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Commitment Phobe?
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Commitment Phobe?

My boyfriend & I were dating for 7 months. He was affectionate, generous, expressive.  We had amazing chemistry.  We had great conversations. We went on romantic trips.  I met his family on a couple of occasions (incl Thanksgiving).  All my friends who saw us together were convinced he was crazy about me. From the beginning he said I was "the full package".

But 7 months into it, he had not said I love you.  Finally I pushed the topic and asked how he felt.  That's when he said he had been thinking and maybe it was best to downshift to being friends. He said when I'm open and expressive (I admit I was a little guarded at the start), he felt in love.  But he wanted to be in love all the time. He worries we're too much alike, that he needs someone who would bring things out of him, bring him out of his shell (he's an extrovert, so I was surprised to hear about his "shell").  

He said at our age (both 40, never married), there’s no time to date for too long.  He wants to get married and have children asap and doesn't want to waste either of our time.  While he thought I was wonderful, the most beautiful woman he's ever met and perfect in so many ways, he wasn't sure it was the right fit.  

After a couple of conversations over the next few weeks, he said he loves me and finds me irresistible, but still feels we're too much alike (our default was to be homebodies).   He's spent a lot of time thinking "she's amazing - is this it?", but when he looks to intuition for an answer, all that comes up is a ?.  He wants time to 'figure it out', to be sure he's with someone who's a good fit, whom he'll love forever.  

A friend of his told me he has a pattern of breaking up when there was seemingly nothing wrong.  This friend thought he was chasing an unrealistic ideal. It got me thinking - is he a commitmentphobe, or is "being too much alike" a legitimate reason for breaking up with someone, even if you love and are very attracted to them?
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Dear Carmenmiranda,

The term commitment-phobic is convenient, but doesn’t tell us much beyond what we already know, that your boyfriend is betwixt and between, ambivalent as anything, all over the place. Yes he’s phobic about making a long-term relationship, but why? My best guess from pondering your email, is that he’s right about there being something missing. However, my other guess is that what’s missing is in him, not you or the relationship per se.

Let me explain: often people will experience the other person as being insufficient, because, quite without being aware of it, they are expecting that person to make up for various emotional deficiencies or confusions in themselves. Of course, this is impossible. Yes, other people complement us, and over time we learn from them and become more like them, fuller. But the demand to “fix” the person on a wholesale basis is ridiculous. After a while (say, 7 months) it doesn’t happen and such a person wants to go back to the store for a trade in (you’re “too much alike”). Note also that he doesn’t make simple sense. He’s an extrovert, but wants to be brought out of his shell. Huh? To me, this says he’s got a bunch of other issues that he’s not in touch with. He wants someone to heal him, but he doesn’t know what the hurt is he’s trying to get other people to heal.

Past a certain point, trying to understand what’s going on from the story alone (and you’ve written it well!) is about like trying the understand how to visualize the ocean by standing on a boat and looking down. It’s a start, but that’s all. To go further, I’d need to know something about his history with women, all the way back to mother, and her relationship with the father. Plus anything else about his history and psychology that you know about.

Let me add that “being too much alike” is indeed a legitimate reason to not be together, but only if the people involved are so much so that there’s no spark, no novelty, because they bring identical things home. Otherwise, it speaks to fears of being trapped in a relationship that echoes one from the past, usually a toxic one.

Another thing: no relationships really “count” before six months or so. Why? Because before that, all the connection hormones are being put out in big doses, producing the feelings of high, romance, connection, etc. It’s only when these wind down that the personality elements come back to run the show. That’s true for the two of you, and everyone else as well.

What to do? Set limits, and tell him so. At 40 both of you don’t want to hang around ambivalating (my word). Tell him flat out that it doesn’t make sense (if on reflection it really doesn’t) and say either figure out what’s really going on, and get to work on it, or you’re out of there. Leaving won’t make for a quick turnaround, but if he’s not just a player, it might get his attention. If he really values you and the relationship, and the two of you really aren’t too similar to not be boring, perhaps he’ll look to understand the head game he’s playing with himself.

Most people hear words like these, but attempt to have  it both ways, trying to change the other person but sticking around. Nothing changes. Then, instead of being 40, they’re 50, and it’s “game over.” I hope profoundly that this doesn’t happen to you.

Cordially,

Dr. P.

P.S. If you’d like to understand further, per paragraph 3, above, please give me some more to go on, and we’ll take it from there. Or reach me off site.

P.P.S. Thanks for the lovely words about the site!
8 Comments
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let him be if he loves you he will call you back
just be cool, take him as what he first said and act exactly same
good luck
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By the way Dr P, I've just been on your site - love the case studies and article re heart vs head!
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Dr P, thanks so much for your response, on a holiday weekend no less!

I only met them twice, but I found his family to be lovely: picture perfect wasps (pardon the stereotype) – highly educated, well-to-do, well mannered, welcoming. He speaks fondly about his childhood.  His parents have been married 45 years, are still very much in love and he holds them up as the model for a happy marriage. He loves his sister (only sibling), who’s happily married with kids. He idolizes his father, who is a very accomplished man.  He himself is highly accomplished, driven and successful.  He shared that when he was younger, his mom tried to ‘control’ him (not sure in what way) and he rebelled, as teenagers do. He said it in a lighthearted tone, so it didn’t suggest to me that he was too affected by it. He went away to boarding school, but more for scholastic reasons (he followed in father’s academic footsteps almost to a T) than to get away from mom/home.  He mentioned his parents had high expectations of him.  They are still a strong presence in his life.  He joked that his mom would like him married next month, if possible.

As for his personality - he is cerebral and rationale and can be impenetrable when he's in this mode. He can be focused to the point of being detached. He is also often a bit spaced out and absentminded. These traits may be 'the shell' he's referring to. But he is mostly laid back, talkative (though too much re: work and academics), warm, gentle, affectionate, funny.  A clean-cut, wholesome person, not only in looks but also (seemingly) in his behavior and mind.  He is also a bit of an adrenaline junkie and loves pushing himself athletically.

He’s always had long-term relationships (1-4 years; I may be the shortest-lived!). I was only able to get him to tell me about 3 of them. One was in college, with someone he described as overbearing and manipulative.  He broke up with her before she went on a semester abroad, but somehow, was very hurt when he found out she soon had another boyfriend. He told me that story several times and I asked why he was hurt when he was the one who ended it.  He said he was immature and just never knew how emotionally hurt he could be, despite the fact he didn’t loved her. He said the pain stayed with him for a couple of years and it was the closest he’s felt to depression.

The night we broke up, I was surprised to find out he’d been engaged once, in his early 30s.  He had been dating this GF for 2 years. During a trip together, he found her crying.  He later found out it was bc she was expecting him to pop the question on the trip.  Even though he wasn’t sure he wanted to, he proposed shortly thereafter, because he thought it was “the right thing to do”.  But as soon as he did, he felt it wasn’t right for him and broke it off a month later.  He cited religious/cultural reasons (she wanted to raise the kids Jewish, he’s agnostic) and ‘a couple of other things’, which he didn’t expand on and I didn’t probe.

He dated his last GF before me for a year and a half, while she was in B-school.  Upon graduation, she had planned to move back home, across the country, but she offered to stay.  He told her no, as he didn’t want to feel responsible for her staying if things didn’t work out.  She moved back and after a few months of long-distance dating, they broke up.  He said they didn’t share the same values and that he could not see her ‘raising his kids’. He said, “I didn’t quite trust her.  Like I trust you”.

The last time we met (at my suggestion) was last weekend.  I wanted to address his concerns.  I gave him examples of how we’re not alike.  I told him that if he wanted to be out of his ‘shell’, then he should bring himself out.  I said I didn’t think his reasons made sense (at least, not enough to break up over). He stood by his rationale and said he wanted to figure things out over the next couple of months.  I told him waiting was too hard and maybe we should just forget it all and each other. He said he didn’t think it was that easy.  I asked him to tell me to move on and I’ll do it tomorrow (basically my lame attempts to force a decision).  He said he can’t bring himself to tell me that, but I should do what I felt was best for myself. Basically, he’s not asking me to wait. I asked him to tell me his decision once he’s made it, whatever it may be, and he agreed.  This would help me officially close the chapter in my mind (plus the curiosity would kill me!).

Dr P, I hesitate to bring this up, as it’s pure supposition, but his friend (who I mentioned in the last para of my original post), shared another theory with me. She thinks he’s gay.  She says it’s a baseless theory and chalks it up to her female intuition but she’s thought it since the first time they met about 15 yrs ago.  I dismissed it - the possibility never crossed my mind and also, it’s so easy to want to assume he’s gay just because he won’t commit. But of course, it got me thinking.  He was very passionate and downright adoring of my body, but 30-40% of the time, he experienced delayed ejaculation (e.g., could not finish).  I assumed it was a combination of stress (all-consuming job) and Ambien (which he often took).  But perhaps (if the Google Gods are right), it’s latent homosexuality??  Sorry to throw this theory in, as again, it’s baseless, but I’d feel remiss to leave it out!

When we were together, we were very physically (not just sexually) bonded.  He says it’s the only time he feels peace of mind.  I know I have to accept it’s over (I certainly don’t want to struggle over the same issue at 50!), but it’s difficult when being together is so amazing and there’s the possibility he’s honestly confused. This is why I’m still wondering if it’s fear of commitment or could his concerns be legitimate.  I guess my real question is, what are the odds he will come around and decide we should be together. I know you can’t answer that, but any further perspective would be so appreciated.

Thank you!
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One further note - you asked about his mother's relationship to his father.  He cites them as ideal complements - dad's a cerebral academic type who's in his own mind a lot and mom's social and talkative (involved in the community, hosts parties, etc).  

I found the dad to be very academic but very social in his own right.  The mom loves large gatherings and is very comfortable being the hostess who keeps the conversation going.  During Thanksgiving, she actually had conversation starters/games, almost the entire weekend.  She was sweet about it so I saw this as being a good hostess, but I guess it could be seen as a bit controlling.
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Dear Carmenmiranda,

There’s not much in your articulate second email that clarifies things. If there’s a buried conflict in our boy, and likely there is (unless there’s something about you, plain and simple that’s getting in the way; improbable) it’s not visible from the data so far.

You need to maintain the upper hand. YOU should make the decision. Don’t petition him to tell you to go. I could speculate about the odds of him coming around, but it would be meaningless. Fact is, he isn’t there. It really doesn’t matter that being with him is amazing, and that he trusts you. So what, given his distance?  “Amazing” puts us at peace in our 20’s, but not much further. The long and the short of it is that whether he’s commitment phobic (whatever that is) or you’re really too much alike, or he’s gay but doesn’t know it, or he’s looking for a shrink instead of a woman to resolve some inner turmoil, or he can’t be intimate and your very good qualities threaten him thereby, bottom line he’s saying “no” and WASTING YOUR TIME.

So I think you need to say or write something like the following:

“Joe, you’ve said you don’t want to lead me on. Fair enough. It clearly isn’t working for you. Who knows, your concerns might be for real, even though they don’t make sense to me. My guess is that you’ve got some kind of kink in your relationship line, but again, who knows? If I’m right, go take care of the confusion, either by reflection, professional help, or talking to somebody else. Maybe you’ll realize the value of our relationship; or maybe not. If you call, I’ll talk to you, but I won’t call you, and I won’t wait. As of now, I’m gone. I may or may not be available in the future. Good luck.”

It’s too bad, but fact is, if he’s not available, he’s not available. If he comes around, it will be on his own. Meanwhile, my sense is that you yourself are both bright and attractive. You’re worth a lot; don’t get yourself ground up in his ambivalence. Having someone say you’re “beautiful and perfect in so may ways” and then pull away like that is crazy-making!

Move on to someone who knows what to make of a good woman: a good wife!

Cordially,

Dr. P.

P.S. I’m available to you ongoing, as mentioned.
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Get a book on love avoidance/love addiction. You and your boyfriend will be in there. I would ask him about his chilhood to see if there was any enmeshment with his Mother.
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Dear Dr Pomerance,
I had not been in touch with my ex since the end of March, around the same time of my last post above.  2 weeks ago, I ran into him at the hair salon (he goes to the same stylist as I do).  He said he had been 'meaning' to call me and asked if we could meet for 'lunch or something'.  I said ok, but doubted he would get in touch and I've been right - no word from him since then.

A few days ago, his friend who I mentioned in my previous posts, emailed to see how I was doing.  I told her I ran into him and that I had a feeling that he was already seeing someone else. Her response back was vague, but I sensed she was trying to tell me that I was right.  I pressed her and she confirmed it - he is in a new relationship.  She didn't give details, as I'm sure she's uncomfortable being the bearer of bad news, but I gather this happened in the last few weeks.

Though the news hurt me, I needed to hear it as it's the final push necessary to put this behind me.  I feel I am going through the grieving process all over again. I am so sad about how unfair this all is - that he should meet someone special so soon after our relationship ended and that somehow, it minimizes or even negates what we had.  I am thinking that maybe he was right - I wasn't a good fit for him and he just needed to be free to meet the right person (and perhaps now, he has).  I feel so disheartened that he seems to have so many more options than I do and better access to meeting the right people, while for me, finding someone special is like looking for a needle in a haystack. I have no negative feelings towards him and can't help thinking I missed my last chance at happiness.

I know this is a lot of insecurities talking as I am feeling completely inadequate at the moment.  I know I should just focus on mending myself.  It's hard to do as I'm constantly thinking about him, doing all the things we used to do with someone new.  Dr P, I don't have a relationship question per se, but I wonder if you have any advice on how to pull myself out of this sadness.  I know there are no shortcuts, but any suggestions would be appreciated.

Thanks.
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