Home > Lessons I've Learned > Commitment Costs

Commitment Costs

I’d like to talk a bit about relationships, love, and commitment. But first, I wanna be a bit geeky…

Several years back, I got a phone call from an older relative. He knew that I was good with computers and he hoped that I could help him resolve a problem with his computer over the phone. Apparently, someone else allegedly had downloaded something naughty and/or malicious and it was causing problems. I couldn’t see what he was looking at, and, due to his technical ignorance, he wasn’t able to articulate to me what he was seeing, let alone the actual problem. After several minutes of frustration on both ends of the phone, I was able to walk him through shutting down the computer and then starting it back up. He had no clue what he was doing but I could hear the computer making the shutdown and startup sounds so I know he was pressing the right buttons even if he didn’t. Once the computer was started up again, I knew that there were no other programs running so I had a better idea of what he was looking at. I paused, took a deep breath, and asked again “What do you need me to help you do, exactly?” To this he said – clearly for the first time – “I just need help turning the computer off.” I laughed out loud and then walked him through the first half of the procedure we had just walked through. He informed me that the screen was blank and that the box wasn’t making any more noises, but he wasn’t sure if it was actually off or not. I assured him that it was. He was very grateful for my help.

I share this story just to say that we all have different levels of aptitude and experience when it comes to computers. Some people use computers only when absolutely necessary. Others have developed a sort of relationship with their computers. Countless nerds, myself included, actually name our computers.

As anyone who has ever spent much time with a computer knows, the longer a computer is used and the more it is used for, the more quirks it develops. It starts behaving oddly. E.g. shutting down unexpectedly, making funny noises, and doing everything very slowly. There are four possible solutions to what I call “quirk buildup”: 1) Endure the quirks the best we can. 2) Provide temporary fixes as problems appear (e.g. reboot the computer when it freezes). 3) Wipe the computer clean and reinstall everything. 4) Abandon the old computer in favor of a new one.

Personally, I have used all four approaches to deal with computer problems. Depending on how you look at it, in terms of both time and money, there is an increasing cost as you move through the four options, option 1 being the cheapest and option 4 being the most expensive. But you must also consider the time required for each option versus the time wasted if you don’t do anything, etc. Furthermore, the reason why most people will choose one of the first two options (enduring the quirks or fixing each symptom as it appears) is that they have invested a lot into their computer and wiping everything away could mean losing all that and starting again from scratch. I know some people who are still running Windows 95 and experience problems daily, but they know all the workarounds required to get through each day. Other people, however, strongly prefer the last option (getting a new computer) because they have little to no commitment to the old computer and they like the excitement and glamour that comes with a younger and sexier computer. I think I am one of the few people that actually prefers the third option. It has, by far, the biggest time commitment plus you have to have intimate knowledge of computers or else you risk ruining everything. Even worse, the computer and the services it provides like access to the Internet are completely unavailable during the entire process, so your whole daily routine might go out of whack for a while. To me, this relatively short-term anguish is worth the long-term gain. When the process is done, I still have the same computer with all of my personal files, but it runs better and isn’t cluttered with all the old software that I stopped using a long time ago.

To me, everything I have just said is a metaphor for marriages and other worthwhile relationships. When things get bad in a relationship -when the quirks start building up- we have four basic fix-it options: 1) Endure the relational quirks the best we can. 2) Provide temporary fixes as problems appear. 3) Wipe the relationship clean through a serious retreat, series of counseling sessions, etc. (“reinstall everything”). 4) Abandon the old relationship in favor of a new one.

When it comes to serious relationships, I have used the first three options and have been seriously tempted to use the fourth. In America, far too many people prefer the fourth option. We all want the latest and greatest. We want things that are younger, faster, better. As soon as the honeymoon period of a relationship is over and the troubles begin, it’s time to jump ship. “Till death do us part” has little meaning anymore. Although we don’t say them out loud like this, the traditional American wedding vows have become “…in good or bad times… but only if there are a lot more good times than bad times, in sickness or health… but only minor sickness, for rich or poor… but not too poor…till death or irreconcilable differences do us part.”

To be honest, the first two fix-it options aren’t much better than the fourth. In fact, they often lead to the same premature ending. It just takes longer to get there. I know a couple that has been married for over 50 years. That by itself *is* amazing. I give them props for that. However, they have gotten to a point where they often act as though the other person isn’t there. They often have simultaneous unrelated conversations with a third person as though there is only one conversation. Think about that for a moment, one person trying to listen to two people at once and those two people being seemingly unaware of each other. A person can go crazy trying to keep up! I am not one to say how much love remains in that relationship, but I do know there is certainly room for more mutual respect. That being said, I think that what they have is still better than being old and alone. I believe this couple has more fulfillment than the person who never commits to anyone and who hops from one relationship to the next seeking that next great thrill, a kind of thrill that never lasts.

In the interest of proper disclosure, I am divorced. She left me due to “irreconcilable differences”. Regardless of who left whom, I can shamefully admit that for a lot of my life I subscribed to the notion of “till the-relationship-seeks-to-be-satisfying do us part”, even if I never would have said that out loud. This isn’t entirely my fault, mind you. I love my parents and grandparents and I have lots of good things to say about them. However, they have all been divorced at least once, and between them they have a total of six divorces (nine divorces if you count them as individuals instead of couples). In other words, I haven’t had the best role models in this area.

When I was younger and my parents were still together, we would regularly go to my cousins’ house for large family gatherings like Thanksgiving and Christmas. My aunt and uncle have seven kids and I don’t think that I have *ever* seen my uncle without a beer or a cigarette in his hand. During those family gatherings I don’t think that I ever saw my aunt outside of the kitchen. She was always prepping, cooking, cleaning, or serving in some way. My uncle cussed at my cousins a lot. My parents never cussed. It was after an incident wherein my uncle cussed at me that I thought to myself, “Wow, I am so lucky to have my parents. They will never get divorced but my uncle and aunt are doomed. I feel sorry for them.”

My parents got divorced over seventeen years ago. My aunt and uncle are still married. Not only that, my aunt and uncle are happy. How did they do it? Well, only they and God could properly answer that question. However, from my vantage point, I see that they have taken fix-it option three. Instead of simply enduring each other, simply fixing symptoms as they occurred, or abandoning each other, they have opted to wipe things clean and rebuild from scratch, more than once. Of all the things I could share about them, this is my favorite: Like I have said, my uncle drinks and smokes a lot. My aunt didn’t. My aunt did things around the house, with the kids, and with the yard. My uncle didn’t. Today, she rides a Harley with him to the local bar, and he is involved in house work and his now-grown-up kids. Furthermore, they like it! It’s not out of obligation, but love. Yes, they have sacrificed this and that and put forth a lot of work, but in return they have something meaningful, something worth bragging about, something worth waking up for in the morning.

Someday I want to have what my aunt and uncle have. When I make my purchase, so to speak, it won’t be with the expectation to upgrade in a few years when the current model is made obsolete by a newer, younger, sexier model. No, my commitment will be for a lifetime.

All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.

Proverbs 14:23 NIV

May your fountain be blessed,
and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.
A loving doe, a graceful deer—
may her breasts satisfy you always,
may you ever be captivated by her love.

Proverbs 5:18-19 NIV

He who works his land will have abundant food, but he who chases fantasies lacks judgment.

Proverbs 12:11 NIV

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