Mention the words "commitment phobic" in casual conversation, and often times you'll find people complaining about men. For a long time that may (or may not) have been true. Regardless, commitment phobia has been a puzzle of relationships for a long time. Is commitment phobia exclusively a male phenomenon?
Time was when a woman graduated high school, her only goal was to get married and have children. But with the 60s came a big change - women became movers and shakers in a world previously dominated by men. These new gains meant new attitudes, even in the areas of love and marriage.
Thirty years later, the question is: Did the revolution turn the former societal expectation on its head?
Not really. Even today - in the 21st century - the notion that women should marry and have children still exists.
This gives rise to an even larger question: Can societal expectations and the new 'freedom' women discovered decades ago, co-exist without wreaking havoc between men and women?
To find out the answer, we asked relationship counselor Audrey Chapman, author of Getting Good Loving and Seven Attitude Adjustments to Finding a Loving Man. Chapman says the confusion over a woman's main role in society has caused a state commonly known as commitment phobia in both men and women.
Go on to the next page to read her answers to common questions about commitment phobia in men and women.
Origins of the Divide
Q: What has caused this disjointedness between men and women?
A: Audrey Chapman: I think now because of the last 20-30 years - the sexual revolution, the women's movement, all kinds of changes of where women have been out there 'doing men,' they've gotten burned. Now they have as much commitment phobia as the men do.
I think the men became frightened of the women's so-called liberation and so-called freedom and so-called ability to call their own shots in the relationship. It threw the normal patterns and roles off and men were lost as to what to do.
In Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women author Susan Faludi discusses the backlash from the women's movement and what it did to men. She says that men became so frightened and so leery of women that they became ambivalent about their desire to relate to women in a serious manner. They had a need to have a woman in their life but they were simply reluctant to do so.
Q: In your book Seven Attitude Adjustments to Finding a Loving Man, you mention four types of women who fall into the commitment-phobia category. What are those types?
A: Audrey Chapman: There's the Pity Party-Goer. She's always whining and complaining, setting herself up in relationships that couldn't work so she can keep proving to herself that relationships don't work. She's got a self-fulfilling prophecy going on and she believes it. So she just selects people that are going to keep reinforcing it.
Then there's The Boomerang. She keeps leaving and returning and leaving and returning to the same failing relationship, and she does it for a period of years. But that's her way of avoiding commitment.
The next one is The Detective. She is in constant search of the perfect man, the best man, the macho man, the gorgeous man, the professional man, the well-dressed man and the man with the slamming body - and he's got to fit that entire criteria or it doesn't work. If she meets a man who is well endowed, has a nice body, is professional, makes good money and seems to be attentive and kind…but has one false eye, she doesn't want him.
And finally the Picky Picker. She finds a suitable man and then picks him apart piece-by-piece. He doesn't drive the right car, he doesn't make enough money, he's bald, he's too short, he has too much belly. In the end, no one meets her stringent requirements.
Q: But traditional men seem more apt to be afraid of commitment than women. Is that still true?
A: Audrey Chapman: In today's society it's about the same. At one point the stereotype was that men saw marriage as an end to everything and women saw it as a gain. Now with women having such prosperous careers - and also how long it takes to get a career off the ground - you have as many women who are avoiding it as men.
Overcoming Commitment Phobia
Q: What makes a man commitment phobic?
A: Audrey Chapman: There are a variety of reasons why a man might avoid a commitment. Maybe he's never seen a man make a commitment with a woman in the community or family system he grew up in. Maybe he was dominated by a woman. It could be so many reasons.
Q: Can a woman make a man feel less threatened in the relationship?
A: Audrey Chapman: I think that he has to understand what is so threatening for him. Sometimes the threat has nothing to do with the women they are dealing with. It has to do with the fact that they grew up in a household where they never saw their mothers and fathers have true, honest faithful relationships. Maybe they grew up with a mother that had affairs and they saw it, knew it or were exposed to it. Or they grew up with a mother who was not always attentive to their basic needs - things that created in their minds a mistrust of women.
Often by the time somebody is 30 or 40 years old, what you are getting is an accumulation of what we call old, unfinished business…but you're not the culprit, you're not the cause of it.
Q: Does not marrying mean you are afraid of commitment?
A: Audrey Chapman: I think it's possible to not ever marry and be content with it. It's usually societal pressure that makes that person feel they are an oddball in the society. It's just like couples who decide not to have children. People ask: 'Where are the babies?' When a couple says: 'We chose not to have any children,' they can't get over that. It doesn't seem right to them. Everybody wants you to fit into their norm.
Getting the Right Attitude
Here are some tips from Chapman's book that may help you out of a commitment-phobia rut and plow ahead to a more satisfying relationship:
- Cultivate self-awareness - You must be honest with yourself and forgive yourself for not being perfect.
- Forge ahead with a clearheaded appraisal of your love and lifestyles so you can begin discovering whatever you need to change.
- Accept responsibility - You and you alone have control over your life and your love-style. If something goes wrong, don't blame others.
- Face your fears - Confronting your fears head on may be one of your greatest challenges, but it can bring many rewards, whereas fear can make you obsess on one man, like the character did in the movie Fatal Attraction.…Challenging that fear by ending the relationship and allowing yourself to be alone for awhile will greatly empower you.
- Keep the faith - Never lose faith in yourself. Life isn't over just because Mr. Right isn't with you at the moment. As one woman in Chapman's counseling session put it "Men are like buses. If you miss one, wait, and another one will come along."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Audrey Chapman is a family and relationship counselor located in Alexandria, Va. Visit her website at audreychapman.com, or call (703) 914-2068.