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i'm trying to leave a commitment phobe
January 16, 2011 1:40 PM   Subscribe

are you a commitment phobic or involved with one?

stats: both is our mid to late 30's. we have been dating for 6 months now. i love him and he loves me. neither of us is sleeping with other people. when we are both relaxed, we laugh and chat and have a generally fantastic time. there is a lot of fun and great sex. mutually considerate gifts and we had a lovely holiday together.

we also have one easily identifiable issue. he has consistently told me that he has commitment issues, doesn't want to be in a relationship and can't provide a relationship what it needs. he has also asked me to be patient. says that he wants to work through these issues. that the way he feels about being in a relationship doesn't jibe with the way he feels about me. he tells me that he feels hopeful about wanting to be in a relationship at some point. we have had many many long conversations about this issue resulting in both of us feeling pretty upset.

i think he's smart, funny, generous and super fun to be with, when he isn't pushing me away. and there's the crux. when he goes into jerky commitment phobia mode (mean comments, standoffish behavior, general unavailability, sexual withholding) i get hurt feelings. i also get very controlling and try to force the is this a relationship or not issue. (i've tried several times in the past to end things and we've rekindled very quickly). his commitment phobic behavior (and my controlling behavior) is by no means the sole way we interact. he can often admit later, yes i was feeling commitment phobic at that time but it seems to take me being very angry with him for him to come around to, oh, yeah, you deserve my respect and attention.

i don't think that this issue will ever change for him. he's not in therapy. he doesn't seem to be talking to friends about what happens between us. the relationship gets more loaded as we care more for each other.

so i called the whole thing off. he is hurt and angry at me. he says i have no empathy for his position, that i am taking away something he cares about (me) because i cannot be patient and wait for him to be able to make a commitment. and he's right, i don't have any empathy. we are talking SO here, not marriage or cohabitation. help me get some perspective.

are there commitment phobic people who were able to overcome their issues? did you do it alone? what shifted for you? were you involved with a commitment phobe? were there coping mechanisms? should i really just get out while the getting is good?
posted by memi to Human Relations (28 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
he's not in therapy. he doesn't seem to be talking to friends about what happens between us.

This seems like the crux of the issue. It sounds like you have been patient. His commitment-phobia cannot be a permanent fixture of your relationship, but he seems to have no interest in changing it. It's not reasonable to expect someone to be patient waiting for something that he has shown no initiative to change.
posted by vytae at 1:50 PM on January 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


i don't think that this issue will ever change for him. he's not in therapy. he doesn't seem to be talking to friends about what happens between us.

"Please be patient while I work through these issues that are making me a bad SO" + good-faith attempt to work through said issues = genuine, empathy-deserving statement. (Although empathy doesn't preclude leaving the relationship.)

"Please be patient while I work through these issues that are making me a bad SO" + no attempt at all to work on or change the issues in question = "I'm going to keep doing this behaviour, and I don't intend to stop, but since I already told you about it you don't get to object."

You made the right decision.
posted by Catseye at 1:53 PM on January 16, 2011 [23 favorites]


Mean comments? Withholding sex?

I dated a commitment phobic guy and he was never mean, cold, withholding. He just refused to commit. I moved on because working on some issues that cropped up seemed pointless if he couldn't even say "yes, we're in a relationship."

You're not a "thing" to be taken away from him. He's not entitled to your time and attention.

You made the right move.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:55 PM on January 16, 2011 [15 favorites]


And keep in mind that he wasn't your SO. He made that very clear.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:57 PM on January 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


I agree with the young rope-rider. It sounds to me like he's using "commitment-phobia" as an excuse for treating you poorly. And then when you call him on it, well, he's got an out, because you're not really together. Lame. End it for good this time.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:02 PM on January 16, 2011 [10 favorites]


There's an old saying among some of my friends that goes something like: of course he's sweet and nice to you part of the time, you wouldn't stick around if he was *constantly* an asshole to you.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 2:04 PM on January 16, 2011 [16 favorites]


neither of us is sleeping with other people.

Why not start? What I mean is, if he won't commit to you, don't act like you're in a committed relationship. Change gears completely and tell him that you're okay with not being in a committed relationship. Then make yourself less available and begin seeing other people. Right now he is just some guy you're dating, so treat him like one.
posted by unannihilated at 2:09 PM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah being commitment phobic is one thing. Being mean/making mean comments and withholding sex is a control issue in and of itself. They may or may not be related.

For me, personally, as someone with commitment issues I know that when I don't feel safe in a relationship I find it very difficult to be intimate because, well, it doesn't feel safe! But I don't do it to punish my partner, and that's what it sounds like is happening here.

My commitment phobic stuff really is about being unwilling to make future plans, being uber clear about not being in a relationship or what the boundaries and expectations of said relationship are. If I'm not committing I'm not spending holidays with you, I'm not giving you gifts and I'm not meeting your parents/family. I'm still respecting you and treating you kindly, and of course having intimate times.

He sounds jerkish and I'd walk.
posted by FlamingBore at 2:13 PM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I also agree with the young rope-rider. I'm currently involved with a "commitment phobe" and unsure where it's heading, but one thing has been clear from the beginning - he's always been honest about the uncertainty of our future, and he's never been mean or withholding. We have a great time together and it's a very positive interaction, just without the "I love you's" and talks of the future that one would expect (usually) after this length of time, although we have been exclusive. We just haven't really labeled things & it's been growing very slowly. It probably won't be the right relationship for me forever, but for now it's making me happy so I stay.

I think your guy is using commitment phobia as an excuse for treating you poorly and that's not fair to you at all.

I admire you for leaving, and think from what you've written here it was the right choice. We all have to figure out what we as individuals need in a relationship and make the best choices that will allow for that to happen, and it sounds like you made the choice to walk away from someone who was treating you in way that was not making you happy. Feel good about that.
posted by katy song at 2:14 PM on January 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


He wants a commitment from you to stick around while refusing to give you one himself and then feels entitled enough to try and make you feel like the bad guy? Lose him. And yeah, I have dated him before. Lost many years waiting for him to change and staying as long as I did is still one of the biggest regrets I have. Consider yourself lucky, this guy is actually telling you who he is. Believe him.
posted by Jubey at 2:16 PM on January 16, 2011 [15 favorites]


Hi, I am a commitmentphobe, and I am not mean, cold, or withholding either. I'm sure there are myriad ways my issues create unpleasantness, but jerkiness is not one of them.
posted by yarly at 2:19 PM on January 16, 2011


Don't waste your time attempting to be in a relationship with someone who makes your life more complicated and less secure.

You made the right decision. He sounds immature and weird.
posted by anniecat at 2:29 PM on January 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


You can't dump someone you aren't in a relationship with. If he feels that you have "left" him in any real sense, then he was committed to you. Maybe not as much as you would like.

Maybe you need to talk to him about what exactly "commitment" entails in each of your minds. Sexual exclusivity? Introduction to the parents? Public displays of affection? Some sort of plan to eventually move in, get married, have kids? Which of these is he afraid of/not ready for? Which of these are okay?

Meanwhile, I don't think "commitment" is his issue. I think "mean comments", "withholding of sex", "general unavailability" are his issues. People can be fuckbuddies and totally uncommitted and not have these problems.
posted by lollusc at 2:35 PM on January 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


we've been pretty clear that "commitment" for me right now means, including each other in our plans, spending time with our respective people (friends, family, etc) together, not sleeping with other people and generally having a life together which doesn't include marriage plans but does include vacation plans. he seems to fear and loathe anything which has a title attached to it.

i *do* feel that he uses "this is not a relationship" as a way of not having to be responsible for his behavior. that said, i am sensitive and sometimes overreact. it's not that he's not a *jerk* all the time, it's that he does things like buy me incredibly considerate christmas gifts, he always responds immediately to my communications, compliments me on the details of my style , carries my bag, is publicly affectionate and is generally very considerate of me. the unavailability/mean/withholding shows up as not being privately affectionate (little to no physical contact and actively rejecting any attempts at affection that i make) but hanging around my house for days or telling me, as i've just finished getting ready for a date with him, how his ex-gf dresses so nicely or canceling important plans with me via text message.

i just keep ending up in this spiral where it's me. i'm too sensitive or i want too much from him or i'm really just not patient enough. (i do have a problem with being patient). meh. i really hoped to hear from some commitment phobe who would say,yeah i worked it out or no, i never will. or someone like Jubey who wasted lots of time waiting for this eventuality.
posted by memi at 3:08 PM on January 16, 2011


oh, and i didn't think he was being my SO or at least not owning up to the fact that he acted like he was when it pleased him and ducked out when it didn't. i was just asking him to be my SO. that's my idea of commitment.
posted by memi at 3:13 PM on January 16, 2011


Ok, well, my personal belief is that when I meet the right person my "phobia" will disappear. It sounds like your guy is just not that into you. I'm sorry.
posted by yarly at 3:27 PM on January 16, 2011


Sounds like you don't want to hear this, but it's not you. It's him. Nothing you do can make him be consistently kind and thoughtful. He either is or he isn't, and he isn't. Whether it's because he doesn't want to commit or because mercury is in retrograde, it's his responsibility.

The things you said he does seem great, and you certainly deserve them, but you can get the good stuff without the bullshit.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:43 PM on January 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


I dated a "commitmentphobe" for a few years. But it turned out his "phobia" was actually a pretty reasonable response to a fundamental mismatch in our needs from a relationship.I would push for more intimacy, he'd withdraw, and so it went. He was (and is) a great guy, but not for me. We both ended up in lasting relationships with people more like us. I can't speak for him, but my marriage is mostly rewarding and great. I did learn a lot about not taking someone else's needs as a personal affront from my relationship with him, but I wouldn't have that relationship over again.
posted by gingerest at 3:43 PM on January 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


I was pretty resistant to being a girlfriend, monogamy, moving in together. I would say I've been a bit of a butt every step of the way. However, I've been happily married for years now.

Turns out I wasn't actually afraid of commitment I was afraid of being left. Being a girlfriend means someone can dump you. Being a wife means he can leave you and you'll be sad and look stupid in front of everyone for trusting him.

But my behavior doesn't look like your "boyfriend's". When I would start to freak out about "taking our relationship to the next level" whatever that entailed at the time I would be a little aloof or straight up freak out crying, telling someone I was afraid they couldn't be trusted, obsessing about details that only had the possibility of being problematic etc. My "fear" looked like... well FEAR. His "fear" seems to actually look like just being a jerk. So maybe you should consider whether fear it at the root of his behavior or whether something else is.

So yes, I was very afraid of being committed to my very wonderful, patient, giving husband but mostly I got over it. It just finally became clear that the benefits outweighed my fear and any risk. However I would not count on your "boyfriend" to do the same.
posted by Saminal at 3:54 PM on January 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


the unavailability/mean/withholding shows up as not being privately affectionate (little to no physical contact and actively rejecting any attempts at affection that i make) but hanging around my house for days or telling me, as i've just finished getting ready for a date with him, how his ex-gf dresses so nicely or canceling important plans with me via text message.

I don't think this is about commitment-phobia, per se. He just sounds like he's sort of messed up if he's treating you this way (a.k.a. like an asshole). You say you were hoping to hear from a commitment-phobe who may have "worked things out" (or not), but the fact is that everyone is different, and the most important thing for working it out is whether or not you are willing to work it out and engaged in working it out. This guy doesn't sound like he is. And as long as you let him come back to you and accept his presence in your life, and the way he treats you (which it sounds like you're not, and good for you!), he'll keep bullshitting you, because there are no real consequences to his behavior. He is a man-child, and you will be allowing him to be one if you let him back in. But maybe you know this.

I said this in another thread relating to an abuser, but it's just as true here: sometimes the best thing we can do for another person who needs help is to remove them from our lives. The sad fact is that for people like this, they will not grow—if they ever grow—unless there are real consequences to their actions.
posted by dubitable at 4:08 PM on January 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


are there commitment phobic people who were able to overcome their issues?

Yes. Me, for one.

did you do it alone?

I did it over years in therapy, mostly individual but some couples, which I supplemented with reading many self-help books about commitmentphobia.

what shifted for you?

I found myself in a relationship with someone who needed me to really, really be there for them, and found that I had it in me to do so and that it was very rewarding on some levels.

were you involved with a commitment phobe?

Yes. The person I mentioned above, once they were out of the woods, suddenly wanted to venture off on their own, saying they weren't ready for a commitment. They show commitmentphobia in every aspect of life, not just the relationship side (job hopping, indecisiveness about where to live, on and off contact with family, etc.) In their case it's pretty clearly arrested development from the stuff they were going through.

This person also did the pushing away-withholding thing. This jerkish behavior can definitely have its roots in commitmentphobia (that doesn't excuse it, though). Once commitment was off the table, they reverted to their amiable self. But it's a friendship only now.

were there coping mechanisms?

I'm not sure what you mean by that so I'll try to address it all. I coped with my commitmentphobia, at first, by unhealthy relationship-hopping and being in love with falling in love. When the honeymoon wore off, I got bored and went for the next Great Romance.

When I realized it was unhealthy, I started to get therapy and read the self-help books. For me, it took a long time to process because my commitmentphobia was rooted in attachment issues from childhood.

My former SO coped with their commitmentphobia by distancing and withholding, similar to your BF.

My partners who were impacted by my commitmentphobia coped with it by trying to please me to the point where they seemed clingy, and I did the same with my former SO's commitmentphobia. It's a pretty typical pattern. (See The Dance of Intimacy by Harriet Lerner).

should i really just get out while the getting is good?

Yes. There is no guarantee that your BF will overcome this problem soon, especially since he isn't trying.

Commitmentphobia is a slippery beast. Sometimes it's not clear whether the phobia precedes the relationship and the person would be commitmentphobic with any partner, or whether something about the relationship doesn't feel right but can't be articulated, so the person assumes they are commitmentphobic. Either way, I don't think it's possible to be happy with a commitmentphobe.
posted by xenophile at 5:11 PM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Dude, he's a jerk. Move on. Find someone else who's not mean and withholding and who compares you to his ex.
posted by mleigh at 5:28 PM on January 16, 2011


Hi, former commitment phobe here. I've cleaned my act up, shacked up with a nice lady and put it behind me.

The thing you need to realize about someone who's self-aware and up-front about his commitment phobia, yet not actually doing anything about it, is that it's a crutch. You can use it to explain away all your bad relationship behaviour and gain the upper hand in everything you don't want to do:

- I want to hang out with the guys this weekend, I'll just blow her off and say it's a commitment thing.
- I don't want to make plans because I want to wait and see if something better comes along, I'll just blow her off and say it's a commitment thing.
- I like being able to hit on women at bars (even if I'm not sleeping with them), so I'll just blow her off and say it's a commitment thing.

It goes on forever; he gets to control the pace of your relationship by having an immovable wall that he puts up whenever he feels like it. Does that really sound like a phobia to you, or a great mechanism to make you feel bad about trying to meet him halfway?

I was a commitment phobe, then I was a guy who just liked doing what he wanted, regardless of what it meant for my relationship. It wasn't anything a partner did or said that made me want to grow up, I did it on my own time.

He's likely to do the same; you should save yourself the grief, chalk this up to a life lesson and find a nice man you don't have to settle on, because that's what you're doing if you wait around for this guy.

You're settling on a guy who chooses not to commit to you.
posted by dflemingecon at 5:40 PM on January 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


What dflemingecon said, plus, the fact that he's nice some of the time isn't evidence in his favour. It's an integral part of how he treats you, which is all done with the goal of keeping you around on his terms. Nobody's mean 100% of the time, because that's as hard as being nice 100% of the time, and also because people would just leave.
posted by tel3path at 5:55 PM on January 16, 2011


are there commitment phobic people who were able to overcome their issues? did you do it alone? what shifted for you?

I suppose I was a commitment-phobe for many years in my relationship with the man I am now married to.

I had a prior relationship that ended terribly. I was hurt, betrayed, and devastated. I started dating my now-husband not too long after this other relationship ended.

But there was no withholding, or cruelty, or plans canceling (after the first few rough months.)

Our dynamic went more along these lines: he invited me to move in with him, and I told him I couldn't, I needed to keep my own apartment, because when the prior relationship had ended, I had to leave that home and move in with my parents. I wasn't ready to give up having a place to go if things got bad. My guy was patient, everything went along the same with us until eventually I was ready to move in with him.

My guy then started talking marriage. I told him I wasn't ready, couldn't do that yet. We wne along, living together, making a life. Eventually, I let him know I was ready and he proposed.

So I really don't think there was any of the hot/cold ("treat 'em mean to keep 'em keen") stuff you're describing, which is a bullshit way to treat someone. I was just much further behind on the relationship curve than my guy, and he was patient.

As for how I overcame my issues? Therapy. Seven years of therapy, spanning from when the prior relationship ended to a while after my wedding to my guy. Lots and lots of work on trust and opening up.
posted by Squeak Attack at 6:25 PM on January 16, 2011


You are not his mom. She is the only woman required to put up with his endless tics and annoying, hurtful traits. His expectation for you to have "unlimited empathy" for him is extremely arrogant and wrongheaded. Unconditional love does not, should not exist outside of the realms of moms and God.

Any mature, healthy man would see that and would not want to be loved unconditionally, waited for forever, or what have you. They would want their partner to take care of their own needs and would not want to be a burden to you. That's how I know this guy doesn't really love you. Because he's immediately squawking, "You hurt me! You're selfish!" instead of seeing the glaringly obvious, which is that he's selfish and he's hurt you. He knows that, he just doesn't care. Somehow in his head he's entitled to unlimited sympathy while you aren't. I mean, come on, he even referred to YOU as "something he likes and enjoys that you're taking away" like you're a favorite toy or something, instead of a person. He's so manipulative and self-centered that he thinks you're punishing him by breaking up with him, instead of protecting yourself. That he assumes you're that maniuplative says a lot about how his mind works, eh? Takes one to know one.

My bet is that if he's ever going to grow up, it won't be with you. He'd already pegged you as the type that gives him whatever he wants whenever he wants and put you in that role.

Do not confuse his version of your "having no empathy" with the reality of "being a self-respecting adult."
posted by Nixy at 6:31 PM on January 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wait, you're supposed to have empathy for his inability to give you what you want out of a relationship? And just wait around while he works himself up to it? That's insane. It sounds like this guy had some things to offer you. Guess what? You can get them from someone else who is able to enthusiastically participate in a relationship with you. It's not too much to ask. Run far away from this guy.
posted by Ragged Richard at 8:36 PM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


"it's not that he's not a *jerk* all the time.....the unavailability/mean/withholding shows up as not being privately affectionate (little to no physical contact and actively rejecting any attempts at affection that i make) but hanging around my house for days or telling me, as i've just finished getting ready for a date with him, how his ex-gf dresses so nicely or canceling important plans with me via text message."

Uhhhhhhh..... He might not act this way *all the time*, but the fact he acts like this *sometimes* puts him in major jerk-level status in my opinion. I don't think you are being too sensitive, this is completely inappropriate of him, regardless of commitment-phobe issues. It's. just. mean.
posted by *phoenix* at 9:44 PM on January 16, 2011


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