Is Commitment Phobia a Fear of Failure?

Fear of CommitmentI dodged two bullets in the last four years. I avoided a vitriolic, expensive divorce and narrowly escaped marrying someone who can only be described as the Antichrist. I am thankful daily for my good fortune in both instances, but I am ever-mindful that luck eventually runs out.

Therein lies the greatest challenge with my fear of commitment.

As recently as last fall my thoughts on relationships were so jaded that I would find myself saying to the current man I was dating as well as to friends, “Well, when we break up…” To state the obvious, it wasn’t a well-received comment by the men I dated. But I knew none of the relationships were long term, whether I admitted it openly or dealt quietly with a niggling feeling inside.

So here I am internally struggling with no idea of how to work through this. My fierce independence, in part, contributes to my hesitation for a more significant level of commitment. Not being someone who easily embraces change is another factor. But my greatest struggle with commitment is the fear of failure. To me, failure isn’t just defined as divorce though, but also to be unhappy in a marriage.

I have worked hard for four years to be thriving financially again, incredibly happy, and feeling completely fulfilled in my life. I don’t want to wake, dreading interaction with the person next to me on a daily basis. I don’t want to dislike the man I married. And I have no interest in having that starting-over feeling that results from divorce.

I have stated to friends and family I don’t understand putting myself in a situation again where I need to pay a lawyer to break up with someone. It is still nonsensical to me and yet I think about that level of commitment with The Boyfriend.

Emotionally and financially, I can’t afford to fail at marriage.

When I utter the M-word (marriage), it often leads to a feeling of being trapped. I am able to successfully calm my fears, making peace with the long-term concept.

And then the fear creeps in again…

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22 comments on this post.
  1. Nicole:

    Kelly, I think we are life-twins.

    I had a ridiculous divorce. REEEEEEE-DICULOUS! And after the horrendous marriage that led to said divorce, I was absolutely not on-board with having any sort of commitment. I dated casually, I even made it really clear that if (guy who fills causal dating spot) was looking for any sort of future wife/mother of his kids, to take a walk. It wasn’t happening.

    And then I met my Love. And like you… all of it changed. Sort of.

    “I don’t want to wake, dreading interaction with the person next to me on a daily basis. I don’t want to dislike the man I married. And I have no interest in having that starting-over feeling that results from divorce.”

    So don’t!

    Are you guys happy right now, as things are? You love each other, have a committed relationship RIGHT NOW? Is anyone pushing the M-word? If not, then there’s nothing to fix.

    You’ve already come so far if you’re not afraid to express the intensity of your feelings for him. And I assume he does not challenge your independence or any of the things that you claim for yourself, the things you’ve done for yourself. He probably celebrates them. They are probably the things he loves about you.

    You aren’t thinking about a lifetime with your soulmate. You’re already living it. Just let it be what it is. If/when the time comes, you guys will know. That’s what we’re doing, and it’s awesome. There’s no pressure. It will be what it will be. We grow together. We change together. No one is racing to the next big life-goal. We’re just doing our thing. Totally diggin’ the person we wake up next to every day. And giving each other room to be individuals, too.
    Nicole recently posted..Ante Cibum*My Profile

  2. Naked Girl in a Dress:

    You aren’t such a bad life-twin to have so that’s a great thing!

    Thank you for this wonderful, inspirational advice. You have many great points. Looking at it from a different perspective as a result.

  3. Vinny C:

    Wish I could tell you which path is the best but that’s one of the hardest choices in life. Either you play it safe & avoid getting hurt, or you take that step in the hopes of achieving something greater.
    Vinny C recently posted..No Dignity Left.My Profile

  4. Naked Girl in a Dress:

    You have a great point–something greater is lost if I don’t take risks. Well put.

  5. Charlotte:

    I understand this. But at the same time, I don’t think you’d ever want to allow your fears of settling with someone comfortable (whether that be in a marriage or a long-term commitment without the paperwork) shroud your happiness in the current moment either. If there’s anything I’ve learned from the demise of my six-year relationship, I won’t take so long to recognize the tell-tale signs if a man I’m dating isn’t future partner material. Because I was stuck in that last one and I tried every way to fix it and some things are just irreparably broken.

    But if what you have now with The Boyfriend is beautiful and true and you love and are loved, then maybe it’s time to put at least some of those fears aside. Think about how he makes you feel when you’re together. And then imagine a life without him. If you can’t, then perhaps you already have your answer.
    Charlotte recently posted..Giverny by way of the New York Botanical GardenMy Profile

  6. Naked Girl in a Dress:

    Thank you for this wonderful comment. I do need to put fears aside, enjoy what I have, and worry less about the future. It’s a good thing to strive for right now.

  7. Classic NYer:

    But what’s so bad about failure anyway?
    Classic NYer recently posted..Poetry Corner Friday: JourneyMy Profile

  8. Naked Girl in a Dress:

    You are right, of course. Some of my greatest experiences have come from failure. The biggest being my failed marriage. Thank you for the reminder.

  9. Marie Nicole:

    Have you ever heard the expression “Jump, the net will appear.” I think the time has come for you to believe you will be safe. No matter the outcome. You will be safe.
    Marie Nicole recently posted..My First Therapist and KarmaMy Profile

  10. Naked Girl in a Dress:

    I love that quote and now Kimberly does too (she quoted you in her comment on this post). Thank you for this.

  11. Jonah Gibson:

    First, you are never safe because about 40% of life in the best of circumstances is pure dumb luck. The trick is not to play such that dumb luck’s odds increase beyond the natural. This is what looking both ways before you cross and double checking your parachute are all about.

    Second, once you’ve done everything in your power to maximize the odds in your favor, you need to close your eyes and go for it. There is no gain without risk, and, even if you think you are already supremely happy, there is no earthly reason why you cannot be even more so.

    Third, once you have jumped out of the plane you need to stop thinking about how hard the ground is and concentrate on the rush.

    Fourth, don’t get so enthralled with the rush that you forget where the rip cord is. Just sayin’. Taking complete leave of your senses is giving too many points away to dumb luck.
    Jonah Gibson recently posted..Deficit Tales: Lies, Damned Lies and StatisticsMy Profile

  12. Naked Girl in a Dress:

    You are wonderful, as always, Jonah. Thank you for this excellent advice. I have always been one to be so focus on packing the parachute, that sometimes I actually miss the jump. I needed to read this.

  13. kimberly:

    I needed to read this to put a tiny crack in the titanium armor that is around my heart.

    And then to read Marie’s comment: You will be safe.

    I realize that security and safety comes in play in my life when I feel capable and resilient.

    And you know…I am resilient. I am capable. I should open up that armor just a smidgen more.

  14. Naked Girl in a Dress:

    I think you should open your armor a bit more too. But you know that already since I tell you, what? Weekly maybe? You have so much to offer and need to take that leap. Marie is right; the net will appear for both of us.

  15. Brandon:

    One thing I learned from my failed marriage is commitment can be scary when:

    1) You haven’t fully figured yourself out, and
    2) Your partner hasn’t either.

    The biggest problem with my ex is we married young. We grew up (and grew apart) during our marriage. We both thought we could change each other into whatever mold we wanted, and it didn’t work.

    Commitment can be scary, if you haven’t found “you” yet. If you have, and you do a lot of talking early on in the relationship, commitment won’t seem as scary because of the cautious communication.

    Oh, when in doubt, you can do like I did. I’m living with my long-term girlfriend, but there is no ring involved. I’m not planning on leaving (never ever) but if it happens, it’s much less… sticky…
    Brandon recently posted..My eBook is Coming – Wanna Advertise In It?My Profile

  16. Naked Girl in a Dress:

    You are as good at writing relationship advice as you are about zombies. Your talents are endless! Seriously, thank you for taking the time to comment. I have found me, enjoy my time with me, and found someone who loves me just the way I am. And, since then, life just seems better with him by my side-as much as I do love my own company. You are right; keep communicating and it will all work out and not be as frightening as it is to me now. We have had very thoughtful conversations surrounding life together, the M-word, and more. I think we are on the right track. He knows it scares me and he is patient. I couldn’t ask for more than open communication, love, and patience.

  17. Hey Monkey Butt:

    I don’t think it’s a fear of failure for me. I’m just lost.. I run into the relationship all in love and happy and then it fades when something goes wrong and I just can’t get it back. If I catch a glimpse of having it back then something goes wrong and I lose the happy feelings again. relationships give me a headache and i always find myself in them.. Ugh
    Hey Monkey Butt recently posted..Music for a TuesdayMy Profile

  18. Naked Girl in a Dress:

    I have a low tolerance for BS or otherwise so I understand the cycle you just described. I find I quickly, and sometimes rather abruptly, move on. I was asked by a friend last weekend how it was going with The Boyfriend. I told him surprisingly well knowing my track record. I also explained I am shocked that nine months in, I still want to be with him. That is huge for me.

    Maybe we are both screwed up or onto something, but I say continue to just walk when the feelings fade for whatever reason. I don’t believe there is any reason to compromise if it isn’t right. I am only dating the guy and if it’s not great or a struggle–time to move on. Of course I didn’t love the guys I was dating so there wasn’t much emotionally invested. I am finding I am working at this one because he is that important to me.

  19. Hey Monkey Butt:

    There’s more.. He’s the father of my child ::face palm:: I’ve recently given him another chance.
    Hey Monkey Butt recently posted..Day 160, 2012My Profile

  20. Naked Girl in a Dress:

    Hey~If you felt like it was worth giving it a try again, then there must be something still there. Hang in there, but with your eyes wide open.

  21. Ben:

    I was insulated from failure when growing up to the point where letting myself fail is still a hard thing for me.

    I’m not in a relationship right now, and waiting for a little more direction before I ready myself to test the waters. Part of it is it took me a long time before I finally admitted to myself that I was gay, so I’m still figuring myself out.
    Ben recently posted..Where are my words?My Profile

  22. Naked Girl in a Dress:

    I am still trying to figure myself out too. Anyone completely honest will say the same thing. The best thing you can do is wait until you are ready and then put yourself out there for a relationship. Trying to find yourself while in a relationship is a disaster. The best, most fulfilling relationships are the ones when you are on solid ground in your own life–happy and fulfilled alone. I speak from experience.

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