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Fear of commitment, the hopeless lure of the impossible relationship
'Fear of commitment' is a well-known phrase. We hear it in the media, as well as use it to describe ourselves or other people who seem chronically unable to decide whether to commit properly to a relationship.
Sometimes such people are tagged 'commitment phobes' (1). They fear being 'trapped' and losing, as they see it, their freedom. Fear of commitment might range from a little uncertainty about your relationship to an absolute terror of 'settling down'.
At the heart of all fear is the dread that something might be lost. So someone who has trouble committing may fear losing options. But every decision we make in life, by definition, means losing other options. No matter what you do, there is always another kind of life you could have lived. Commitment phobes fear making the 'wrong decision'.
There's something else. People who fear committing to a relationship will often have difficulty committing to other decisions, too. They may have trouble deciding on careers, where to travel on vacation, or even what to eat in a restaurant. So often, a strong relationship pattern will be echoed in other parts of a person's life. So what does someone who seems desperately fearful of commitment really want?
The irony is that fear of commitment may mask a desperate desire for the intimacy and security that comes from a healthy long-term relationship. Sometimes we most fear what we most need - in case it doesn't 'work out'.
It may be that, deep down, the person fears being rejected themselves or feels that the consequences of a future relationship breakdown will be all the worse the more time they invest in that relationship. Maybe they have experienced feeling trapped in a relationship before or perhaps they have a history of painful breakups, of hurting and being hurt. Or they may have witnessed the rocky relationships of parents and have the 'blueprint' that 'no relationship ever works out'. But any fear will have consequences if prolonged and intense enough - and that's a problem.
There are dangers involved with not committing, which include the possibility of a lonely life and the throwing away of perfectly good relationships, as the baby gets thrown out with the proverbial bathwater.
Fear of commitment can have devastating emotional consequences, both for the commitment phobe and the people with whom they get involved.
It's a myth that people with a chronic fear of settling down always run from relationships. Sometimes I suspect they also pursue 'unattainable people' or get involved with people they know, deep down, are unsuitable for them. The seeds of the convenient end to the relationship are in its very beginning.
These relationship strategies, just as much as running from good relationships, may be a way of avoiding lasting commitment.
So, do you think you have a fear of relationship commitment? Remember, it's important to know that doubts now and then are natural and we can all wonder whether we are doing the right thing sometimes. A real fear of commitment tends to become obvious when we take a long, hard look at our relationship history.