One of the biggest phobias women have when it comes to dating and relationships is dating a commitment-phobic man (see what I did there?). The fear is real and is what keeps our guard up and our eyes wide open for anything that looks like a bad sign.
Well here’s the good news. Most men are not commitment-phobes. I would say that term only applies to a teeny tiny portion of the male population and when a guy truly has that phobia, it will be obvious.
So what about the rest? What about the guy you were dating for a while who seemed super into you but just didn’t want to be “official?” What about the guy who is so sweet and attentive and always there for you, but immediately clams up and emotionally withdraws anytime you mention meeting his family or taking the next step in the relationship? What about the guy who always has a reason for not committing … he’s stressed at work … he wants to wait until he’s more financially stable … he’s having family issues … as soon as the busy season is over … as soon as summer is over … etc. etc.
Well look, some people do have real fears when it comes to commitment. Fears aren’t the same a phobias, fears can be abated with time. A phobia runs much deeper and can’t always be reasoned with.
Almost anyone who has been dating for a while has some level of fear when it comes to relationships. Maybe it’s because we’ve been hurt before, maybe it’s because we’re afraid of going through another breakup because we all know how brutal those can be, or maybe our trust has been battered too many times and we just can’t let our guards all the way down.
This is how to know if your guy truly is a commitment-phobe, or if he just has commitment fears.
Take The Quiz: Is He Losing Interest?
Is He Afraid of Commitment Or Afraid of Committing To Me?
So first things first. A lot of guys are wrongly deemed “commitment-phobic” when the truth is … they just don’t want to commit to that particular girl.
I know it hurts. I’ve been there and I lived it so trust me, I know! I dated a guy for eight months who refused to call me his official girlfriend, and I justified it by saying he’s just “commitment-phobic” and needs more time to get himself and his life in order. But really, all he needed to cure his “commitment-phobia” was the right girl because when she came along, he dropped me and committed himself to her exclusively within a matter of weeks!
The fact is, a lot of the time we fall into “placeholder relationships” and unfortunately, both parties aren’t usually on the same page. A guy might meet a wonderful girl and he might really enjoy her. He’s attracted to her, he likes hanging out with her, and he thinks she’s great … there’s just something missing (and it could be a number of things) and it’s holding him back from committing. But he really likes her, and he thinks if he sticks it out a little longer then maybe something will change, maybe he’ll feel differently, maybe it will all just click. But it doesn’t.
Eventually, he either meets someone who does fulfill his emotional needs in the way Placeholder never could, or Placeholder girlfriend gets tired of waiting around for him to be sure about her and leaves. Or he realizes that his feelings for her aren’t going to change and he leaves. So basically, it almost always ends in heartbreak.
It’s pretty easy to know if you’re a placeholder girl. If he acts like your boyfriend but won’t officially make you his girlfriend, you’re in a placeholder relationship. Again, he doesn’t have bad intentions. He does really like you and he wants to want to commit himself to you. He just can’t. It might just not be a match and that’s OK. It doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you or that you’re flawed and unlovable and unworthy. It just doesn’t fit.
If a guy won’t commit after a certain amount of time, or he flat out tells you that he can’t be in a relationship right now, believe him. You need to take it at face value and just leave. If he really likes you, and it really is some deeper fear that’s preventing him from committing, he won’t let you go easily and he will snap into shape. If he lets you go without a fight, he was never all in, to begin with.
If a guy is afraid to commit it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s incapable of love or connection. It means he has a lot of anxiety when it comes to deepening a relationship and this prevents him from taking that next step. And this anxiety can have some very real causes.
Now let’s take a look at some common reasons a man might genuinely be afraid of commitment.
Why He’s Afraid to Commit
1. He’s been badly burned in the past.
It has been observed that men have a harder time healing from breakups than women. Men aren’t as capable or used to handling difficult emotions and they don’t have the same support systems that most women do.
Instead of talking or out or crying it out, a lot of men internalize the pain and try to push it aside. They suppress their feelings or try to hide from them but distracting themselves with work or random hookups. But pain doesn’t go away just because it goes unacknowledged. It will stay with him until he properly deals with it.
If the end of a relationship was marked by a huge breach of trust or a major betrayal, it can be even worse. For example, a friend of mine was dating this guy who seemed perfect in every way and he was clearly crazy about her. He just wouldn’t make it official. But she couldn’t quite walk away because he really was a gem and he clearly cared about her deeply. Eventually, he told her that his ex-girlfriend, who he had been with for six years, was secretly a stripper and escort on the side. He felt hugely betrayed and just needed more time before he could officially commit … and eventually he did.
Sometimes you have to look at the larger context. But you need to put limits on your compassion. If it’s clear this guy won’t be ready to commit anytime soon, and if what you want is a commitment, then you’re wasting your time by staying. Yes, it’s hard to walk away from a great guy, but what is the point of being with a great guy when you can’t even have him in the way you want?
And like I said, if he’s really into you and really likes you, he won’t just let you go without a fight.
2. He feels pressured
Here’s the funny thing. A lot of women get so nervous about their guy not committing that they pressure him into it, which makes him even less likely to want to commit. Had she not brought her fears into it and just let things evolve naturally, he probably would have committed much sooner!
No one appreciates being backed into a corner. We all need to feel like we have ownership of our lives, not like we were forced into making certain choices. When you pressure a man, you take his choice away. Now he has to do things your way or you’ll make him suffer and this may cause him to resent you.
No man will ever appreciate being pressured into doing something. So just let it be and let things unfold more naturally.
This doesn’t mean you can’t ever talk about where things are going, but there is a right way to do this so that you aren’t making threats and piling on the pressure. (Read this article for more: How to Have “The Talk” to Define Your Relationship)
3. He is afraid of being vulnerable
Being emotional and vulnerable doesn’t come as easily to men as it does to women. Men are at a disadvantage here because they enter the realm of emotional disclosure much later in life, whereas women have been sharing their emotions freely with their friends since early childhood.
He might just be afraid of revealing his innermost thoughts and feelings. Maybe he opened up in the past and was badly hurt.
Maybe he just doesn’t know how to go to those places and needs you to guide him. Maybe he feels ashamed of who he is deep down and doesn’t think any woman will accept his true self. All of these are very common, and it just takes patience and empathy on your part to help him through that. Think of yourself as his tour guide through the foreign and often scary realm of emotions.
However, do not ever fall into the role of being this therapist. If he has significant emotional issues, then he needs real help and he needs to take responsibility for them and deal with them. Your love won’t be enough to cure him.
4. He’s afraid it won’t last.
Like I said, most men don’t take breakups lightly. It’s hard and devastating on many levels. He might be afraid to commit because if you’re never someone’s boyfriend you can never be someone’s ex-boyfriend.
I know it can seem like guys handle breakups seamlessly, but that’s usually just a front. They also feel pain deeply and it’s scary to take that risk again. There is a huge risk to our ego, our sense of self, our ability to trust, and sometimes these fears can hold him back from really committing to you.
5. He’s afraid of being stuck in a bad relationship
If you’re a regular ANM reader, then you’ve heard me say this line before. Men aren’t afraid of relationships, they’re afraid of bad relationships. They’re afraid of being in a situation where they feel trapped and uninspired and can’t be their true self. They’re afraid of a woman who is always going to pick fights because of her own insecurities. They’re afraid of being that guy — and every guy has that one friend who is like this — who can’t ever just do his thing because his girlfriend needs hourly updates about what he’s up to.
Men also have fears of being the bad guy. He doesn’t want to commit to you when he’s unsure and then find someone he is sure about … and then have to break your heart. Men know women get attached more easily and he really doesn’t want to be the bad guy who is going to hurt you. This is why men sometimes proceed with more caution when it comes to commitment.
6. He’s had childhood trauma or abuse
Now, this is a more serious and complex issue to navigate. Sometimes terrible things happen to innocent children at the hands of people they trust. And these things can make an indelible impression and cause a lot of psychological damage.
The only way around that is a good therapist. You can’t fix these things on your own most of the time. If he had a traumatic childhood, then you aren’t going to undo it by just loving him hard enough. The young brain is so impressionable and when certain beliefs get wired in there, it is incredibly difficult to undo and often requires a skilled professional.
You can’t ever be a man’s therapist. If he has trauma, encourage him to seek professional help.
7. A troubled family dynamic
This can go along with childhood trauma or be totally unrelated. All kids handle things differently. While one sibling may be unaffected by his parents’ divorce and be able to have healthy, happy relationships, another may be deeply affected by it.
Or maybe one parent was emotionally absent or made one too many promises they couldn’t keep. Children are fragile and impressionable and these things can really have an impact. If someone never saw a healthy model of what a healthy relationship should look like, they may have significant fears and doubts. They may have bad associations with committed relationships because all they’ve seen is relationship failures.
Again, this isn’t something that’s easy to fix and may require the help of a professional.
What You Should Do If You’re Dating a Commitment-phobe
First and foremost, don’t make the mistake most women make in these situations by putting the guy first. You need to put yourself first here. Yes, I understand that he’s a wounded bird that needs healing, and you can support him, but you can’t do it at the expense of yourself. Waiting around for a guy to commit in the way you want is never a good move and usually will end in heartbreak for you.
Ultimatums and pressure will only push him away, but sticking around just makes you a pushover. So here is what to do:
1. Take it for what it is. Don’t invest in a fantasy of what could be, look at what is right now. Would you be OK if nothing ever changed? Is this relationship fulfilling you, or are you hoping it turns into something else at some magical point in the future?
2. Set a deadline. Like I said, sometimes a man just needs a little more time. If you obsess over the state of the relationship you will just transmit an anxious vibe and that will prevent things from evolving further. Instead, just set a deadline (and you can keep it to yourself) and then just be present in the relationship and see how it goes. Enjoy your time with him and see what’s there. Then when the deadline comes you can re-assess.
3. Back off. It’s hard to realize the value of something that is always there and readily available. Give him some space to pursue you. Pull back a bit to give him that room. It will also make him feel a little more free in the relationship, which all men appreciate. You’re also giving him the freedom to choose you instead of shoving yourself down his throat and saying, “Please pick me!”
4. Focus on yourself. Focus on being your best self and not on fixing him. That is always a guaranteed recipe for getting the love you want. Focus on building your self-esteem and self-worth. This will arm you with the strength to walk away from situations that can’t give you what you want.
I hope this article clarified whether you’re dating a commitment-phobe and showed you the best ways of dealing with it. But there is more you need to know. There will come an inevitable point in a relationship where a man asks himself: Is this the woman I want to commit myself to? His answer will determine everything. Do you know what inspires a man to commit? Do you know what makes him see you as a long-term partner? If not, read this next: The #1 Things Men Desire in a Woman
Take The Quiz: Is He Losing Interest?
The Biggest Reasons He’s Afraid of Commitment:
- He’s been badly burned in the past
- He feels pressured
- He’s afraid of being vulnerable
- He’s afraid it won’t last
- He’s afraid of being stuck in a bad relationship
- He’s had childhood trauma or abuse
- His family dynamic is troubled