WHY COMMITMENT FEELS LIKE TORTURE
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When I was in the middle of the most fucked up year of my life, I got a very significant acting job.
I was to take on the title character in Shakespeare’s ‘The Taming of The Shrew’ in an outdoor summer production of the play.
As an English Literature and classical acting graduate, Shakespeare was my forte.
As a lost, angry and misunderstood hedonist, the shrew was a role I was all too eager to catapult myself in to as a distraction from my recent rapid weight gain, as well as the sporadic death threats I was receiving from my Russian ex-boyfriend (who I’d unknowingly given The Clap several months earlier).
The main plot of the play centres around the courtship of Katherina (aka ‘the shrew’ or ‘Kate’) and Petruchio – a tricky character who’s unapologetic about his intention to marry Kate so that he can get his hands on her father’s money.
From the outset, Kate has no interest in engaging in the relationship.
However, as the plot unfolds she’s left little choice.
Petruchio subjects her to various psychological and physical torments such as keeping her from eating, drinking and sleeping, until she finally acquiesces and transforms in to the obedient and covetable bride he desires for himself.
Kate’s seeming ‘happy submission’ to her husband in the final act has inevitably led many to dismiss the play as being wildly misogynistic and offensive.
Others have argued that Shakespeare is actually presenting a striking critique of his own heavily patriarchal society and is seeking to champion women’s rights.
Playing the role of Kate during my tempestuous, rather shrew-like summer of 2010, I found myself drawn to the third (and least respected) interpretation:
That this is, in fact, a love story about two lost, angry and misunderstood people whose attraction is instant, but who have to go through an extremely unpleasant ‘training’ process in order to make it possible for them to have an equal, healthy and sustainable relationship in the future.
The crucial element in this interpretation of the play lies in Petruchio’s likening of the taming of Kate to the taming of a falcon.
During the sixteenth century, Falconry was an expensive sport reserved for those of notable prestige.
The methods of taming a falcon included depriving the bird of food to the point of starvation and of sleep to the point of exhaustion, until the bird’s behaviour changed from extreme wildness to extreme obedience.
Meaning that the falconer could trust the hawk to hunt out in the field without flying away.
Most significantly, though, throughout the entire process the falconer had to undergo the same extreme deprivation, being forced to watch the falcon constantly and take care of any injuries the bird may have acquired.
So, although undoubtedly a baptism of fire, it was one both parties had to endure simultaneously.
Kind of like when you make the foolhardy decision to merge your life and your baggage with your lover’s life and their baggage in what’s commonly called a ‘committed relationship.’
(By the way, please understand that through this analogy I am IN NO WAY condoning physical or emotional abuse of either animal or human; IT’S JUST A METAPHOR, K??)
Frankly, I think Shakespeare’s a genius for understanding that in order for two human beings to live together in relative harmony, some uncomfortable work needs to happen.
Because when all’s said and done, it’s not the courtship that’s hard (unless they happen to be an emotionally unavailable arsehole).
It’s the bit that comes after.
You wouldn’t expect to do well in the Olympics with no prior training, so why on earth would you expect the emotional and romantic equivalent to be any different?
Committed love requires discipline – and pain.
You may not be deprived of food, drink or sleep, but you sure as hell will be deprived of sanity at times.
The truth is that all of us are as wild as Kate and as controlling as Petruchio when it comes to love.
We might not want to admit it, but we are.
It’s the natural, animal instinct within us that on the one hand wants total freedom to be, do and have whatever the fuck we like…
… And on the other, is willing to heavily compromise our independence so that we can experience the savage beauty of long-lasting love.
Even when we know there’s a big risk our partner could fly away never to return, or control and smother us in to taking flight for good ourselves.
In Matt Haig’s book ‘How To Stop Time’ he writes that “a blade of grass is not dull until you see a flower.”
Before I learned that commitment is a process - not a one-time event initiated with the words “I do” (want you to be my girlfriend/ want to move in together/ take you to be my lawfully wedded husband/ want to have this baby), I considered it to be dull as dishwater.
Like Kate, I defended my freedom with ferocity, convincing myself that long-term monogamy would never, ever feel as exhilarating as those early electric kisses with someone wildly inappropriate.
So, if being in a committed relationship meant that I’d have to deny myself the pleasures to which I’d become accustomed (mainly flirting with, sometimes bonking whomever I wanted, whenever I wanted – and having no one in the world to answer to but myself and my mother), then there were only two options, as far as I could see:
End it before it got too serious…
I tended to favour the second option; it took less courage.
The journey I had to go on from that head and heart space to where I am today: three years in to a grown-up, committed relationship (that both parties actually want to be in) has been excruciating at times.
And euphoric at others.
Where love once felt like an intense, frenetic tango with both partners hell-bent on leading, it’s now evolved in to more of a jumbled, sloppy waltz in which toes are regularly trodden on, ego’s get momentarily bruised, yet we soon fall back in step with one another just long enough to feel like we’re floating.
Have you ever felt like you’re floating in love?
I can tell you one thing:
It’s far from dull.
I’D LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU:
Have you ever struggled with the process of committing?
What was your experience – were you grateful for the security, or did you miss the sense of freedom and adventure?
All my love,