Promises, Intentions, and the Road to Hell

Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree of Separation.

I wrote a sentence today that shocked me as soon as it came off my fingertips. I probably stared at the computer screen for another five minutes, thinking of the implications.

The Long-Awaited Honest-to-God Secret to Being Happy

While arguing today with the roofer over whose responsibility it  is to fix an error in the way they input my account, shaving six months of  interest-free financing off a roof that’s already been charged when the job isn’t complete yet, I reminded the project coordinator that the 12-months’ free financing was yet another promise they’d failed to keep. The project manager had told me several times that I was lucky to have gone with them instead of a small roofer without all their guarantees, and yet, I’m still waiting for that guarantee to fix all the damage to my ceilings, walls, garage door, etc. So what good are the guarantees?

Then I wrote a sentence that jarred me.


Their promises were a major reason I entered that business relationship. Their guarantees.

But what of personal relationships? How many times do we make promises to each other? If life stayed still and nothing changed, maybe promises would be more reliable. But it doesn’t. We are all constantly-moving baselines, ever changing, whether it’s growing or growing stagnant. We can’t promise with any degree of certainty that we’ll be the same person tomorrow as to- day and feel the same tomorrow as today. In  fact, if we’re to grow as people, hopefully we won’t be the same tomorrow  as today.

That doesn’t mean we’ll turn in opposition to what we think and believe today-maybe instead we’re just upgrades. Personally, I’m going for Lorna 3.0, not necessarily more compatible with the standard units but more bells and whistles than in the last few years.

So why make promises? Security. Especially in personal relationships and romantic relationships.

But it’s a false sense of security, isn’t it? We want guarantees. We want to check off the box that says it’s done and we don’t have to worry about that in the future or give it any more of our time and energy. And to give our hearts, we desperately want those guarantees. We want to reduce the risk. We want to know we’re safe from heartbreak. We want to set the boundaries so we can’t be hurt except we want the boundaries to be impenetrable force fields.

A man can promise his bride that he’ll be good to her and that he’ll be faithful, but the promise is only an intention, and of course, there’s that old saying about the road to hell being paved with good intentions. So at the wedding, he says he’ll be faithful, he makes the promise to forsake all others, and then what? He can always rationalize away his  actions, and maybe some will be justified. Who knows? The promise to be faithful does not make him more or less faithful than no promise at all. If it takes a vow or a legal arrangement to be faithful, then how strong is the  relationship? With or without the promises and legalities, there is no guarantee. He either will be or won’t be.

The best way to predict the future, it’s said, is to look at the past. Let’s apply that advice to the scenario above. Generally, men who cheated in the past will cheat in the future. It’s a pattern. But trauma and  awakening can break that pattern. A man who was abusive in past marriages will generally be abusive in future marriages, but if something happens to be bring him to his knees, then yes, there’s a possibility of  change and growth and a true turnaround with the next wife. I do think it’s rare and requires a lot of introspection, though.

But with baggage in the past, everyone’s nervous, so they give  and extract promises in new relationships. And then they don’t really believe it so they put chains on each other and demand each other’s time and location and burden each other with their own insecurities, when so much of it is not required if they’re used to being treated well by the  other.  And if those measures are required to feel secure, do they really  keep him faithful or is he just a bit more ingenious in how he eludes his warden? Is he really where he wants to be or is he living an illusion?

So are all romantic relationships damned? I don’t think so. But I don’t think it’s about making promises to each other or putting chains on each other. I think it’s about making a commitment not to love/honor/cherish but to sustain a conscious effort, not just the day of  the wedding but every day, to treat each other well.

Because if you treat each other well, and you have an established pattern of treating each other well, I think the honoring and  cherishing grow naturally out of that. And the love just gets stronger.

What is desired from a promise is gained by living it, not by saying the words to make the sale.