Singles often get labeled as being commitment phobic, but it’s not a singles issue, it’s a personality trait, and it wreaks havoc on relationships.

The “C” Word: Commitment


Singles often get labeled as being commitment phobic, but it’s not a singles issue, it’s a personality trait, and it wreaks havoc on relationships.

Singles often get labeled as being commitment phobic, but it’s not a singles issue, it’s a personality trait, and it wreaks havoc on relationships.
123RF Photo

My darling Singulars,

Yes, I know Singular is a magazine for single people. But being single doesn’t rule out “commitment” or at least the desire to have one. And as singles, we often hear the term “commitment phobe” — those two words send me running to Ben and Jerry’s for relief. It’s when we play head games with ourselves about making a commitment (or not) that we wind up surfing the self-help “aisles” on So let’s stare down the “C” word and see what we find. 


Dear Marnie: The man I’ve loved for the past five years has a fear of commitment. Over and over, he pulls the curtain on us just when things are going well. The last time he broke up with me (and then asked me back) we saw a therapist, and things were better. Then without warning, he ended it again. Then he got in contact once more, telling me he loves me and offering to do things for me. What the heck is this about? Should I speak to him, wait or what? Will he ever grow out of this? — Sprinter

MARNIE SAYS: A more important question is will you grow out of this before you’re eligible for Medicare? First, I loathe buzzwords like commitment-phobe. It gives the phobe a condition — like a fear of heights — that keeps the phobee (you) hooked on fixing the phobe. So I’ve coined a new phrase. I call them “Mystery Guests” because they sign in and out of your life as the spirit moves them. (Read: I came, I got you, I’m gone.) I hasten to add, this group does not include those who adore being single and who let you know the deal going in. The true “Mystery Guest” reels you in with love and promises and then leaves you wondering, “Who was that masked man (or woman)?”

Getting it! Your Personal Strategy:

* Behind the Mask: To the Mystery Guests, getting close, and staying close, makes them feel like they’re inside a Ziploc baggie. Others are perfection-seekers, scared they’ll miss a tweet from JLo. Some need a new love fix — every three months. And then there are the hunters who want to capture their quarry, but quake at the notion of sharing an IRA with them.  

* The Mystery Guest MO: They idolize you, drink from your slipper, and own every CD Adele ever made. It’s wine and win — until you suggest purchasing an espresso machine together — after which they hop a freighter to Brazil. You see, when you’re distant, they step forward; when you move in, they step back. I call this dance the Tango of Torture.

* Is he about to change? If he’s left partners strewn all over the dance floor with thorns in their teeth, you’d have a better chance at the Luck Be a Loser Casino than getting a commitment from the Mystery Guest. 

* You’re still dancing. Find out why. Do you fret, “I’ve invested too much already?” Or think, “If only he weren’t a phobe, what a prize he’d be.” Are you secretly a Mystery Guest yourself, who’d rather play victim? Find out what’s keeping you hooked and what it’s costing you.

* After evaluating the above, I suggest you take a hint from your screen name, Sprinter, and run. But, you’ll probably ignore me, so … let’s get practical. If you’re intent on one last dance:

          1) Back off, big-time.

          2) You drive. Go slow.

          3) Believe not a word he utters. Deeds are all that count.

          4) Let his laundry rot, his food spoil.

          5) Change your locks.

          6) Date others! Do it!

You need to take care of you. That means keeping your portals to him closed and your options open. Oh, and get back with a counselor (a different one) — solo.


Dear Marnie: A good friend of mine I’ll call “Larry” is dating a married woman. She flipped for him. Larry has feelings for her, but does not desire a commitment. He’s very honest about these things with the woman. Problem: She’s leaving her husband for him. Larry doesn’t know what to do …  Please offer whatever advice you can … She IS determined and it’s a huge problem. — Good Pal

 MARNIE SAYS: The lady is “determined” to do what? Put her marriage through a meat grinder then strap this silly Larry to a chopped liver swan? Your pal “Larry” doesn’t have a Huge Problem. For the record, a “Huge Problem” is hunger, a sick child, terrorism. A “Huge Problem” is not a sudden burst of conscience when your VMP (Very Married Partner) hires a Marital Moving Van and the stakes become serious.    

Getting It! His (Yours) Whoever’s Personal Strategy:

* JPA-ing (Just Playing Around): Larry’s been loving through forked fangs while Mrs. Very Married was thinking U-Hauls. Yes, I know he told the lady he didn’t want a commitment. Feh! If women believed that one, you’d be up a tree communing with a pterodactyl. 

* Consequence: Is he mired in guilt? Double Feh. He’s quaking over explaining how his ardor extends to messing up a marriage but stops short of getting “serious.”

* A Space Problem. (And yes you may include “outer.”)  All he has to do is tell her he needs his “space” — for 10 or 20 other married miserables. His faithless Fidoette will whimper back to her hubby begging for a Milkbone. 

In the future, I suggest that Larry confine his pickings to nice, single “JPAs” who won’t spoil his fun by wanting a real relationship when he least expects it. 

Copyright © Marnie Macauley / 2016 Singular Communications, LLC

Marnie Winston-MacauleyAdvice guru Marnie Winston-Macauley — therapist, author, speaker — has been a radio, TV, and syndicated advice columnist and counselor for over 20 years. Witty, wise and totally irreverent with a self-professed loathing for psychobabble, she’s written over 20 books and calendars, along with  hundreds of relationship columns and features for prominent publications.  She has her MS degree from the Columbia University School of Social Work.  In media, her work has garnered her Emmy and Writer’s Guild Best Writing nominations. She is widowed and now living single. For personal advice, you can also find Marnie Macauley on  Presto Experts, and Better Help. She invites you to join her on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. 

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