Last night I did some late-night reflecting, and I realized that most promises aren’t worth making. You can’t actually guarantee any promise will be fulfilled. Here’s why.
The Unspoken Promise
In most commitments, there is an unspoken promise being made also. Let’s give an example of this.
“I will stay with you forever and ever,” a girl and a boy say madly in love with each other. That’s the explicit promise.
There’s also an unspoken promise, which goes “…if the circumstances of this promise remain the same.” In most promises I think this unspoken catch is there, whether or not you realize it (most people probably don’t, which leads to several problems, discussed in a moment).
If girl cheats on boy, then the boy will leave the girl. Is that not breaking the promise?
Well, it depends on how you look at the promise. Technically speaking he did break the promise because he left her! The unspoken promise (I won’t ever leave you… as long as you don’t cheat) may not have been made verbally explicit.
This is why business contracts are so long and complicated. Most would make the moral argument that it’s safe to leave her if she cheated, and that he’s not really breaking a promise, but technically speaking there was no “if you cheat on me” clause on the promise.
The Grey-Area of Promises
This murky grey-area is what leads to so much suffering, pain, and worst of all: guilt.
I know that for me stepping away from my ex was one of the hardest and most painful decisions I made in my life because I made the promise to “always figure things out.”
I like to stand by my word, so in a way I was breaking my word, and to someone whom (despite I was leaving) I cared so much about!
In my case there unspoken circumstances of the promise were violated- huge boundaries that involved life and death were crossed. Problems kept recurring in the relationship. Perhaps not everything can be “always figured out.”
Another unspoken promise of the “we’ll always figure things out” is that both parties work to keep the circumstances of the promise the same. What if one person doesn’t work to figure things out, but the other does, and then because the person not trying doesn’t try, the person who was trying leaves?
The person who left broke a promise, but again, the circumstances of the promise changed!
Promises & Time-Problems
Try making this promise: at 10AM next Saturday, you will go to the public mall closest to you.
Sounds easy to achieve, right? It probably is. You could make this promise with for the most part high confidence that it will be fulfilled.
Now make the promise for next month. Or 2 months from now. Or 6 months. Can you make the promise 1 year from now? What about 10 years?
It becomes clear that the more time you add onto a promise for it to be fulfilled, the more likely it is that the promise won’t be fulfilled! 5 years from now you might rather adventure through Europe, or perhaps you’ll be working long hours in your new job.
Imagine living on the other side of the world 10 years from now. Or what if you live in an area that gets severe flooding, and 5 years from now the mall is in a severe flood. Will you risk your life to fulfill such a promise?
The above example is obviously ridiculous (going to the mall), but think about how this applies to your unique life: how can you promise to be with someone 10 years from now?
Unfortunately, the more time between the length of time it takes to fulfill a promise and now, the more likely you are to have data-problems:
Promises & Data-Problems
By “data problems” I mean that circumstances change. Let’s say you make a promise to go out with your boyfriend on Sunday at 11AM. Then your car breaks down, so you can’t drive.
The promise was broken, technically speaking! Of course this is another “silly” example (and a forgive-able problem), but really consider the implications of such things which I’m describing here.
When you make a promise, it means you guarantee a certain thing will be fulfilled, typically no matter the circumstances. Are all of the circumstances under control? No.
And as discussed above, the more time it takes to fulfill a promise, the more likely you are to encounter uncertain events that nullifies the promise, technically speaking.
Remember, almost everyone would agree that there are “unspoken exceptions” such as a disaster preventing you from having to show up to your work commitments. Still, at a very technical level, your promise has been broken unless the exceptions were explicitly agreed upon.
Dangers of Promises
You might be reading this and going, “okay, this is a bit ridiculous… everyone would agree that in the face of disaster it’s okay to nullify a promise!”
That’s where we have to take things back to the grey-zone. Some situations have circumstances which changed slightly, but not a ton (like a severe disaster), where some people would agree that the promise is nullified but others wouldn’t. That is the danger of promises.
You ever read one of those intense moral problems in school, with no right answer? Often the classroom will be split roughly 50/50 on who’s right and who’s wrong. The fact is that while extreme scenarios described above everyone can agree nullify the promises, there are situations that not everyone agree upon.
And if you’re one of the group of thinks that the promise is nullified, but the person you made to doesn’t believe that, you’re in for a lot of trouble…
This is why relationships, friendships, and family can be so complicated. Grey-zone issues arise that places a little fault on everyone, and black/white blame can’t be assigned to anyone. To some perspectives some are bad, and some are good.
If you make promises that end up in the grey zone, you’re sure to enjoy a lot of drama in your life.
Really think about this here: odds are you’ve made a promise that hit the grey-zone that caused a bit of strife. You might not think you did any wrong, but REMEMBER: that is your perspective and in many cases the other perspective is also valid.
This is why I say “don’t make promises.” Of course you will still make some, but you should be extremely careful with promises that you make, and make damn-well sure the unstated exceptions become known so that there is no grey-zone. More on this below.
One final huge danger of promises is when you make one to a narcissist or energy vampire, or anyone else who would exploit you for backing out of a promise. If you’re like me, you would prefer to keep every promise, so you sometimes feel a bit guilty when backing out of a promise.
If you made a promise to someone who will exploit those feelings of guilt, you’re in for a world of trouble.
In short, promises that hit the grey-zone where one party thinks the promise should be nullified and the other shouldn’t is where promises become dangerous. The more time it takes to fulfill a promise, the more likely circumstances (data) will change.
The circumstances are key to any promise. We humans often mean a promise 110% when we say it because the circumstances as are they are. Will you withhold the promise even if circumstances change? What if the other person thinks that the circumstances didn’t change enough to nullify the promise, but you do?
A Rough Personal Example
Let me try give a good rough personal example. This promise I made hasn’t hit the grey-zone yet as no conflict as arose, and I think the other person will be okay with me backing out of the promise. However, it’s possible they couldn’t be… Let’s see what you think.
Right before I left to Bali in Mid-April, I made a promise to a girl I just connected deeply with. We had a “thing” but nothing was happening (I am still not over my ex), but on our last day together we started kissing.. Alas, the “thing” became real!
I made a promise to her that I’d meet her in Bangkok in late May / early June and we’d travel Southeast Asia together for 2-3 months. This seemed to be perfect timing for us: she wanted to travel, we connected, I still needed a month or so to get over my ex, so I’d be able to travel alone for a couple months to get over my ex finally then she’d come and we’d travel and enjoy a little romance.
After the little romance she’d return to America (most likely, I suspect she’ll find a way to make money online) and I’d go back to Bulgaria for 3 months. The timing was perfect and I felt certain of the plan.
Suddenly she texted me: she had made a promise to a friend and her friend was expecting her to keep it. She wouldn’t be able to come to Asia until Mid July at the earliest!
This messed with my plans greatly. If I were to wait in Asia for her, then travel Asia with her, I would not be able to return to Bulgaria until much later than I’d like- probably December at the earliest.
I would not want this for it would be winter, and more importantly I miss my friends there so much that I refuse to let myself wait so long to see them! I must go, and soon.
This created another option: I could then leave in mid-May (around now) after a month in Bali to Bulgaria, spend a couple months, or spend another month in Asia then enjoy a month or so in Bulgaria before meeting her to travel in Western Europe or Asia.
This is also far from desirable. I do not want to leave Asia so soon on a long flight, especially to stay in Bulgaria for such a short time- if I’m going, I’m staying minimum 2 months probably 3. I am also not currently interested in visiting Western Europe or any expensive countries as my finances are a priority.
It should be noted that she doesn’t wish to travel to Bulgaria, which is why this complicates the matter.
This situation created a conundrum for a day for me, but then it hit me: why don’t I just do what I want to do regardless of her, and then she can join or not?
I haven’t told her yet, but what I’m personally leaning on doing is traveling in Southeast Asia for another month (so about 2 months total, maybe 3 if I’m loving the next destination) then I’ll go to Bulgaria for minimum 2 months maybe 3.
She will either have to wait, visit me in Bulgaria, or cancel traveling with me at all.
Already now we can see how this situation enters the “grey zone” of promises. Does her slight adjustment allow me to make an even bigger adjustment? Is it right to her to just do my own thing and tell her to come or not?
This depends on many factors, for example she is not my girlfriend so there is no consistent promise to her (and it’s not like we’re regularly calling or anything, too- we’re just friends with a thing between us). If you were certain you wanted this girl, you might make the necessary compromises in your life to allow this girl in.
I promised this girl that I would be there in Bangkok when she flew in and that we would travel together. She made a slight adjustment, which through my plans a bit out of whack.
Whether it’s right or not to decide to not consider her completely and do my own thing is up for debate. Of course, it also depends on your level of commitment (if she’s your wife of 10 years, this is a whole different equation than a girl you had a thing with and connected closely with in the last month of Phoenix).
Back to the whole guilt thing too: this girl is unlikely to make me feel bad when I do tell her how I changed my plans, but where this gets risky is if I get a guilt complex and she exploits that.
I feel that the level of guilt in me is going quite away as I self-improve, but some people could easily be manipulated into compromising themselves for another person.
What do you think of my situation? I’m happy with my decision, and everyone will have their own unique perspective which reflects their own values.
My personal lesson is to make less promises because of changes in circumstances. I believe that this promise was completely nullified by the fact that the circumstances changed when she changed her travel dates, but another person might have a different perspective. I also do not want to put myself at risk for a guilt-tripping vampire, in the event that when I update her with my plans she attempts that (again unlikely, and I’d block her if she did, but this stuff does happen).
Some Compromises are Necessary
Now some yin for the yang. Some compromises are necessary. You can’t have a happy, healthy relationship without some compromise. Never heard of such a thing.
Those are called one-sided relationships, and people that think they must be on their path 1,628.83% of the time regardless of anyone else usually end up alone and unhappy (or they end up with a pushover who molds themselves to fit their partner).
Promises are also necessary in life sometime, but the point of this piece is to make you reconsider when you’re giving promises and what the possible variables are that could affect the promise.
For example, you need to speak with the recipient of the promise the possible variables that could affect whether a promise gets fulfilled or not. You two need to agree on what happens when circumstances change because the longer it takes until the promise can be fulfilled, the higher the chances circumstances will change.
Right now my priorities are self-centered and YOLO-style. I will not promise anyone my time or commitment far in advance. Promising this girl I’d meet her was a mistake, in a way. Again, I think it was nullified based on the fact travel dates changed, but that wasn’t explicitly stated.
Note: I know it sounds silly writing this, but seriously guilt-vampires will destroy the hell out of you for backing out of a “promise” despite circumstances changing. It’s happened to me and also why I’m in this YOLO anti-promise stage.
Actually, now that I write this, it wasn’t a mistake to promise this girl to meet her- sometimes you also just need to stand by your own values & truth! Remember that at the end of the day it’s your life and sometimes you need to be a bit dis-agreeable.
The circumstances changed by her, so now the promise is nullified. Just think though of other promises in your life, that are perhaps a bit more serious (business, marriage, children, etc.) and how they could end up in the grey-zone… prepare for contingency and variable circumstance.
But all this being said, some compromises are necessary. This girl isn’t currently important enough to justify changing my plans for. A 5-year wife would be a 100% different scenario (but in that case I’d also likely feel satisfied adjusting plans to accommodate her).
What did you think?