Ever read advice columns? I don’t think they could exist without letters from women dating guys who can’t commit. It’s almost a cliché: “Joe and I have been dating for 7 years now, and he still hasn’t asked me to marry him. What’s wrong?” Gay men might phrase it a little differently, since marriage isn’t in the picture for now: “We’ve been going together for 4 years, but we still aren’t living together.” Or “We started off great! But I still haven’t met his family or co-workers. I don’t feel important to him.” Gay men are probably no different from other men in their level of comfort around intimacy. It’s quick and easy for some of us, while for others it seems to happen at the pace of a glacier moving south.
Why are some guys commitment-phobic? Some guys are selfish and immature and avoid the grown-up process of making choices that relationships require. Others panic at the thought of being trapped, even by someone they love. And others have no models for successful relationships; they expect things to stay shallow.
What makes these relationships so strange is that they often start so passionately. The guy who will ultimately run away is the first one to profess his love and devotion. In retrospect that may offer a clue: the pacing of the relationship seems off-kilter. He comes across as a big romantic – maybe even a little insecure in his desire to please and impress you.
Strangely, though, the relationship doesn’t seem to deepen in ways you might ordinarily expect. His life seems compartmentalized, and it’s not clear that you occupy many of those compartments. He seems less communicative. Things start to feel stagnant. He pays less attention; you feel ignored and resentful.
Relationships like this can go through multiple break-ups and reconciliations. (Sometimes the make-up sex seems especially hot.) There’s clearly an attachment of some sort – but not the one you wanted. It may take a long time to wake up to the reality that this relationship is going nowhere.
The boyfriend of the commitment-phobic guy may find that being with someone who holds him at arm’s length starts to take a toll on self-esteem after a while. What’s wrong with me? Do I expect too much? Am I some sort of codependent loser?
Ironically, you can avoid being trapped by guys like this by taking things slowly, letting things proceed one step at a time. Too many people are too eager to pass over the period of dating called “getting to know one another” in a rush toward the comfort zone of “settling in together.” Pay attention to how involved you are in one another’s lives. How do the two of you communicate? Notice whether or not the relationship is deepening in ways that you would expect. Does he keep his word and follow-through on what he’s said he’s going to do?
Expressing your feelings and needs is important – then see how he responds. With men who are simply a little anxious about commitment, making it clear that the time is approaching to fish or cut bait may push them through their fear of intimacy. But if you’re dealing with someone who is never going to be able to give you what you want, better to make that decision sooner rather than later. Breaking up isn’t going to hurt less if you wait around another unfulfilling year or two.
If you’re the one with a fear of commitment, start by committing to tell the truth about what’s going on inside. Be direct, not manipulative. Recognize your anxiety and learn to deal with it in ways that are authentic.
John R. Ballew, M.S. an author and contributor to GAYTWOGETHER, is a licensed professional counselor in private practice in Atlanta. He specializes in issues related to coming out, sexuality, relationships and spirituality. If you have any questions or comments you can submit them directly to GAYTWOGETHER or John R. Ballew, M.S. - www.bodymindsoul.org.