We’ve all heard about men who are “afraid of commitment.” Self-help books warn women away from these men, saying that these guys will break a girl’s heart. But women are often terrified of commitment, too.
Do you find fault in everyone you date? Do you always think you can do better? Do you avoid relationships altogether because you’ve been hurt in the past? In her new book, Kiss and Run: The Single, Picky, and Indecisive Girl’s Guide to Overcoming Her Fear of Commitment, Elina Furman tackles this issue head-on.
Ladies, are you afraid of commitment? Guys, are you dating a commitment-phobe?
In this column, I write a lot about the challenges and benefits of relationships, so it’s important to explore the reasons why we might be afraid even entering that commitment zone. What should you do if you get bored after a few months of a relationship? How can you address your fears about losing your personal freedom in marriage? And for all the men out there, what can you do if you suspect the woman you are dating is having some cold feet about getting serious? Elina Furman asks us to stop to examine our feelings about commitment, and why sometimes we act in ways that are at cross-purposes with our true life goals.
BustedHalo: In your new book, Kiss and Run, you argue that women are becoming as commitment-phobic as men. I think many women out there know what you are talking about: That conflict of wanting to be with someone, but not at the expense of personal freedom. In my Pure Sex, Pure Love column, I talk a lot about the importance of commitment. How do you define commitment—and what about that is scary to some women?
Elina Furman: Yes, I think women have made very impressive strides in their lives and this book is NOT about telling women they should commit to a man to have a happy life. But I also talk about the redemptive powers of love and not shutting ourselves off to the human experience of being deeply intimate with another person, which often happens since women become so focused on career, friends, social life, etc. There is a very human danger of shutting off our feelings and getting stuck in the phase of only thinking about our own needs, our goals, and our issues. I found that the longer I stayed single, the harder it was for me to relate openly to someone in that I always wanted everything my way and became very rigid about getting my needs met. I also saw this with a lot of women I interviewed, in that they become more inflexible and had a harder time cooperating and sharing with others
Commitment to me is about intimacy, trust, and being able to relate to another human being on a deeply emotional level. And that kind of raw emotional intimacy can be very scary.
BH: As a society, we’re marrying later, staying in school longer and generally acting like kids for more years than our parents and grandparents did. Are we just less mature and that’s why we’re unable to commit?
EF: I think that’s definitely one of the main reasons women are staying single longer. After years of playing the field, going out on the town, and living the carefree single life, it’s very hard to make the decision to commit to someone. Many women see commitment as a milestone that signifies their entry into adulthood, and that can be very scary for women weaned on cocktails and sample sales.
The problem comes in when women have a hard time making the transition from that more fun, self-oriented fun lifestyle to a more “we” centric one that requires compromise and being more giving. For them, it’s very hard to break their youthful “single girl” patterns and commit to a relationship. They find that relationships keeping eluding them, because they are subconsciously afraid of growing up. So I wanted to help them eliminate the idea that commitment signifies the end of fun, excitement, and youthfulness, because it really doesn’t. You can absolutely be committed and still be young at heart.
BH: You interviewed a lot of women for your book. Did you talk to Catholic women, or religiously minded women? My guess would be that there are fewer commitment issues among people of faith. Is that true?
EF: A few women I interviewed were religious and still experienced a fear of commitment. I don’t think having faith is going to eliminate commitment anxiety in someone. But I imagine for some women, it could make them more focused about their goals of starting a family and sticking with a relationship even during the tough times.
(taken from Kiss and Run with permission)
- Once the excitement of first romance has passed, you get bored in most of your relationships.
- You have a long and elaborate list of requirements for your ideal mate.
- You go from one short-lived relationship to the next.
- You often stay in relationships that are rocky or offer little to no hope of commitment.
- You tend to feel smothered in a relationship.
BH: There’s still a lot of pressure to get married, especially for women in their late 20s and early 30s. Well-meaning relatives drop hints, friends ask questions… how do you know if you are afraid of commitment, or just not ready to take such a big life step?
EF: I really think this is one and the same. If you’re not ready for a commitment, you’re not going to meet anyone who you would think of as commitment-worthy. It’s just the way the universe works. Many women aren’t ready to take that big step and that’s absolutely fine. One of the main reasons I wrote this book is to help women embrace their singleness. I wanted to coin the idea of female commitment phobia so it would become as prevalent in our society as the idea of male commitment phobia. That way, if a woman doesn’t want to commit, people won’t look at her like she just landed from planet Mars. I wanted to legitimize the issue so women could just say “I’m commitment phobic for now, and that’s just fine,” because I think it’s so important to have that time when you’re just exploring, having fun, pursuing other goals, and learning about yourself.
BH: In your book, you have some fun quizzes for readers to assess their “commitment-phobias.” I am an “Ambivalent Annie” who occasionally has some commitment issues and is a little worried about losing personal freedom within my relationship. But I’m happily engaged to be married! Can engaged and married folks still have commitment issues?
The Nitpicker: She finds faults with all her dates. She can stay in control this way because she never forms an emotional bond.
The Serial Dater: She jumps from one short relationship to the next. She craves companionship, but bolts at the first sign that something may be getting more serious.
The Tinker Bell: She lives in a fairy-tale world and gets involved with emotionally unavailable men. And then she never has to make a commitment herself.
The Free Spirit: She has difficulty laying down roots and finds it nearly impossible to commit to a lifetime relationship.
The Damsel in Distress: She has been hurt and has difficulty trusting. She’s stopped dating altogether.
The Player: So many men, so little time.
The Long-Distance Runner: She has long-term relationships that never go anywhere. She likes the benefits of the relationship, but doesn’t want the commitment and serious stuff that comes with it.
EF: Congrats! And join the club. I have commitment anxiety almost every day during my engagement. It is so normal to feel scared and anxious about taking this big step. If you didn’t feel a bit anxious, then there would be something wrong with you. It’s important to recognize that the anxiety doesn’t necessarily have to do with your partner, but more of a fear of change; the fear of stepping into a new life phase and a new identity.
And yes, married people can absolutely be commitment phobic. The need for variety, stimulation, and desire for freedom is what ultimately leads to infidelity. In one of my interviews, I talked to a man whose wife left him four times during the marriage for no apparent reason. She always came back, but she had some serious issues that prevented her from fully committing to the relationship.
BH: You are engaged to be married—and a self-professed commitment-phobe. How did that happen?
EF: When people ask me “how did you get over your fear of commitment?” I simply say, ” I didn’t.” I think once a commitment phobe, always a commitment phobe. Basically, I just learned to be aware of my anxiety so when it creeps up I can manage it better and recognize it for what it is. Also, I grew up with all these preconceived notions of what I wanted in a partner. As I matured, I realize that what I thought I wanted wasn’t necessarily what I needed from a partner.
BH: What should men look for if they are worried that the woman they are dating is a commitment-phobe? Any advice to those guys?
EF: Yes, don’t ignore the signs. One of the main indicators is relationship patterns. If she’s had a hard time maintaining relationships in the past, then it’s a clear pattern that she may be anxious about the idea of commitment. Another sign is blowing “hot” and “cold” in the relationship. If one day she is thrilled and over the top in love with you and the next day she can’t stand the sight of you, that may be an indicator of relationship ambivalence. Also, instead of just focusing on her personality, think about her lifestyle. Is she always moving? Does she have a hard time staying in one city? Does her job require her to change her routine or travel a lot? If she has a lifestyle that’s erratic and full of variety, that may be a sign that she needs a lot more freedom than other women.