Commitment-phobia has (somehow) become very in-style at the moment. Society often sees someone who doesn’t want a relationship and doesn’t focus on romance as “cool.” (Well, at least to a certain degree—a.k.a. until you’re a woman who is 30 and single.)
But why is it that some of us are more anti-commitment than others? Is it due to trauma or is it implanted in our DNA? Or is this just another millennial trends we’ll outgrow like avocado toast?
The psychology behind commitment-phobia is actually quite interesting. There is not one, clear answer; the reasons for someone’s aversion to long-term partnership or marriage vary from person to person. And yet, similarities occur and brackets in personality and societal traits can be drawn up.
Here is why some people avoid commitment at all costs.
Commitment doesn't seem “sexy” anymore
Bountiful studies show that millennials are getting married later and with less frequency.
We’re a generation of commitment-avoiders. In a time of swiping on dating apps, the f*ckboy phenomenon, and antidepressants spread far and wide, we’re not committing to relationships. We have no attention spans, we’re dating (and not dating) everyone, and we always want to be the one who “loves less.”
Speaking of “loving less”: This is a trend that is highly en vogue. Being the one who cares less in a relationship is the “hot thing.” It's just an illusion of power. We’re so terrified of getting hurt that we keep potential romantic partners at arm’s length. As long as we love them just a little bit less than they love us, we’re seemingly in the clear. We put our hearts behind a wall so no one can break them.
This may seem like the safer choice, but it winds up screwing all of us ... and not in a good way. How can we form meaningful connections with other human beings if we’re so busy swiping on Tinder and not texting people back? It’s a true pickle.
Want to hear more? Listen to this episode of NPR’s 1A for a discussion on the millennial trend of having less sex and dating with less frequency.
There might be stuff in your past you’re not even aware of
Traumatic family backgrounds are a key culprit in commitment-avoidance; Divorced parents, abuse, brutal breakups, or an absentee parent are all legitimate reasons why someone might be avoiding commitment.
You might also look at your past and think, “I don’t have any traumas. I’ve had a totally normal life,” only to discover somewhere down the road that you have, in fact, experienced abandonment that have shaped the way you approach relationships.
“I was never one for relationships that lasted longer than a few months,” says Grace*, 29. “I would look for any excuse to pop out of there as soon as it got serious. But I’d never had anything scary or bad happen in my past. My parents are happily married, I have a stable family life.”
Upon further reflection with her therapist, Grace remembered her first romantic experience as a 16 year old, “My first serious boyfriend dumped me out of nowhere. Now, I know this sounds silly. Like, everyone has been dumped before, but I really think it shook me up for a big part of my life. Every time I got close to someone, it felt like I was waiting for them to leave me with no explanation.”
Therapy can be a big factor in not only discovering what might be holding you back in your past, but it can help you work towards an ability to commit to and trust partners in the future. Grace has been engaged for a year and she and her fiancé are getting married this June.
Then again, fear of abandonment might just be in your DNA
While fear of abandonment can, and often does, stem from past traumas, it can also be a deep-seated trait in your personality. Some people are simply more resistant to committed relationships than others.
For instance, you might be a highly independent person who is focused on her career and has never been one for serious relationships. Women especially have been socialized to believe that their worth is entirely dependent on their relationship status—this isn’t true. For some, committed relationships, marriage, and long-term partners simply don’t have an appeal. Perhaps we should stop demonizing a perfectly normal feeling and stop attributing it to some psychological defect.
We’re obsessed with love (just look at the thousands of movies dedicated to the theme). But sometimes romantic love isn’t for everyone. As with all things in life, this is a personal choice we should respect.
“The internal battles of ‘commitment phobes’ are often complicated or agitated by the stigma over gravitating towards a single life or casual relationship in a society that has preferred—and until very recently insisted on—loving, long-term monogamy as the only happy ending,” writes Vice’s Nick Keppler .
If you’re not one for commitment, have enough self-awareness to know this about yourself and be up front with potential boyfriends or girlfriends. Being commitment-averse does not mean you have a “get out of jail free card” for being a jerk. There is a difference.