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!!