“Hey, I’m so sorry to do this, but a minor inconvenience came up at 8 this morning, so I can’t go out with you at 6 tonight. I’m so sorry!”
This is the exact text that I was poised to send this morning. My friend moved to Nashville in August and tonight we’re getting dinner. And no, this article was not delayed, it genuinely took me four months to muster up the courage to go out with someone I hadn’t seen in a bit.
The hesitation wasn’t due to my friend or even the morning inconvenience. Everything was solved in thirty minutes and the drama had subsided. The true problem is the act of leaving my home. The problem is that I would be driving in five o’clock traffic. The problem is that we might have just adopted a cat and I could spend those two hours staring at it, rather than eating. The problem is that it is cold and I was tired, even though it was 9 am. The problem is that I’m a commitment-phobic friend and this is not the first day-of cancellation text I’ve sent.
What is a Commitment Phobic Friend?
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We all have one. If you don’t think you do, maybe you are one. Join the club. It’s fun, we stay in our pajamas all day and watch our comfort TV shows. A commitment phobic friend isn’t necessarily a bad friend, they’re just the reliably unreliable friend. You know, those friends who might take weeks to respond to a simple text or will often back out of plans because ‘something came up.’
They might also be the people who don’t have a small group of close friends, but a ton of casual friends who know bits and pieces about their lives. They stick around for the honeymoon phase of their relationships and friendships but bolt when they have to deal with the harder issues. These are the friends who you call when you want to go out and get drunk, but you don’t call the morning after to pick up your pieces.
These are the people who don’t seek out relationships. Not because they don’t want to be loved, but because they’ve been hurt enough and will probably never trust that you won’t hurt them again. So they stay away.
The Cause of Commitment Phobia
Something I’ve learned after developing many fears is that they don’t just show up. Fear appears when a small seed of concern has been planted and nourished for many years. And the fear of commitment is one of the most trauma-based fears out there.
Commitment phobia, like trauma, takes years of someone learning that relationships aren’t safe. The people who are wary of friendships or following through with their plans have often been burned by their families, past relationships, or any other number of anxiety-inducing situations. This fear can surface in something that might seem simple, like planning an outing, especially when the person isn’t too keen on going out in the first place.
There are people who just cancel plans the day of or simply don’t want to get close to you. They’re not commitment phobics, they’re just flighty or busy. It’s important that we don’t confuse the two.
Full disclosure: I am a commitment-phobe through and through. I once asked my ex-boyfriend if he experienced the stomach drop I did when we made things ‘official’. I was shocked that not everyone has an anxiety attack when they’re asked on a date. I wait to update my Facebook status about a new relationship until over a month of dating, and then I tell no one because the embarrassment of it falling apart is too much to handle. I’m the girl who desperately wants to get married, but debates saying yes to a first date.
Until my current partner, I didn’t go into relationships assuming they would be successful. I genuinely think I chose to date men who would teach me and grow me, and then I would leave. It was an unconscious decision, but it happened (almost) every time.
And don’t even get me started on plans. I hate planning things. I hate knowing at the end of my workday I’ll have to put on a semi-presentable outfit, drive somewhere, and interact with more than one person. It can be my favorite place in the world and I’ll still dread it. Every time I make plans (the three times a month I do), I start to feel discomfort. It’s not that I want to inconvenience anyone or insult them, it’s that I can’t do what I had planned.
In Defense of the Commitment Phobes
After establishing that I might actually be the club leader for commitment-phobes (we’d have club meetings, but no one would show up), I feel as though I need to defend us. We’re not bad friends. We might not always be reliable and there’s a chance that every plan you make with us will get dashed, but we’re not bad friends.
When we find our safe people who make commitment comfortable, we will do anything for them. There are days when my plate is full and there is no chance in hell that I can venture out into the world, but the second one of my safe people texts me, I’d drive across the country to be there for them.
Commitment-phobes aren’t horrible people who keep the world at arm’s length. They’re the people who’ve probably never felt real, genuine love before and once they have it, they’ll never let it go.
How to Maintain Friendships
Being friends with a commitment phobic person is hard. I’d like to say it’s worth it, but, as we’ve established, I’m biased. The phobia doesn’t just go away. I’ve been with my partner for over a year now and I still have a small breakdown every time he asks me to plan a date or go to his house. There are days when I wake up and debate if this is the day it all ends for us. Thankfully, he’s the most gracious and patient person I know and will often take the reins when he feels me slipping.
A big part of maintaining your friendship means sacrificing your own time. The commitment phobic person might not necessarily see their time as being more valuable than yours, but they might feel slightly as though the walls are closing in and they cannot possibly go out to see you tonight.
You might suggest coming to their house and having a cozy night in. Another thing to suggest if they’ve canceled on you is that they look at their schedule and simply tell you what day works best for them, and you can take the planning from there.
Planning around a commitment phobic friend can be difficult, but if you value the relationship enough, it will be so worth it.
In any relationship, boundaries are of the utmost importance. If you’re in a relationship with someone who has a fear of commitment, these boundaries might help save your heart. Always let them feel their feelings, but let them know if their actions are hurting you. It’s okay if they cancel on going out for dinner every now and then, but if it’s been a month and you’ve constantly tried to get into contact with them, sit them down and tell them how you feel.
Open and honest communication is key for any relationship and they might not even realize they’re doing something hurtful or offensive. If the problem is increasing and they’re starting to drown a bit, look into therapy. This might be individual, friendship, or couple’s therapy, depending on your relationship with them.
Another thing to look for in these relationships is small victories instead of huge leaps. More than likely, your partner is dealing with some form of unresolved trauma. Trauma doesn’t just disappear, it takes years of unlearning bad behaviors and thought patterns. If you’re willing to be patient, they’ll heal, just maybe not as quick as you (or they) would like.
When to Cut Off the Friendships
There is a chance that being in a relationship with a commitment phobic person isn’t going to be worth it. Sometimes, they’ll latch on a little too hard to you and create an anxious attachment style relationship. There will also be times when you go to call them, then realize you need someone a bit more reliable than they have been in the past. Understand that it’s okay not to maintain these friendships that can burn you.
If your friend’s constant cancellations are hurting you and you’re becoming wary of their commitment to you, address it. If nothing changes and you feel as though the problem is too big, and the relationship isn’t benefiting either party, it might be time to take a step back.
You’re not a bad person for asking for space. You’re not the villain in their story for leaving if their actions are hurting you. Your leaving might actually be the wake-up call they need in order to get their life together and move forward.
I’ve learned that relationships cannot be 50/50. They have to be 100/100 as much as possible. This means that each person in the relationship has to give 100% of themselves and their effort, no matter what that looks like each day. 100% might look like 10% to another person, but as long as each of you is giving your all, it will be worth it.
For the Commitment Phobic Person
Hi, I love you and you are loved. It’s okay to be scared and feel your feelings and not be certain that everything will work out. It’s also okay to take chances. It’s okay to fall in love and possibly have your heart broken. You’re not weak for canceling plans, you’re strong for making them. Some days will be easy and some days, you won’t get out of bed. You are not less of a person on those days. Those are the days when you deserve more love, not less.
There will come a time when all of your trauma is behind you. I promise. But until then, hold on to the people who make your life a bit more magical. Hold on to those who feel like love to you. Hold on. You’ll make it through.
A commitment phobic friend.
Have you had a relationship with a commitment phobic person before? Are you that commitment phobic person? Comment below!
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