Book Club Review – Dan Savage’s The Commitment

This post was written by a close friend of mine:

From the desk of Ann Landers comes this autobiographical tale embodying quintessential American dream – that is to get married, own a house, and raise your child(ren). This premise has been copied throughout history and can be found in books, movies, songs, plays, and virtually any other medium you could imagine. Needless to say this novel deviates, slightly, from the basic premise – as you could probably have guess because if it hadn’t I’m sure we wouldn’t be discussing it here. To understand why a book with such an unassuming name such as The Commitment spins off this common idea simply google (or bing if that’s your persuasion) who owns Ann Landers’ desk and you’ll know why.

I suppose at this point you’d expect me to dive into a discussion on the merits of the plot, the author’s writing style, or the thick social commentary that runs rampant through the book. But I won’t. Come on, this isn’t Oprah’s Book Club! We’re better than that. Instead, let’s look at what most of us first read when we picked up this book, the title.

The title? How can we really discuss that? Heck, The Commitment is only two words long. What could we really do with a simple definite article and an everyday noun? At first glance it seems pretty simply, but this is where we distinguish ourselves from Oprah. You probably hadn’t taken the time to really think about what that title really encompasses. So do that for a moment. I’m serious…do it! Many people would pick up the book and say that this is a book about marriage. But is commitment really marriage? Marriage is too often seen as a point in a relationship wherein one part makes a commitment to another. We’ve all heard the lines: “This is the beginning of your lives together” and “Two have become one.” Who are they kidding? I’m not sure about you but I wouldn’t want to be going up to the altar or wherever it is that I’m getting married to commit myself to somebody who hasn’t already committed themselves to me, my life, my future, to us. Saying “I do” doesn’t turn some magical switch that makes these people suddenly compatible and in a healthy and lasting relationship. Not sure about you, but I don’t need a ceremony to commit to the one I love. And this is where Dan Savage’s story emerges.

Dan Savage chronicles the story of his non-wedding wedding. Savage had been with his partner for ten or so years and had even adopted a child together. We joined this family as they journeyed across the void that is Middle America; discussed the virtues and detriments to marriage; and prepared for a Chinese-themed celebration. (Oh, and a trip to Canada if you read after the book “ends” and if you hadn’t I’m sure you learned that when you googled or binged Ann Lander’s desk) This book presents the arguments for and against marriage from so many angles. Is marriage a straight institution that should be left to the straights to continue to mess up? Or maybe these gays shouldn’t marry because they’re not the type to marry woman and should simply remain as fathers to their child? Then there’s also the argument orchestrated by the “Weasel” and his cronies that marriage is a sacred institution set forth by God and the gays must be prevented from defiling it. And the motherly argument that when stated in its simplest form that they should get married. But does it matter?

One of the positive results from being gay in America and being deprived the right to marry the one I love is that I’ve learned much about marriage and commitment. They are not one and the same – a fact Savage clearly shows this in his book, too. People can be committed to one another without having gone through some formal process. Marriage simply bestows legal rights and privileges denied to unmarried couples. It is simply easier to know who gets those rights and privileges if an orderly process is created to ensure people are truly a couple. Some may believe there are religious connotations to marriage, but this is where we need to delineate civil and religious marriages. (Religious marriage is a whole other beast than civil which is beyond the scope of this book.) There is also commitment. One person simply promises – not necessarily expressly – to love and honor their partner. No ceremony required. I think that is the take-home lesson from this book. Marriage is just an event. It should be seen as what it really is, an outward sign of an inner emotion. Commitment, that’s where it’s at. Commitment is what makes or breaks a relationship, and you don’t even have to worry about booking a church or reception hall.

The nuances between marriage and commitment play a pivotal role in this book. They ignite reflection on the very concept and purpose of marriage. In the end you may be left with more questions than answers regarding marriage. But at the same time you’ll affirm that commitment is the cake of a marriage because it couldn’t be a true wedding without it.

Brit’s reviewHDW’s review. Discussion is here.

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