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I get many letters every month asking for my personal advice. I thought I’d start sharing them. Disclaimer: I’m not a therapist. I have no professional titles. But I do have one thing a lot of pros don’t. At least 10,000 hours devoted to really bad relationships that I somehow learned to stop having.
This has been so hard for me. I don’t want to break up, but should I? That is my question. I’ve been dating this guy for almost a year now and he says he wants to marry me and loves me, etc. But, I suffer from a severe fear of commitment. We talk about this all the time and we are trying to work through it together. We had this fast and furious love affair in the beginning and all was super good. Flowers, dates, romantic dinners, love songs dedicated to me, etc. I really felt the chemistry. But, about 3 months in, I just stopped feeling completely comfortable in the relationship and started getting huge panic attacks, sick in my stomach all the time, and at the same time, noticing all these flaws in him that I couldn’t ignore. That strong love feeling just faded. There’s all these issues that I feel like I can’t deal with, like, I don’t like the way he dresses, or I can’t stand his family, or he wants to have kids right away and I don’t think I do. A big one is, he never gives me my space even though I told him I am very independent. But every time he’s said he was going to leave me, I’ve been devastated and don’t want that either, and so, the love feeling comes back and we stay together. At times I feel like if I leave my anxiety would disappear, but other times, I love him so much and I just want this to work. Is there anything you recommend for anxiety and fear of commitment? I don’t think I want to break up. I want us to stay together. But most of the time I just don’t know what I want. Help! Thanks so much.
-Miss Fear of Commitment
Dear Miss Fear of Commitment,
Thanks for reaching out. I hope I can help.
So…I don’t think you have a fear of commitment at all. In fact, I think you know exactly what you want, you are just afraid of what you want. We get like that sometimes. Afraid of what we really want because it means change and risk and the dreaded unknown. I think all this back and forth amounts to a classic case of easily fixable ambivalence. And, by ambivalence I mean, “I can’t stand you; don’t leave me!” The more popular, book version is “I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me, Understanding the Borderline Personality.” But don’t go there. While I’m not a therapist, I don’t think you have borderline personality disorder either. In fact, we’re not going anywhere deeper than the idea that you probably just don’t like your boyfriend.
I know. How dare I insinuate such a thing.
Here’s a little of my background: I too was this way in several of my past relationships–more than I care to remember. I would fall in love and then, three months in (coincidence?) I would start to have massive doubt attacks. One time it got so bad that the guy I was dating repeatedly accused me of fear or commitment, and so, together, we went to see a therapist about it. That was a major fail. The second she suggested we spend even more time together I nearly passed out from panic. Looking back, I think I liked the guy, but I didn’t love him, and for whatever reason, he made me feel smothered (oh heck, I don’t think I liked him too much either). Ambivalence, I realized, was merely the argument between my head and my heart, trying to negotiate a peaceful deal, so that everyone was happy. What I failed to understand was that that argument, between my head and my heart, would never be won by my heart, because she wanted the relationship for all the wrong reasons. She wanted a relationship. Period. She didn’t exactly care with whom. She just wanted someone to be by her side. She just wanted steady and predictable amounts of sex. She wanted a white picket fence. She wanted closeness and unconditional love. She wanted status. And, she was willing to overlook the fact that she didn’t love this man in order to attain all those things.
Meanwhile my head, who was thinking all too clearly, wasn’t willing to sell me short. She was desperately trying to beat sense into me with panic, anxiety, rashes, daily stomach pains (another coincidence?), anything to get me to listen. I didn’t listen for six months. Eventually I did. Eventually, I realized I did have a fear of commitment…I was afraid to commit to him because I knew he was not the one for me. But, and here’s where the ambivalence comes in, more than being afraid to commit to this man, I was afraid of breaking up and being alone. And so, even though I didn’t like him to the level I knew I should, I didn’t like the idea of being without a relationship even more. Sometimes the wrong wants and needs become the driving factor of all your behavior. And when that happens, you get confused.
That’s all it is. And while we humans are all so different, your case seems uncannily similar to mine. That being said, my suggestion is not to take my words to heart and impulsively agree with me. My suggestion is to get clear on your motives for wanting to stay. Question if maybe your own head and heart are battling something out. And wonder if maybe the idea of a relationship, any relationship, has somehow become far more important than the person you are actually having the relationship with. Just because you’re with someone, doesn’t mean you should be.
Last but not least, read The Mystery of Ambivalence Revealed. It will further help you understand ambivalence.
So, to answer your question, Should I break up? I can’t answer that. But hopefully, I’ve given you enough to think about so that you can answer it for yourself.
Good luck! Let me know what happens.