All that chocolate and candle light may trigger Valentine's yearnings for "forever' - but most lovers remain unsure for long periods of time about what kind of commitment they actually have to each other. How do you know when or if you should pledge your future to your adored one(s)? Don't even think about it, advise the experts, until you've considered the "fatal attraction" issue. Hallmark cards don't mention it, but psychologists warn that it's common to "fall in love" with those who have the qualities of the parent or caregiver you have the most unresolved issues with.
The unconscious motivation, apparently, is our desire to prove our love and get their love, even if we said angry goodbyes. But you don't want to bind your heart based on outmoded childhood dilemmas or waste your time trying to get tenderness from someone just like the one who couldn't give it to you two decades ago.
A relationship built on this premise can last a long time, but when it implodes - and unless both parties are willing to change a lot it usually does - it's not a pretty sight.
Counselling can help you break out of the tendency to get stuck in reruns. Don't be afraid of intelligent self-help books. The trick is to develop as much insight about the emotionally enveloping situation you are in as you can handle.
Being in love is a good start - it fosters personal exploration and sends wonderful vibes to the world beyond - but it's not actually a reason to make a commitment.
Some folks actually make a lifelong habit of avoiding such entanglements. So when you're sorting out the rules of the game, be explicit, don't compromise yourself away, and realize that just like relations between nations, daily life will require tons of negotiation and diplomacy. "People need to get real clear about who they are before making a commitment. You need to know what your vision of life is, including what your life purpose is. (Also) know your requirements, needs and wants in a relationship. If your requirements are not there, the relationship will at some point end.
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
"Needs are negotiable. You can negotiate them so you both feel good about (the solution). If a need isn't negotiated, then every single time it comes up it causes an issue. Wants are the icing on the cake. You might want your partner to have read all the classics, but it's not an issue."
TERRI CORNISH , certified professional life coach, Sacramento, CA
"It's very important that the person we're entering into a relationship with inspires us to become a better person. When difficulties arise, we see that as part of our growth, part of our improvement. In the tradition of Buddhism we never actually break any of our relationships, but they do evolve and change. If it got to the point of abuse, say, we would perhaps extract ourselves, but we would always keep an open heart towards that person. We recognize that we don't have the skill or capacity to help them right now, but wish that we will be able to help them when we have the capacity to do so. Of course in Buddhism the end of this life is not (seen as) the end of the relationship. The wish may be fulfilled in a future life."
KELSANG YONTEN , Western Buddhist monk, education program coordinator, Chandrakirti Centre, Toronto
"The first stage in a relationship is positive projection, when you see all the best things about the other person and you're on your best behaviour. The second is about getting to know you.' The third is commitment, where you say to everyone that you two are an item. Then comes the fourth, negative projection, when the person starts to remind you of your worst nightmare. It's guaranteed to happen. If you make the effort to get through that fourth stage, then you can go back to the first. You can fall in love again."
JULIE SIMMONS , astrologer, author, Passion Signs, Toronto
"To many people commitment is a synonym for monogamy. You may have a conflict if you have commitments to both truth and monogamy. I recommend that, rather than making a commitment, people have an intention. I could intend to be with someone for life, and honestly, I don't know what's going to happen two or 20 years down the line. If I do commit, it would be to myself more than to my partner - I have a commitment to be truthful, I do that for me. There's no such thing as a problem-free relationship, and if you're not committed to stay and address issues, it's too easy to walk away. I do ask for a commitment from myself and my partners not to leave through the back door. Don't go away angry; work through that anger and you won't be taking it with you."
DEBORAH ANAPOL , PhD, author, Polyamory: The New Love Without Limits, director of Sacred Space Institute, San Rafael, CA
"A lot of couples don't know each other at all. Before making an in-depth commitment, wait six months to a year, minimum. No one prepares us for marriage or parenting; none of these things require any education up front. I really do believe in premarital counselling and relationship classes. Unless you were brought up by people who had the kind of love (that you want to experience), you don't have any role models to follow."
BETTY STOCKLEY , marriage and family therapist, Toronto