A Guy’s Take: Men Who Are “Commitment-phobes” post image

A Guy’s Take: Men Who Are “Commitment-phobes”


I’ve had a few discussions with women about “commitment-phobic men” recently.  That is, men who have a “fear of commitment” when it comes to relationships.

The typical scenario where a woman will label a guy a “commitment phobe” is when he’s been seeing a girl for a while – they spend the majority of their time together, they eat together, they sleep together and so forth….but he won’t commit in an official sense. That’s usually when they’ll come to me looking for answers.

Well, let’s get into this…

First, I can tell you right off the bat that he’s not a “commitment-phobe.”  That term was invented by some psychologist to diagnose .0001% of the population for a very specific, extreme condition.  However, as with nearly every psychological diagnosis, it gets slapped on everyone the moment it becomes popular…

I’m ADD.  I’m OCD.  I’m biploar, and on and on and on.  Enough with the amateur psychological diagnoses.  Let’s look at what’s actually going on here.

Most likely scenario:  The placeholder relationship.

This is an instance where I have to be blunt.  It’s not that he’s afraid to commit to the girl… it’s that he’s (and I cringe to type these words) not that into her… but into her enough to have her companionship, emotional support, and sex.

When it comes to all things sex and companionship, a guy will say, “Sure, if you’re offering…”

Problem is, guys typically have a terrible gauge on whether or not they’ll catch feelings for the girl.  For most guys, he won’t catch feelings for the girl as long as he never looks to her for emotional support.

Once a guy starts leaning on a girl emotionally, he starts becoming attached to her on an emotional level.  Now the girl who he only intended to keep around to keep from being lonely becomes this pseudo-girlfriend.

On the one hand, he cares for her and wants her around.  After all, he feels better when she’s there versus when she’s not.

On the other hand, he feels that he can do better… and he intends to.  The rationale he makes in his head is that once he “gets himself together” (that is, he starts actually doing the things in his life that he intends to do), he’ll break things off with his not-girlfriend all good and tidy and go for the girl he actually wants to be with.

The only problem is… most people go their whole lives intending to do what they’ve always wanted to do, but they never get around to it.

Instead, in these instances, men fall deeper into their “not-girlfriend” relationship.

The girl supports him emotionally and faithfully acts as his crutch so that he can find his strength and become the man he’s always wanted to be.  She aims to bring him comfort and relief from his painful and tragic life.

What ends up happening is he becomes dependent on her to be his emotional crutch.  Instead of getting stronger, he gets weaker and more attached to this girl.

So months or years go by and the girl just figures (even after all this time) that if she just loves him enough, he’ll be strong enough to love her back.  At this point, she’s in deep too – she’s invested so much into a relationship that she hopes will someday happen, but has yet to ever make its debut into reality.

So now we’re at this point:  Girl has poured months or years of love and obsession into this guy, hoping he’ll one day come around. Guy has become emotionally dependent on the girl for her love and support, but he knows in his heart that the situation isn’t what he actually wants.

And here’s where it gets really perverse:  On some level, both parties know that if the guy gets into a place of true emotional strength and independence, he’ll leave the girl.  It’s subconscious in most cases, but I’ve seen it play out enough times that it’s prevalent in these situations.

What ends up happening is that the guy will make sure the girl has just enough hope to keep chasing him.  The girl will make sure that he’s as emotionally dependent on him as she can get him to be.

In these arrangements, you’ll notice that when one side starts to stray, the other side will undermine them.

If the guy starts getting himself together, the girl will find some way to subtly undermine his progress – usually through comfort, but sometimes through less pleasant means.

If the girl starts to give up on him, he’ll find some way to subtly give her hope for some kind of future.  After all, he doesn’t want to lose his emotional crutch/sexual outlet security blanket – then he’d be not only emotionally weakened, but also alone.

Said simply, both sides will do things to entrench the other side exactly where they’re at.

So how does it all end?

Typically…. heartbreak.  What usually ends up happening is that sooner or later, the “better thing” the guy was waiting for appears and the moment it does, he disappears.

If you’re the guy, this isn’t such a bad situation since he was able to enjoy a cozy comfortable pseudo-relationship in between.

Moreover, he can always say, “Well, we were never in an official relationship.  What did you think was going to happen?”

Which brings me to my point…

I don’t know what happened to this culture… I don’t know if it was Hollywood movies, music, TV, an ever-increasing sense of entitlement, a decline in social perceptiveness across the populous… but let’s nail this down.

If you’re seeing a guy for a few weeks, everything is up in the air – just relax and let things run their course without being worried.But if you’ve spent the majority of your free time with a guy for the last couple of months – you eat together, sleep together and support each other emotionally – and he’s making no effort to lock you down… then you’re in a “placeholder relationship.”

To be honest, there’s nothing wrong with that IF both sides are on the same page.  Unfortunately, I have yet to see an instance where both sides are on the same side.

Which brings me back to things I’ve said again and again…

You’re single until he specifically locks you down and says you’re in an exclusive relationship together.  Until then, you’re single and shutting down your options or effectively removing yourself from the dating pool will hurt your chances of getting into a relationship, not help them…

People who have great relationships didn’t bet on a losing horse and magically turn him into a winning horse.  A winning relationship is a great relationship from the start. – In almost all cases where I get questions, it’s because the woman knows the answer to her question, but she doesn’t want to believe it.  She wants to believe that her fantasy will come true in a hopeless scenario.  My advice: stop betting on losing horses.  Romantic turnarounds were invented by Hollywood precisely because they’re an impossible fantasy.  Stop with it already.

Don’t make your relationship the source of happiness that you then, in turn, bring into your life.  Source your happiness from your life and bring it into your relationships. – Easier said than done, but it is one of the key secrets.  The people who “parasite” all the happiness of their life from their relationship find that the well runs dry very quickly.  Whereas the people who love their lives and bring that energy to their relationship make the relationship better and better, stronger and stronger.

Hope it helps,

eric charles

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Elissa October 5, 2013, 8:49 am

Real eye-opener you got there, Eric!

I’m in a similar situation as this with a guy called T.
Summary: T. gets engaged and living together, girl turns cold, T. dumps girl, T. looks for support with a friend (me), T. starts a relationship with me but never commits (no titles, all happens in secret). I am patient, T. dumps me after a month or two. T. does a bounce-back girl for less then 2 weeks, stays single a few more weeks, starts “real” relationship with a better option. T. and I get back in touch as friends. T. commits to girl, girl dumps T. after almost a year. T. reaches out and I support him, not ruling anything out but not reaching out myself. When T. learns I’m moving on with someone new, T. reaches out more and asks me to “wait for him”. Not being over T., I stupidly accept. T. quickly turns cold (not seen each other in weeks) and we end up fighting. T. claims he’s not acting unusual.

So after giving T some space, he texted me “now what?”. I knew by this point that I probably was in a placeholder relationship and needed to make a change. This is also when I came across this site and realized I had to learn to be happy on my own, working on that now. So I texted T. back that being exclusive felt forced for us and I wanted to date others (of course going both ways), and otherwise I would rather be just friends. He said “fair enough”. I have dated 3 others since, 1 of them is really making an effort but it’s still fragile and I still have so much stronger feelings for T. Once T. asked to do a co-op on a game, but I told him I had plans. I also make hints about the dates on facebook so he knows I’m not bluffing with the dating. I’m not contacting him other then an occasional like or comment on facebook. He starts talking to me once in a while but hasn’t asked to meet ever since we’re dating. But is it because he’s lost interest or thinks his chance is gone (knowing I’m dating some others)? Or is it just not the right time for him (he’s been fired recently for the first time and still hasn’t found a job).

It seems like using the ‘walking power’ strategy isn’t working here. To be clear, I really am giving my other dates an honest chance and really will walk away if any of them become serious (which I have told him too). I just think, knowing I have been needy and I myself wasn’t ready for anything real earlier, that this is his first chance and he deserves at leas one “real” chance.

Do you think there’s anything left here or should I dump him alltogether?

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Rachel Madison June 4, 2013, 10:32 pm

I like your article, but for me fear of commitment seems to boil down to fear of death….and my reluctance to face that fear. I recently read an interesting article on the subject on Psych Alive,called Fear of Intimacy. http://www.psychalive.org/2011/11/fear-of-intimacy/

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Meghan March 3, 2013, 10:56 pm

Eric all of your advice is exactly what I needed. Your insights apply directly to the relationship I have with this guy I have been seeing these past few months. He has been going through a lot of issues with work and he has been getting more and more depressed. We started hooking up months ago and he never made any commitment but now I realize that I was a crutch for him. He would always call and text after his bad days and he would always tell me how much he missed me.
After he stopped responding to me I found myself really frustrated that he could just drop me like that. Since reading your advice I have realized that what we had was never going to turn into a healthy relationship in the long run. Instead of sitting around pissed off at him, I am going to give him the time he needs to get his life together and be there for him as a friend.

I feel bad if I don’t wait for him to get his life together so we could maybe work something out but at the same time, I need to get on with my life as he does with his.

Thank you for all of your incredible insights!

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Lucy January 30, 2013, 3:34 am

I think this is sometimes a case of men (or maybe people in general) not being able to read their own feelings enough to communicate them. Some people really are jerks but I think many men don’t know exactly what they want or at least don’t think in the same way we women do when it comes it comes to relationships. They’ll think “I’ve got something good going on”, and not get involved in thoughts of the future “where is this going?” as much as we do. I think that’s why it’s our responsibility as women to push them for answers, say where we stand and see if they can deliver. And I don’t mean in an extreme fashion – just in a good and honest way. If a situation suits some guys, they won’t change it. Men like this are acting in a selfish way because they’re not thinking about the fact they’re wasting a woman’s time. But some women do this as well.

The blog Baggage Reclaim is an absolute lifesaver for talking about this issue.

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Ana January 21, 2013, 6:22 am

I would only call this ‘brilliant’ insight if the women you’re addressing are needy, marriage hounds who indiscriminately partner up with anyone willing to give them the chance to become what you call ‘placeholders’. If anything, this advice is suggesting women should wait around until the man whose family and friends they’ve developed a relationship with, moved in with, and invested time, sometimes money in makes his call on whether or not the relationship is valid. Instead, you should be advising these ladies to DROP THE LOSER who depends on them to drag them out of some emotional black hole so he can be more attractive to someone else. Also, I think there is no blanket answer to address this. It is assumed that when you’re with someone for a number of years, or even 1 year, you at least gain some sort of idea of whether or not your partner wants to be married someday or not. If you know that your partner DOES want to be married and you’re spending 5 years with them, only considering them as a ‘placeholder’, you’re a sociopath. You’re more than just weak, you’re in need of a considerable amount of therapy. “Don’t make your relationship the source of happiness that you then, in turn, bring into your life. Source your happiness from your life and bring it into your relationships. – Easier said than done, but it is one of the key secrets. The people who “parasite” all the happiness of their life from their relationship find that the well runs dry very quickly. Whereas the people who love their lives and bring that energy to their relationship make the relationship better and better, stronger and stronger.” <— This little gem should be for men who are with women they use for emotional support but never want to truly commit to. This is a two way street.

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Mithu January 19, 2013, 8:38 am

Eric, great point on ‘commitment phobes’ – a construct invented possibly by a psychologist, but quite likely also by someone who wants to sell lots of books about relationships and why we suck at them etc
I get asked all the time why men won’t commit, and it boils down to 3 reasons
1) He’s too lazy to. This I find applies a lot. He’d have to change his facebook status, tell all his friends that he’s now ‘off he market’ (oh the embarrassment!), delete all the numbers from his phone from previous relationships/one night stands that he’s kept hold of. You know, ‘just in case’. This all takes EFFORT, man!
2) He’s too comfortable. As you’ve said, most of the time the girl will hang in there, hoping he’ll change, that suddenly he’ll see the light and jump into ‘commitment mode’. Never happens
3) He’s a nice guy and doesn’t want to hurt her. That’s his excuse anyway when his friends ask why he doesn’t leave the girl he’s always complaining about. In reality he’s a wimp.

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Vivian C January 18, 2013, 5:12 pm

Brilliant!
Is there any chance to be in a relationship like this but with someone who you ARE exclusive with? And pretty serious in fact.

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Cala January 16, 2013, 1:08 pm

Dear Readers,

Can someone please tell me why a man can spend hours texting you, then it all goes quite and you hear nothing??? Why is that?

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Mithu January 19, 2013, 8:30 am

From a guy’s perspective, I can tell you but you won’t like it….
(I’m assuming that during the hours he was texting you, you were replying. I’m also assuming that you replies were much longer than his. Correct me if I’m wrong)
He had nothing better to do. This is simply the way guys are, they’re like children. They latch onto any prospect of quick and painless fun and will invest any amount of time to try and turn that prospect into something more solid. Much like a very persistent and desperate salesman who has only a week to hit his monthly target, he’ll chase down any leads, no matter how unpromising, and phone/email/text them constantly to try and hook that lead, especially if he’s not a very good salesman and all his colleagues are racking up results left, right and centre. It’s possible you, Cala, were his one and only ‘lead’ for that week so let’s assume that is the case. If so, plenty of vested interest and texting til the thumbs fall off (any actual phone contact in that time?) But now it’s all gone silent. Which means he’s lost his phone, he got scared off by something you said in your replies, or he’s moved on to the next lead. You’re yesterday’s news. Sorry Cala.
Tip for future reference – texting should occupy only a VERY small percentage of contact a person should have with a significant other, potential or actual. If he’s not texting or ringing to arrange the next meet up, he’s wasting your time.
Hope that’s useful!

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Josephine January 16, 2013, 6:56 am

Great article, completely agree with you throughout, however what about the commitment phobes of men who are IN an exclusive relationship but never want to get married? When i saw the picture i thought the article was going to be more about men who you can get the relationship with, ( i even live with my bf) but those who say they never want to get married? an article about that type of phobia would be great too :)

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Brianna January 15, 2013, 3:48 pm

A great post with insights I need now. I am in a relationship like that. I’m with a guy and we spent good quality time together and he is really emotionally dependent on me. I kinda fulfill part of his life dream as well. But he doesn’t want an exclusive relationship with me though I’m way prettier than his dates before and have a good career too. He just believe we will fall apart in terms of a longer relationship, which kinda hurts my pride.

I know it’s pathetic to admit it but I am in a “placeholder relationship”. Part of the reason why I still haven’t let go of him is that I just moved to the city and have no friend and family here and I didn’t find someone I really like. I will put myself together and walk out of it soon.

Thank you, Eric

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Georige January 15, 2013, 3:30 pm

brilliant & to the point! I love it..
of course there are some exceptions..but we’re all the rule unless proven otherwise :))

Stacy M..I think those men have some issues..I won’t be attracted to a man who says he’s not good enough for me
If he don’t feel good enough then I know I can do nothing to fix it..he & he only can..
plus I just think it’s a polite way to say I’m not into you..

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Stacy M January 15, 2013, 2:34 pm

It’s not always that a man is looking for something “better”. I have had men who felt that they were not good enough for me and that they would pull me down. Sometimes they just feel like you’re not a good match for a future. They may feel that you are too attractive, make too much money or somehow are better than they deserve and they just don’t feel like you will stick around long term so they don’t let themselves get emotionally attached. It isn’t always that they think you aren’t good enough for them.

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