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Single Living

Okay, all of these months blabbing on and on about fear of commitment, and I haven’t yet addressed the most obvious question: What if I’m the one with the commitment issues?

Let’s answer that and then get on with all of the other issues we face as singles, huh?

If you’ve been reading this series, you may have had the uncomfortable feeling along the way that some of this may, in fact, apply to you. Or maybe not. Because denial is such a lovely place to live, and because most of us aren’t overly anxious to confront our flaws or our woundedness, let’s go through a quick little series of questions that might help you identify what’s going on.

Look back over your relationship history, as honestly and objectively as possible. What did those relationships look like? Have you tended to become quite smitten early or pursue someone aggressively, only to back off once they started reciprocating interest? Were you ever aware of a fear of commitment? Do you believe there is one “perfect person” out there who will be easy to commit to, and will help you overcome your fear? When you broke up, was it because of issues that, looking back, could objectively be described as petty, unimportant or “fault-finding”? Or, conversely, do you have a history of pursuing people who are unavailable, geographically distant or unsuitable for you, so that you had a built-in excuse to end it? Do you tend to feel more attracted to people who would be inappropriate or not even available for a relationship? Do you tend to wind up with people who would need to “change” somehow before you would marry them? Do you love the challenge of trying to change the people you date?

There may also be clues in the way you live the rest of your life. People who are reluctant to commit to a relationship are often, but not always, commitment-averse in other areas of life. Where do you live? Do you continue to rent even though you could easily afford to buy a home? Or are you a “serial homebuyer”, buying and then quickly changing your mind and moving somewhere else? Do you think of your current abode as “home”, or are you always thinking about the next place you’ll live? Does your living space always look unfinished or temporary? How about your job? Do you get restless and have to change jobs every few years? Do you need to have lots of freedom and flexibility in your workplace? Do you hate being tied down to set hours? Do you find it difficult to make major purchases? Do small decisions often paralyze you? Do you hate committing to plans in advance?

I know, there are lots of reasons, lots of excuses. Maybe you’ve been repeatedly scammed by potential partners who looked good on the surface but turn out to have horrible-but-petty-sounding flaws. Maybe all of the good ones really are taken. And hey, the real estate market these days can make renters look pretty smart, can’t it?

Fine. But if a lot of these things look familiar, maybe it’s time to face the music.

This isn’t like pregnancy or HIV, where you either are or you aren’t and you can take a test or turn a little stick pink and presto chango there’s your diagnosis. There’s no antibody to identify it. This is just plain old human nature, real life. Commitment is scary. We’re all at least a little wary about it. It’s a matter of degree. If you’re afraid or reluctant to a degree that it’s interfering with your ability to live out the vocation to which you’ve been called, you might just want to address it sooner than later.

What does that look like?

First of all, I think anyone who suspects issues in this area needs to avail him or herself of the two greatest channels for healing – the grace of God and a competent, Christ-based therapist. Yes, I know you’re all saying, “But can’t I just pray? God can heal anything, can’t he?” And yes He can. He can heal a broken bone, He can cure cancer, He can even bring the dead back to life. And He doesn’t need the help of any stinkin’ doctors to do it, either. But, far more often than not, He chooses to work with, in and through them. No responsible Christian with a serious illness would pray for God’s healing without also availing himself of medical help. Same here.

So yeah, pray. Pray for healing. Pray for the awareness of the areas of your life that need healing. Pray for God to enter into those areas. And then, while continuing to pray, pursue whatever avenues are available to you to get help in those areas.

Of course, when it comes to our emotional and psychological help, it’s important to rely on professionals who share our belief that God created the psyche, that there is much overlap between the psychological and the spiritual, and that God is the ultimate healer. Fortunately, there are many more such therapists than there used to be. There should be no stigma in talking to one. Counseling is not just for the mentally ill, just as doctors are not just for people with life-threatening illnesses. We all need a little “tune-up” now and then. I have benefited greatly from some really wonderful Catholic therapists at various points in my life.

And finally, while all of that praying and counseling is going on, make an effort to become aware of your habits, and stop them. Seriously. If you tend to pursue hard early on, don’t do it. Hold yourself back. Try to adjust your focus from “trying to win this person over” to “getting to know this person.” Slowly. Don’t create expectations you can’t fulfill. And don’t accomplish that by mixing your messages – calling regularly, praising effusively, hinting at relationship potential, but then throwing in the occasional “but I don’t want to lead you on and I don’t know where this will go.” In the face of mixed messages, anyone with a heartbeat will choose to focus on the more flattering content and ignore the other. Be consistent.

If the fear hits, stop. Don’t give in to knee-jerk instincts to fault-find and run. Live with the fear. Sit with it. If, after reasoned discernment, you realize the relationship has no future, end it. Don’t just run, or play games, or withdraw slowly and torturously. Break up in person, charitably, completely, and without leaving doors open for a later re-ignition because you can’t commit to “no” either.

If you don’t think you can do that, if you’d rather drive reeds up your fingernails than have an honest conversation, if in the past the fear has been so paralyzing that you felt you had to run or die, then don’t date. Get help. And take small steps in the mean time. Practice with little commitments. Say “yes” to plans two weeks from Saturday, and stick with them. Hang artwork up in your house. Practice being open and honest in your other relationships, and build back up to dating when you can do it right.

Okay, this has been the last word on commitment-phobia, at least for now. Like any topic, there is always much more to say, many more questions left unanswered. For those of you who interested in exploring the subject more, I highly recommend the resource I leaned on in writing these articles, He’s Scared, She’s Scared by Steven Carter and Julie Sokol. (Of course, you all know by now that any secular book on relationships is going to include elements on sexual behavior or morality that you need to look past, right?)

So let’s all do what we can to heal the wounds of the past, and to move on to our glorious, Spirit-filled futures!!


(This post has been read 336 times)

13 Comments

  1. Kathy-555815 August 1, 2010

    I detect alot of anger from you mary beth. I'v been known as a job hopper. Initially it was because i was on a careerpath but later in life the companies i worked for closed or fired everyone,or merged with other companies where my job may have been eliminated. As far as men i had one love of my life-but he did not feel the same way about me. Did you see the movies The RunAway Bride with Julia Roberts. She ran from all the men she was engaged with-but eventuall she met the man that she was truly meant to be with-so it was smart for her to run from all the previous men. I could use some counseling-I'm from Pittsburgh-maybe you could give me some names of catholic counselors in the area to help me find my match and to analyze me as to why i Haven't. I'm sorry but this article just seems full of anger with no real content-i basically co not understand most of it.

  2. Ricardo-541398 August 1, 2010

    @Kathy
    Let me ask one thing, and I guess we all know the answer to this. Do you think, after watching all these Romatic/Comedies will happen, to you?! or all the disney Princesses that their prince charming will rise up and rescue them from a tormenting dragon or a dangerous witch. I as I guy been through a lot with women from telling me what not, and dissing me , or just simply rejecting me. As time flies by, women have been evolved psychologically and workwise, im not being a sexist or something like that, im just giving you my point of view. As I was saying women has evolved psychologically that for some they do not think of marriage. Therefore men are becoming more "womanly" in that aspect. for example have you seen the movie 500 Days of Summer? when I saw that movie i got sooooooooo P.O'ed (sorry!) that I was going to throw in the movie and slap Summer. Not gonna spoil it for ya. my point is how come, women nowadays meet that "So good to be true" man, and end up with "The Douche Bag" or "The Bad Guy". do you ladies have the mentallity that the good is bad and the bad is good? and for the CM Staff, I AM SO SORRY FOR MY FRENCH, I was just proving a point. LOL

  3. Kathy-355103 August 1, 2010

    Mary Beth–I applaud another great article. You are so right. Many of us have unconscious fears that keep us from good matches. Sometimes we are just unlucky–but sometimes we are attracted to the ones that wouldn't be good partners for some reason. Maybe it's just less scary–espeicially if we have a fear of commitment?? (Of course unconsciously done though—so we might deny it tremendously.) I finally realized what I was doing , took some good classes, had a GREAT relationship coach/ spiritual director, counselor, etc, etc. Lots of work and very eye opening—but I think I'm making much better choices now! I've changed a lot! Prayer is helping too! Sometimes we have to stop blaiming the other people—and see what good things we can do to prepare ourselves for healthier relationships!! Can't hurt! Anyway—-thanks, Mary Beth for the great articles!!!

  4. Jessica-574410 August 2, 2010

    @Ricardo
    No, not all of us ladies are looking for the "bad guy". I'm usually the one wanting to slap the girl for leaving the "good guy" behind like in the movie "catch and release". I can't make an explanation for my own sex, but I think the bad guy presents a lot of imperfections so it makes ours seem less or make us not afraid to show them. I know in my personal experience some of the so called "good guys" I dated immediately left when I felt comfortable enough to show a flaw or present a conflict. It may just be a fatal choice based on insecurity. I tried a bad boy once and let's just say I'm not going to try it again. ^_^ There's a good lady out there for you Ricardo so keep your chin up!
    @Kathy 555815
    I'm sorry that you sensed anger in this letter. It's quite well written. In the movie "Run away bride", it was good that she did run away, but her predicaments were her own fault. She did everything to transform herself into this fantasy girl she knew the guy was looking for. Out of her own insecurity, she would unintentionally deceive these guys to think she was something she wasn't. It took the reporter to stand up to her and make her realize who she really was. I'm sure you are a wonderful person and the right one is out there praying for you as well, but try not to take the article too personally. We all know that there are multiple reasons for job changes that are out of our hands. Especially in today's job market. Good luck with everything!

  5. Scott-407670 August 4, 2010

    Okay…longtime reader of relationship help articles…first time caller.
    I don't sense a bit of anger in this article. If you do, then maybe…and this is me just tossing some crazy ideas out there…just maybe, it hit a nerve. Instead of a knee-jerk comment, think about why it hit a nerve. If, after analyzing your situation, you see it doesn't apply, that it was just a superficial reaction, then let it roll off your back. BUT…and this is just me tossing out some crazy ideas again…BUT, if it hit a nerve because it applies, then maybe you should take action and handle it.
    @Kathy-555815
    I've been a job hopper as well. Sometimes it was simply because I couldn't stand working a dead-end job. Sometimes because I honestly could not find a way to grit my teeth and get along with my exceptionally abrasive coworkers. Sometimes it was because I couldn't find fulfillment in my work. Other times it was because I was no longer needed. That doesn't make you afraid of commitment any more than it does me.
    @Ricardo-541398
    Yes, I do believe romantic comedies have had an impact on relationships. In some cases that impact is positive, in others, negative. It depends on the person, as does everything in life. Perception is reality. Also, if a person cannot distinguish reality (the world most people reside in) from fantasy (Hollywood and various romance novels), then they have a whole different batch of issues that need to be sorted out.
    @EVERYONE
    Just to be fair, a little background on me.
    I'm an Intelligence Analyst and a HUMINT Collector (wikipedia is your friend). Do those jobs for 11+ years and see how you view the world. Despite being acutely aware of my biases, I still have to work at keeping them in check, so as to not discount blindingly obvious things from being discarded because they don't fit my perfect theory. I have the nasty tendency to over-analyze EVERY detail of everyday life…but when I make a decision, it's a decisive one (yes…that is a bit recursive). Hence I'm the guy everyone goes to for advice. Sometimes, though. I cannot distinguish the trees from the forest…and vice versa…but I digress.
    I say all this as a guy who has been in relationships as the commitment-phobe…and the guy dealing with a commitment-phobe. It's not always just you…nor is it always just them. Our experiences define who we are and how we interact with others. Key thing? If it doesn't FEEL right (gotta go with that gut-instinct, which we all know is your conscience [the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit] whispering in your ear that something is amiss), then it…and I'm going out on a limb here…isn't right. Granted, I'm as fallible as the next person, but that doesn't mean common sense should be thrown out the window in favor of a pair of rose-tinted glasses.
    What's the point of all this? Well, it's simple. We are human. We aren't perfect. There is an aspect (one at the minimum) of each of us that needs to change. Prayer, counseling, and just allowing ourselves to be ourselves (and by that, I just mean act naturally)…that is the key to finding the person you were meant to be with.
    For a bit of personal growth, check out "Three Destructive Dating Attitudes." Quite helpful, IMHO.
    Also…if it applies, never be afraid to say, "It's not me…It's you." Never feel guilty for ending a relationship (in the past, I've been guilty of holding onto destructive relationships, simply because I was afraid of her reaction) just because the other person may be hurt. Of course, and this should go without saying, be tactful…and analyze your own shortcomings before automatically shifting blame to the other person.
    Anyway, enough of me pontificating. God bless you all…especially those of you who made it this far. ;-)

  6. Kathy-355103 August 4, 2010

    Scott—I can so relate to what you wrote so beautifully! Good job!

  7. Brian-500401 August 10, 2010

    Hello all. You know how sometimes things just happen by chance and at the right time? Well, this was a perfect time for me to stumble upon this article. Why? It reminds me of how I made a mistake and possible help someone reading my piece avoid making the same mistake. The mistake from the other end: making a commitment simply because they are being perceived as someone who could not make a commitment. Or because they feel they are running out of time or are behind the standard life track.
    Yes, I have been in many relationships with someone wonderful women. I have had some jobs that offered a great career path, while others offered lifetime security (state, gov't). I have lived in some wonderful cities. I ended or walked away from them all and one day found myself alone wondering what to do. You see I had reached my 38th birthday and began to wonder if I would ever find the right job and settle down in the right location with the right partner. Upon looking back, I felt twinges of remorse for not commiting to one or two of those jobs or one or two of those women with whom I would have possibly shared a wonderful life. So, I agreed to myself that the next wonderful woman I met, I would commit myself and hang on no matter what. I met her six years ago. Unfortunately it did not work out, after we both made some very real, life lasting commitments. Believe me, I was commited to the point that it put me in a massive state of depression that took a long time to recover. She is a wonderful person, but had I not been so quick to commit, I would have seen where we had massive differences.
    The one thing that we take for granted, here in the USA, is that times are different that 50 years ago. Bobby Joe married Peggy Sue, who were both from the same town with the same values and can agree upon communication styles and what is acceptable behavior and they would never leave their home town. Simple communication amongst Americans is difficult and taken to be automatically functional, when it is not. With all the moving around and clashing of cultures, we think simply because the person is from the USA that you do not have to worry about values or communication styles. Maybe that is why people from different countries have a better chance at long lasting commitments, because they enter knowing that they will have to respect and adapt to new ways. They will have to address their learned values to see if they work in their new family.
    The other thing to think about is 'timing'. There are valid reasons at different times of one's life to be the wrong time to commit to things (emotional, financial, situational, goals). About four years ago I came to realize why I was having such a hard time staying with a job that dictated my schedule, my activities and came with a boss…..because I am a dealmaker. So, after all those job-tries and all that time, at age 40, I found what best suits what I was created to do…I put business deals together and love it! Now, I don't ever remorse about those jobs I left, because those experiences make me better at what I do today!
    A very good thing that the article mentions is that everyone should get beyond their fear of discovering who they are. Really take the time to listen to yourself and be open to constructive criticism from others. You don't have to agreed with what those criticisms say, but at least you can decide for yourself. In a relationship, you will be delivering things to the other person and it makes it easier if you have awareness of what you deliver. If you don't know, then you are not being fair to yourself or your partner.
    Let's face it, God provided us freedom of choice and there are a LOT of things to choose from, thank you God. Trying to get two people to agreed requires adjustment and give/take from both to make it work. Try to avoid making rash long-term commitments, because peers are labeling you as hard to commit. Things just take longer in our culture, especially for the goal oriented persons. Be who you feel most passionate and spirtitually happy being.

  8. Kathy-355103 August 11, 2010

    Brian–thanks for the great warning!!! Not to go from one extreme (trouble committing)–to committing too fast in a panic to prove we can! We need to look at our fears and deal with them –but also take the time to discern how we are really being called and figure out the right timing! Thanks for sharing.

  9. Danielle-417958 August 11, 2010

    Thank you for the wonderful articles as they have really opened my eyes to what happened to me recently…I was in the beginnings of a possible relationship with a very wonderful young man who happens to have commitment phobia. Just reading these articles helped me to see the bigger picture; I always suspected something was up but never wanted to create false judgements against him.
    The worst part is that I still care for him tremendously. I honestly was falling for him so much that I felt like I was in love with him. For some reason, I still have hope in the back of my mind but I do know as a fact that it wouldn't be smart for me to go back to a relationship with him until he seeks professional help for this issue.
    I pray for him every day!

  10. Divanna-496026 August 14, 2010

    I identify with this article because unfortunally my choices on my past relationships havent been the best. I have had a history of unavailable men, or men that I have to change, or save or make better.
    I also had a failed marriage, my ex and I commited to each other way too fast and we had took longer time to get to know each other we had realized that we were not right for each other.
    I know I am very scared of commitment, and I can tell because two of the men that I have dated that were actually willing, and loving and caring, I just ran away as fast as I could.
    I am praying to God to heal my heart which is very bruised from all the failed attemps of finding love. I give it to God, and I thank Him because now that I know that there is a problem, just by looking at the pattern of the relationships I have had, now that I know I can be aware of my choices, and learn from my mistakes and take a deeper look I why I do the things I do.

  11. Mark-618299 August 22, 2010

    @Scott Sorry to nit-pick but perceptions are NOT reality. They are just perceptions of it and nothing more. We are in a culture war right now and "One Truth" is one of the major points of conflict. "Modern" philosophers will tell you that perception is reality so there are as many variations to reality as there are perceptions therefore there isn't one truth but many. If you don't believe in one truth then it's pretty much impossible for you to be a Christian. Again sorry to nit-pick but I'm in college right now and because it's curriculum is modern my beliefs are assaulted daily and this is definitely one of the main points of conflict. Please, please try to read up on this as it has massive philosophical implications.

  12. Scott-407670 August 22, 2010

    @Mark-618299: No worries. If I had thin skin, I wouldn't be in my current line of work. ;-)
    While I see you’re point, I’m not sure you see mine. In fact, it sounds like you read a little too deeply into what I was trying to convey.
    I’m quite aware of the culture war that is currently in progress. As a Christian, I see, on a daily basis, society tearing down everything good and wholesome, all in the name of “progress.” If it’s related to Christianity, it has no place in today’s world. Separation of Church and State. Religious tolerance (but only if the religion being tolerated ISN'T Christianity). Secularism. Moral relativism. Hedonism (AKA The new parenting style. You know, the one where parents repeatedly tell their children they are special and can do whatever they want, as long as it feels good to them and doesn't hurt anyone else, where children are never disciplined for any wrongdoing, where children are given an inflated sense of entitlement, despite having never done anything productive in their lives, where upon entering the workforce, they seem to expect $20/hour as their starting wage, despite lacking any sort of skills whatsoever. Yeah, that one.).
    I’m also aware of the culture war against Catholicism and the Church. As a Catholic who moved from a very large Catholic community in Michigan, to a town of 10k people…only 300 or so were Catholic…and only about 100 of them attended Mass on any kind of a regular basis, it’s hard not to be aware. I grew up with Jack Chic pamphlets being shoved in my locker, correcting patently false statements about the Church and our beliefs. I attended (for a short time) a relatively liberal public university (though not nearly as liberal as the private college down the street). I’ve been persecuted and ridiculed…all because of my faith. So yes, I’m very aware of the culture war.
    Moving on…
    I absolutely agree with you on the requirement of believing in the "One Truth" to be a Christian. BUT, that’s the problem. I wasn’t talking about many truths vs. the One Truth. I was talking about apples. You’re talking about oranges. Your rebuttal is from a philosophical standpoint. My previous dissertation was neither from a philosophical, nor a theological, standpoint; it was from a psychological standpoint. While I know a bit more about theology than the average bear, I’m certainly no theologian, nor am I a philosopher, so I leave such matters to those more learned than I. But, looking back, perhaps I assumed too much and should have tossed that caveat out there. Hindsight is 20/20.
    With that said, from a theological standpoint (as far as I know, but then again, I’m no theologian), you’re absolutely, positively 100% correct. If a person believes in “many truths” as opposed to the One Truth, then you’re absolutely correct in saying they aren’t Christian.
    (Caveat: Psychological assessment and commentary)
    (In my experience) PERCEPTION IS REALITY. It shapes our actions, responses, and both inter & intrapersonal relationships, as influenced by previous dealings with similar (and dissimilar) situations, and individuals, and here’s the big one—it also impacts our spiritual life, and it does so to a far greater degree than most are willing to recognize or admit.
    Every soldier has heard the old adage, “there’s no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole.” I’ve seen, firsthand, the truth in that statement. I’ve watched atheists find God. I’ve also seen the opposite…I’ve watched Christians lose their faith in God.
    “What’s the point of that anecdote?” you may ask. The point is what we see, what we think we see, what we experience, how we interpret what is said, what is implied, our relationship with God, everything that goes on in our lives, all of it has an impact on who we are. It impacts our physical, emotional, psychological, and most importantly, our spiritual well-being.
    Now, before you get upset by me saying that, understand, this still does NOT mean there are many truths, rather than the One Truth. Being cognizant of the fact you may be (most likely very much are) influenced by a previous event, experience, situation, or encounter, does NOT preclude you from being a Christian.
    [***Warning, avoid this section if easily offended***]
    Side note: (this is just my $0.02) Being a Christian doesn’t preclude you from rational and logical thought. Common sense is an uncommon commodity nowadays. I’ve run into so many Christians who were really nothing more than blind (and quite possibly, brainwashed) fanatics, who can recite scripture on command…but rarely seem to really understand it.
    Call me a lukewarm Christian (and yes, I know that is detestable in the eyes of the Lord), but I’m not going to ever be a rabid, unthinking fanatic. God gave me a brain. He also gave me free will. I have voluntarily chosen to follow his words. I didn’t let someone else make that decision for me, and should I ever have to die for my faith, then I’ll do so. And for those of you who think that I’m being melodramatic, go check LiveLeak for some nice, graphic videos of Christians being beheaded. In my line of work, it’s a distinct possibility.]
    [***End of inflammatory comments***]
    We are the sum of our experiences, both good and bad. We are also a product of our upbringing. Now, we could get into a great debate on “nature vs. nurture,” if we really wanted to. Unfortunately, I don’t. Besides that, “nature vs. nurture” is bunk. Personally, I believe both aspects have a great deal of influence on who a person is.
    [***Warning: Results not typical. Individual results may vary.***]
    Keep in mind, this assessment, just like my previous, is based on MY varied, and sometimes downright odd, experiences, just as your assessment is based on YOUR experiences. Also, it was ME giving MY opinion. You can accept it or not. I won’t lose sleep over it if you don’t. Those suggestions were merely those. If they help, super. If not, *shrugs*. That’s life. I can agree to disagree, if that’s what it takes.

  13. Christina-615534 September 11, 2010

    I do get what Mary Beth is implying on the above matter. Its true and I think men also faces this dillema. Fear of commitment. We have this perfect picture of how we want our spouse to be that when we date, we always think that the pasture is greener on the other side. So when there is a flaw on the current person, we tend to look around again, not giving any interest to the present one or trying to see the present one for who they are and what they can offer instead. We then give “past experiences off bad relationship” or “im not ready yet”.. as excuses.
    Ive been in so many relationship where guys just like the idea of me instead of actually wanting to be with that me. Its so frustrating to hear excuses after excuses like “Im trying to build my career now” or ” I was cheated in the past and I cant get over it”. So what are you doing with me then?.. Its just so hard to wrap my head around that one. I believe that if you like someone and want to be in a relationship, then see it through. There will always be the good and bad in someone.. Hey.. we are only humans right… but dont date the person just because that person seems comfortable right now and seem to be understanding your current needs.
    @Kathy.. In that Julia Robert movie.. I believe she ran from all the previous relationship because she was not being herself. She was what she thought the guy wanted her to be in order to be accepted. In the end when it was time to face reality, and she realised that that was going to be the man she was going to spend the rest of her life with, she couldnt hide anymore because she was not herself. Instead Richard Gere brought out her real self. She was comfortable with the idea that she was marrying a man that knew her for her and not the idea of what they thought she was. Richard on the other hand took that risk of asking her to marry him regardless of whether she was a “run away bride”. He took that step, like a man, not afraid whether she would run out on him (which she did btw).. The thing that I admired in him was the fact that he took that step, without fear, only the thought that he loved her.

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