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Silvert ’20: Why a fear of commitments is good

By
Staff Columnist
Friday, September 23, 2016

Whether we are conscious of it or not, we all fear the act of committing, which often means deciding to stick with something before truly understanding what it holds. If you are not aware of this aversion in yourself, then you can at least recognize it in people around you. This internal struggle paralyzes or flusters us when making plans for the night, deciding which student clubs and activities to make our own, choosing the appropriate meal plan or simply figuring out which food line to hop into at the Ivy Room. While this type of ambivalence — the stubborn avoidance of or procrastination toward committing — can be aggravating for those involved, it is both sensible and beneficial to be wary of commitment.

But, the conventional wisdom says otherwise. In a traditional mindset, we strive to attain certain things that mainstream folk deem beneficial — being in an exclusive relationship, deciding on a course of study or career path early on, etc. But on a deeper, more genuine level, we actively avoid binding ourselves to a set path. In acting upon this mindset, we are making the decision to explore. We fear that if we settle too early, we will miss out on something that might be better.

It is this fear of missing out (or FOMO) that accounts for our strange antsiness on Friday and Saturday nights. Some nights, I find myself bouncing around from dorm to dorm or building to building, rarely satisfied with my current location or state of mind. It feels like I am on an endless quest to find a party with enough hype or the perfect combination of people that I can vibe with. Even if the things going on in the moment are fun, serious FOMO can keep us in pursuit of other activities and uncommitted to any one party or group of people. As freshmen embarking upon college for the first time, we all share this experience but rarely talk about it. This could be for the best, seeing as it really doesn’t sound so nice when stated explicitly.

Let’s forgo the awkwardness for the moment and try to understand where this feeling of FOMO comes from. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” can offer some insight. Jay Gatsby, a self-made entrepreneur, romanticizes his past with Daisy Fay Buchanan, a beautiful woman who comes from wealth. The two had a summer fling when they were young, but Gatsby grows fonder of Daisy as he romanticizes his past with her and inflates his memories. To some degree, I think we all do this. We look back on certain past experiences and associate them with strong feelings of happiness, satisfaction or carefree abandon. Our romanticized and inaccurate memories of past nights make us expect more from future nights, which keeps us searching, uncommitted and fearful that we are missing out on a better time.

Of course, Gatsby does not realize that his expectations are colored by a distorted perception of the past. He believes his memories are accurate, which keeps him on an eternal pursuit of an experience that never occurs and results in his never settling down. Fitzgerald teaches us that while we do not want to commit too early and be content with too little, we also cannot pursue a feeling or experience that only exists in our distorted memory (as we may sometimes do on a highly anticipated night). This second option can only lead to disappointment.

Many of us may be more prone to the first scenario — settling early. We were probably on the “fast track” in high school and did not necessarily explore. We need to remember that there’s a balance to be struck between exploring and committing. Brown in particular promotes being cautious of premature commitment and giving consideration to what we truly want. Shopping period exists so that we do not blindly commit to a set of courses. Universities across the country also promote a “caution of commitments” through freshman orientation. This serves as a shopping period of sorts. It provides newcomers with time to test the waters before committing to some sort of social group. During this intense five-day period, freshmen shop for a community — a niche of people with common interests, a friend group, etc. — among whom they feel comfortable and at home.

This accommodation is so important that it comes chronologically before Brown’s actual shopping period and is almost universally adopted by U.S. colleges. A degree of hesitance and consideration is key for making good decisions. This idea has even permeated its way into our food-related decisions; students at Brown are afforded a month to decide which meal plan to subscribe to. Administrators have made efforts to provide time for exploration so that we can make better-informed, more suitable decisions.

Commitment can only be healthy when it comes at the end of a period of introspection and research. It’s only for the best that we understand what we want, fully comprehend what we are committing to and compatibly align our pursuits and desires. With that, let’s be wary of thinking (and appearing) like we have our lives figured out. Personally, I’m going to bask in phase one for a while. I need to explore.

Eli Silvert ’20 can be reached at eli_silvert@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

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