In the last few years, I can fairly and objectively conclude that debate around this subject is widespread, familiar, and, unfortunately, can be somewhat discouraging. Many of us have experienced this confusing fear in one way, shape, or form. Every type of young adult: male, female, religious, progressive, liberal, conservative, single, married, or in a relationship has realized and can agree that issues with being hesitant and afraid to commit to something (or someone) long-term have spiraled. Through casual conversations with groups of friends, some personal experience, and more formal discussions with colleagues and family members, the fear is legitimate. At first, I thought this was another scapegoat for people who are actually just immature, inexperienced, and possibly selfish. While some of that may be true, I’ve drawn some explanations regarding the fear of commitment that may come as a surprise. Don’t worry; I’m still not entirely excusing it.
My previous piece explored the concept of living in a digitally obsessed and over exposed society. This, in turn, has created issues with being so over-stimulated by constant connectivity that it could hinder one’s ability to rationally and confidently make decisions. Commitment Phobia stems from this idea. The fear is valid, and I’m admittedly guilty of unintentionally falling into this trap. After some heavy evaluation, I’ve narrowed down my conclusions that will hopefully give some peace of mind whether you or someone you know has dealt with this unsettling experience.
The first part of breaking down why this cause is plausible is partly due to the major shift in standard societal practices. As we’ve integrated into a diversified world that promotes individuality and acceptance, the opportunities to form new relationships and expand our networks has risen. Because most of us have managed to build a massive social web, it’s changed the way we approach relationships.
The normalcy and convenience in connecting with individuals that all have diverse portfolios means there will always be someone that offers something different compared to another. One person’s ‘on paper’ personality, interests, and beliefs could fit with your own. However, there is now easiness in coming across someone else that checks off different boxes that you feel are important. Because we are interacting with a variety of personalities, we’re potentially left in a constant state of curiosity by wondering what others have to offer. While this may be extremely beneficial in terms of developing friendships and living outside our comfort zones, it is not always helpful when it comes to relationships and commitment. I’ve witnessed many cases where someone is written off completely as a potential long-term option because they noticed a minor personality flaw that another person in their network doesn’t display. A result of this continuous state of curiosity is some of us inadvertently create an ideal image of what we think would be our absolute perfect match. We base this image on all the different characteristics we encounter then pick and choose all the best traits to construct this impeccable partner. The issue is, most of the time, we begin a cycle of premature dismissal when getting to know someone as soon as we notice a trait that we perceive to be a flaw. This could range from something as superficial as one’s personal style to larger scale factors like their career choice.
Because most of us have managed to build a massive social web, it’s changed the way we approach relationships.
I’m sure, at some point, one of us has or knows someone that has been rejected almost solely based on his or her external profile. Does this person meet the mock-up I’ve built in my head based on criteria that probably doesn’t determine someone’s true value?
Personally, I’ve discovered the more my interactions and social circles expanded, the more I was learning about my preferences and myself. It’s perfectly okay to be particular about the qualities that take precedence over others. Also, I do strongly and boldly advocate absolutely not settling with someone out of fear of being alone. But this is different. I’ve heard countless shocking stories, consoled one too many friends, and have myself been disappointed over people that have used shallow and transparent reasons to either not progress in an existing relationship or not pursue one at all. To be frank, this is just an excuse to rationalize their own reluctance because someone may not have met ALL of their predetermined outward criteria. And partly due to their broad and extensive social network, there is an ingrained belief that there will be someone else that meets their superficial textbook requirements – whatever they may be.
Another important but subtle component contributing to the cause of this fear is not as obvious as having idealistic expectations. Those who are easily turned off by the idea of following through with long-term promises involving the life and well-being of another human being are likely extremely independent individuals. The reality is that the priorities of the average adult have changed over time. People are more focused on their own self-worth, and this is a positively cross-cultural progression. The stigmas on being defined by your relationship status no longer exist the way they used to. There is a growing and contagious motivation in young adults alike that are placing more emphasis on education, career goals, financial success, human rights, social justice, and personal passions and interests. We are so consumed with working on our own destiny that someone has to be EXCEPTIONAL for us to allow them into our lives. We are tirelessly focused day in and day out to gain independence, pursue our dreams, and secure our futures in a competitive, uncertain world.
Not so long ago, a union meant that one party (usually the woman) was completely dependent on her partner. Now, I know of women who became young mothers going back to school later in life for their own security and self-reliance. I know women who are prolonging marriage because their career goals are priority. The most refreshing trend that I’ve noticed, especially in the Arab-Muslim community, is women are not jumping into long-term commitments because they feel like they have no other options.
For these reasons, the hesitation or fear with commitment is valid. A complete, fully-functioning, opinionated, independent, educated adult that knows their own worth will only invest in someone long-term that will add value and complement their wholeness, not complete it.
These are two somewhat opposing reasons as to why I think the spread of Commitment Phobia is more common and continuously growing among our generation. On the one hand, don’t let the fixation that the perfect person will check off 10 out of 10 of your preconditioned qualifications stop you from pursuing what could be a long-lasting, fulfilling relationship. If you’re on the receiving end of this rationale, don’t make excuses for people who don’t appreciate and admire all of your unique attributes. On the other hand, being independent, successful and responsible does make you more selective with who is deserving of your time. While I applaud this attitude, I have to emphasize to ensure that it is not based on prejudged assumption. Everyone deserves a window of opportunity to prove who they really are.