In the game of ultimate frisbee, people who stay to the middle of the field and lead the charge instead of breaking long for the throw are Handlers. As they do so, handlers might yell “Cut or clear!” — which basically means “get open for a pass, or get out of the way!” In ultimate, this admonition is generally considered obvious and annoying. In life, however, we are often entitled to yell, “get open to commitment, or clear your things out of my drawer!”
But when? What’s the middle ground between blind faith and brute force? How can you tell the difference between Not Ready Yet and Will Never Be? Will the act of pushing drive someone away?
Tough calls, all. And they’re pretty much case by case. But I will tell you this … though you’re not going to want to hear it. An ultimatum — if you choose to use one — is not about getting someone to do something. It is not bouncing the ball into the other person’s court — that is, out of your hands. It is not a tactic, not a strategy, not a plan. It is not setting a pick. An ultimatum is a statement of your purpose. It is, ultimately, your responsibility. Because, ultimately, your partner is going to do whatever s/he is going to do. YOU are the one who has to come through.
Remember what I told Cameo (who couldn’t get her boyfriend of 8 years to “commit” — nor her biological clock of 28 years to stop ticking)?
I told her to walk.
I told her, that is, to walk this way: “I don’t mean that you should say, ‘I’m walking out if you don’t commit! Look at me! Here I go! Yoo-hoo! I’m walking! I am so walking … sort of near that door! Waaaaalking! Watch me go…!’ I also don’t mean walk out the door, and then walk by his house ten minutes later to see if he’s committed ‘yet.’ I mean: walk.
What, does Breakup Girl believe that a relationship don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that ring? No. Does she want to promote the stereotype that a girl’s best friend is all a woman wants, needs, and hopes for? No. [First of all, I’d give the same advice to a guy. Second of all: ] I’m just going with what you’re telling me: that marriage and babies are what you want, and that they may not, alas, be available in your current (eight-year!) relationship. You can’t ‘get him to commit;’ go get what you want with someone who wants the same thing. And the thing is — I hesitate to say this, because I am in NO way advocating game-playing — but, well, when you walk, this guy just might realize that he is that someone.” In which case, I should add, you may walk — carefully — back.
This is just one example. I am not advocating some sort of mass walkout. I am just saying that — again — if commitment is what you want, you’ve got to demonstrate it, too…whereever it may leave you.
But in determining whether an ultimatum is necessary in the first place, you’ve got to break deep for a view of the whole field. In this month’s issue of New Woman, Dalma Heyn writes about her friend Jen, whose boyfriend kept talking about how scary closeness was. “Yet there he was at [Jen’s] place, doing the dishes, fixing the washing machine, loving [her] in the most obvious way. Instead of pointing out the discrepancy, Jen let him talk. [She’d] say, ‘Mmm, closeness is scary.’ … [She] didn’t jump on him or insist that he commit. [She knew] he just had these residual fears to work through. While tiling the kitchen floor, he announced casually that these tiles were so durable they’d last as long as their marriage did.” They were engaged before the grout dried. Huh.
See, in a sense, waiting can be as active as walking. If you actually think s/he will come around eventually, back off. If you really aren’t sure, get on his/her back. As long as you’re sure that you are prepared to make the ultimate commitment.
This column was originally published December 7, 1998.