The Truth Behind Commitment Phobia

Did he promise to tell everyone you're the one and then disappear without any warning? News flash: you might've just been cannonballed by a commitmentphobe.




We all recognise the slightly giddy feeling when someone special comes along. After all, we've been around, we've spent nasty nights bemoaning the bad biker boy who broke our hearts on summer break, we've spent dreamy-eyed days over the oh-so-sexy surgeon who helped stitch up that nasty gash in the ER…Basically, we're well-versed with the McSteamies, the McDreamies and the McCads. But there is possibly one type that a whole lot of us may just have (fortunately) missed-the dude who bails after going eight-and-a-half-yards out of nine. Most lads enjoy pretending to be afraid of commitment; it's part of their beer, brawns and babes avatar. Even so, the toughest, gruffest of them all falls flat on his face and embraces happily-ever-after without any great angst when he meets a woman who wows the Jockeys from right under him. These are the regular guys, the ones who might have sown innumerable wild oats in days gone by, but whose basic nature doesn't have any nasty twist that could be seriously damaging to either them or the girls they date. These aren't the men we're talking about here.

This discussion revolves around a specific inhabitant of Guyville who deserves careful analysis-the man who waxes eloquent about you to the big F & F (friends and family), who is impeccably courteous, puts your needs before his always, says he wants to spend the rest of his life with you, proceeds to be an amazing boyfriend, before he walks out claiming he's a free spirit leaving you wondering what exactly in hell's name was that all about. Yep, commitmentphobia is a real condition. And you could possibly be at risk of being burnt by a run-from-responsibility rogue. Read on to find out more…

Defining commitment anxiety

Janice D. Bennet, Ph.D., defines commitmentphobia as "an unrealistic fear of making a promise, a pledge or a vow to be a faithful and loyal partner to another person." Popularly connoting fear of long-term commitment and marriage, the term commitmentphobia first gained currency with the publication of the popular self-help book Men Who Can't Love: How To Recognise A Commitmentphobic Man Before He Breaks Your Heart (1987) by Steven Carter and Julia Sokol. The book dealt with commitmentphobia and its classic signs. You might ask, what's the big deal, everybody's scared of making a lifelong pact with the wrong man/woman? The danger lies here: when you initially meet a commitmentphobic partner, he might actually speak in concrete terms about a lasting relationship and marriage repeatedly till he's lulled you into an ultimately false sense of security.

Take the case of Priya, 30, writer: "I met Sameer a year ago at a mutual friend's birthday. We'd infrequently bumped into each other several times earlier. One date followed the other over the next four months and we were soon a bonafide couple. We had a solid relationship and I soon became a part of his friend circle and was on great terms with his family whom he introduced me to just two months into the relationship. He was on a sabbatical from work when we got together and, after a while, I pressed him to get a job since he seemed to be very serious about settling down with me. A month after he landed a gig at a prestigious newspaper, he called me and said he was sorry but marriage wasn't part of his agenda. This a day after both sets of parents had actually spoken to each other! I wonder whether he ever loved me or whether he just wanted to have fun considering he doesn't even feel an apology is necessary."

The thing to remember is that a phobic partner consistently undercuts his own assertions of never-ending fidelity to a single woman by failing to find appropriate people to fall in love with. When Priya analysed Sameer's former girlfriends, they seemed to either be from a different town, completely diverse socio-economic backgrounds, or emotionally abusive. In Sameer's relationship with her, there were none of the dramatic ups and downs which had characterised his earlier associations-she was stable, had a great job, an extended set of friends and an extremely supportive family. Ironically, it was Sameer who would say she needed drama to fuel her day-to-day existence.

Experts believe that self-delusion of this sort is a common phenomenon for a commitmentphobe. Most people who are ridden with such anxieties crave love and connection, which makes it difficult for them to stay away from the opposite sex. This frightening duality of actively seeking out togetherness but at the same time running out on it leads to a vicious pattern of seduction and rejection which has devastating consequences for both partners.

The warning signs

Can one can learn to spot if a romantic partner i s chronically afraid of permanence? Commitment phobic behaviour exhibits some typical signs. For example, a commitmentphobic man usually courts a woman with such ardour that he manages to fool himself, his friends, family and colleagues into thinking that he is truthfully into her. In the initial stages of the relationship, he will be close to perfect. The minute he senses the other person is in a zone where she is convinced of the sincerity of his feelings and is making an effort to get closer, he begins to distance himself in subtle but hurtful ways. "I had been seeing Nakul for four months and he'd even taken me to meet his parents. I was on a short holiday and once I came back to town, he called me up and said he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. I was thrilled. But the minute I started talking about moving things forward, he'd find a way to stall. Finally, my parents, sick of all the delay, picked up the phone and spoke to him. He broke up with me the very next day saying that he'd fallen out of love with me. This happened after a year of promising my parents I'd finally met the right person," reveals Neha, 27, journalist.

According to Paul Douglass, an anxiety therapist from London, commitment phobia is difficult to pinpoint as it is "only really limited by the imagination of the commitmentphobic person themselves." Douglass lists criticism of a partner as a possible sign-"Using criticism is an unconscious attempt by the person with the commitmentphobia to deflect the 'blame' off themselves onto their partner." Your guy might say that you are putting too much 'pressure' on him to get engaged, even when you're simply discussing the logistics of it since he was the one who seemed gung-ho about it in the first place. Many commitmentphobes are also experts at distancing themselves not just from you but also from friends and family periodically.

Confirmed commitmentphobes are often physically demonstrative of their feelings in public but blow hot and cold in private. As your relationship progresses, you may find yourself on the outside. He doesn't have enough time for you because his life is so terribly busy for an extended period of time. The bottom line is that you aren't high on his list of priorities-'his' time is far more important than 'us' time. When confronted about this, he'll come up with excuses like "Everything settles into a routine."

Does your guy show an interest in your life and your friends? Did he try to meet your family and impress your parents? Men who aren't in it for the long haul typically do not care as much about meeting your friends and knowing your family. Also, the minute they find that their partner is being emotionally unavailable, they strive to regain their attention. But this is a temporary effort. Such people usually sabotage good, stable relationships abruptly and, when asked for reasons by close associates for their actions, prefer to give no explanations. When a relationship ends, they'll find all sorts of logical justifications for themselves. Douglass adds that most commitmentphobes resort to "unrealistic ideals" as a rationale for their actions. Despite all the positives that their partner might have, they will find some standard that she doesn't match up to. Statements like "I do hope you know you're difficult," or "Everyone told me you're very independent but you're not," or even "You spend a lot of time thinking about yourself," are examples of how these unworkable aspirations may manifest in his verbal exchanges with you. The overwhelming reaction most commitmentphobes have to a break-up is relief since their freedom isn't under threat any more.

Why does he bail?

"I was seriously involved with Nikhil for about a year. We would do everything together. He bowled me over when I first met him and the more time I spent with him, I felt that in today's uncertain world, here's a man who is truly honourable. He'd often speak about the 'right' thing to do and was remarkably intelligent as well. He was the one who first broached the topic of being together forever and, because he wasn't exactly the most verbose person on earth, I didn't really question him on that score. Whenever I'd ask him, he'd always say that I had no reason to ever worry about us. Imagine my surprise when he dumped me after initiating negotiations between both families," confesses Sanyukta, 25, doctor.

Often, a commitmentphobic partner will know what is the right thing to do. He knows you're wonderful, he knows that the problem lies with him. Unfortunately, he's just not geared to walk down the aisle with you. But instead of being upfront about it at the very outset of a relationship, he indulges in a selfish fantasy where he is actually able to run that final lap. It's only a few months into the twosome that his basic nature begins to assert itself. Most men with severe commitment issues have a deep-rooted fear of permanent decisions and dwell constantly on the fact that there isn't a way out of a marriage if things don't work out. They also dread being with the 'wrong' person and being suffocated/trapped. The ultimate panic button for them is the vision of an unfulfilled life. Douglass points out that "commitmentphobia can affect the person's commitment to anything. Someone with commitmentphobia might find it difficult to gain job security, being afraid to pursue a career in case they get 'stuck in a rut'. A person with such deeprooted demons can register their phobic feelings surfacing at any time where they feel out of control, trapped, insecure, pressured, or 'swamped'. Often the commitmentphobic will be afraid of losing their independence, or might fear losing sight of who they really are."

Moreover, they are also basically indecisive and constantly seek newer, more attractive partners. The thought of being with just a single person equals a loss of options for them. Losing out on options is a frightening scenario for such men.

Can you cure a c-phobe?

According to relationship expert and author, Nina Atwood, there is absolutely no way you can expect to be able to cure a chronic commitmentphobic man-"If you are dating a commitmentphobe, the first step for you is to acknowledge the truth: over his problem you have no control. That is right - no control. That means that you absolutely, positively, definitely, and certainly cannot fix it. No matter how patiently you wait, no matter how much you love him, and no matter how many times you tell him that it hurts you, his problem will still be there."

Atwood further claims that by being in an intimate relationship with a man plagued by relationship issues of this sort, a woman only helps him keep his problem. She advises every chica to move on instead of indulging in multiple break-ups with a person and taking him back repeatedly. The hallmark of any good relationship is one that heads towards lifetime commitment. When that intention is declared null and void, no amount of negotiations and emotional turbulence is going to change the fact that your twosome is irrevocably crippled. The sooner you walk away from it, the better it is for you.

Atwood insists that for a commitmentphobic personality, whether male or female, to arrive at a stance where they are willing to overcome their fear is only via their own choice. They will need professional help every step of the way. But therapy itself is a huge commitment, so typically many commitmentphobes shy away from seeking professional help. In fact, most of them usually don't even acknowledge that they have a problem in the first place. Therefore, all you ladies hanging on to the man who's scared of saying "I Do," ditch the dude ASAP and live your life 'coz a runaway groom just ain't worth the effort. You deserve better!

5 Steps to Over coming Commitment phobia

1. Acknowledge that you really want to share your life with someone and be open to taking a calculated risk with a potential mate.

2. Recognise that your fears have kept you away from achieving your life goals. Talk to a trusted friend, mentor or therapist about them .

3. Learn how to pace a good relationship. Look forward to moving forward. You don't have to run.

4. Discuss your goals and dreams together, and try to experience true intimacy

5. Understand that being in a committed twosome can empower both partners.