Sunday, July 25, 2010

Unclear on the Concept

"Oh, that wasn't what I meant to say at all
From where I'm sitting, rain
Falling against the lonely tenement
Has set my mind to wander
Into the windows of my lovers
They never know unless I write
'This is no declaration, I just thought I'd let you know goodbye'
Said the hero in the story
'It is mightier than swords
I could kill you sure
But I could only make you cry with these words'"

Get Me Away from Here, I'm Dying (1996)
by Belle and Sebastian

I'd quote the entire song if I can. It's one of the most beautiful songs ever written, and I wrote this post listening to it on loop.

"I don't know what commitment means," I said and felt the immediate need to add a qualifier to it. "That's not a joke, by the way: I really have no idea what that is."

The most wonderful thing about Phoebe is that I can speak my mind to her without ever feeling the need to censor anything. Are there girls who would instantly pounce on those words and hold their boyfriends at tongue-point with them? Yes, and I know at least one. I keep no secrets from my lovers; and that's a policy I can finally truthfully uphold to the letter with Phoebs. Last week, an outlandish notion crept into my mind (and these things happen very frequently to me because I always leave my skull ajar) and I asked her if she would drink her own breast milk when she lactates. Her hilarious response was to pause a moment and then asked me in turn, "Have you been watching porn again?"

Oops, I ran off-topic a bit there. Let's get back to commitment.

"Yeah, what's that?" she replied unexpectedly, but it's hard for me to tell if it was spoken in seriousness or in jest - that's always a bit tricky with Phoebs. "Wait, I'll go look it up at!"

All it took was a moment before she returned with some definitions, non-definitive as they were.

"Hmmm, according to, commitment means 'the act of committing' or 'the state of being committed'" she read ponderously. "Guess, they don't know what commitment means either." If voices have shoulders, hers just shrugged. What she said and the way she said it drew a pretty big laugh out of me.

I've heard the C-word get thrown about a lot in relation to relationships, in marriage to the M-word, and in league with the L-word (hint: not lesbian). I question the last one (not lesbians). Are Love and Commitment really two bananas in a bunch? I'm not quite sure what being committed to a girl really entails, but I have this vague idea that it's some sort of a pledge to um, stick to someone? I've been dating Phoebe exclusively for the past two and a half years now - does that necessarily mean I'm committed to her?

Then there's Marriage, which is a lot more at home in bed with Commitment - and both are concepts I've filed away in the parts of my brain for stuff labelled 'don't get it' right alongside quantum physics and the bewildering feminine need for even more handbags. I have a very clinical idea of matrimony: to me it means getting the state to officially recognise you and your mate as a pair. It conjures up images of domesticated adults, rooting two persons in a pen called a home, and siring offsprings who will mostly disappoint them. I make no pretensions that I think Marriage is a lot like Failure in my mind, though I must stress that I don't think them the same. It represents the death of dreams and the identity of an individual - more so for women who take on their husband's surname, allow all their kids to do the same and are dependent on the Men of the House financially. Not to disparage people whose dreams in life are to fuck and multiply, but what sort of a dream is it to give in to your programmed biological imperatives?

I'm not saying that it's mandatory to attempt to pass on one's genes in marriage, or that only two members of opposing genders should marry. I'm merely describing the
dismal normal dynamics of the persistently wedded condition here.

The hive mind of society is still obsessed with the illusions of respectability, legitimacy and chastity; of fallen women and bastard children. Are the love between two fornicators any less powerful than the love between two persons who can 'prove' it with a witness-countersigned piece of paper? Are love children any less potentially disappointing than those spawned within wedlock? I am honestly quite tired and disgusted with everyone's obsession with meaningless things while losing sight of what really matters: the L-word (again, not referring to lesbians but they matter too).

To marry always sounds like the defeatist approach to relationships to me. It's admitting that you need more than just love to sustain a bond between two human beings. And like Phoebs and I, how many people can actually say they know the meaning of commitment, and how far can we trust them when they say they are committed to someone? Is commitment some sort of industrial strength adhesive which holds two persons together when the passion and romance run out? Sounds masochistic.

Do you know what I think? I think commitment sucks all the human elements out of a relationship and replaces them with a flimsy construct of mundane responsibility. It's like a comfort blanket for the insecure and it does absolutely fuck all for anyone (and is in serious need for a wash). If you love someone, you'd treat her right. You won't cheat on her because you know that would hurt her. You'd stay with her because you really enjoy her company; because she makes you feel great about yourself; and because she can make you laugh like no one can. Love guarantees all that. The instant you start talking about "commitment", it's a sign that the love between the two of you is at its last gasp for air.

Commitment, it seems, is something for couples who don't have Love. Discuss.

P.S. Everything I believe about being human was inspired by the Gom Jabbar Test of Humanity in Frank Herbert's sci-fi classic Dune. Everything I believe about love and relationships comes from Murakami Haruki's South of the Border, West of the Sun. I am what I read.

Not committed but in love,
k0k s3n w4i


Michelle Chin said...

In my opinion:

Love cannot be defined but being humans, people try to define it with:

- Marriage: A social contract that is tied to the legal system
-Commitment: A social contract

Both are manifestations of the insecurities that one get from love sometimes. BUT having said this, I do not oppose marriage and commitment.

Phoebs said...

that book made me an instant murakami fan :3 i hope they release 1Q84 soon!! but this hk critic said it was frivolous :'(

May Lee said...

I think if you love someone, you would naturally commit, if only because you can't find anybody else to trump the one you've already got. You don't have to put a label on it like a Sirim sticker |*chop* COMMITMENT|, but I think it's safe to say that you've been committed to your girlfriend for two and a half years.

IMO, I think commitment comes WITH love, and is not necessarily something that exists for the sole purpose of holding people together. That being said, you're not incorrect when you say that it can be likened to industrial-strength adhesive. A sense of commitment is definitely something that keeps quite a few couples together when they feel that the 'love' and the 'spark' is gone. But that's not totally a bad thing. I know you scorn the institution of marriage, but the thing is, it is a socially constructed ideology and unless one is a hermit, one lives in society. A society that would constantly pressure you to legalise your mating.

Anyway, in the end, all humans seek companionship. A marriage, even one in which both parties view each other more as good friends rather than passionate lovers (lets face it, at 65, I don't think we'd really want to do the horizontal mambo, which leaves good, platonic feelings in its place), is ideal when one doesn't want to be alone.

I guess what I'm trying to say here is that commitment comes with love. For couples who start off with no love and don't even have affection to keep them going, mindless commitment really is masochistic. For others, though, it's not bad at all. After all, it's not commitment for the sake of committing, it's more like being unable to find someone half as awesome as the one you have because you love him/her so much that nobody else can compare! =)

février said...

wow po's posts are all filled with sap, religion and reviews these days. gah! boring!

you listen to belle and sebastian? :D i used to like them at one point. there was one song i liked which i don't remember anymore. i knew a guy who used to sub in for their drum guy or guitar or something occasionally.

Anonymous said...

Why can't love and commitment co-exist? Discuss! ;)

k0k s3n w4i said...

Michelle Chin: actually, I have a pretty good handle on what love is neuroscientifically speaking - but i try not to break the illusion for myself :P i like thinking that after you prune everything out of a relationship that isn't love, what you'll have remaining is love. i think some famous dead guy said the same thing about sculpting; you just chip off everything that doesn't look a like a statue.

Phoebs: now you've gotten me excited about 1Q84, but that's only because I'm a fan of Orwell's 1984 T^T

May Lee: i think commitment can definitely be mutually exclusive. is it possible to have commitment without love? yes. a woman who cheats on her husband but still goes home to him and sees the family they've built together as her root - she's still committed to him and their marriage. Is it possible to have love without commitment? i believe so too. i know it is possible to love more than one person at a time. and if you say that that isn't love, you'll have to come up with a definition i can work with then :p anyway, a point which i wanted to make with this post here is; a couple who are in love with each other (riding the neurochemical high, so to speak) would not think about commitment consciously. it's usually when one person starts to drift a that the question of commitment is ever brought up. and i don't love phoebs because she's incomparable and i couldn't find or think of anyone better (because, what would you do if you do encounter someone superior?). love, i believe, is wanting to be with that certain someone even if you DO know that there are better people you can date.

beve: you're one to talk. you blog is about the sappiest thing around after terri's >_> and you don't seem to like anything i write T^T you dislike my post on religion, on food and movies, my travelogues... the only posts you seem to enjoy are the ones about books =d and yes, i obviously listen to belle and sebastian, ever since i listened to piazza, new york catcher in the juno soundtrack.

lovealynna: because commitment killed love's parents, and she had sworn to avenge them.

Phoebs said...

u can borrow my 1Q84 after i read it. only if u promise not to put it in the sink T^T i shall have to wait forever til it comes out :'( i didn know u thought it was possible to love more than 1 person at a time o_o i think there's a point where u can love 2 people, then u realize u actually love 1 more than the other T^T Departures is quite nice :3

février said...

my blog is only sappy coz i'm far away =d i do have non-sappy posts to write but they require too much time to properly word vaguely interesting sentences together. and if not, then pictures take too much time resizing and uploading. sappy posts are the easiest to write because they're bull you can summon on a whim. like you don't know that.

Terri said...

ahem. what's this about my blog being sappy?! :P it's carthasis for me okay?!?! writing it out helps me deal T^T

i think commitment, love and marriage could form one of those olympic circlesubset things. you can have one, or two, or all three. depends on the person. depends on the definitions of the three factors.

coz like, being committed is having the will to stick with someone. this can be because of love or other reasons. committed doesn't have to be what you get when there's no more love.

stop being so anti-marriage, poesy. this whole questioning commitment thingamie is part of your deep-seated aversion to being forced to do anything :P you only want to love because love as such doesn't entail promises for the future. it's all about how you feel in the present, whereas commitment is a promise about the future.

Terri said...

PS - about the gom jabbar thing, what about sentient beings that don't feel pain? that seems to preclude them from "humanity", which is unfair. so you need to be able to feel pain to be human?

hmm. maybe "human" should be distinguished from "person". i'm mostly thinking about asimov's robots here. i think some of them qualify as persons. don't you?

février said...

po didn't reply because he thinks you're spot on and is coming up with a reply to come back and make himself seem not so prudish again :D

k0k s3n w4i said...

Phoebs: i put a book ONCE in a sink and you wouldn't stop giving me flak about it T^T i didn't say that one can love two person equally - just pointing out that you can love more than one.

beve: sappy posts are harder for me. the ones that come naturally are those i'm being an asshole or an atheist in -.- and i just only got back from a night i didn't plan to stay in KL (so it's not like i'm deliberately avoiding replying to you and terri). my car broke down in PJ and i had to replace some parts.

terri: "[being] committed doesn't have to be what you get when there's no more love."

it's more like commitment is all you can use to stick two person together when the love runs out.

what i'm trying to say in this post is; when you love someone, you'd want to stick to that person right? it's a desire to remain together. whether you are committed or not, that's where you want to be. you can be in love and be committed at the same time, but love is the reason you are together - not a sense of responsibility.

i may have made it sound simplistic - as if love and commitment are mutually exclusive - but if i must pick at nits, i'd say it would be more accurate for me to say that i'm really talking about the need for commitment. when commitment is needed to hold two person together, i'd say love is no longer there (or is no longer strong enough to maintain a relationship, and is therefore less relevant).

to describe my position on marriage more accurately, i mostly think that it's a pointless social contract. it's not something that will keep me from leaving someone if i have made up my mind to do so. will i have kids outside of wedlock? i do not find the idea detestable. will i have kids? most likely not. marriage is an illusion to me. i pride myself on being able to see through the bullshit.

p.s. i think you are reading into the gom jabbar thing too literally - a reading which i am certainly not supporting. the point of the gom jabbar test is to see if a human being can override his biological imperatives, and be something higher than an animal (therefore human). the test certainly can't be applied to beings with no biological imperatives (like robots, say). and if we have to test a person with say, congenital analgesia, we'd have to test him or her using a biological imperative other than the aversion to pain.

Terri said...

exactly, i mean you can be human without a body can't you? in theory that is :P when i say body i mean other than the brain. which is debatable. but yeah unresolvable argument at least for now.

you are definitely nitpicking about the love/commitment thingamie :P

and must you point out my leaving out the "being"?? i don't point out all YOUR grammar mistakes and errors and things you know T^T

Terri said...

oh and i know a guy whose parents aren't married. he has an older sister as well. his parents have been together for about 30 years.... i honestly find it really strange. like, why not get married? :/

it's not like i find it immoral or whatever. i just don't see it as a big deal, and it IS the practical thing to do from a legal standpoint (inheritance, property, etc) so why not do it if you're already sure you want to be with that someone?

i do think it's cool of the parents in a way. but i dunno, i have to wonder what exactly is stopping them from simply signing a sheet of paper.

k0k s3n w4i said...

Terri: and must you point out my leaving out the "being"?? i don't point out all YOUR grammar mistakes and errors and things you know T^T

i wish you would so i can correct them, because i find it hard to proofread myself. besides, i was quoting you, and i did it so the quote makes sense. i knew it was a typo, obviously. it's not like i'm going "lookit terri she's a grammar idiot!" :P

exactly, i mean you can be human without a body can't you? in theory that is :P when i say body i mean other than the brain. which is debatable. but yeah unresolvable argument at least for now.

i had this very argument with phoebs recently, in fact - or at least, a very, very similar one. she thinks that a person is a combination of his/her mind plus the body. i think that a person is all in the mind, and that if you can somehow upload a person's brain into a computer as complex as a human brain, you'll have to call that computer a person too. there's also this philosophical exercise which asks, if you replace a person's leg with a prosthesis, is he still human? what if you replace his entire lower body? how about up to the neck? it's like the pile of sand puzzle - how many grains of sand must you take away till it's no longer a pile.

but i dunno, i have to wonder what exactly is stopping them from simply signing a sheet of paper.

good heads on their shoulders?

i just don't see it as a big deal, and it IS the practical thing to do from a legal standpoint (inheritance, property, etc) so why not do it if you're already sure you want to be with that someone?

i always argue for the opposing side in my mind when it comes to any issue - if only to see how a position reversed from mine can be defended. inheritance, property, etcetera can easily be taken care of with a will - which a person will make anyway regardless of marital status. i personally found the strongest case for marriage is the quote unquote respectability and workplace marital privileges it grants.

but it's not values inherently found within marriage. it's values society assigns to a worthless thing. and i cannot respect that.

anyway, this post is about commitment versus love. my protestations against matrimony is another post - and my distaste for it also overlaps with my distaste for the ritual of wedding. and marriage, in its current form, is an inherently patriarchal, sexist construct. if i am a woman, i'd shun it. it's kind of like my puzzlement at why women in abrahamic faiths are more religious compared to men, when their religions are so inherently misogynistic. you girls are really masochists :P

i personally admire scandinavian countries like denmark, norway and sweden's social stance on marriage versus premarital cohabitation. by the 1990's, about half the births there are born outside of wedlock. unmarried couple do not have a greater chance of separating (and some studies even found that non-married couples are actually less likely to end in separation).