A Jewish matchmaker discusses fear of commitment
As a matchmaker working with Jewish singles, I’ve learned that although a single might come to me declaring his/her desire for marriage or a long-term relationship, for some of them, it will likely never happen. Why? Because of an emotional inability to genuinely commit to another person and to the shared relationship. We typically refer to this inability to commit as “fear of commitment” or “commitment phobic”. But what does fear of commitment actually mean? In order to answer that question, let’s take a good look at what commitment looks like in a relationship.
EXCLUSIVITY VS COMMITMENT:
I recently listened to a podcast from Midlife Dating and Relationship Coach for Women, Jonathan Aslay, discussing the difference between exclusivity and commitment. It is a brilliant and insightful analysis that clarified things for me in a way that no other material about commitment has done. I will include the link to that podcast at the bottom of this article and I strongly recommend you listen. For me, it was revelatory.
Jonathan discusses this topic in relation to how men understand the words “exclusivity” and “commitment” compared to how women understand those words. His podcast did more than just clarify the difference between two words, it opened up my understanding of what commitment actually means, thus, opening up my understanding of the term commitment phobic.
IT’S SO CONFUSING!
Many women inaccurately view exclusivity as commitment. If a woman has agreed to be exclusive with her partner, and vice versa, she assumes that this implies a commitment to the relationship and to her – a commitment that, barring any future deceit and/or break in trust, is on a trajectory to becoming a long term relationship that optimally leads to marriage.
This is one reason why it is so confusing for a woman who has been in a long-term, monogamous relationship, when her partner won’t commit to marrying her. Often they are living together and their lives are completely intertwined, but he says he’s “not quite ready” to marry or he’s not sure he ever wants to make it “official”. Women just don’t understand this and it’s likely they don’t understand it because we are confusing exclusivity with commitment. Not only that, I’d venture to say that most women confuse exclusivity with LOVE.
WHAT IS EXCLUSIVITY?
Exclusivity is not the same as commitment and it’s not the same as love. Exclusivity means that you do not date other people, that the part of your life dedicated to a romantic relationship is taken up by this one person, and that your romantic/sexual energy is directed toward that person. For many of us, when our relationship has been deemed “exclusive”, we immediately assume that commitment is part of the agreement; we believe that this person is in it for the long haul or is, at least, serious enough about this relationship to have the goal of a lifelong union in mind.
When it becomes obvious that the person is not going to commit or marry, we are thrown for a loop and left wondering what we’ve been doing all this time? There is no term “exclusivity phobic” to compare to “commitment phobic”. Exclusivity phobics are commonly referred to as “playboys”.
WHAT IS COMMITMENT?
According to Jonathan (and I concur), commitment is about actively creating a partnership with another person and committing to that partnership.
“Commitment says: ‘I’m willing to take you under my wing’, and you’re both willing to do that…It means, ‘I’m here, I’m present, YOU matter. WE are important, WE, the partnership, the “WE” as a separate entity. I’ve got your back… I’m not going anywhere and I ONLY WANT YOU’. That’s what ‘I love you’ means to me and that’s what commitment means to me. ‘I’m willing to go down this road to see what happens….I’m willing to explore the WE‘.” – Jonathan Aslay
I would venture to add that the description Jonathan gives of commitment is also an accurate description of responsibility. Taking someone under your wing means you have a responsibility to the safety, happiness, contentment, and well-being of that person. It means that you check everything you do and everything you say to ensure that none of it could ever bring pain or harm to your partner. Your partner’s needs are just as important as your own and you will always seek to find a happy balance between the needs of both of you. It is about actively listening and hearing your partner without defense and excuses. Commitment is putting another person’s needs and happiness on equal footing with your own. Exclusivity promises none of this.
Therefore, it becomes clear that being commitment phobic or having a fear of commitment is about a fear of taking on that very large burden of responsibility. Putting someone else’s needs on equal footing is not child’s play, not if you do it right. It means that you just might have to give up some of your personal dreams – at the very least, compromise on them – in order to nourish the relationship, and many, many people are just not able to do that. The only other relationship where we might expect to see such dedication is the relationship of parent to child.
Understanding the deeper meaning of commitment, enabled me to understand the fear of it. And it’s not about being a playboy or a playgirl; neither is it about being exclusive or monogamous. Commitment is a different mental and emotional state, altogether. I venture to say that the majority of singles have no problem being exclusive, or at least giving it an honest try. And many of those singles fool themselves into thinking that this means they are able to also commit to another person. But the commitment never happens and they wonder why they can’t seem to maintain a long-term relationship or have never been married.
Man or woman, if you find yourself in just such a space – consider your deeper feelings and perhaps fears regarding this definition of commitment and whether you might fall into the category of commitment phobic. I don’t think it’s something that begins in adulthood. It may stem from a childhood where too much responsibility was placed on the child at a young age, causing him/her to reject or retract from taking on a lot of responsibility as an adult. That’s just one potential explanation. It’s worth doing the inner work required to uncover what blockages you may have to taking on the responsibility of another person’s needs and wants.
Being commitment phobic doesn’t make you a bad person. You might be honest, faithful, and loving to your partner, but still never be able to commit to a “til death do us part” relationship unless you heal your own aversion to such a monumental responsibility, and that’s okay. But you must be honest with yourself and with your partner. And if you find yourself in that space and decide that a lifelong partnership is truly what you want to build, that inner work is the only way to get there.
LISTEN to Jonathan Aslay’s insightful podcast here.
If you missed last month’s blog, Breaking up with your Fantasy Self, read it here.