I have a new goal for the summer: I am thinking about possibly getting ready to consider perhaps being a little less ambivalent in my life. Maybe. (And then again, maybe not.) Sigh. Do you feel this way, too? Do you know what it's like to twist and turn every major decision you face 75 different ways, to become so paralyzed in the face of possible commitment to a plan or an idea that you practically cannot breathe? It's exhausting, isn't it? But so very hard to overcome. A friend of mine reports that her boyfriend says he is "getting ready to get ready to think about" living with her. This may sound odd to many people, but it made perfect sense to me. A man after my own heart. My own woefully ambivalent heart. Here's the current dilemma: the para-spouse (whom I refuse to refer to as "my boyfriend") wants to cohabitate. The para-spouse and I have been together for five-plus years and there's no reason to believe we won't continue to get along famously. On purely objective terms, the para-spouse is the wife I've been looking for all my life: he is nurturing and kind and good. He cooks, he cleans, he makes me laugh. He even works at home, so when I am at his house and I leave for my job in the morning, he often sees me to the door to say goodbye. Sometimes when this happens he is actually wearing an apron, just like a real wife. What more could a girl want? For five years I've hemmed and hawed. Circumstances have interfered. Excuses have cropped up like summer vegetables. I can't. Not now. I'm not ready. But lately, I've been thinking a lot about that word, ready. What does it mean, really? Sometimes I hear myself say that - "I'm not ready" - and I think I sound like a human version of a Purdue oven-roaster, one of those chickens with the built-in thermometers that pop up when the bird is finished cooking. I'm waiting for my own internal thermometer to engage: Okay! I'm done! Ready! But I've also been around long enough (and I've been ambivalent for long enough) to know that there's no such thing, no such device except perhaps the passage of time, the steady tick of the old biological clock. The heavens will not part for me, emblazoning the message across the sky: Do it now! The clarity I long for is not part of my internal make-up. The thermometer is not likely to pop up any time soon. The shrink has helped me see this, slowly but surely. Not long ago, I sat in his office and spun out the same old ambivalent circle of thought, the one he's heard 2000 times. I was talking about my reluctance around commitment, trying to pin it down. I said, "I just don't know. I don't know if it's something within him that holds me back, or something within me, or something within the relationship, or . . . " The shrink interrupted with a question. He said, "Well, how would you know?", and I stared at him, my mouth agape for a minute. I thought, well: how would I know? Am I waiting for a sign from God? Waiting for the para-spouse to change? Waiting for myself to wake up one day and simply look at the world differently, through new and improved and unambivalent eyes? These sound like such obvious questions, with such obvious answers, but they hit me like brand-new little realities, raising an issue I'd never really contemplated before: what, exactly, am I waiting for? I couldn't sleep that night and I've been preoccupied with the question ever since. What am I waiting for?Certain people (people like me) spend a great deal of our young adult lives sitting around with the sensation that we are waiting for something to happen, waiting for life to begin. Our futures and our sense of self get all tangled up with externals: my life will change, we say, when I get that new job; or, I'll settle down when I'm making enough money; or (especially), I'll think about marriage when I find the right person. This is a very seductive line of thinking, because it so nicely shifts the burden off the self and onto others, other people and other circumstances. The problem with that kind of externalizing is that it keeps you at arm's length from your own life, in a permanent state of psychic suspension. Sometimes, when I think about my relationship with the para-spouse, I feel like I'm watching it from the outside, from a great distance, instead of living in it. I monitor and judge and assess. Okay: what's he doing now? Is he right for me? Am I right for him? Are we right for each other? The question is always what's wrong with this picture, and so very rarely what's right. I'm always preoccupied with what might happen, instead of with what does happen. Circling around those questions, of course, is the larger issue - the much plainer and simpler issue - of growing up. On some deep (and deeply confused) level, I tell myself I'll make a commitment when I grow up, instead of acting on the understanding that making commitments is an integral part of growing up, that taking action - and possibly even making mistakes - is what precisely propels you from point A to point B on the maturity scale. Sigmund Freud once said that the cornerstone of mental health was the ability to tolerate ambiguity. If that's true, then most of us are fairly sick people and so is the world we live in. Not to detract from the idea of personal responsibility, but in some ways, my own ambivalence is culturally reinforced in pretty mighty ways, supported by a society that tolerates ambiguity so poorly. My own admittedly brainwashed view of relationships is still fairly rooted in the images of love you see in movies and on TV, of love that's certain and sure and characterized by a distinct lack of ambivalence. People meet and they know. One kiss and they're off waltzing into the sunset. In reality, doubts occupy a whole lot of skull space for most of us, and when I grill my married and cohabitating friends about their levels of certainty upon making commitments, they all roll their eyes and trot out all the dreadful words and phrases you'd expect, things about "compromising" and "making sacrifices" and learning to "negotiate." Eeeek. For most of my life, I've put off those lessons, clinging to the belief that circumstances will grant me a kind of certainty about love that will render them unnecessary. But (much to my dismay, I might add) I'm beginning to see that that might never happen. As the para-spouse himself put it, "If you weren't ambivalent, you wouldn't be you." Touche, para-spouse. And in response, I'll say this: I'm trying to grow up. I'm honestly contemplating things like risk and change. I'm really thinking about possibly getting ready to consider perhaps being a little less ambivalent. Maybe.

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