Smart Dating


Wow – we definitely hit a nerve last month with the discussion about how to recognize a commitment-phobic relationship. Apparently there are more than a few George (or Georgia) Constanzas out there, and you’re all looking for information on how to deal with them.

You all seemed to particularly resonate with the bewilderment of dating someone who behaves like an ardent suitor one minute, and a reluctant victim the next. And you want specific advice on how to handle it, how to “protect yourselves” so that you don’t wind up getting your hearts broken by someone who pursues and then suddenly runs.

At first I was reluctant to spend a month’s column addressing that, because this “fear of commitment” series has been running for several months already. But then two thoughts changed my mind. First, it’s clear to me by the response I’m receiving that singles are very interested in this topic. And second, I realized that the steps to protecting oneself from a commitment-phobic partner are really just the same “smart” rules everyone should follow in the beginning of a relationship.

The first rule, in the beginning of a new relationship, is to keep your fantasies under control. I’m not just talking about those fantasies, which I hope it goes without saying should be avoided. I’m also talking about the fantasies where he’s on your arm at the family Christmas party, or she impresses everybody at your high school reunion. I know it’s tempting – you meet somebody new, you’re excited about it, and it’s hard not to think about all of the ways that this wonderful new relationship could improve your life. But if it doesn’t work out and you’re alone at the parties anyway, only now you’re comparing it all to the fantasy experience you expected, you’re not going to be happy. Incorporating someone you barely know (which means, by definition, your fantasy of who that person is) into your image of your perfect future is a sure-fire route to disappointment.

Second, don’t be won over too easily. You probably have an image in your mind of how your “perfect” person acts or what he or she does. When you see it playing out in real life, you might have that “eureka” moment just a little prematurely. Just because she’s doing all of the right things or he’s spending lots of money on you, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re with “the one.” People who enjoy the challenge of winning someone over have generally had quite a bit of practice, so they’re often very good at it.

Speaking of which, you’ll want to watch your own tendencies at “winning over.” When you’re in a new relationship, don’t focus all of your energies on trying to be the “perfect” person for him or her. Your goal is to figure out if the two of you are compatible, remember? That means you have to be seeing each other as you really are. And if you’re putting yourself through all kind of contortions to be what you think he or she wants, where is the real you? Of course you want to put your best foot forward, but don’t do anything that you can’t sustain in the long run. Anything else and you’ll be the one guilty of “bait and switch.”

For many singles, the excitement of a new relationship makes them want to drop everything and pour every ounce of their time and energy into their new beloved. They stop calling their friends, they cancel plans, they start to cut corners at work. This is a mistake. You need to have a life – a real life – outside of him or her. You should protect it.

Because, if you do wind up dating someone with commitment issues, you’re gonna need that life when the great turn-around happens.

What do you do when someone who had been so crazy about you suddenly makes a 180 degree turn? What do you do when, with no warning, the enthusiasm is gone? It feels, as Dave Barry once described it, as if he starts to de-materialize before your eyes, and within a few minutes you could stick a tire iron right through him.

And everything your instincts tell you to do is wrong.

When he retreats, you want to advance. You want to go running after him and find out what’s wrong. You want to do something big and romantic to sweep her off her feet and recapture the magic. You want to believe the excuses about being busy or tired or sick. And yet, all of that is counterproductive. It doesn’t make the fleeing party want to come back. And it doesn’t respect you.

Here’s the thing: backing off with no explanation isn’t very nice. Cancelling plans isn’t very respectful of you or your time. Breaking promises is unacceptable behavior, particularly in a dating relationship. But when you’re in the midst of Sudden-Turnaround Confusion Syndrome, you don’t want to rock the boat, You’re afraid of losing the relationship, and making a scene over his or her transgressions feels too risky. You’re in fear, so you deny. You accept his excuses. You make up excuses for her.

This is not a good plan.

Your purpose of dating is supposed to be to determine if you’re compatible with this person, not to hang on to him or her at all costs. I don’t know about you, but I like to consider myself incompatible with someone who treats me poorly. Tolerating bad or disrespectful behavior isn’t respecting yourself or the relationship.

If you’re dating someone who is suddenly backing off, there is a reason. The appropriate response isn’t to chase after him to find out what it is. You need to withdraw as well, to assess the situation and figure out where to go next. That’s where that whole “having a life” thing comes in handy. If you ditched everyone else for him, and now he is ditching you – well, I guess that leaves you alone in that ditch you dug.

Keep telling yourself: the goal isn’t to “get” or “keep” him. The goal is to act in the truth. If the truth is that he’s withdrawing, then that’s the truth you need to deal with. Fear won’t help you. Neither will denial.

The truth will set you free. Literally, in this case.



  1. Angelo-106748 September 24, 2010 Reply

    Thank you for this. I just went through a two month ordeal with a commitment phobe who treated me just like this, and of course I did all the wrong things. I wish I had read this when it first came out. It would have saved me a ton of heartache. Keep up the good fight Ms. Bonacci. There is great truth in your words.

  2. John-260388 September 1, 2010 Reply

    Sounds like LOTS of people want Mary Beth to give some more specific advice on what to do when someone withdraws or conversely when they speed too fast. Sorry, I'm an engineer, so I tend to want things precise. I will take a wild guess and assume she means: If they go from say 3 calls a week to 0 calls a week, then YOU shouldn't go to 7 calls a week to force them to "come back to normal", but you also shouldn't go to 0 calls a week yourself, but instead dial back to 1 call a week and then 1 every other week. But regardless, after an initial couple of weeks, IMO the other person owes you some sense of how often is comfortable for them at that moment (or to just break it off if it is 0), rather than constantly making you guess. They may not know exactly what they want, but they need to help you be part of the solution and not part of the problem.

  3. Heather-609943 September 1, 2010 Reply

    Wow thanks so much mary! i just had that exact situation happen, i thought i'd met prince charming, then out of the blue this happened. this was just what i needed to read. thanks again!

  4. Barry-620775 August 31, 2010 Reply

    Sounds good what you have said but and there is a but. The person who has stopped may have a very good reason for it. What if, Your a lady and you find a man who gives of himself to you. Then one day he stops and you don't find out why, the reason. This man stopped as he is suffering with Post Traumatic Stress DIsorder, which will follow him for life. All he may need is a lady to believe in him, give him support, and allow time for him to regain himself. The mans heart is for you, only thing that really stopped every thing was this bad advice on here.
    Yes there are those who hunt others as you describe but what of the real person who is in real pain. Or a lady who has just lost a very loved relative and is tryiing to find herself . There are reasons for actions that people may take find out why frist. Think before you act about the injuried man who may only need a little time. To much book learning has happened here and not enough life to refer to. This is BAD advice to follow for anyone. Degrees do not make you right, especially when no life experience is used in the thinking process.

  5. Paul-599210 August 30, 2010 Reply

    Thanks, Mary Beth. One of the hard things in relating with dates is that they sometimes show you who you are, and guess what? You don't always smell like a rose, yourself! Sometimes, withdrawing is the result of not liking what you see in yourself. And, that is exactly what dating is about: being yourself. It's not easy, and good relationships do require work. Don't expect to fall into the Bing! We click! O.k., wedding bells, next! thing. It is better to LEARN to dance, together, than to actually be good dancers, who put on a nice show. My impression is that too many people on this site are not interested in learning but are more concerned with being able to put on a good show. Ouch! I, Paul, did say that. Concerning John, below: please don't blow Ms. Bonacci's comment out of proportion. She didn't say to, "Toss the relationship into the toilet." She is essentially saying, you cannot control other people's actions. If they back off, let them be so they can find their own motivations and reasons of the heart. There is no "math" to get, here. This is about relationship, that is, dealing with people, who have free wills.

  6. John-260388 August 25, 2010 Reply

    That is a good idea about not falling for the fantasy, but for the rest, I'm just not getting the math here. Mary says "backing off with no explanation isn’t very nice", so when they do this you should…back off yourself with no explanation? Two wrongs don't make a right. She says "assess the situation, figure out where to go next, act in the truth", but the only truth you know for certain is that they are withdrawing for unknown reasons, so your response should be…Toss the relationship in the toilet without so much as a phone call and spend more time at work or with your friends? Doesn't sound like evidence-based decision making. If this were a court, you would have pure circumstantial hearsay, no evidence at all. So do you break-up and start dating others right away? Or get stuck in a holding pattern forever moping with your friends? Usually, the the longer you do nothing, the longer they do nothing, until they think you "got the hint" while you really got nothin' but the Blues.

  7. Liza-471353 August 19, 2010 Reply

    I think there is great wisdom in Mary Beth's article as well as the comments made regarding the article. One being that we are all in different stages of the dating world, any information is helpful this day and time when the so-called rules are so skewed. My recent found wisdom in dating is to make an effort in meeting other singles, enjoy each experience for what it is, learn what I can and continue to move forward with my main focus on God and pleasing Him. All else will fall into place, be I alone or with a new found love. Ultimately, we are all the bride of Christ.

  8. Salvador-551798 August 18, 2010 Reply

    The only valid question that most Catholics are not considering is -"What does Holy Mother Church say about beginning a relationship?" I would also emphasize that "dating" is really not the way Holy Mother Church would encourage us to begin a relationship. In fact, "courtship" is actually the best way to enter into a relationship with a future spouse according to Holy Mother Church. I would also add that this is not my opinion because my opinions do not count when it pertains to Holy Mother Church's teachings. If you are interested in knowing what "courting" is, I would suggest you go to and you will find rich information on specific topics given by good priests in their sermons. These good priests know the faith very well and transmit the true faith with clarity. You may also research what Christian Courtship is as well if you google it. +JMJ+ Thanks for reading.

  9. David-490169 August 15, 2010 Reply

    I'm definitely not a relationship expert, nor am I a psychologist, but I would venture to guess that not everyone who turns and runs from a relationship is "commitment-phobic," as this author put it in her previous article (and referenced in this one). I would say some of these folks were on the rebound from a previous relationship that ended, or perhaps they are just lonely (also possibly because of a previous relationship that ended). I'm sure we've all been on both sides of that fence. We (or they) get overly excited, and we project our wants and needs onto someone else. Then, when we find out they could never possibly fulfill all of those things, we retreat and then discover what we 'really' want. I think the only way to avoid this is to take the time to get to know someone. That's where I agree with this author. But I definitely disagree about labeling people "commitment-phobic." Let's be careful there. 😉

  10. Fran-612107 August 13, 2010 Reply

    oh…you are good. I feel like a wall has been lifted, and that my eyes are more open than before. I knew what to do, but now I see I HAD to let it all go. I am worth more than being told of how I need to be doing things with my life. I am an adult, and those who don't see my views, or respect them need to move on, and I need to let go of what they said. Thanks for the wonderful read, and eye re-opener!

  11. MaryJane-611490 August 9, 2010 Reply

    I love this article…. It's an eye- opener to everyone. I have to admit, I always meet people like this. Initially, they seems to be very interested then after a while they suddenly slowed down or stopped. As much as possible, I don't want to say negative things about other people since we are Catholics. If you are not interested then just ignore. This is what I do. But I'd rather ignore and hurt someone's feelings than pretend I am interested since the truth I am not. That hurts more. I appreciate men who ignore my emotigrams or emails which only shows they're just being honest rather than men who shows interest then just left you in the air. Whew! I guess we should be mature enough and remember, this is a Catholic site.

  12. Claire-537906 August 6, 2010 Reply

    Mary Beth, Your article is right on. I am an older woman, who fell for this tactic hook, line, and sinker. What a lesson I learned. "People who enjoy the challenge of winning people over have had a lot of practce" you stated. How absolutely right you are. Your advice is well taken. I wish I had the sense God gave me to have used my head for something other than a coat rack at the time. It took me over a year to recover from a broken heart. Thank you for your great article

  13. Peter-44842 August 4, 2010 Reply

    This restates common sense. Go slow. And wild ambivalence is the cue for Adios.

  14. Arthur-597004 August 3, 2010 Reply

    That is great Beth. The truth will set me free. Then I am free to be alone. Got it. I am paying money to be on this website and I go to church and make the effort to meet people, and guess what? Nothing. I will just keep going to church and eventually live my life alone at this point. Thanks for the advice Beth, but I could have read that advice anywhere. No offense.

  15. Jessica-574410 July 31, 2010 Reply

    Thank you very much, Beth. You have a wonderful way of writing that makes it easier to accept coming from you than friends or relatives. You really put things in perspective and I'm going to take your advice to heart ^_^ the next time around. Thanks again!

  16. Melinda-536794 July 29, 2010 Reply

    I wish I had known this last year. Well at least I wised up pretty quick and left. You're so right about being incompatible with someone who breaks plans and suddenly acts totally different than he had for the months prior. Thank you for this!

  17. Stephanie-588215 July 27, 2010 Reply

    Very good advice.

  18. Diana-563505 July 27, 2010 Reply

    Geez, if ONLY I read this article when I was with my ex a few years ago! I, of course, followed every instinct I had… This exact thing happened to me and I was so overcome with emotion and doubt and millions of other things I just made the whole thing worse! The thing I couldnt get through my head is if we have so much in common and SO COMPLETELY Maddly In Love with each other, I mean I was like imagining our wedding in my head! We were together 5 yrs so it was probably normal to be that close to each other but when he decided to "meet other people"… I really found it unbearable to not see him again so we agreed to just become "friends". The whole fantasy thing you said in the article makes sense now!

  19. Maureen-609293 July 26, 2010 Reply

    Well said!

  20. Betsie-593846 July 21, 2010 Reply

    Compatibility indeed! I tend to forget that the fantasy is what it is, a fantasy! I will do my best to remember to keep my "having a life" life and if it works out great and if not, well then he is not the one.

  21. Annmarie-99121 July 14, 2010 Reply

    II agree with that statement i was dating a guy he would consistently cancing our dates and he only dated me because he was lonely and desperate. It wasn't very nice to string me along to think it was a possible good relationship with him.

  22. Barbara-561194 July 13, 2010 Reply

    This is what I needed to read. This article explains a lot of what has happened just a few days ago. Very enlightening, excellent advise, and why we need not to 'rush' anything in our lives, especially when getting back to dating. Thanks for the help.

  23. Daniel-576800 July 13, 2010 Reply

    Thank you for the article. Although it appears to be written for 'after the fact' preparation, personally I would like to know how to spot those type of 'hit and run' daters before the pain and rejection. After all, if an insincere or insecure or whatever type of person can be identified up front, then I wont waste my time and avoid the heartbreak too.

  24. Geovanny-551796 July 13, 2010 Reply

    Nice articule I would have appreciated some details in some areas to make things a bit more detail as in the past articles. For example: Time spent by yourself would have been nice to give example trimming down to 80% versus 100% you use to do. Or timeframe from friends cutting back or doing a 2 times month with them versus a weekly thing with them. But its a good starting point.

  25. Cynthia-533799 July 10, 2010 Reply

    I totally agree! Thanks for the support.

  26. Rena-549403 July 9, 2010 Reply

    I wish I would have read this article sooner. This just happened to me. I met him on Catholic match so of course I thought he was the perfect person for me. It didn't take long to find out the man he really is. I was so hurt by his excuses and actions. Thanks for the excellent advise.

  27. Ezrah-444665 July 9, 2010 Reply

    Thank You =)!

  28. Geoffrey-234506 July 8, 2010 Reply

    Excellent advice.

  29. Catherine-585117 July 8, 2010 Reply

    Thank You, Mary Beth! Your wisdom is appreciated. I think we all too often think that some 'one' is going to make us happy. No person can ever fill all our expectations all the time. That is the 'longing' that God places in our heart for Himself. Love expressed one to another is only a reflection of the great love God calls us to. You must be at peace with your 'self' before you can find peace with someone else.

  30. Iliana-205004 July 8, 2010 Reply

    I loved this article. It really hit home. I think that many people are just hoping the right person is the one described by you and the fairy tale ending is happening. Good to keep an open mind and not run into anything. Thanks again!!

  31. Kristen-205166 July 8, 2010 Reply

    Great article! I think a lot of us know these things deep down, but it's good to be reminded of them. I especially liked when you wrote, "you need to have a life – a real life – outside of him or her. You should protect it." So true!

  32. Ivone-508408 July 6, 2010 Reply

    gee…..thanks for the enlightenment. I like this article and it seems to be explaining me a lot.

  33. Kimberley-517975 July 6, 2010 Reply

    Agree completely. Thanks.

  34. Gabriela-421689 July 6, 2010 Reply

    made perfect sense!!!! thank you!!!! helped a lot!!

  35. Dawn-562321 July 4, 2010 Reply

    Wow, this is wonderful advice. It does make sense!

  36. Lisa-557203 July 4, 2010 Reply

    What a wonderful article! Such great advice. Thank you

  37. Erin-569370 July 3, 2010 Reply

    I like the advice about not dropping every aspect of your life for a new relationship. That is good advice in all dating situations. I have definitely been guilty of that one.

  38. Kathy-355103 July 2, 2010 Reply

    This is SO true and great advice… If what you are doing is working for you—then I guess just continue doing that. But if it's NOT—-maybe it's time to take some good advice like this!!!

  39. Jim-397948 July 2, 2010 Reply

    How about going to Saturday 5PM MASS before you go out on a dinner date???

  40. Iris-571529 July 2, 2010 Reply

    As a read your article, i can find a lot of true on it. It is a reality, that we should evaluate the other person to see if we are compatible, before we get to excited for the new relationship, we need to use brain and heart at the same. I really think that your article is going to help some of us, to get a real relationship.

  41. Robert-3483 July 1, 2010 Reply

    Carlos, the problem is fairly large in catholic circles, although charity is required. This article is less like Immanuel Kant and more towards what St. Francis de Sales, the Gentleman Saint and Church Doctor would say. I just think that St. Francis de Sales writes it better in "Introduction to the Devout Life", who is also the patron saint of writers. 🙂 For the confused, please hunt for bishop approved remarks about catholic courtship and friendship. These are more Christian in nature than some of the more secular popular media notions of how dating and marriage is supposed to go (aka the culture of death). In a false romanticism, nothing else matters outside of two individuals, and there is very little concern for the communion of saints as a whole.

  42. Barb-251167 July 1, 2010 Reply

    Mary Beth, you have nailed the deeper value in forging a primary relationship. Each person in the relationship must value themselves first and look for the person who will help them be their best self. Although there is an ebb and flow to individual relationships, pursuing a partner in panic doesn't work on any level.

  43. Carlos-167015 July 1, 2010 Reply

    wow can't believe the arrogance of this lady. As if her articles were top notch. And no no nerve hitting. Its just sad to be so narrow minded. I think someone is bitter over past experiences huh? I wish you well Ms. Bonacci I really do but please dont come around programming people on how to act. Let them think please!

Post a comment