By the 1980s English speakers settled into an agreement that a key desirable feature in sexual friendships was being commited. The word comes with an unresolved ambiguity:  it describes both (a) what continues though an ongoing resolution of the will (“I’m committed to waking up every morning and jogging” or “you need to be committed to reaching your goals!”) and (b) what continues because the power to decide otherwise has been taken away from the will, whether by its own choice or not (as in “John was committed to the mental hospital for a six-month sentence” or “make a financial commitment to Chesterton Academy” i.e. give us money you can’t take back, or even sign this paper promising the school can automatically deduct money from your account.)

It’s hard to avoid thinking that the reason why the word gained such popularity is precisely because it can avoid dealing with, and perhaps even trade on, this ambiguity of meaning. The word can do valuable work in some contexts, but the cost of using it is that our policies and beliefs about sexual friendships can’t lead to happiness until we resolve what commitment leaves ambiguous.

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