I sat one day determined to find out what was behind the tantalizing fear of commitment (called “gamophobia”) that many people from my generation (Y/Z) and myself suffer from.
This is what I found out.
Table of Contents
- Those Who Love Commitment
- Those Who Hate Commitment
I conceptualize the fear of commitment as psychological claustrophobia.
What does that mean?
Claustrophobia is the fear of small spaces.
When you dig a bit deeper, you realize it is in fact the fear of not having enough space, which means, the fear of not being able to move.
Why would one want to move?
Maybe one is afraid and wants to run away.
Maybe one is in pain and wants to run away.
Maybe one is sick of being where one is as the situation is becoming unbearable so…one wants to run away.
The cause for movement is always the same, and can be expressed in two ways.
- Here is not good anymore. Therefore, I leave.
- There is better. Therefore, I leave.
The need to move always comes from the need to relieve some sort of pain (I am currently writing this in a bean bag chair from which I haven’t moved in four hours because no pain was felt).
If claustrophobia is the fear of bearing pain due to being forced into physical immobility, commitment is the psychological (and physical?) enforcement of that immobility.
When you think about it, claustrophobia is to the physical world what fear of commitment is to the psychological world.
Fear of commitment, therefore, ultimately comes down to the fear of bearing the inherent pain of commitment.
The next logical question is: why would commitment be painful?
Those Who Love Commitment
Commitment is a very strange thing.
It looks different according to the mindset you have (abundance VS scarcity).
Let’s first talk about the scarcity mindset.
The scarcity mindset regards commitment positively.
There isn’t much of what I want in life so if I find it, I am happy to commit.
Commitment is seen as a way to ensure future abundance.
Eg: by seriously committing to that job, I ensure that I will earn money each month and earn more as I climb the hierarchy.
Or by committing to that person, I’ll never be alone again.
People committing to a pet don’t see the hurdles of taking care of it every day; they see the pleasure to have someone happily barking every time they come home.
Why would anyone be afraid of that?
Those Who Hate Commitment
On the other side stands those with an abundance mindset.
The abundance mindset doesn’t regard commitment positively.
Why tie yourself to something if you’ll always be able to find it in the world?
Commitment is always regarded as something to lose, never to win.
Eg: committing to that girl means I can’t date all the other girls.
People that fear commitment don’t look at it in terms of what they gain, but in terms of what they lose.
- Their freedom to stop what they are engaged in when they’re sick of it.
- Their freedom to stop what they are engaged in because they’ve found something better.
Both of these fears have the same cause: the fear of the pain that the commitment will invariably create.
Let’s see how they work.
1. Getting Stuck in Something You’re Sick of
Most people can sustain and enjoy their routines.
They wake up every day at the same time, eat the same breakfast, read the same newspaper, and go to the same job.
Believe it or not, this was the norm up until the 2000s.
There was little choice in everything, and no one was really complaining.
Life wasn’t easy every day, but people were both strong enough and willing enough to carry on.
They also didn’t really have a choice.
When there’s one road to take, you’re simply forced to take it and get stronger as it gets more difficult (this explains why so many companies became profitable after nearly avoiding bankruptcy).
With modern society came choice, which complexified all of that.
The psychologist Barry Schwartz revealed decades ago in his book The Paradox of Choice how choice made people more miserable, for two reasons.
- They don’t look at what they choose, but at what they don’t. The consequence of choice is therefore a feeling of loss.
- Choice is the antithesis of commitment. It de facto enables the possibility to take the path of least resistance — or simply “the best path”.
I seriously believe that commitment is akin to free weights. You need to train your commitment muscle to carry it.
Choice, abundance, and likely, cheap dopamine completely messed up our capacity to commit.
We became weak.
And those, like myself, terrified of commitment, perfectly know that.
We have been in commitments before with no exit door, when the situation was hopeless and unbearably painful.
These experiences created a powerful trauma making us scared to death at the psychological equivalent of locking ourselves up in a room without at least some glass to break in case of emergency.
Those who commit believe they are strong enough to get to the end of it without quitting; they think they’re in a positive situation and don’t mind paying a small price for the perks they reap. In the end, the benefits clearly outweigh the inconveniences.
Those who are afraid of commitment are afraid of being too weak to sustain the pain that comes with it. It’s a price they’re not ready to pay. It’s a price most of them believe they’re not even capable of paying.
So, they don’t go there.
2. Having Other, Better Options
The second reason is quite similar to the first one.
I have noticed that people afraid of commitment often:
- Are perfectionists
- Have extreme FOMO (fear of missing out)
That is, they not only want the best, but they want to make sure that they have the best at all times.
The thought of committing to something while there is a better alternative waiting for them outside is unbearable.
Once again, they’re not looking at what they have to gain, but at what they’re losing.
This thought of not having the best creates deep pain.
Scared of running into such a situation again, they avoid committing, until at least they can ensure that whatever commitment they’re thinking of taking is the absolute best for them.
These are the people texting you once every 8 weeks while in a committed relationship just in case that relationship doesn’t turn out so great.
Fear of commitment comes down ultimately to the fear of inevitable pain that any commitment will create.
People that fear commitment have been weakened by a society of choices and abundance that always enabled them to take the path of least resistance.
Doing so, they never encounter the forcing function that would trigger their development into strong individuals capable of sustaining the pain that inevitably accompanies commitment.
I wish I knew of a way to solve this problem but as you have probably understood, I know all this because I suffer from it myself.
I suppose though, that like everything, making small steps every day toward the fear can help you alleviate it little by little.
It often works like that, at least.
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