Dare I Say "Forever"? On Fear of Commitment

If I were to ask you what you’re afraid of, you’d probably rattle off things like snakes or spiders or high interest rates (eek).

I’m definitely scared of those things. But the most anxious I’ve ever been wasn’t when I had to kill an enormous spider with my biology textbook (finally put that thing to use), or when I watched my credit card debt increase EVER so slightly . . . again (ugh).

The most anxious I’ve ever been was when I was in a committed relationship with a man I loved.

Not exactly the plot of a horror movie, I know.

Whenever things are casual and I have no expectation about a future together—that’s my sweet spot. I can handle that. The moment there’s a real possibility of a relationship that’s going somewhere . . . for me it might as well be another episode of American Horror Story.

So if you were to ask me what I’m scared of and I responded honestly . . . I’d have to say I have a fear of commitment.

And if I were to ask you . . . well, you might say the same thing.

Before we go into it, though, it could be helpful to define commitment. Commitment is simply being dedicated to something or someone. Whether that’s dedication to one person, dedication to the plans you make or the values you have . . . it’s a choice you make.

With commitment comes excellence, growth, and—most importantly—love.

While the word commitment may feel daunting and restrictive, it is actually the only way to attain what we want for our lives—especially the important things.

Commitment is the freedom to choose. You see, as long as you don’t commit to anything, you’re really choosing nothing and no one. If you resist committing to anything or anyone over the course of your life, you may try many things, but you will never experience anything deeply—that is to say, in a truly meaningful way.

Instead of harnessing the power of free will, you are completely disregarding it and therefore submitting yourself to a life of coasting. Coasting can be presented as glamorous, but committing is infinitely more rewarding. With commitment comes excellence, growth, and—most importantly—love.

More simply put, if you don’t know—if you don’t decide—where you’re going, you’ll never get there; you’ll never get anywhere.

Commitment—in all of its pain and glory—is where real life is. Real beauty, real goodness, real love.

Think about your favorite film or TV show, your favorite book or band. The fruit of the these works which you enjoy did not come without a continuous decision to create and improve—in spite of difficulty, frustrations and countless distractions. Can you imagine life without Harry Potter? Or The Titanic? Or Google? Or Lebron James?

What would have happened if Martin Luther King Jr. had decided a few years into his career that civil rights was no longer worth his time and effort? What if, in your early teens, your parents decided that you were more trouble than they cared to deal with?

Without commitment nothing would be mastered, nothing would change, no one would flourish, and we would all be quite lonely. Commitment—in all of its pain and glory—is where real life is. Real beauty, real goodness, real love.

Signs of commitment issues

  • You avoid making concrete plans of any sort.
  • You struggle to say “yes” or “no” definitively.
  • You date the same person for several years without desiring to discuss marriage.
  • You have yet to stay at the same job for longer than a year.
  • You fear missing out (whether that be a fun night out or a person who could be a “better fit”).
  • You choose to date people you don’t see a future with or know are wrong for you.
  • You avoid dating at all and are skeptical of your friends who are in relationships.
  • You’ve been wanting to invest but can’t bring yourself to pull the trigger.
  • You text someone for way too long before going on a date.
  • You “ghost” (stop responding to) people often.

If you find yourself nodding at several of these items, learning to be comfortable with commitment might be something for you to work on.

Often the best place to start is understanding. Why is this difficult for you? Why have millennials especially become so reluctant to interact with anything which necessitates responsibility or obligation?

We gripe about this a lot—millennials and our noncommittal ways. But maybe more than pointing out the obvious, it matters that we go deeper.

Why do I have commitment issues?

The reality is that there is probably more than one reason for each of us and they all will vary. However, I think there are at least a few underlying causes which resonate with many of us to some degree and they are worth noting:

Fear of failure

There are very few things in this life meant to be permanent, marriage being one of them. However, we’ve seen too many of them (often including our parents’ or even our own) end—or be carried out horrendously. We, therefore, as individuals and as a culture have developed a skepticism toward the institution itself. Anything resembling marriage (such as serious relationships) scares us because we have no faith except in its inevitable and painful demise.

Fear of getting hurt

Broken homes, previous relationships, jobs we’ve been let go from . . . we all have experienced pain and remember it vividly. Pain is—somewhat unfortunately—one of the most effective teachers. In some cases, pain can be a good friend—but not always. Depending on our ability to bounce back and the amount of time that has lapsed since, we may hold on to old wounds and do just about anything to avoid experiencing that sort of hurt again. And so we don’t date (or we date casually), we don’t apply for that new opening or promotion, we don’t put ourselves out there and we certainly don’t put all our eggs in one basket . . . #safetyfirst.

To be loved requires being known for who we are—the more we prevent ourselves from being seen, the less we are able to be loved by others.

Fear of making the wrong choice

Indecision cripples us regularly. We can’t decide where to go out to eat on a Friday night . . . much less who we should marry. We are terrified of missing out, of making a mistake. Having seen people fail—or experienced it ourselves—and the suffering that often accompanied it, we tell ourselves that if we make the “right” choice, we can successfully avoid any sort of fallout that we’ve seen before.

This is delusional—nothing and nobody is “perfect.” When it comes to a lot of the big things in life, it isn’t a decision of right versus wrong, it’s often a decision between two goods. We are given free will and meant to use it. The answer won’t be written in the clouds or on a sticky note. We have to decide, understanding that there will be ramifications—good and bad.

Fear of intimacy or rejection

Fear of commitment often goes hand in hand with fear of being known. Fear that if someone sees us, they will find us to be bad or lacking in some way. This specific fear is incredibly painful and destructive. What often happens to those of us who have this fear is a keeping of friends and loved ones at arm’s length—withdrawing when we feel vulnerable. To be loved requires being known for who we are—the more we prevent ourselves from being seen, the less we are able to be loved by others. Where this fear comes from is hard to say, but often it’s related to formative relationships gone awry.

Our flaky tendencies, our absolute refusal to make and stick to a decision . . . it’s all very unfortunate. What is happening as a result is an embarrassingly large number of adult “children” who can’t say “yes” to a simple invite—much less embark on the goodness and beauty of love. Love demands permanency and we aren’t equipped for it.

However, I do have hope. I have hope that—starting with awareness, and then understanding—we can undo these subversive habits which have so aptly robbed us of the good things in life.

I have hope we can change this course we are on one person at a time . . . starting with ourselves.

Conquering fear of commitment: how to fix commitment issues

Firstly, we have to come to the realization that all that is good, noble, beautiful, and life-giving isn’t necessarily comfy. The more we accustom ourselves to being open to difficulty, the more we will be able to rise to the occasion when the opportunity for commitment appears. For me this means spending a little more time alone, going for walks (even when it’s cold and grey), resisting the temptation to splurge . . . all these little things are hard, uncomfortable. Yet the good that comes out of them is undeniable. Commitment works the same way. As much as it may be difficult to say “yes,” to be open to someone, to show up when we don’t feel like it . . . a committed life is ultimately much more rewarding than one that is mindless and susceptible to every fear and mood swing.

Refuse to live a life run by fear. Choose to believe that good that lies on the other side!

Something else that has helped me is taking a step back. It’s easy to spread ourselves thin today and do a lot mediocrely instead of just a few things well. Deleting some of the social media apps off my phone has helped immensely with this. I also am learning to say “no” to some things in order to be able to respond “yes” enthusiastically to others. We can’t do it all, give yourself a break and consider how you really want to spend your time.

Finally, as stated earlier, understanding the “why” is crucial. If commitment is something that very much scares you, it may be worth exploring the issue with a therapist. It can be daunting (and pricey), but truly a worthy investment of your time and money. The self-awareness and healing which often results from therapy will allow you to live a more authentic, free, and full life.

Fear of commitment has become so prevalent that often I worry people will no longer view it as a problem. The new “norm” could become one “maybe” after another, relationships going nowhere and the demise of anything which requires a steadfast spirit.

I hope this isn’t the case. I know in my own life I will continue to wrestle with this fear as long as I need to. Not only because I know the good that lies on the other side, but also because I refuse to live a life run by fear.

What kind of life is that, anyway?

Here’s to one day saying and meaning the f-word many of us have run away from for so long: forever.

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