How to recognize the signs of commitment phobia right away, so you can avoid a broken heart
You meet an amazing person online/offline. You dig each other’s vibe, so you arrange a date. While you understand not every love connection is actually a valid one, most of us plod through the awkwardness that is dating because we’re looking for someone who wants a relationship. So when we find someone we click with, we tend to believe we’re headed toward the “C” word—commitment. However, here’s a harsh #truthbomb: not everyone who wants to date is looking to commit. Now, you might think you can recognize a Mr. Big when you see one. I mean, everyone but Carrie could see he was the biggest commitment-phobe in N.Y.C. But, the truth is, if we’re really into someone, it’s harder to spot the “I don’t want to give us a label yet” signs of commitment phobia right away.
While the extent of commitment phobia varies from person to person, generally, “commitment phobia is a term used to describe people who experience a very real, often overwhelming sense of anxiety or fear around commitment,” Kari Tumminia, an international dating and relationship coach, tells HelloGiggles. “Commitment phobias become very apparent in romantic relationships, but it can also affect a person’s ability to commit to anything that leaves them feeling trapped and tied down, such as signing a lease, accepting a job offer, or even being able to maintain close, platonic friendships.”
If you’re looking for a committed relationship, then you want to avoid a potential partner who’s, well, avoidant. Here are some of the signs of commitment phobia to look out for.
Backing out of plans last-minute.
You set a date, but you just got a text saying, “Sorry! Something came up! Maybe we can reschedule?”
“If your date kept rescheduling your first date, it may be a sign of commitment phobia,” Celia Schweyer, a dating and relationship expert at DatingScout.com, tells HelloGiggles. “Your date may even have canceled at the last minute of the agreed date. This is because a person who has commitment phobia has a hard time deciding whether they ‘can’ do it. They want to have a relationship but get freaked out when they already have it or by even the thought of it.”
They don’t pay much attention to you.
Is your date keeping eye contact with you or are they constantly referring back to their phone?
“On a first date and potential early stages, you can tell if someone’s commitment phobic due to their lack of attention on you,” Dr. Tricia Wolanin, a California-based clinical psychologist, tells HelloGiggles. “If they are interested, they will be engaged, which includes eye contact and mutual conversation. If they want to commit, they want to get to know you, and therefore will be inquisitive. Commitment phobes will be distracted, look at their phones, look at other people, and not ask you reflective questions (after you ask questions to them).”
They use non-committal language.
Is your date using vague language when talking about the near future, even if the conversation is not about you or your relationship status at all? That’s because a commitment-phobe doesn’t tend to use committed language for any aspect of their life.
“On the first date, listen for non-committal language in their life in general. ‘I might,’ or ‘Maybe I’ll…’ vs. ‘I’m going to,’” says Dr. Saniyyah Mayo, a licensed marriage and relationship therapist and author. This kind of language will give you insight into how much follow-through they actually have.
And, yes, making plans for dates in advance will also feel like pulling teeth. Adds Tumminia, “The person may not always give you an outright no, but they’ll often use open-ended language that leaves all of their options way open.”
Were they blowing up your phone yesterday with sweet nothings but silent or boring today? That’s because commitment-phobes are pros at sending mixed messages, i.e. coming on strong and then changing their level of interest or excitement later. “This happens because the person with commitment anxiety wants to experience connection and intimacy, but when push comes to shove, the actual act of commitment (like buying the concert ticket or even talking engagement rings) triggers a sense of panic and they’ll quickly flip,” says Tumminia.
Which is why it’s important to recognize that people’s behavior in communication says so much about them, says Schweyer. “When they can’t be consistent, and when they send you mixed and confusing signals, you might be signing up to become someone’s part-time lover.”
They won’t follow up post-date.
It’s been days since your awesome date. You’re pretty sure you both had a good time, so what’s the deal?
“People with commitment phobia will tend to let long periods of silence go between connections. It feels safer for them to avoid initiating too much contact, and they’ll have no problem letting you do the romantic work,” says Tumminia. “Along with this, there tends to be a level of impulsivity about getting together. It may feel spontaneous or interesting at first, but it’s really the person’s inability to make or commit to plans. That impulsivity may also show up in canceling or changing plans at the last minute.”
They don’t like labels.
Even if things are going well post-date, don’t expect your date to want to put a label on your relationship anytime soon. “Terms like ‘boyfriend’ and ‘girlfriend’ signal a level of togetherness and exclusivity that a commitment-phobe is uncomfortable with,” says Tumminia. “They’ll avoid using or agreeing to labels in your relationship, and will use language like ‘I’m not ready,’ ‘I need space,’ or ‘I just want to take things slow.’ They will usually keep promising a hypothetical, future commitment, essentially stringing you along, but never follow through with committing because of their own fear and anxiety.”
Perhaps the most difficult part of getting involved with someone who has a fear of commitment, says Tummnia, is the realization that they do actually want and need intimate connections, “but when a connection gets too close, too intimate, or requires too much, it triggers their fear and anxiety.” To work around this, many commitment-phobic people will want to stay in a relationship, but on their terms. “They’ll make a conscious effort to use casual language, avoid labels, and modify what they appear to agree to with words like ‘probably,’ ‘maybe,’ and ‘might.’”
What makes a commitment-phobe so commitment phobic?
While it’s easy to write off a commitment-phobe as a self-centered jerk, it’s imperative to remember that their reasons for “blowing you off” go much deeper than that.
“Factors include childhood trauma, past bad relationships, trust issues, and not having a blueprint of healthy relationships while growing up,” says Dr. Mayo. “Many times what children experience in their childhood manifests in their adulthood. If a child never sees a parent in a healthy relationship, their idea of a relationship becomes distorted. They then hold onto the dysfunctional aspects of the relationship, normalizing it.”
Another reason for avoiding commitment, says Dr. Mayo, stems from someone’s past bad relationship experiences. “They assume that their present and future relationships will have the same results. They can be closed-minded about new relationship, assuming that all people are the same. It is the same thing when a persons trust is violated. They then assume that everyone moving forward will also violate that trust.”
What to do if you’re dating a commitment-phobe.
So you find yourself head-over-heels for a commitment-phobe. Now what?
“Commitment anxiety can be deeply painful for the people involved,” says Tumminia. “And while I believe it is treatable, the person who is afraid to commit has to both be willing to recognize that something is wrong and willing to accept help.”
Dr. Wolanin says you may decide you want to stick it out and be patient, helping your potential new boo become more comfortable with the idea of a relationship but knowing they can’t be pushed. However, “if you can acknowledge that you don’t have the patience for this, it may be time to let them go. If you are observing (or they are telling you) they are afraid of commitment, if you are forcing them to change and be anything else, it will simply drive you both crazy and be an unproductive process.”
While it’s easy to overlook the red flags for commitment phobia, especially when we’re really interested in another person, it’s crucial to remember Tumminia’s final point: “The person with commitment fears and anxieties must both recognize that they have a problem and be willing to accept help, often of the professional variety.”
We can’t change people, friends. No matter how much we might love or like them. So if you’re loving someone who can’t give you what you need, love yourself more and let them go.