Is There Something Wrong with Being a ‘Commitment-Phobe’?

Every time a guy gets close to me and wants a commitment from me, I pull away and distance myself from him. It doesn't take long before I stop seeing him altogether. There have been plenty of good guys in my life, men my friends think would be good for me, but I never let them get too close and I always do something to sabotage the situation when it gets serious. This means I spend a lot of lonely nights, but it also means I don't have to deal too much with the "downsides" of being in a relationship, lack of freedom, fights, etc. I mainly get the "good," which is to say one to three months of heavy courting/dating, "new relationship sex," etc. When the guy expects more, I move on. I know that sounds bad. But I don't consider myself a "player" or a bad person. My girlfriends say I'm addicted to the "new relationship high" and call me a "commitment-phobe." I have a hard time disagreeing. I just want to have a good time and don't want the bad stuff. The bad stuff scares me. My parents divorced when I was 10 and it went bad long before then. I've had enough bad stuff. What do you think is my problem? I am 25 now, if that helps. —Noncommittal
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Dear Noncommittal,

Thank you for sharing so much of yourself here. You ask what I think your problem is, and I find myself wondering what you think the problem is or if you even think there is a problem.

It sounds like you have been able to pretty clearly identify a pattern of behavior when it comes to intimate relationships and have also indicated that this pattern of behavior works for you; it allows you to experience the good of relationships and avoid all of the bad. So it doesn’t really seem like you view the behavior as a problem. However, I’m going to assume that since you are asking for advice, you are interested in trying to have a deeper and longer-lasting relationship but find the prospect of the “bad stuff” to be so scary that it gets in the way.

It sounds like you have identified your parents’ marriage and divorce as the source of your fear of the “bad stuff” of relationships. That makes sense—for better and for worse, we learn what intimate relationships are “supposed” to look like by looking at our parents’ relationships. It sounds like what you saw in your parents’ relationship and ultimate divorce was so “bad” and “scary” that it has made you want to avoid relationships altogether. However, I would suggest that because you have such high levels of self-awareness—your own patterns of behavior and how they are connected to your experience of your parents’ relationship—you are nicely positioned to have a very different kind of relationship. If you add in the support of a therapist to help you process your feelings about your parents’ marriage and divorce and explore what kind of relationship you would like to have, you are even more likely to be successful in finding that relationship.

Yes, relationships are laborious, even painful at times. But without conflict, we cannot repair, and without repair we cannot deepen the level of trust and connection.

Finally, while not getting too deeply into an intimate relationship can protect you from the “bad stuff” of deeper, long-term relationships, it is also stopping you from enjoying the “good stuff” of such relationships. That might be something worth exploring with a therapist, too. You deserve to experience the very best of what an intimate relationship can provide.

Yes, relationships are laborious, even painful at times. But without conflict, we cannot repair, and without repair we cannot deepen the level of trust and connection. In other words, all the struggle of a relationship can lead to a deeper fulfillment—a fulfillment that cannot be realized through avoiding conflict. Truly, no pain, no gain here.

What’s more, relationships can force us to do our own emotional and spiritual work. There are not only many benefits of being in a relationship, but you may also be missing a magnificent opportunity to address the fear and the old pain that likely lurk beneath the surface. Tending to this old stuff has great potential for helping you find greater joy and contentment in life.

Best wishes,

Sarah

Sarah Noel
Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC is a licensed psychotherapist living and working in Brooklyn, New York. She specializes in working with people who are struggling through depression, anxiety, trauma, and major life transitions. She approaches her work from a person-centered perspective, always acknowledging the people she works with as experts on themselves. She is honored and humbled on a daily basis to be able to partner with people at such critical points in their unique journeys.
  • 6 comments
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  • patience

    patience

    December 4th, 2015 at 10:22 AM

    I choose to look at it like this. Maybe you are not necessarily phobic about getting involved with someone but you might have a little fear of getting involved with the wrong person, and that is completely understandable especially if you have been in a bad relationship before. The most important thing is to learn to love yourself and then if or when the right person comes along, then you will be ready and accepting of that person in your life.

  • Margie

    Margie

    December 5th, 2015 at 9:59 AM

    I don’t know, there is nothing with being alone and making that a conscious choice, but it can be awfully lonely if you are not positive that you wish to be alone.

  • Ric

    Ric

    December 7th, 2015 at 10:16 AM

    So maybe you are a little phobic
    big deal
    your choice, your life

  • Maggie

    Maggie

    December 9th, 2015 at 11:22 AM

    To each his own right? And if this is what works for you and you are happy, then you shouldn’t feel like you have to make someone else happy in your life, just yourself.

  • Moe

    Moe

    December 27th, 2015 at 4:01 PM

    Be happy with the life that you are living right now… this might be the right thing for you forever and then again it might not be. But the answer is one day going to come to you and it will hopefully be at a time when you are ready and able to accept that in your life.

  • Gena

    Gena

    December 29th, 2015 at 4:12 PM

    Have you considered going to a counselor or therapist?
    It has obviously scarred you because of the relationship and divorce that you witnessed your parents go through. It could do you some good to talk to another person about your fears and how that plays into your own hesitation to get involved in a serious relationship of your own.

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