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Commitment and freedom; can you have both?

Posted on Thursday, July 15, 2010 in Divorce, Happiness, Honesty, love, Men, Relationships, Singles, Women

“I’m in the mood for something uber-romantic,” Sara said as she, Mia and I looked over the selections at the video store.

“Rhett Butler romantic or Nick Hornby-John Cusack romantic?” I asked.

“Epic romantic,” Sara said. “Costumes, lust, dramatic music …”

“How about ‘Out of Africa’?” Mia
piped in.    

“Oh, I haven’t seen that in years,”
I enthused. “It started that whole Banana Republic look,

“Yeah,” Sara said, “and it also started the biggest fight the ex
and I ever had!”

“About?” Mia asked.

“Men and women, freedom and

“Perfect!” I said, as I headed toward the counter.

So we settled in for an evening destined to give us something to bite into, and not just because we made a batch of super-buttery popcorn.

As the romance between a big game hunter, Denys (Robert Redford), and a baroness, Karen (Meryl Strep), develops — intellectual equals and renegades in their own way, he loves her stories and determination, she loves his free spirit and sense of adventure — it’s obvious they’re doomed.

He stays with her on her African coffee farm for a while, they share passionate nights and exciting days together … and then he leaves. For a long time.

And she’s home, alone (well, with a helluva lot of help whom she educates and domesticates and helps in her own ways), keeping everything going.

As much as Denys is happy to give some of his stuff a home — hers — he’s not about to move himself into her home and all the related problems of ownership. He’s committed to her, but treasures his freedom. He loves Africa for its wildness; he does not want to domesticate it like Karen does.

And she’s committed to him — and always waiting for him to return. And stay.

Independence, commitment — can this relationship be saved?

And just like Sara and her ex fought years ago, Mia, Sara and I struggled with deciding who was being selfish — a man who wants commitment and his freedom, or a woman who wants commitment and an equal partner.

And whether you can have both.

Can you?

I enjoyed being married, and probably would have stayed married forever if shit didn’t happen. But then when I got divorced, I suddenly found myself with something I hadn’t had in years — freedom. I had no one to be accountable to. I had “me” time.

Holy crap! If I knew being single, even with a kid, would look like this …

I loved it!

And a lot of other singles and divorcees feel the same way — we treasure our freedom.

But — and it’s a pretty big but — I don’t want to be alone. I want love in my life, and not just the kind from my family and friends. I want the kind of love that, like Denys’ and Karen’s, offers passion, adventure, intellect and, yes, commitment and freedom. That lasts.

I’m just not sure what that’s going to look like. I have no idea if that can exist under one roof.

Mia and Sara both thought Karen was being used. “You can’t have a woman, a warm bed and a meal whenever it’s convenient for you to drop in,” they sniffed.

But Karen set down roots, made a home — those were her choices, even though, in the beginning, when she was married, she didn’t think she’d be doing it all alone.

To me, Denys was no more or less selfish than Karen in wanting what he wanted; it’s just that ultimately they didn’t really want the same thing.

My gut says there are many men who want Denys’ kind of life, and many women who want Karen’s.

What do you think?

Bring on the comments

  1. brian says:

    I remember crying at the end of Out of Africa when I first saw it
    Such passion but doomed
    My date looked at me and said “Why are you crying?”
    Suffice it to say didn’t see much of her after that

  2. T
    Twitter: tsquest

    Commitment and freedom. Me too, Kat. Sign me up.

    I think in the end, what we’re all most afraid of is losing ourselves.

  3. Sounds A LOT like my last relationship. In the beginning he *said* he wanted to be in a committed relationship but after a while the accountability part of it was too much for him. Call it timing, a lack of maturity, wanting different things, or whatever. But I think a COMMITMENT TO SOMEONE is just that. I think when you commit to someone you have made the choice to make THEM the priority over whatever it is you want at the moment that can challenge your commitment to them so you must choose to ACT on that commitment instead of what is tempting you to choose otherwise. If you *feel* you’re losing your freedom because you cant do whatever you want at the expense of someone else AND YOUR COMMITMENT then maybe you’re just selfish.

  4. Jenni
    Twitter: msjennixo

    I think it’s really hard to have two people, like the characters in the movie, under one roof. I should know. Because that’s how MY marriage was.

    I was home all the time, and doing pretty much everything under the sun to keep everyone happy – except me. My ex on the other hand, demanded freedom to do as he saw fit – didn’t matter what. And when I protested, he made me feel like the biggest bitch on the face of the planet.

    I think partners NEED to be treated equally. If one desires freedom, then they need to be willing to offer to the other as well. Only time will tell how much of a commitment they’re willing to give to each other.

    On the otherhand, some couples are just fine taking on the roles of these two characters – one having freedom and going off and doing their thing.. while the other stays home and takes care of business. If that’s the case, GREAT! More power to them.

    My thing with my ex, is I started to resent the freedom he demanded, because I wanted it too! I wanted ME time, and I wasn’t allowed to have it. Anytime I demanded it, he bitched and moaned until I canceled whatever I had planned to do. His usual spiel was, “Buuut I’m never home, so I don’t get to see you! And now you want to leave and not spend time with me? Boo-hoo-hoo!” Ugh!

    Of course, this is only one of the many things that caused as not to work.

  5. Edgar says:

    I don’t remember the details of the plot of the film (other than what you provided – I’ll have to go rent it again), but it seems that when two people have parts of their lives intersect, and that intersection makes them want more, they need to choose what other parts of their lives need to be merged. Either Meryl Streep should have decided to go and have adventures with Robert Redford, or he should have decided to spend more time chez elle. I can’t remember if the former was an option, and if it weren’t, then that indicates an inherent imbalance that may be unacceptable. Without a sharing of other parts of their lives, they would be left with merely the time that they made available for each other, and if that was unsatisfactory, then the couple would not likely endure.

  6. A Dude says:

    Great blog, Ms. Wilder!

    Sure you can have both. As my wife likes to say: “How can I miss you when you won’t go away?”

  7. Carrie says:

    I gotta say I never thought of it like that. I always thought Denys was kind of a jerk. I agreed with Mia and Sara.

    But it was just a case of not wanting the same things despite having plenty of love. Uh, how depressing.

  8. BigLittleWolf
    Twitter: BigLittleWolf

    Oh, this is such a great issue. Freedom and commitment do not need to be mutually exclusive. They do need to be clarified, between individuals, so that each understands that they mean the same thing – or close enough. Otherwise, one ends up with freedom, and the other is left wanting.

    Personally, I think it’s possible to have both. I’ve experienced it (not in marriage). But it’s difficult. It takes two people who are very secure, and quite possibly, with a more global view of what is acceptable in life, and in a relationship.

    I admit, my viewpoint is not typically American. And I don’t think either commitment or freedom are black and white.

  9. Kat Wilder says:

    Commitment and freedom — can you have both?

  10. The Observer says:

    Kat, is it just me, or has everyone found a recent, Friday July 9, Time Magazine article to be so timely in light of today’s Katagram. Its called “The Science of Cougar Sex: Why Older Women Lust”. Link:,8599,2002838,00.html

    Not a lot of time spent in the article wondering if men are similarly afflicted (OK, if sex drive is a affliction then I’m the Stephen Hawking of the group). Or the Alley Oop. Don’t make me feel any older than I am by asking who Alley Oop is 🙂

    So the gist is: we’re wired that way. Seems to prove your hypothesis (another way of looking at a question as not a question. The phrase that comes to mind is “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” In my case my significant other tells me to go ahead–that I SHOULD get a girl-friend. She’s hung up her spurs and is no longer interested. I was floored, to say the least. We’re anything but swingers.

    But I digress…she is very independent in her mindset and perhaps not being able to service my needs wants me to similarly enjoy some sexual independence. Since I haven’t been mistaken for Robert Redford in some time, I wonder would I fit into the mold of the old guy with young woman dynamic? But perhaps she, in her independence is strongly influenced by her knowledge of my makeup and character and highly doubtful I would take her up on the offer. As BLW says, some clarification is in order. And who says we’re all that secure, actually. T.O.

  11. I think every couple needs to find that balance between personal freedom and commitment. Now that I’ve experienced that post-divorce freedom as well, I could never go back to full on spending every non-work moment together. But I also hope that my future someone special would make me want to give up some of that freedom to be with them 🙂

  12. Kat Wilder says:

    Brian — You cried in front of your date? That is very impressive. She should have recognized how special that was.

    T — Yes! It is all about losing ourselves. Why do we do that, especially if we do it ourselves, not our partner asking us to?

    Mindy — sometimes we thing we know what we want, but hen we have it we realize, wow, I didn’t think it was going to be like this! We need trial marriages!

    Jenni — sounds like you had a bit of a power struggle. Once someone starts feeling resentful, everything gets out of whack. I love what you say about treating each other equally, even if their roles are different — as long as it’s agreed on what those roles are and everyone’s happy with them.

  13. Kat Wilder says:

    Edgar — “when two people have parts of their lives intersect, and that intersection makes them want more” … ah, and therein lies the rub, certainly for Karen and, I guess, others, too. Denys liked what they had already; he didn’t want more. Karen did. There are many men, and I don’t doubt women, too, who say they want love in their life but they aren’t interested in fit in the traditional mold of what that looks like — man, woman, house, minivan, kids, dog.

    Dude — Thanks! I think you can create space in a marriage — or, at least I hope so! Both partners have to feel secure in the relationship, and both need to be honest!

    Carrie — Maybe it’s depressing to you because you yourself wouldn’t walk away from love for freedom. But, we’re all different in our needs — not in the fact that we have them, but the intensity of them. A handsome interesting exciting man like Denys will always find female companionship and sex — he’ll never be alone. Maybe that’s enough for some people …

    BLW — Oh my, you are right! It isn’t a typical American viewpoint (despite the polyamorous communities among us and our free love ’60s past). Yes, both parties have to share the vision, have trust and be honest. Then, maybe 😉

    Observer — thanks for pointing out the study; ugh on “cougar,” though. Older women are experienced, more confident and pregnancy issues are often behind us — therefore, bring it on! However, a lot of older women lose interest in sex … like your SO (sorry about that). This, I do not understand! But, I wonder — if you truly got a play thing on the side, would she truly be OK with it?

    lifebeginsat30ty — Me, too. I would not be the same person (but, I’m sure I’d make other mistakes! 😉 ) All relationships require compromise; that’s not giving things up, that’s expanding each other (not waistlines, however)