The Commitment Phobe

Walking away from the imperfect guy and other advice.

By Hara Estroff Marano, published January 30, 2006 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

A Practice Round?

I have a male "friend" with whom I have been sleeping for over a year. We do have a lot in common and get along great. I enjoy every minute I spend with him. Here's the fun part: He is scared of commitment. He told me once that he never wants to get married, but I'm hoping he has changed his mind since then. He has had some pretty ugly relationships in the past, but I want him to know that I'm different. He also has a daughter and shares joint custody with his ex-girlfriend. His daughter is a big part of his life, but he doesn't want me to meet her because he's afraid she will tell her mother about me (the mom is very jealous to the point of threatening to get me fired from my job if I am with her ex). He seems impressed that I have goals in my life and he lets me know he's happy when I accomplish something. He makes me feel good about myself. I just don't want to share this guy with anyone else. I am the one he calls when he needs someone to talk to. I think I have fallen for him. Is there anything I can do to convince him that I am the perfect girl for him or have I just wasted the past year of my life? Is he even worth it?

You're right. Lots of guys are against commitment in the abstract and change their mind after they are in a relationship. The love they feel provides the security for them to grow past their fears. But the real question isn't what he's worth, it's what you're worth. You may very well be the perfect girl for him, but it is very doubtful that he is the perfect guy for you. If, as you say, you don't want a guy you have to share with someone else, then you couldn't have made a worse choice. You're going to have to share him with his daughter and to some degree with his ex, as they are co-parents. Plus, his prior entanglements, with people over whom you have no control, threaten to make your life very messy and even destroy your livelihood. Unless you completely discount your own value, why would you willingly choose that? More important, you are taking your measure of yourself from his validation of you every time he confides in you (and, presumably, not in someone else). This is not a good foundation for a strong sense of self.

There are lots of guys out there who take pride in their partner's accomplishments (it's usually a mutual thing) and don't have destructive ex's. You need to find one of them. Don't consider it a lost year. Consider it practice.

From Confidantes to Couple

Years ago I moved across the country and almost immediately met a man. We became close confidantes. I was alone and far from home and he was hurt and confused, as his wife wanted out of their marriage. They legally separated several months later. A year later he was living on his own but still married and did not include me in any family events. I made attempts to break it off but we always ended up back together. I still had not developed strong support systems. I explained my position to him, told him we could still be friends but not lovers, as I was not willing to be emotionally and physically connected to someone who was unavailable. This was difficult, but I was resolute. Years later he remains my best friend. We see each other often and travel together. I have heard him refer to us as dating, been included in outings with his siblings but have not met his children, been included in family get-togethers or any holiday rituals. I suspect he has continued to pursue his ex and other women. Recently, I told him I wanted to actively pursue dating others. To my surprise, he suggested that he would be interested in taking our relationship the next step—marriage—but thought that I was not interested in a physical relationship. I told him I required an honest and monogamous relationship with a high degree of communication and I wasn't sure he was capable of being monogamous. We committed ourselves to discussing moving our relationship forward, not moving on. With much encouragement, he has begun to share with me his story—other women, the long-time hope of getting his marriage back. Can he be trusted to be monogamous?

No one has any guarantees against infidelity. Sometimes it has to do more with circumstances than either of the people. Hooray for you for having made the difficult but very healthy and self-respecting decision years ago, and for recently speaking up for your needs in a relationship. That is precisely how partners stay emotionally involved and attuned to each other throughout their lives—they regularly have open and frank discussions of their needs and wishes with each other, which is important, as needs change and evolve over time. Such loving and rewarding involvement minimizes the risk of an affair. You've already seen how it has helped him disclose his disappointments of the past and his involvements while you were "just friends." You can't own anyone's past, and in your commitment to conversation you've got the DNA of a solid future ahead. Take it slowly but all signs look pretty good for moving forward.