What is a No Strings-Attached Relationship?
You have probably seen it around you; it is one of the newest trends of our century that relationships are initiated through social media (applications like Facebook and Tinder). People seem to find in online dating what they have been looking for since forever: “lighter” or “easier” social interactions with no responsibilities.
Building such relationships looks easier, more convenient, needs much less active participation and it’s supposed to be more fun. We can go on and off in relationships any time we want and that seems like it’s a silent mutual agreement between us.
But, let’s look at the result: people have never felt so lonely than the last decade; relationships have grown even more complicated; couples therapy has been in the rise because partners are losing their emotional and sexual connection day by day.
If indeed online dating is so much better, then why does it feel like it’s not enough?
Why do we want more?
Why are we not satisfied by the freedom that it offers anymore?
“This is who I am”- Attachment theory
It all comes down to deep emotional needs, according to the Attachment theory developed by John Bowlby. If parents have responded to their kids in an unpredictable, inconsistent, distant way, they might grow up feeling unprotected when depending on others. In other words, if our mom was not available, distant, cold or very critical towards us as kids, then we would probably choose to protect ourselves and “accept” that we don’t need her that much as we thought. And it makes sense now: We learnt that being vulnerable isn't always safe and this is what we do in our adult life: we protect ourselves by keeping others at a distance.
Although commitment-phobia isn’t innate, the need for a secure and stable bond is. If that need is disrupted-or not fulfilled- in early life, that will create a pile of issues for future relationships and one of those can be commitment issues or avoidance of the emotional bond.Experiences like these can build strong defensive strategies, like difficulties in trusting, which at some cases are extremely challenging to understand and overcome.
If we avoid committing in a relationship or feel under pressure when we are getting too emotionally close to a person, that can be an alarm hinting a painful emotional experience in the past. Infidelity, abuse or abandonment in previous relationships or even a parental divorce are some examples.
Long story short: this is not who we are. If we got hurt in the past, we are trying to avoid being hurt again, which means that we will not easily let ourselves feel vulnerable again. It is not a matter of pride, but mostly a subconscious force which is trying to keep us safe and sound.
How Fear of Commitment Affects You & Your Relationships
Convenience always comes with a cost.
Avoiding commitment may feel good and comfortable at the beginning; however most of the times, it may lead to an empty feeling, superficial relationships and unhappy moments. When we are focused on the absence (instead of the presence) of deep emotions, we end up feeling less connected, lonely or even depressed.
Commitment-phobia or relationship anxiety keeps a big percentage of people outside of long-term relationships or makes them terminate “good” relationships for no reason (or for an insignificant/superficial reason). People who are afraid to commit, in fact, are crying out for companionship, care and love, but it is never the right time to pursue their real needs or with the right person to meet them. And the reason why is: Change imposes risk and risk includes the possibility of pain.
Feelings, switch: ON
If you have felt like this before, you are not alone. Fear is a normal protective reaction (a.k.a. defensive mechanism) towards perceived threat and danger. Commitment-phobia is not a diagnosable condition, but it is definitely real! The more we grow older, the more we realise that, although it seems logical, we don’t need to continue keeping people at arm’s length. In the long run, the cons of such a strategy outweigh the pros, since we end up feeling even more lonely and empty than before.
How To Overcome Fear of Commitment
Acknowledge and accept
The first step is to accept your fear and learn how to dare. Become aware of the moments that you are trying to push people away. Life is unpredictable and full of sweet (in this case) risks which are eventually rewarding if you are ready to take them. Understand when it's your fear talking and not you.
Leave the past behind you
Secondly, stop being determined by your past and let go. If you are stuck in previous experiences, there is a great possibility that you will relive them, not because it is fate, but simply, because you are repeating familiar patterns and consequently, you are narrowing your options. You may have been hurt in the past, but now you are consciously choosing people who love you and respect you. For now it's ok. For the future, nobody knows.
Seek professional help
It is possible that an external observer can help you identify your relationship patterns and change them. Uprooting beliefs of years and years is not happening overnight, and there’s no quick fix for that. A relationship therapist can help you understand the true nature of your relationship patterns and slowly help you change them to more healthy and trusting behaviors.
See more tips and insights on Fear of Commitment in our article here.
Nevertheless, there is some hope to the romantic but commitment-phobic amongst us.
Give yourself time to heal and when you feel ready, you will take the risk again even if you feel terrified! We are all scared here, but it's better scared and together, than scared and lonely, right?
Written by Foteini Kanaloupiti
Psychologist, M. Sc. at AntiLoneliness
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