Beware The Commitment-Phobe


Beware commitment phobes

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 articles 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!”

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.

Don’t Rush. 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.

Beware Future Talk. Also beware of “future talk” early on. If, on the second date, she’s making plans six months into the future, you may find it encouraging or endearing. But six months down the road when she 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.

Guard Your Heart. 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.

Let Him Go. 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.



  1. Ryan-1191814 December 1, 2015 Reply

    Commitment phobes are also notorious at not examining themselves and accepting what they’ve done wrong. The: “It’s not me, it’s you,” mentality. They also wonder till the day they die: “why am i so alone?”. A sad life.

    • Ryan-1191814 December 1, 2015 Reply

      Okay, maybe not what they’v done wrong, but their own problems. They almost never say: “Okay, maybe it is me, let me work on this.”

      No, just like Mary Beth aptly put forth: No they just want out.

      Sad indeed

    • Kate-1270301 December 2, 2015 Reply

      I am far too familiar with this phenomenon, in part because I tend to have the opposite mentality, “something is wrong, it must be me!” This is very attractive to those who are “never wrong.”

    • John-1255524 December 2, 2015 Reply

      This article is geared towards male commitment phobes, however many “commitment phobes” are actually females! Women get inundated with messages on dating sites, which makes them feel like they have endless options.

      In any case, I 100% agree with Ryan. The sad thing is commitment phobes have no insight. It’s a lonely life for them in the end, but whats worse… they end up hurting a lot of good Catholics along the way.

      Advice for commitment phobes (taken from a prior podcast):
      “The first thing you need to do is look at yourself, to try to be the right person for someone else.” You should look at yourself first and discover barriers that may be holding you back from meeting your future spouse. For example, are you afraid of commitment, do you have any bad habits, are you insecure and just seek attention from the opposite sex, are you addicted to dating rather than truly searching for a future spouse.

      “If we can look at ourselves honestly to see if we are in sync with the will of God, becoming the person He has called us to be is not only possible, but the best chance to be the person of ‘somebody’s dreams’”

      “There is a natural progression where you have to take that risk and let the other person in. There is no set way that that goes. Every relationship is different. You have to trust and bring it to prayer. … As the relationship grows there are several leaps you need to take and the final leap is marriage.”

  2. Pat-5351 December 1, 2015 Reply

    Great article, Mary Beth!

  3. Edward-1052176 December 1, 2015 Reply

    As always, many great articles on this site.

  4. Alma-953915 December 2, 2015 Reply

    Great article! Will definitely keep this in mind while dating.

  5. Michael-85720 December 2, 2015 Reply

    Although I vividly recall that great psychological study of the George-Susan pair, and applaud the valid points in the article, I don’t like the term “commitment-phobes.” There’s other aspects and deeper reasons. And there are also some whom we deemed “phobes” but – whoa! – weren’t.

    I feel bad for those who are missing in a particular psychological grounding. There are those who touch base but avoid – like someone dipping their toe in the lake water but are afraid to go in. They’re unaware that they are holding back even as they embark on a relationship. Like in the parable of the Sower and the seeds – ones who had no root and withered away.

    There are also those who are too good for the other, and will never be able to be covenant-bound. The other isn’t handsome or pretty enough, adept enough, articulate enough, – the list is endless. These folks are already the old bachelor and old maid.

    A simple intuited clash in compatibility. There are the ones who are afraid that the other – and they have intuited correctly – will be not enough in some important regard – they might be unsupportive or just not very loving – they may be the type who won’t grow so as to do something extraordinary in life together.

    The good person but insecure one (and may have valid reason to be so), who comes from a dysfunctional family and is afraid that s/he’ll be rejected. This happens, in my estimation, moreso when a woman is considering a man – she’ll take a good hard look at how he gets along with and loves his family members; women have a strong desire to fit in with his family; they judge the man to be more worthy on the degree he gets along happily with his family.

    There are some who never learn that there’s something about themselves that needs adjustment. They are unwittingly proud. They are quick to judge or project. They don’t read self-help books, or read something like “The Art of Conversation,” or catch on when someone gives them a hint, or heed advice or learn their lesson from the last failure. They’ll stick to being very sure that it’s the other who posses the shortcoming.

    There are some who think they’re pretty pure when actually they may be scrupulous (different than a decent person who makes gentle corrective comments here and there) (rule-book scrupulosity is a real turn-off) – and they can’t commit because it’s the OTHER who isn’t trying harder to be perfect as they are.

    I know people who are just too set in their ways and are too “intelligent” for their own good – they can’t stand “dealing with” the opposite sex and all the arguments – they are supercilious, stubborn, self-absorbed or too intense in general – too much difficulty, so not worth all the trouble. They’ll never commit, and may seek to enter a monastery.

    Then there are those who we thought were totally averse to commitment, and had a long string of relationships that didn’t work out, but lo and behold, when a patient virtuous person showed great love, intercessory prayer and perseverance, that person experienced healing, broke through, and became a great faithful and committed spouse.

    • Therese-930323 December 3, 2015 Reply

      Thank you! I think this added great insight into the discussion!

  6. Pat-5351 December 2, 2015 Reply

    I think Michael added a lot of good elements to this discussion!

  7. Bill-816836 December 4, 2015 Reply

    great post Mike,
    you added a lot to the article.

  8. Letty-849746 December 7, 2015 Reply

    Great reminder!Indeed easier said than done…. prayer is always a great stronghold…. Thanks for posting! God bless everyone!


  9. Anna-1271542 December 17, 2015 Reply

    Wow… On Point.

  10. Duanna-1043458 December 17, 2015 Reply

    What you have described is more on the lines of the Socio-path, rather than the “commitment phobe.” This article is a bit insensitive, so if you have been through a break recently, you should not read this article with the “just get over it and move on” attitude. The commitment phobe is the one who is afraid to get close and intimate due to past pains caused by past break ups. The sociopath is the one who needs to win, never can admit to wrong, gets close very quickly, usually puts down the exact thing he “fell in love with” because he cannot live up to it and then may become abusive. This person usually wants to get married quickly especially if he feels the woman is a “push over” someone who will take care of his needs while he goes out and cheats, drinks, etc. With years of experience and counseling after divorcing and getting an annulment I know the difference now. The priest and psychologist during my annulment process also explained a lot to me! So use your brains first, heart second.

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