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One of my favorite Seinfeld episodes is the one where George has just broken up with Susan. He had done everything he could to get away from her, and then, in the very next scene, we find him lying on Jerry’s sofa, lamenting, “I loved her!” So he wins her back, and by the end of the episode has to pick his nose “up to my elbow” to get rid of her again.

George was a classic commitment phobic.

I suspect that a lot of you can relate to Susan, and the utter bewilderment of dating someone who wants in one minute and out the next. And, as you read these columns on commitment phobia, you are fighting the temptation to print them all out, tie them up in a little ribbon, throw the whole package down in front of some poor, hapless ex and say “Here, read this!”

I noted in the first installment of the series that many singles — women in particular — love diagnosing commitment phobia. They can tend, however, to be a little loose with the definition. A commitment phobic becomes defined as “anyone who, for any reason whatsoever, doesn’t want to marry me.” And so, instead of accepting the verdict and moving on, they become obsessed with “fixing” the rejecting party. They read books and demand that he read books and then they subject him to long lecturing talks and try to drag him off to therapy.

And then he says, “Eureka, you’re right! I was commitment phobic! And, now, thanks to your constant interference and nagging, I am cured and ready to move on to a very happy, very permanently committed marriage!” And they ride off together into the sunset.

Or not.

Seriously, trying to “cure” commitment phobia is a bad idea on so, so many levels. First of all, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but maybe it really wasn’t a full-blown commitment phobia. Maybe he just didn’t want to marry you. That doesn’t have to be a psychological disorder. It could also be immaturity, blindness, utter foolhardiness. Or maybe, just maybe, you weren’t the right one for him. It’s okay.

On the other hand, if you did manage to get yourself involved with a raging commitment-phobe, the odds that you’re going to fix him and go on to live happily ever after are remarkably slim. You may, in rare cases, think you did – perhaps even enough to get him to walk down the aisle. But wedding cake does not cure commitment phobia. It only makes them feel even more trapped. And the only thing worse than having a commitment phobic boyfriend or girlfriend is having a commitment phobic spouse. Look at poor Susan. She got George to propose. And that didn’t turn out so well . . .

The thing is, once you’ve broken up, it really doesn’t matter whether or not the end was precipitated by some deep-seated fear of commitment. It’s over. Don’t waste your time looking back, trying to psychoanalyze the hurt away. Get through it and move on.

Of course, the best-case scenario would be to avoid getting involved with a commitment phobic in the first place. And, while you may not be able to diagnose it with perfect accuracy, there are certainly some signs you should look for.

The first warning signal comes early in the relationship, during the “pursuit” stage. How enthused is the person from the outset? Is he — early in the relationship — smitten or impressed or overwhelmed by your wonderfulness at a level that is completely incompatible with the amount of time he has actually known you? I know, you know all of these wonderful things about yourself, and clearly he must be seeing them as well. But seriously – in one evening or one weekend or a couple of dates, could he possibly know you well enough to fall so head over heels for you? That’s not to say you aren’t that wonderful. I’m sure you are. But people who fall madly in love without enough information are more than likely falling in love with a fantasy, an ideal. And seeing your real wonderfulness over time will probably just scare him into realizing he has to actually commit to your wonderfulness, which of course won’t happen.

Yes, I will grant that occasionally two people just fall madly in love at first sight, and there is a slight statistical possibility that it could happen to you. I’m just saying beware. You don’t have to dump someone just because he or she is smitten with you right away. But don’t get too caught up in it. Keep your guard up. Realize there’s a good chance it won’t last. Let it stand the test of time before you start combining your last names or picking china patterns.

Also beware of “future talk” early on. If, on the second date, he’s making plans six months into the future, you may find it encouraging or endearing. But six months down the road when he is long gone, you’ll probably find it infuriating. Don’t block the time out on your calendar just yet. Prudent people who are realistic about dating generally don’t assume after six hours that they’ll still be together in six months. There’s still too much to learn. But the commitment phobic who’s still in the fantasy phase loves to project the fantasy into the future.

Basically, the early phase of commitment phobia is all about winning – about breaking down your defense so that he can prove to himself that he’s good enough to get you. That probably isn’t a conscious scheme, but it’d definitely the underlying motivation, even if he is unaware of it. Your job is to keep those defenses up long enough to discern whether this person has what it takes to stick it out for the long run.

If you do that, you won’t be as liable to take it personally if and when the tables turn and you’re suddenly seeing tail lights vanishing into the horizon. Commitment phobics, if they bother to break up with you at all, are notorious for doing so with the flimsiest of excuses. Suddenly slight inconveniences become insurmountable obstacles. The reasons he loved you become his reasons to leave. And the temptation to the bewildered receiver is to argue. The explanations being presented are so illogical – if you could just make him see that, you could continue on toward your happy, wonderful future.

Don’t bother. Someone escaping because of fear of commitment doesn’t want to see the flaws in his logic. He just wants out. So let him go, bid him well and get on with your life.
This might be easier said than done, because commitment phobics are also notorious for not staying gone. Fear of commitment means being afraid to commit to yes or no. So once you’re gone and the fear has subsided, the realization of what he has lost frequently sets in. And it re-activates the longing, and the fantasy, and the desire to pursue. And so he often returns for a curtain call. And as nice as it would be to believe that he’s learned his lesson and won’t ever let you go again, the better odds say the same cycle will play out again, just more quickly. Remember George Constanza?

Don’t be a Susan.


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37 Comments

  1. Kathy-355103 June 1, 2010

    Another great article!! True, so true!

  2. Robert-3483 June 2, 2010

    Can we please reference Scripture, Church Teaching, or at least a discussion of virtues, community, friendship…. rather than drama of analyzing intention and motives? How about a discussion of how Catholics of mixed gender and similar age can manage to share in holiness and devotion without all the drama? Are Catholics of mixed gender and similar age able to share in holiness and devotion, or should we label them a commitment failure and reason for "moving on" if the "goal of the Sacrament of Marriage" isn't met? I often think of Purgatory as reconciling with people before you're permitted entry into Heaven. You will eventually see all those dumped people that didn't meet your utilitarian objectives in Heaven, particularly if no occasion for sin existed. Friendship and communion can be a large source of God's grace. It would be sad to kill communion because they didn't fit into the mold of romantic love. Christian love is a lot more encompassing than that.

  3. Kathy-355103 June 2, 2010

    I love these articles—really insightful. I'm speaking as someone who's been on both sides of these scenarios—that's why I think they are so true! Growing and changing and learning—never hurts in my book!

  4. Alicia-481430 June 4, 2010

    Yikes Carlos.. they're just being realisitic and not living in a fantasy world. All they're doing is trying to help the people with these types of problems find a new perspective.

  5. Carlos-167015 June 4, 2010

    Also putting a character from the Seinfeld show isnt very serious. There are two ways a person specially men dont commit or have trouble doing it: first if he or she has sex before marriage and the other one is when that person is pressured by the other from early on. I mean how would you react to someone who since the first date asked you how many kids you wanted to have or when are you going to get married w her, and that her biological clock is ticking and time is running up. Please thats being not only manipulative but also selfish. Im sorry but I still dont agree with this article or the other ones these two women have posted. Life is not that black and white. Its like discussing what exactly is a just war for example. Do you think it was just to drop the atom bombs in Japan, or to kill all those Germans in WWII? Spraying Agent orange in Vietnam? Its an analogy and a very similar one. One cannot tipfy people or situations like that. We humans arent preprogrammed robots. There is more than that and believe me I want to get married, I just like to get to know the person well before making a decision. Im a bit slower in making decisions but it usually pays off as I get to whether things with my head and heart and not with my stomach.

  6. Alicia-481430 June 4, 2010

    Seems to me all she's trying to do is help those type of girls that you're referring to become not so clingy/desperate by explaining all sides of the situation. Too many girls out there get stuck in these circumstances and it's frustrating to see. If it's meant to be, it will be despite it all. I think that was all the author was getting at here.

  7. Beverly-535582 June 5, 2010

    As someone who has been pusued by a 'commitment -phobe', I must disagree with the opposition. This article may not be inspiring exaclty, but it is comforting. When you are in a relationship with someone who one minute talks of marrying you and the next refuses to see you and keeps flip flopping back, its comforting to know that YOU are not the problem. It may not inspire you, but its educating and reassuring to those of us who have been caught in one of these relationships.

  8. Kathy-355103 June 5, 2010

    Carlos—I agree it's not right for someone to push the other person to marriage from the start! I think some girls do do that—and can understand your not liking it. I have had men act like that from the start too–and I hate that kind of pressure. I don't think she means you are a commitment phobe if you don't rush to marry that person. I found it interesting that she actually said some commitment phobes often DO pressure the other person towards marriage right from the start (because they are actually in love with a fantasy)—but when it becomes more "real" they run the other way!! (Funny that THEY are the ones who seem to push commitment at first–but then go the other way when the other person starts coming on board–LOL!!)

  9. Allen-236169 June 10, 2010

    In the end, it's not that simple. But, I agree with most of your analysis. But then again, analysis paralysis is not good too! ;-)

  10. Jim-397948 June 13, 2010

    Find Love…Keep Love..Stay Faithful All the time..and then you will marry a Princess!!!

  11. Ginny-55385 June 16, 2010

    I love this! I had been dating a guy like this for a few months and wham,, exit stage left. Now all I need to do is tune up my "committment-phobe" senses because they sure can talk a good game.

  12. Ruth-589472 June 16, 2010

    I met someone two times from Match. I spent an hour having coffe at a restaurant. He started giving me a bunch of stuff about only dating him once a week. I paid the tab and said "goodbye" Dating? meeting after work for a cup of coffe is not dating. He was creepy anyway. i doubted his sincerety…slow down….you could get a relationship speeding tick…I like to take it slow

  13. David-586621 June 17, 2010

    lol… I love this column… I have been with a person like this… 20 years ago and now once again. I think I've learned my lesson. It's time to move on and find a person ready to fall in love.

  14. Jean-450782 June 18, 2010

    How does or does someone like this ever change? It seems so hopeless for them. And I do know a few too many like George.

  15. Heidi-559874 June 23, 2010

    Great article!

  16. Merwyn-557637 June 27, 2010

    Hmm, Pretty good article.

  17. Robert-3483 June 27, 2010

    Maybe there should be an article about "Beware the Commercialized and Disney-fied Romantic", because holy friendship between genders is never part of the communion-of-saints equation in their romantic and very secular 'stories'. I mainly concern with modern Disney that is wholly commercialized, not Disney before Walt died.

  18. Mia-434786 June 27, 2010

    the only problem is we realize the committment phobe whit time….. but are exactly you describe in this article….

  19. John-50560 June 30, 2010

    right – DON'T be a Susan, or you just might wind up dead after licking a bunch of toxic envelopes!!!

  20. Mary-347787 July 4, 2010

    What a great article! I've just been going through this with a guy who couldn't even commit to meeting me in person! You would think a 2.5 hour drive was the other side of the planet. Yet there were extended phone calls and always "I really want to get down to see you". This went on for 6 months. He actually cancelled on me 2 times. So, I'm done now. But it goes to show that the commitment phobe can happen at all stages.

  21. Andrea-598518 July 6, 2010

    Thanks. You have given me many things on which to think. I believe this answers some questions I have been having, but also gives me a heads up for future relationships.

  22. Cheri-589500 July 9, 2010

    Omg! I think this is me. And then I seem like both… Yikes. I am terrified to be sure. It is not the commitment, yet the rejection. I find that the more i am willing to take risks and not worry about rejection, the stronger I a feel and happier with a new confidence.

  23. James-194907 July 11, 2010

    I have been in this dynamic, as both parties. Recently it was my ex girlfriend of 6 months who was the commitment-phobe. Having seen and witnessed her pattern of behavior with old boyfriends, I thought I could change her. 2 mini-breakups, one Promise Ring and attending Mass on Sundays for 4 months together,she dumped me over the phone while I was away on a business trip. Not even face to face. This has left devastated and confused, until I read this article. Thanks

  24. Regina-601142 July 15, 2010

    oh my gosh this sounds like my ex. i never realized it. im not letting him come back again. good bye

  25. Deborah-572040 July 18, 2010

    Wow! I am so glad I just read this article. I feel like God spoke to me regarding my last relationship! I especially appreciated this part – "The thing is, once you’ve broken up, it really doesn’t matter whether or not the end was precipitated by some deep-seated fear of commitment. It’s over. Don’t waste your time looking back, trying to psychoanalyze the hurt away. Get through it and move on."

  26. Jennifer-349370 July 22, 2010

    Every guy I've met from this site seems to fall in the commitment-phobe category! I know it's not me because I look back months (or even years) later and the same guys are here "looking"…I don't get it!!

  27. Katee-606759 July 23, 2010

    I think I might be a George….

  28. Elizabeth-58162 July 25, 2010

    What is unfortunate about most commitment-phobes is that usually there is some type of trauma that occurred earlier in their lives. One has to wonder what it is they are looking for…

  29. Joan-608452 July 25, 2010

    This article is right on the money. Unfortunately it takes someone who has dealt with and been affected by this type of personality to really understand this truth. Everyone deserves to spend their time with someone who makes them feel special, like a prince or a princess. It is not a "walt disney fantasy" to believe this, it is reality. If they make you cry,, there is something wrong. True love does not want you to be sad. You need to get out and stay away from a person who is pushing and pulling you like a yo yo. It will only crush you in the end and it will not allow you to be free to meet the person who really deserves you.

  30. Judy-586291 July 26, 2010

    Thank you God for bringing this article to my attention! I was a yo-yo for 3 1/2 years and alone most of it. I should not have experienced the feelings I did. He is a good actor.

  31. Tiffany-23357 July 27, 2010

    I'm the Suuusan :(

  32. Diana-563505 July 27, 2010

    I'm the Susan and I didnt even know it! I see him everywhere online and always sending email…It was partly my fault b/c I was actually thinking that Someday….maybe he'll change his mind….. I dont know…I'm too emotional and felt horrible to just push him out completely because he's still a good friend ….*sigh* Never knew what it like to have your heart in a blender until I met my ex! Thanks for the article!!!

  33. Dianne-608555 July 28, 2010

    I just lived through this one–even had my wedding dress bought and came very close–then we postponed and a year and half later he self destructed!

  34. Danielle-571527 August 4, 2010

    i WAS the Susan!

  35. Robert-613109 August 7, 2010

    I wish when ever I walked into a building, or something work related, the music from Seinfeld played in the back ground LOL

  36. Catherine-599709 August 9, 2010

    I always thought a comittment phob just didn't want to commit . What I am learning is that they can't commit to Yes and they can't commit to NO. It has been heartbreaking that he goes.. then He comes back again. Promising to stay and leaves again. When love hurts it sure does hurt.

  37. Pete-22641 August 17, 2010

    When it come to the commitment phob, i am more than willing to admit i have never had a committed relationship . but in person i chose not to talk about it . The few times i tried dating she either did not feel any "Chemistry" or she would up and stop talking to me all together. So as of late i will be a independent friend that any acquaintances could talk about their dating issues , but i would keep mine hidden from them .

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