Is Commitment Going Out Of Style?

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There is a television reality show currently enjoying high ratings in India, called “Emotional Atyachar (Suicide)”. It’s not a talent contest; and the participants are everyday people. The premise of the show is this. Applications are invited from young couples who are supposedly in a committed relationship, running from a couple of months to a few years. It’s supposed to be a sort of loyalty test, where one partner suspects the fidelity of the other – usually the male. The television crew sets up an encounter with an attractive young woman planted by them; and then secretly records their interaction with hidden cameras, over the next few days. The recorded footage is then shown to the partner who has doubts. I believe that, so far, not a single guy has passed the test.

The sequence of events usually follows a similar pattern. There is an obvious and instant physical attraction towards the “undercover agent”; and the man makes every attempt to get close to her, emotionally and physically. The female plant deliberately asks him if he is currently in a relationship. He either denies it outright, or admits he was in one but it’s all over now because he was never really into her. And in a transparent attempt at physical intimacy, he declares his love for the plant, or invites her to be his steady girlfriend. Naturally, his committed partner is appalled to watch all this; and the television crew obligingly escorts her to ‘catch them in the act’. The ensuing drama can be guessed.

The show blatantly exploits the secret voyeuristic tendency in many of us to grab its audience. But that is not the point here. What grabs my attention is how casually one partner denies the other; just grab a few kisses and cuddles. The couples featured on the show have, so far, all been in their twenties, so I’m not sure if this recent phenomenon is restricted to that demographic; but I don’t think it is. Commitment seems to be treated with increasing casualness these days. This is partly borne out by the statistic that almost half of all marriages in the United States end in divorce. The wedding vows still contain the phrase “for better or worse”, but it seems that few couples take the “for worse” part seriously. In India, the generation in their 40s and above generally stays “committed” in a sense – usually out of a sense of duty or obligation – but the young ones seem to ape the Western desire for instant gratification.

So what accounts for this change in attitude? It’s hard to pinpoint one cause, but I think sex is a major factor. Most relationships, especially among the young generation are initiated on the basis of physical attraction. Not really surprising, since we are living in a decade which places disproportionate emphasis on physical appearance; and ‘looking good’ is everything – not just romantically, but even career-wise. Upto around 50 years ago, the only way a man could get physically intimate with a “decent” woman was to marry her. That was also a motivation to stay with her and, over time, this developed into caring and commitment. These days, the sexual motive has become largely irrelevant and, to some extent, so has marriage. You cohabit with your partner almost on a trial and error basis. If things don’t work out, or he/she doesn’t give you what you want, you simply move on. No big deal.

So is this a healthy trend? It depends on one’s attitude, I suppose. The last few decades have really spawned a new world, although whether it is brave or not is debatable. The music is loud and hard, same sex unions are celebrated, getting pleasure any which way is almost a fundamental right; and old-fashioned romance is for wussies. So I guess commitment is a concept whose time has come and gone. Personally, I miss the old days.  

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