Living With–Or, Commonly, Without–A Commitment Phobe–Part I

Rule #1 for a Commitment Phobe: Always remember the back door.

Wendy* worried, early in the relationship, because she wasn’t Jewish.

A lovely woman originally from Oregon, Wendy had spent time in therapy working on relationship issues, and learning how to pick better than she had done in her 20s, when it came to dating.

Walter* was worlds above her previous selections. A management consultant with his own apartment, actual savings, and a loving, supportive, Jewish family, he seemed like all Wendy had ever hoped for.

And although Wendy worried about the religious divide, as no one in Walter’s family had ever “married out,” as they put it, and at times she felt her reception by the family was tepid, her beau was adamant that it would be fine, that he loved her beyond religion, that they were meant to be together.

And they dated for a lovely  year, as Wendy recalled it. True, Wendy started getting antsy in the second year, wondering when an engagement ring–or at least a proposal to move in together–would be forthcoming, but Walter insisted he didn’t do well when pushed–and couldn’t she see he loved her? Sometimes she sensed his withdrawing from her, as the time went on, and he didn’t always call as often as he used to. But she was little prepared for “the talk” Walter told her they had to have.

It all boiled down to this: Walter said he loved Wendy very much, but he was Jewish, and it was very, very important to both Jason and his family that he marry a Jewish woman. He was sorry–but this relationship had come to its end.

Ladies and Gentlemen, meet Walter, aka the Commitment Phobe–the backdoor was awaiting his exit.



Rule # 2: If the Commitment Phobe does, indeed, marry, it is often to someone unavailable in some way, so that our subject came remain emotionally withdrawn, despite the seeming ‘commitment.’

Andy* was the very hands-on administrator at a local community college. Dynamic and still quite handsome at 50, he visited every classroom, ran study groups–and inspired the students to learn. And the students repaid him by learning–and with an avid dedication to the cult of Andy.

And what better way for college students to continue to repay the man who so inspired them, but to work to “find him a lady,” as they put it.

Andy was particular–wouldn’t go out with just anybody, checked out these woman as if he were considering using them in the secret service, limited his accessibility so that he had time for his job–but through the years the number of women he dated grew and grew.

There was always, always, something wrong. Too tall, too heavy, talks too much, not intellectual enough, and, if all else failed, “just not what I’m looking for.” At the age of 55, it seemed that Andy would be a bachelor forever, but it wasn’t serving him well. Ugly, under-handed rumors began to swill about, with the subtle implication that Andy wasn’t interested in a grown-up relationship because he spent so much time with younger women, and that must somehow satisfy his fancy.

Andy, always one to well decipher the writing on the wall, knew it was time to find someone, whether or not he really felt like it.

And then Andy did a most touching, self-sacrificing thing, in his students’ eyes.

He married Adele,* who had recently been diagnosed with invasive breast cancer.

Explanation A: The Unlucky Lover: It took Andy decades to find the right woman, and when he did, the poor man, he lost her within two years.

Explanation B: The Commitment Phobe: Andy had to marry, his reputation was at stake. But, commitment phobic to the end, he married a woman unavailable to him during marriage, due to her struggles with health, and one who likely wouldn’t tie him down forever, a situation he greatly feared.

Rule # 3: When dating, the Commitment Phobe will often limit the amount of time he spends with his girlfriend, often treating her as a low priority when scheduling his life.

Jeanie* had been dating Johnny* for 6 months, and was excited about him in ways she hadn’t experienced since the death of her first husband, when she was in her late 20s. “This,” she assured me, “might just be ‘it.'”

But although Jeanie and Johnny lived less than 20 minutes by car from each other, they saw each other once a week. “I guess he’s just too busy at work to get away more,” Jeanie told me, while I, for a moment, wondered if all of our therapeutic work together had taken the first plane to Vegas, and, as things are wont to do, stayed in Vegas.

“And,” she continued, sensing my incredulity, “we also talk one more time a week on the phone–but he has to pick the day.”

Johnny didn’t need to wear a “Kick me, I’m a Commitment Phobe” sign stuck on the back of his T-shirt. It was written on every fiber of his being.

I have more case examples to share, red flags that you might be dating a Commitment Phobe, and some theories about how these Phobics get that way–but I find my readers always teach me more on my topics by their contributions.

Got a Commitment Phobe story or warning sign? Let me know–before I get rolling again.


  • Urban Dictionary’s definition and example of “Commitmentphobe” (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Commitmentphobe)
  • Ashamed as I am to admit I sometimes utilize this source, at the peril of my reputation I send you to Wikipedia’s (don’t tell) definition of “Commitment Phobia) at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commitment_Phobia. Note there that the term, while originally applied to men, has been updated, and can now be used for both genders. Isn’t that a relief?
  • _____________________________________
  • *
    *As with all characters in this blog, there is no actual Wendy, Walter, Andy, Adele, Jeanie or Johnnie, whose names have been changed to protect their privacy.  Rather, these are teaching stores, compiled of bits and pieces from real lives, books or movies, and altered to make my points more interesting and educational.


I help adults and adolescents through the particular struggles of our time: tension between couples, parenting frustration, blending new families, separation and divorce, (un)employment, cancer, and loss. When relationships come to an impasse, I use mediation techniques to try to ensure that each party will have his/her needs heard and accounted for in a dignified way. In addition to talking, listening, and reframing, I utilizes the tools of metaphor, active teaching, role-playing, visualization, and hypnotherapy.for families and businesses, as well as in cases of divorce.

Leave a Reply