Remember Albert (George Segal) and Mollie (Kirstie Alley) in Look Who’s Talking ? When Albert says, “I’m going through a selfish phase..” Do you know someone like that?
There are many, many reasons why relationships break down. The focus here is on why men can often seem unable to commit to a relationship, why they procrastinate in being honest, often way past the point the woman has emotionally committed, taking him at his word. Many of these behaviours are non-verbal. Look beyond any reasonable levels of anxiety. It goes without saying women can behave in similar fashion, but even as a man, I recognize this phobia is particularly prone in men..
Commitment phobic men may be identified by SOME or ALL of the following behaviours:
They often have a history of short-term relationships and there is often an excuse that they haven’t met the right woman, or they justify their history by saying they still have plenty of time to settle down. If they have been married it is likely to have been for a short time.
They want a relationship but they also protect their freedom and space, so whether they recognize this or not, they are often attracted to long distance, or on-line relationships, and/or busy independent women. They are quick to move in on a woman they are attracted to, and they pursue ardently until they win the woman over.
They are very charming. They say and do all the right things and they can be very romantic. They are good salesmen in order to get their own needs met, but in reality they often have little concern for the woman’s feelings, as they tend to operate from a hidden agenda.
These men are usually very affectionate and loving. This is because in their mind the relationship is not going to be long term, so they feel free to give affection and love, knowing it won’t be forever. It isn’t long though before they suddenly begin to distance themselves, possibly by not contacting or not wanting to see her for days, or not including her in weekend arrangements, for example. This is because they subtly want to give the woman the message that they don’t want a long-term committed relationship, in short, the classic ‘cold feet’..
Severe commitment phobics play the ‘‘I want you/ I don’t want you’’ game. They can’t make the decision to give totally to the relationship, but they can’t commit to walk away either. They feel trapped by both choices. They feel they love the woman when they don’t see her, but they run away when they become involved again.
Commitment phobics love the chase but they don’t want the ‘kill’. This may happen after one night, one week, one month, or one year, but rarely longer. They may start sabotaging just as they are about to get engaged, or just before or after there’s a big decision to be made, such as a move or career change to facilitate the partnership.
They spin stories to justify their contradictory behaviour, and when the woman threatens to leave the relationship they may make promises to change.
Commitment phobics behaviours announce subtly…“You will be special for a short time, but it won’t be forever”. They don’t like to be viewed as a liar or a cheat, and in fairness, it is more complicated than that.
They can choose to pursue women who are not the type of partner they are looking for, for example they may be much older, much younger, have a child, or they may have different interests. They use these differences as excuses to end the relationship.
They can have a history of frequent career changes and often work in environments where they have space and freedom.
Severe commitment phobics avoid events or outings that may include the woman’s family or friends.
They like to feel in control and create time frames that suit them, often leaving the woman feeling like a puppet on a string.
They tend to compartmentalize their life and keep their work environment, friends or family off limits. They can create wonderful excuses why the woman shouldn’t meet these people. Could it be they haven’t told them of her existence? These fantasy men can be compared with James Thurber’s character Walter Mitty.
When they get the feeling they need to run, their words and actions are full of mixed messages. They play mind games.
They can be moody or aloof and blame the woman for why they are acting so bizarrely.
They can have a history of unavailability and inaccessibility .They can be hard to contact, and they are often unpredictable when it comes to returning phone calls. They can even avoid answering calls completely ( Although so can I).
Their living arrangements may be rather off-beat. They may have an apartment but they may rarely stay there, preferring to stay at friends places, with parents or ex-girlfriend’s.
Severe commitment phobics may have very little furniture, not own property or a car, as these represent commitment as well. To some buying a car can be as big a decision as deciding to get married – it can be all too much for them as they don’t want to feel stuck with anything or the hassle of maintaining it.
They often don’t invite women to their home because of their peculiar living arrangements, but they have no desire to change their situation. Even if their home is comfortable it exudes the feeling that they want to be alone.
They are often unreliable, or late and sometimes they don’t turn up at all. They are like this with family and friends as well, although this may not be the case in their working environment.
The word “forever” terrifies these men. Love doesn’t scare them; rather it is what love represents to them that scares them. This is due to their negative belief system about love and relationships.
They usually end up behaving worse and worse, and they sabotage more and more because they want the woman to end the relationship as they feel too anxious and guilty to do so.
They invariably try to make up- one night, one week, one month, or one year, but rarely longer. By then they are likely saying the same things to someone else.
How do you handle a commitment phobic?
Don’t rush into relationships with these types of men, especially the ones who are very charming and pursue ardently, as they are the ones to be most wary of.
Put another way, take your time. Listen carefully to a man’s history and consider leaving him as soon as you recognize the behaviours before you get involved and hurt.
If he tends to exclude you from other areas of his life the writing is on the wall – Beware!
If you get involved before seeing the behaviours, set the pace with this man. Don’t allow him to set the pace.
Realize your love and attention won’t change him but not needing him and giving him space might (that is if he isn’t a severe case!)
Actions speak louder than words. Believe what he does, not what he says.
Criticize the behaviour, don’t write off the person.
Don’t expect a close committed relationship – be prepared to take the relationship for what it is. These types of men are best treated as friends rather than potential partners. Don’t rely on having a relationship with them. If you do you will never feel emotionally safe or satisfied. You will be left confused, bewildered, angry and hurt.
Don’t find excuses for his behaviour.
Evaluate whether he wants to change and whether he is capable of changing – some men will fall into this category but most won’t. Also evaluate how patient you are.
Don’t think it was your fault when a commitment phobic relationship ends but learn from it. Make sure you don’t get involved with one of these types of men again. Watch carefully for the behaviours.
Take care of yourself first as there is a high chance this man won’t be there for you when you really need him, despite his sweet words when he is in the mood.
If you are in pain from a commitment phobic relationship you may need some coaching to heal and move forward.
What does a commitment phobic have to do to change?
He has to admit he has a problem.
He has to take responsibility for his behaviours toward women – that he leads them on and however he sees his intentions, he has to acknowledge his behaviour is uncaring and cruel.
He has to want to change, to be prepared to seek help.
He needs some time out from relationships to reflect on his thinking patterns and behaviours.
He must develop his emotional and spiritual intelligence and become more aware. Personal and spiritual development raises awareness and along with a trained conscience will prevent us from sabotaging relationships.
If he doesn’t want to change his behaviours he has to be honest and upfront to women when he first meets them. He must tell them he does not want a committed relationship – that he is only interested in a casual friendship with space and freedom, and not to expect any more. Then it is up to the woman to decide whether she wishes to spend her time with him on those terms. Many will not.
Reference: Men Who Can’t Love: How to Recognize a Commitmentphobic Man before He Breaks Your Heart (2003) by Steven Carter and Julia Sokol
With thanks also to Jane Roder How to spot a commitment phobic
Read James Thurber’s classic short story The Secret Life of Walter Mitty here