I bet if you asked all the divorced people on earth what they want as far as their romantic life moving forward, I bet you’d get a different answer from each and every one. It’s a little like right and left wing politics. There are those on one end of the spectrum who are dying to be remarried and blend their families in the next 30 minutes. Then there’s the other end of the spectrum: people who have post divorce commitment phobia. In other words, they are never getting into a serious relationship. Ever again.
I have met both kinds of men and women, and those in between. A lot of this depends on timing. When the divorce is still fresh, some people have no interest in dating, but eventually then get married again. When the divorce is still fresh, others jump right into marriage number two, which in my opinion leads to divorce number two (but that’s another blog.) There are those who end up married in time, and those who never get married. There are endless scenarios because every situation is different.
A few days ago, I posted this on my Divorced Girl Smiling Facebook Page:
Has your divorce given you post divorce commitment phobia? Let’s discuss!
Here is a very interesting response I got back from “Doug,” a divorced guy with kids.
“Funny you should ask this. I think about this question every time I hear someone lament having a partner that is “a commitment-phobe” or, more commonly “AFRAID of commitment” … hmmm.
It’s a tricky little turn of phrase because it pre-supposes that the ability to commit is the natural and desired want of any well-adjusted person … you wouldn’t say a non-smoker is a “cigarette-phobe” or a peaceful person is an “anger-phobe” because healthy lungs and grace are aspirational and fearing their opposites would never be judged with a label.
And therein was the problem. We often take for granted that people “should” (ooh, red flag when we say “should”) want to commit. Commitment – versus loving and devoted presence – is merely granting an option on the future. In a world where many are struggling to overcome depression (as Lao Tzu says “living in the past”) or fighting to avoid anxiety (again Lao Tzu, “living in the future”), many have found a natural balance in “living in the present” (or, to quote Mr. Tzu, “in peace”).
As you have written so eloquently in other posts, it is a natural and understandable behavior to emerge from divorce and take your time with life. Someone may feel the need to spend time alone. If they have adjusted to their new life, they may boldly reach out to a companion. And if they truly know themselves, their wishes and their partner, they may take the romantic (but statistically risky) step of making “a commitment” in second marriage (demonstrating what Samuel Johnson so wryly called “the triumph of hope over experience”).
I don’t think commitments are necessarily aspirational or obligatory. Two people get to decide together in partnership what is understood in a relationship. Some couples can go to the horizon and into the sunset without a traditional commitment (think Goldie and Kurt), while others can buy the option and not make it (think: 67% of second … and 73% of third … “commitments”).
The real heartbreak (and name-calling) begins when couples are not in sync on the issue. Yes, some partners have no intention, desire, interest, plans or prospects to “forsake all others” … which is not a phobia, it is a choice. If they are honest, they are not wrong (if they are dishonest, they are wrong for THAT). If the other partner is not in sync, agreement, or being honest about their own hopes, wishes, needs and wants with their partner or themselves, then some soul-searching is in order … to paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt, “No one can string us along without our consent.”
The cycle of expectation-and-disappointment is a brutal experience for the person who rides that roller-coaster but they would be helped to realize that they bought their own ticket. It is not compassionate to make others responsible for our own emotions.
“Fear of commitment” is not “a thing” … it is an honest expression of someone’s personal moment (a moment that in some cases lasts a lifetime … so be it, that is who they are … their actions, if not their words, are usually pretty up front about that). It is not “immaturity” or “[hormone] poisoning” … it is just that person doing their best (even if that “best” falls short for their partner, who may need to move on).
An aspirational relationship reflects harmony, communication and parity at the end of every day. No one partner is “stealing” something from the other … and no one partner is “giving to get” (passive-aggressively sharing of themselves … such as their time, assets or intimacy … yes, sex … with an expectation of an option on the future that has not been freely given or honestly communicated). Those types of behaviors can be labeled too. And, in addition to divorce, such behaviors can also be a source of phobias.”
What Doug made me realize is that post divorce commitment phobia, (actually, any commitment phobia), isn’t really a fear, it’s a choice. Maybe you’re with the wrong person. Maybe it’s not the right time. There could be many reasons why a person CHOOSES not to be committed to the person they are dating.
Doug’s right. “An aspirational relationship reflects harmony, communication and parity at the end of the day.” In other words, all that really matters is happiness. If you don’t want to commit, don’t. If you’re with someone who doesn’t want to commit, you have two choices: get out or stay in the relationship as is.
Thanks, Doug! I think we should have a radio show together once you decide to come out of the closet!