of course.

Dedeker: Yes, number four is changing the last name.

Jase: Oh wow, please.

Dedeker: Or hyphenating the name too, also was considered a big sign of ultimate commitment. Down toward number five is positive day-to-day interactions. Like showing love and affection, respecting each other, being honest and trusting. 10% was other catch all category, things like getting tattoos, honoring religious or spiritual traditions together. Then 5% said a public display such as-- they gave two very extreme examples of public displays, posting it on social media, or saying wedding vows.


Jase: Basically the same thing, really.

Dedeker: Anyway, I thought that was kind of funny. It's like an order that I would not have expected as far as priority of what people think is the ultimate commitment. That it's like--

Emily: Yes, the wedding rings or jewelry.

Dedeker: Wedding ring is first and then it's like actual commitment, I suppose. They're actually sticking together and then it's like more about getting the house and changing the last name. Then it's about actually being nice to each other on a day-to-day basis. I don't know, I think it's funny.

Emily: That is funny.

Jase: Yes. Another thing that came up in the articles that we were looking up for this is, basically this is a quote from Vicki Larson who wrote the book The New I Do, was one of the co-writers of that and also he's doing some other kind of research and stuff into things like commitment and in relationships. What they found was that people talk a big talk about commitment and that what it means in that context was doing whatever it takes to make a relationship work, even if it's hard, even if it's challenging, whatever. However, if the question was, what if your partner sleeps with someone else?

Emily: Then it's like, "I'm out."

Jase: The answer's immediately, "No. I'm not going to stick with that. I'm not going to do that." What she said here, I just wanted to read this quote, and she said, "If we're talking about honest to goodness, down and dirty, I'm committed to doing whatever it takes to make this relationship work commitment, then shouldn't a couple that takes commitment seriously be able to work through infidelity in whatever incarnation it comes to them and keep their marriage intact? Wouldn't that be the for better or worse part of a marriage vow?"

I bring this up not to say this is correct or that people should stick through that or whatever, but just to point out that this isn't quite so simple that people think it's like, "Oh, well, commitment's about really sticking with someone no matter what," but then it's like," but here's the caveat.

Emily: The caveat is this.

Dedeker: It's like but actually there are boundaries and preferences and it's actually not the same for absolutely everybody in all circumstances.

Emily: Because probably there are people out there who would, when push comes to shove, try to stick out and work through an infidelity.

Dedeker: There's plenty of people.

Jase: Of course.

Emily: Yes, but I think--

Dedeker: I think we found in some other research, like there was a particular study where when they were interviewing people about their ideas around commitment, they would ask like-- I think it was--

Emily: It was like a one time thing.

Dedeker: Yes, they were like, "What if it was a one night stand?"

Emily: Like, "Well, we could work through that."

Dedeker: Or maybe but what about many one night stands? I don't know about. Basically, they were teasing apart like there's actually edges to this commitment. Again, not that that's a good thing or that's a bad thing, but it's just not this black and white blanket thing that we're used to thinking about it.

Emily: I think that's something that people definitely need to ask and talk about early on and what does this mean exactly?

Jase: Yes, and I hope we get into this a little more later, but I do want to be clear that we're not saying that that means people are somehow failing at commitment. Because if you think about it, like if commitment means sticking with it no matter what, if you're with someone who's abusive or horrible to you or is making you go bankrupt by spending all of your money, things that most people would say, "Yes, that's a relationship you should get out of," that is, by definition, not committing to the relationship.

I just want to point out commitment isn't this thing that's just inherently good all the time. It just is a thing. It's something that is important in some ways, but it's not just this, "If you just figure out how to do that, then everything's going to be fine." Which a lot of the research even will start to make you think that because they're looking at these narrow sets of circumstances and data where they're, "This type of commitment, that's what makes relationships happy and last longer," but it's not quite that cut and dry.

Dedeker: Yes, definitely. Let's talk about conceptions of commitment outside of just sexual monogamy, outside of just if you'd agree to have sex with only me, then we're committed and that there's fidelity and then it's all okay. There's a recent study that was published in the Archive of Sexual Behavior. I mean, quite recent, like January of 2019, this year. They did this really interesting study of a wide variety of couples, some of whom were monogamous and some of whom were were consensually non-monogamous. They introduced us to this new scientific term that I'm yet to encounter in the wild and it is socio-sexuality.

Socio-sexuality is the tendency to desire and enjoy having sexual relationships with many different partners. I appreciate that they come up with this term because I think, for a long time in a lot of the research we've been seeing, we're used to it being labeled as promiscuous. Even though promiscuous is technically not supposed to be a charge term, it is a very charged term. Yes, just socio-sexuality. They distinguish that like there are people who are more socio-sexual than others and that it lies along a spectrum. They found that past research usually has found that people who feel more socio-sexual, that tends to be associated with lower relationship satisfaction and stability.

However, a lot of that research has been done only in the context of monogamous relationships. So it makes sense that someone who feels more socio-sexual, someone who craves intimacy with lots of people that yes, of course, they would feel less satisfied and less stable in a strict monogamous relationship that doesn't allow for that. That's just fairly common sense, I think. Yes.

Emily: Yes. Whenever you say the word promiscuous, I can't help but think of that song.

Dedeker: I know. Yes, it's always going to be in your head.

Emily: [singing] Yes. Okay. Moving on in this specific research that they did, they asked the survey participants about things like attracting forces and then constraining forces in their relationships. Then they also asked about relationship quality, stability, and commitment. Then also, they found that those things are dependent upon a mix of both on all of those things. Okay, what is an attracting force? This, they talked about attracting forces being factors that make people want to stay in a relationship.

Things like feeling satisfied with the relationship or having a long term willingness to maintain the relationship, or even seeing your partner in a highly positive light, all of those are attracting forces. Something I think that it makes me think of things that move you towards your partner.

Dedeker: Yes, definitely.

Jase: Right, and then the opposite of that are constraining forces. I guess not the opposite of that, that would be repelling forces, but the other force toward commitment is constraining forces. These are essentially if you think about that one's like your magnets being pulled toward each other, this one's like there's some container or a box around you that you can't get out of. Something holding you together, whether you want to be or not.

This would be things like feeling like your life would fall apart if you left or that your partners would, or its external pressure from family or from your religion, or from just social norms, right? It's like something outside of yourself, maybe being financially dependent on this person or having kids with this person, stuff like that. That's kind of an external force keeping you together.

Emily: Living with the person.

Dedeker: Things like that. In a nutshell, it's like these attracting forces are the things that make you want, make you desire to stay in a relationship versus the constraining forces being the things that make you feel you have to, like there's no option or it's an obligation. The researchers found that socio-sexual people who are in non-consensually non-monogamous relationships, in other words, they were cheating in their relationships, they reported feeling less attracting forces, also less constraining forces, but overall lower quality of life. Adding that all up together felt a general less sense of commitment.

Emily: Is this regarding the person who is doing the cheating or just both, or the person who's being cheated on, I wonder?

Dedeker: I believe it was the person who is doing the cheating.

Jase: I'm pretty sure in this example it was.

Emily: That's interesting.

Jase: Their own quality of life is lower and that they feel less keeping them in their current relationship.

Dedeker: Yes. Just less of these commitment forces in general. Which also make sense. They found that socio-sexual people who were in consensually non-monogamous relationships, they experienced stronger attraction forces combined with less constraining forces at the same time, and that produced an overall sense of a higher quality of life. They came to the conclusion that this type of relationship actually made the partners more committed to each other because they wanted to be together, not because they felt like they had to be.

Jase: That's something you've brought up that occurred before, about kind of being one of your big changes when you started having polyamorous relationships was this change from feeling like my partner's with me because he doesn't feel like he has a choice, or because he's committed and so he's stuck. I use the word right there. Switching from that to, "I know my partner's with me because they want to be with me, because they're not being limited to just that."

Dedeker: Yes, definitely. Now, with this research, again, bear in mind that they were studying specifically people who feel socio-sexual, so people who want to have multiple sexual partnerships. I imagine that if they were studying someone who wasn't socio-sexual, but who was in maybe a consensually non-monogamous relationship, maybe they would find something very different.

Maybe they'd find that person has more constraining forces where they feel like, "I'm not happy about this, but I feel obligated to be in this relationship, or I feel scared of leaving this relationship." I mean, I feel like we've definitely seen that in real life examples plenty of times. They didn't specifically research that population.

Jase: They do mention that there are many studies showing people, the ones showing people having that lower quality of life in. Basically, they pointed out in one of these articles that the studies that point out single people having a lower quality of life, is only done on people who identify as wanting to have a relationship. Similarly, like being in a non-monogamous relationship, if the people you're studying are ones who do want monogamous relationships, they're not going to be happy. This study was just trying to point out like, "Hey, it kind of depends who you're testing and what you're testing for." Also, I did look up socio-sexual. The first instance I can find if it comes from around 1991.

Dedeker: Okay.

Emily: Oh, wow.

Jase: But seems like it hasn't really caught on yet, I guess, because we haven't come across it before.

Dedeker: Yes. It makes sense that it would have existed but just haven't really seen it in the Zeitgeist, at least, so far.

 Jase: Yes. I guess 1990.

Dedeker: Especially for those of us who are literally every single week [crosstalk]

Emily: To find a new term is really amazing for us. Okay, so let's delve a little bit more into those reasons why people feel they need to stay committed in a relationship. We looked at a Psychology Today article that talks kind of specifically about marital commitments. I think actually, all three of these can be used in consensually non-monogamous relationships in various ways. We touched on a couple of them in the previous section, but the first one is going to be that external or moral commitment.

This kind of to me is like the optics section, what does it look like and what do you want to show to the world about your commitment and that kind of is the thing on your mind, and the reasoning why you're choosing to stay committed to someone and--

Dedeker: It seems like that would count as one of those constraining factors, possibly.

Emily: Yes, exactly. It's totally that.

Dedeker: And have external pressure.

Emily: Yes. I mean I've talked about this before, but when I was in China over the winter time, I was around a couple of very religious people and they talked about one of them was going through divorce, and his wife was divorcing him, but he said, "Even though I was in a loveless marriage, I would have still never divorced my wife. I would have stayed in this relationship because I'm religious and I don't believe in divorce." That definitely feels like a commitment. That is a moral commitment like, "I don't believe in this, God doesn't believe in this, and so I'm going to stay with this person whether I want to or not."

I think even in consensually non-monogamous relationships, what if you are staying with your partner because your parents wouldn't approve of you guys divorcing even if you are no longer maybe in love with that person or even just want to change the structure of your relationship because you're now consensually non-monogamous and you don't want to be in a hierarchical type of relationship, but you feel morally or externally obligated to stay in that same type of structure with that person.

Dedeker: Right. I think that that external pressure can also come from our peer group.

Emily: Oh, absolutely.

Dedeker: Intentionally or unintentionally, regardless of your relationship format, that sometimes you can feel, "Because I'm connected to this particular community of people, I feel like I need to stay in this particular relationship."

Emily: Yes, or I'm going to lose that.

Dedeker: Yes, definitely. That can definitely, I think, be just another one of those factors, one of those constraining factors.

Jase: The next category that they had here is-- also I would say falls into that constraining forces, it's basically two of these working constraining forces, this one is practical or structural commitment. This is, like I mentioned before, they're like, "Let's stay together for the kids," or something like, "Our lives are just very entangled. We have shared cell phones and bills and a mortgage or rent, or a pet or whatever it is," that's just sort of practically speaking, it's like, "Well, we should stay together for those things."

Emily: Or you love each other's, your in laws or something, the families.

Jase: Yes. That's a good one too.

Emily: It's difficult to want to say goodbye to that.

Dedeker: I don't necessarily want to paint that with a super negative brush, because it's like, if you have practical and structural commitments, I think that's fine. I think especially if you're able to acknowledge that and see them for what they are, I think that's totally fine.

Emily: Yes.

Jase: Yes, but anyway, just that is another kind of different flavor. Rather than just being like everything's just an external force holding you together, this kind of separates it from the truly external and moral to the more practical structural things.

Dedeker: Right. Yes. This last category I think starts to lead into this sense of those attracting forces of commitment, that's the personal commitment. Is the type of commitment when two people are emotionally committed to each other and they find the relationship to be the most important things in their lives. I think that phrasing is interesting because it doesn't say they make the relationship the most important thing in their lives. It's like they find that the relationship is the most important thing in their lives.

I don't know if there's something there or not, but I thought that's interesting. They're not afraid to employ good communication, compromise and make sacrifices for their partner or the relationship. This includes the idea that the couple is a team rather than just individuals looking out for themselves.

Emily: Yes. In that-- what was that book on the attachment theories? Wired for Love. They talked about this a lot, the team aspect and making your relationship into the most important thing in your life, which, again, if someone is in, my opinion, what a relationship anarchist structure, I don't know that they would ever say one relationship is the most important thing in their lives. I don't even know if you two would say that your relationship with each other, or any specific relationship that you have, is the most important thing in your life. This one kind of is a little, I don't know, necessarily I agree with it.

Dedeker: Honestly, Emily, I don't even know what is the most important thing in my life, because it's like when I really get down to it I'm like, "Well, it's surviving." [laughs]

Emily: Sure, but it's like a bunch of things together almost.

Dedeker: Yes. I get that.

Jase: Well, I feel like culturally, we very much romanticize the idea of being single minded about something. It doesn't-- Okay, in relationship movies it is the relationship. It's like the rest of my life is going to fall apart or other things I wanted to do, I'm going to give up, or other personality traits of mine, I'm going to figure out how to change for the sake of this thing that matters more than anything else. We also romanticize this in terms of professional things too. The idea of like, I'm just going to-- everything else be damned, I'm going to focus on this thing that I want to do or we talk about it with like humanitarian efforts or something. We look at people like--

Dedeker: Or with stuff you do with your own health, like dieting, or working out or whatever, which also comes with its own kind of tangled and messed up things about how we need to feel about our bodies and stuff like that.

Emily: Yes. Not to say that this isn't healthy, that people can't find a lot of emotional fulfillment by making their relationship the most important thing in their lives, I think for some people that definitely works but it is important for us to throw a caveat in there or just say like this isn't necessarily for everyone and that doesn't mean that you're not committed.

Jase: That's a good way to say that. I would even take it a step further than Emily [chuckles] and say I would argue that the vast majority of people are better off not trying to find just one thing that that's the only thing that matters in my life. That doesn't mean that you need to be polyamorous, you could just have one relationship and that can be very important to you. To get obsessed with this idea of something has to be the most important or like the only important thing to me, I feel like that's actually a sort of an over romanticization of this idea of this single mindedness. That I actually think for most people is not realistic and not healthy and setting yourself up for failure.

Emily: Yes, and it could create unbalanced and unhappiness in a relationship, potentially. I don't know. It can be challenging and maybe if two people are monogamous and do it together in a really structured way that's not hurting the hopes and dreams of either person in any way, then maybe it can be done well. I don't know.

Dedeker: That's always the balance that you're trying to strike is it's like what's the healthy amount of investment into this relationship that it needs to keep going to make sure that we both feel good and fulfilled, versus what is just like depleting myself and losing myself to trying to maintain a relationship. Guess what, we got no blanket statements. If you came here for blanket statements here at Multiamory, you're going to be disappointed.

Emily: Hopefully, all you all out there are thinking about this a little bit and being like, "Hey, what is an important thing in my life? Does something need to be the most important to make it important enough or committed enough?" I don't know.

Dedeker: It doesn't have to be the same as the people around you necessarily.

Jase: It doesn't have to be the same for all of your life.

Emily: It's true, they can change. All right, now we're going to get into the juicy woozy stuff.


I'm talking about commitment phobia. I think that this is the thing that a lot of people are like, "I don't want to be with a commitment phobe. I love so and so, but they're definitely kind of a commitment phobe. I'm worried that they're never going to pop the question." I don't know.

Jase: We found a lot of articles to that effect.

Emily: Yes, totally like 10 signs that your significant other might be a commitment phobe.

Jase: Right, that sort of stuff.

Emily: It's stuff like, they are promiscuous or they never make a date like a week in advance. They always do it on the day and that means they were commitment phobe. Anyways.

Jase: Or like to show up late to things, all sorts of stuff.

Emily: It gets a very bad wrap, but I think perhaps it's a little misunderstood because I think probably also those scipio sexual. No, social-sexual [laughs].

Dedeker: Yes.

Emily: People who are in that category could probably be thought of as a commitment phobe?

Dedeker: Yes, sure by certain rubrics, of course. I just don't think it's a binary. I just don't think it's either you love commitment or you're afraid of it. It's never that black and white. I think it's quite possible that yes, you could be afraid of commitment in certain arenas. I've definitely experienced that. Of course, yes, you probably could be afraid of commitment in a wide variety of arenas, but I always feel like it's on a spectrum and it depends on your circumstances and your time of life and what trauma you have. I don't feel it really falls along these very harsh lines of either you're commitment phobic or you're commitment enjoying, commitment seeking, commitment fucking loving. I don't know.

Jase: I guess commitment philic would be the opposite.

Dedeker: Commitment amorous.

Emily: Yes. Just throw amory in there yet again.

Dedeker: I', always commiamorous.

Jase: What? Commitment amorous.

Emily: 40 years ago, you would have gotten thrown in jail for saying commi.

Dedeker: Oh man, four years ago was the '80s-


-the next thing you know--

Emily: 50 years ago?

Dedeker: [laughs] No, 30 years ago was the '70s.

Emily: When was it?

Dedeker: The '40s and '50s. Were you talking about McCarthyism?

Jase: Yes.

Emily: It was the '40s and '50s?

Dedeker: Maybe getting into the '60s.

Emily: I thought it was like--

Dedeker: I'm sorry, Emily. I did not research this for this episode, because I didn't think that we'd be talking about it.

Jase: You're the one brought up commiphobia, commiphilia, commiamory.

Dedeker: It's specifically 1950 to 1954 there. There's your little bit piece of tiviage for the day.

Emily: It's not very long. 65 years ago.

Jase: To go back to this commitment phobia thing, this is something that's actually hard to find any good anything about. Any good research is what I mean or any good thoughtful writing about it. We found some things like there was one that's like 15 myths about commitment phobes that actually I thought was pretty good. One of the quotes that came up in looking into this here is from marriage and family therapist in New York, named Racine Henry, said, "I think it can be embarrassing to say, I don't want a commitment." I don't know if there's space in our relationship models to say that. I think there are a lot of ways to have a relationship and a lot of people who don't need to be in a relationship.

Dedeker: Thank you, Racine.

Jase: I think that what this got me started down was this idea of by calling it commitment phobia, there's this implication that wanting commitment, and generally this means a particular type of commitment, as we talked about before commitment is a broad thing, there's this idea that wanting that type of commitment is normal. If you don't want that particular thing, then you're commitment phobic; you have a phobia, you must have this fear and then we also tend to associate it with trauma or having less than good attachment styles or you don't love people. There's a lot of judgment put on that.

Dedeker: Or you just want to have a lot of sex or something like that.

Emily: [sings]

Dedeker: Yes, definitely. [sings] I like that, let's try that way.

Jase: That's good. I like that song. What I thought was interesting about this in the article talking about myths about commitment phobes is it was talking about this idea of that, like kind of looking at-- you could see someone who's either they're not committing to you in a certain way and go like, "They're a commitment phobe." If you looked at it a different way and you said that this person knows that either that's not something that they want, or it's not something that for other reasons, they are capable of giving you, that actually by not committing to that thing they're being more caring and more honest and more genuine with you than someone who kind of falls into the idea that like, "We all want commitment. We all want this type of commitment, I'm going to commit to that because that's what I should want," and then fails at it, and then fails to follow through on that commitment.

Emily: Interesting.

Dedeker: I think that is a really interesting observation that this person made about there's not being space in our relationship models to actually say that to someone. To even say, I don't want a commitment in this particular arena, or I don't want a commitment that looks this particular way because I think it is just that we're just so used to it being this black and white thing of like committed phobic, your problem, I suppose.

Jase: Right.

Dedeker: Then on the flip side, I think that we could have something like commitment addiction.

Jase: This is that commiphilia or commiamory.

Dedeker: The commiphilia.

Emily: What is it the monogamy thing?

Jase: Which thing?

Dedeker: Which monogamy thing?

Emily: When you jump from monogamous relationship.

Jase: That was serial monogamy.

Dedeker: Like serial overlapping monogamy with serial commitment.

Emily: Serial commitment.

Dedeker: We can have commitment addiction, also known as love addiction or also otherwise known as staying in a shitty relationship regardless of against your better judgment. I think it is interesting because I do believe we have really romanticized sometimes fetishized more traditional forms of commitment. There is this idea of like well, the problem is just you just need to be more committed more committed, more committed more committed, and that's going to solve your problem somehow.

Emily: Try harder, like work more, give up more blah, blah, blah.

Dedeker: There's definitely this sense of like or you need to sacrifice more or you need to-- again, I think that all ties into this narrative of if you just work hard enough, then it's going to be okay, regardless of the fact that no amount of work can save you from a shitty partner or an abusive relationship.

Emily: I think that a lot of people out there are really taught throughout their life that they're not going to be fully happy or fully realized as a person or they're not going to be whole. Gosh, yes, that was it. Like that wedding that I went to was talking a lot about becoming whole with another person and how we are whole kind of thing, and God is in there, too.

Dedeker: God's in that whole?

Emily: Yes.


But yes, if you are not in a committed relationship, you won't be happy. I think about my mom with this because I know that growing up, she tried to find a husband and/or a father for me because she was worried that conventional model would not-- without it, I wouldn't be happy and she wouldn't be happy. Her personal truth so much now, and has been for I think the last 20 years of my life and her life, has been like I am happier or much, much happier being alone. In reading this article, this comes from I think that yes, that's very apparent that a lot of people out there are actually much happier being alone.

They thrive, they don't want-- what she says is that she doesn't want anyone coming in and messing up her life, and messing up her day-to-day, and telling her what to do, or that she has to make decisions based on what somebody else wants. I think, hey, if that's your fucking truth, live it, man. Don't let anybody tell you that that's not okay.

Jase: I sent Dedeker a GIF yesterday when we were talking about some other things that said, "A date is an experience you have with another person that makes you appreciate being alone." From Larry David, I think, but yes.

Dedeker: I have had many dates where I felt that way.

Emily: I get that.

Jase: I think this is interesting, like we mentioned before, about studies about single people being unhappy is studies of people who are not intentionally single, who wish that they weren't. Actually I would bet that even amongst those people, a lot of that probably comes from the social pressure to not be single.

Emily: Yes, like the old maid idea, or that you're going to die alone idea and how frightening that is to some people.

Jase: I think that this, in talking about relationship anarchy, like Emily, you started mentioning it before, I think a lot of people can look at that and say, "It's for people who are afraid of commitment." Again, calling it afraid, like the phobia, it's [crosstalk] like you have to be afraid of it or else you would want it. There's not commitment neutrality. Basically, every episode is going to come down to neutrality. [laughs]

Dedeker: Let's just be neutral. Or maybe we can milk tests about everything.

Emily: Some people literally just don't want it. It's not that they're afraid of it, it's like, "This is not what I want for my wife." And that's fine, that's okay too.

Jase: Another thing that came up in that article about myths about commitment phobes was this myth that commitment phobes won't ever make plans with you, or that they won't stick to plans that they make. A lot of the other articles we read did say essentially exactly that.

Emily: Yes, they're like that means they're commitment phobe. This is the sign.

Jase: Right, and I think that it's like we mentioned at the beginning, commitment means a lot of different things and committing to certain things has a lot to do different meanings. Is commitment the making of the promises? Or is commitment the keeping the promises? Or is commitment more of a dedication to something rather than the--? It's obviously all of these things, but when we just talk about commitment as in like this person wants commitment or doesn't, we're really selling ourselves short from the fact that this is a-- there's a lot more to it than that.

This idea that maybe this person just doesn't want the same type of commitment that you do, or that someone else does, or that we think is normal commitment to want. Or they may really want commitment, it's just not with you. [laughs] Maybe they just don't know how to say that to you.

Dedeker: Oh, boy. Well, if you want to hear something interesting--

Jase: I do. I always want to hear interesting things.

Dedeker: Great. The term commitment phobia has actually been a decline in usage according to trends.

Emily: Well, that's good.

Dedeker: However, the term commitment issues has been on an increase in usage since 2004.

Jase: I would bet that just issues in general, in that usage of it--

Emily: Got issues.

Jase: Right, yes. We have relationship issues, we have commitment issues. I bet that usage is probably--

Emily: Commitment issue. Yes.

Jase: Right, cut out the...

Dedeker: Definitely. It does make me want to-- like it does make me curious to know, okay, was it something in the '80s, '90s, early 2000s? What was like the pop psychology influencer?

Jase: That got issues to be a thing?

Dedeker: No that got commitment phobia.

Jase: That got commitment phobia, I see.

Dedeker: Then what was the thing that got issues to be a thing? Those are the things that I'm curious about.

Jase: Yes. Well, that will be for guys our multi-trendary.

Dedeker: Multi-trendary, multi-etymology also.

Emily: Yes.

Jase: I would be into that show. Actually, that'd be a super cool show. [laughs]

Dedeker: All right, gang. What are our takeaways? Is there anything, any practical knowledge we've gleaned from thinking about and talking about commitment today? That's ironic, because you sound very non-committal in that response, Emily. [laughs]

Emily: Maybe, sure. There's probably one or two possibly.

Dedeker: What do we got?

Jase: I guess I'll pose the question first, that we can talk about some actual takeaways and things you can do about this. The question here is that, okay, basically, in a lot of these studies, there's being willing to sacrifice for the sake of a relationship and to compromise has been shown to be effective for relationships lasting longer and supposedly being happier, but as we pointed out before, where do you draw the line on what's too much sacrifice? When am I crossing the line into actually I'm just staying in a situation that makes me unhappy, or I'm with someone I'm not compatible with?

Dedeker: Right. It seems like asking yourself those tough questions of how much sacrifice is too much sacrifice? How much sacrifice is starting to deplete me and what I need versus getting positive gains for the relationship?

Emily: Yes, and then also to build on that, check in about your own boundaries and really evaluate what they are, why they are there. For example, even like, do you think that infidelity-- well, this is what the next one is too, but what is infidelity? What are your boundaries surrounding infidelity? Do you think that infidelity is your partner watching porn? Do you think it's casual flirtation with a co-worker? Do you think that infidelity is a kiss on the mouth? Or just a sexual act? What do those things mean to you?

Jase: Or is sexual fidelity only if they lie to you about the fact that they did it with someone else? There's a huge spectrum, yes.

Dedeker: Yes. I think related to that, also discussing what commitment or breaches of commitment look like for you personally and for your relationship or your relationships. Jase and I just had a conversation about this based on a Gottman exercise/experiment that we're doing that we can tell you about in a few weeks, But was really examining how do I know that this person is committed to this relationship? What are the markers of commitment? Counter to that, that gives you some clues of well, what would be the markers of a lack of commitment?

As an example for me, I realized, well, in my relationship with Jase and also in my relationship with Alex, it's little things like we consistently do radars all the time. Or we consistently talk about our meta communication. Or everyone's proactive about making sure that we're spending time together, things like that. That those are the markers of commitment that I feel. By extension, breaches of commitment would be like dropping the ball on those kind of things. Or someone not following through with what they said that they would do, things like that.

How those conversations both with yourself and with your partners about what are the things that count as commitment to us versus what are not. Again, from the Gottman's, who we talk about often. Gottman's, they have this great quote in one of their newest books that says, "True commitment means choosing each other over and over again, because ultimately, what makes relationships work is the decision to make them work."

Jase: I think the little parenthetical I would add at the end is ultimately what makes relationships work is the decision from both parties to make it work. That that isn't-- I feel like.

Emily: ...choosing to be with one another.

Dedeker: It's not that if you just choose to make it work hard enough then it'll all come through.

Emily: Yes.

Jase: Right. That I feel like at least for me, in examining my boundaries and my preferences for that question of where is my line and how much is too much sacrificing for a relationship, I feel like it would come down to that, where if I felt like things were becoming one-sided, or if things were systemically one-sided where that other person wasn't putting the same amount of commitment into it, whatever we decided that meant, or that same amount of deciding to make this work rather than pulling away or focusing on the problems or whatever it takes.

Emily: Yes, keeping score, stuff like that.

Jase: Sure, yes. Yes, absolutely. Our last takeaway here is that commitment can be an incredibly important part of building a solid relationship, but it's also not going to be this magic bullet that just makes your relationship solid.

Dedeker: Yes, I think I see that with a lot of people where the relationship is on the rocks and the last ditch thing they do is let's get married.

Jase: Right, let's show how much commitment we have.

Dedeker: Or let's have a baby. Yes, let's just try to re up the commitment and maybe that's going to be the thing that carries us through. I'm sure for some people out there they have that story that that was the thing that did help and that's great. However, anecdotally, I've seen that go horribly off the rails way more often than it has been the thing that actually saves a relationship. Again, commitment itself is a very important thing, but it's not going to be the only thing that's going to work exactly. Well, what a thrilling ride we just went on with McCarthyism.


Popped in there unexpectedly, and wow, learned so much today. We would love to hear your thoughts about commitment. What counts as commitment to you? What counts as a breach of commitment to you? What counts is infidelity or not to you? What are the things that you look for in a relationship? Or what kind of commitments do you tend to look for in your life or do you not look for it at all?

The best place to share your thoughts with other listeners is on this episode's discussion thread in our private Facebook group or discord chat. You can get access to these groups and you can join our exclusive community by going to patreon.com/multiamory.

In addition, you can share with us publicly on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. You can email us at info@multiamory.com You can leave us a voicemail at 678-MULTI-05. Or you can leave us a voice message on Facebook. Multiamory is created and produced by Jase Lindgren, Emily Matlack, and me, Dedeker Winston.

Our episodes are edited by Mauricio Balavanera. Our social media wizard is Will McMillan. Our production assistant and researcher for this episode is Nicole Samra. Our theme song is Forms I know I Did by Josh and Anand from the fractal Cave EP.