There are two big stages in a relationship.
The first is being in love.
The second is commitment.
The heart does what it wants to do, and being in love isn't really something you decide on. It's something you feel. Now, you can choose to love someone, in spite of how you feel, but no one would mistake that for being in love.
Commitment, on the other hand, is a choice.
Commitment, in a nutshell, is choosing not to reconsider the relationship.
I've talked with several friends about this. I think mine is an odd definition, but I'll walk you through my thinking.
Most people would say that commitment is choosing to stay in the relationship. You commit, you stick.
I think that leaves the door open to a lot of problems.
But first, commitment...
When you first declare someone "boyfriend" or "girlfriend," you're declaring to the world that you're no longer in the market. You're not looking. You've entered a monogamous relationship with no plans to leave.
There's a certain expectation that comes with being declared "boyfriend" or "girlfriend." The expectation is no cheating, no looking around. You've chosen to work on building the relationship.
If that succeeds well, there comes later a proposal. You're engaged. You declare to the world that you intend to make the object of your affection your lifelong mate. You're not looking. Your monogamous relationship has flowered to the next stage and you have no plans to leave.
There's a certain expectation that comes with being declared "fiancée." The expectation is no cheating, no looking around. You've chosen to work on building the relationship toward marriage.
Could you still back out? You bet. Just as you can at boyfriend/girlfriend. So what's the difference between these two? Your openness to reconsideration.
In any relationship, there is a series of actions - gates, if you will - through which the person passes.
Treats me well? Check.
Kisses great? Check.
Moves among my friends and family with grace and ease? Check.
As the person encounters and moves through each of these, we gain confidence in the relationship, and the openness to reconsideration diminishes over time. In other words, if we deem someone a "match" for us, we stay with them until we decide that there is a reason to reconsider staying with them. We pair intuitively. (If that weren't true, the entire dating industry wouldn't exist.)
And then marriage... nothing came up during courtship or engagement that urged us to reconsider. In the absence of red lights, we move ahead.
Until divorce, which is unfortunately what happens most of the time. Divorce is not an option until one or both people determine that it's time to reconsider the relationship.
Commitment is the choice to not reconsider.
There are many people who "stay" in the relationship physically, but emotionally they're not in it. Divorce? Not an option. Chatting with a "friend" who "gets" you? Hey - what's the harm, right? Flirtation creeps in, and off you go on an emotional affair and you move dangerously close to cheating. But hey - you're sticking, right?
Not really. You left monogamy a while back when you left your partner and decided to emotionally "partner" with someone else. It could be a person at work, a long-time friend, or even your parents. Ask yourself: where is your heart? With whom do you share your most inner self? By whose side do you want to be? Love is where the heart is.
To understand commitment, you have to understand reconsideration. Whether you are boyfriend/girlfriend, fiancée, or spouse, reconsideration means that you are open to leaving the relationship. That includes emotionally leaving as well.
If you have a habit of emotionally leaving, then you don't have a clue what commitment really means. You live in reconsideration by choosing not to build on what you found, and taking your heart elsewhere.
There's nothing wrong with reconsideration. Everyone is free to live life as is best for them. But to remain in a relationship physically while allowing your heart to wander is a cruel abuse to the one you pretend to love. Just be honest about your reconsideration and leave. Don't call what you're doing commitment.