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ISSUE 118 VOL 14 PUBLISHED 3/18/2005

Commit, or quit?

By Jennifer Hancock
Staff Writer


Friday, March 18, 2005

In our position as college students – some of the most successful young people in America – we are encouraged to realize our full potential as individuals. Whether we want to devote our lives to service, business, art or justice, we are pressured to achieve self-actualization. We are told to keep love on the back burner until we are “stable.” We are told we must know ourselves before we can become involved with someone else. First, we must be successful in our careers – only then can we pursue a serious relationship. In some respects, the constant encouragement of individualism discourages the formation of successful relationships.

I have plenty of friends who view falling in love as an impediment to the achievement of their individualistic goals. Thus, they avoid love. This position is quite sensible: Relationships require people to sacrifice time and energy that could be spent moving toward the achievement of individual goals. It is difficult to thrive both as an individual and as a partner; we cannot have our cake and eat it too. When it comes to choosing between self-interest and a relationship, we conclude that love can wait – now is the time for personal development.

If one decides that individual goals are paramount, it is practical and considerate to avoid relationships. Avoiding love not only allows driven individuals to concentrate entirely on the achievement of their future goals, it also prevents them from getting hurt or hurting others by starting relationships to which they cannot fully commit.

Putting off a committed relationship is, in all reality, a wholly rational move to make in our country. The statistic stating that 50 percent of marriages end in divorce rings constantly in our ears, and the recent trend among most Americans has been to marry later in life. We believe that if we wait until our career goals have been achieved and our lives have stabilized, then we will be ready to make a relationship work. Makes sense, right? Maybe not. Unfortunately, relationships forged later in life don’t always achieve greater success. Caution and planning are not saving us from divorce.

That certainly does not mean that we should swing in the opposite direction and marry our middle school crushes at the age of 12. But neither should we avoid relationships altogether. Rather, I believe that we should attribute more intrinsic value to a healthy romantic relationship. Instead of being a side dish on the plate that we call a “successful life,” relationships should be considered as a potential candidate for the position of main course.

In actuality, romantic relationships have been relegated to an afterthought. Marriage continues to be a societal expectation, but a partner is simply an aspect of one’s pursuit of individual happiness. A spouse is simply another marker of personal success. We view our partners as a means to achieving our own autonomous life goals – another step in the direction of the house, the dog and the 2.5 kids. Maybe it would be better not to look at what our partners can give us. Maybe we should concentrate on what we can give to our partners and work to create lives with our partners, to create life goals with the ones we love instead of using them as tools to achieve our own goals. Maybe we should join together with another person to build our lives together instead of trying awkwardly to fit another person into a life we have already built.

Even at this stage in life, when many of us are not ready to “settle down,” we should not discount the good in relationships just because they tend to “get in the way” of our personal future goals. While there is a lot of pleasure in a life led with self-fulfillment in mind, a partnership can also be pleasurable (a lot more pleasurable than “flying solo,” if you know what I mean).

There is something in making a commitment to fulfill another person (emotionally, bodily, mentally, spiritually) and knowing that he or she has made a commitment to you too; success does not have to be defined as the sum of one’s individual achievements. The possibility that two might be better than one has yet to be disproved. Of course, it is rather irrational to resign some of your individual goals to another person over whom you have little control. But the payoff for such an experiment just might be worth it.

– Any questions or comments may be sent to sexcolumnist@stolaf.edu





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