Of all the maladies that afflict our relationships, commitment-phobia, or the fear of commitment is one that consistently wreaks havoc on our ability to have healthy unions. The reasons cited for why men don’t commit are what we’ve (cue Sunshine Anderson) “heard it all before”:
“I only want to get married once…I don’t want to make a mistake.”
“I’m too focused on my career right now to even think about the next step.”
“Why you gotta rock the boat? Things are good between us…can’t you leave well enough alone?”
There are a million variations of this theme song, but at the root there is one basic emotion: fear.
People like to blame our low marriage rates on socioeconomic factors such as the high number of incarcerated Black men or the educational disparity between Black men and women. But could the real reason be more emotionally driven? When I speak to many of my male friends, from where they’re sitting, there is absolutely no real incentive for them to settle down. Most have told me that aside from their desire to raise their kids in a two-parent home, there is no real upside to putting yourself in a position to lose half of your hard earned cash if your marriage ends (which according to the census has at least a 50% probability of happening). And even that, as the prevalence of single parent homes headed by Black women shows, isn’t enough to get a man to jump the broom.
It’s not just men who struggle with commitment issues. Women do as well, but we are by and large much more willing to settle down than our male counterparts. It’s true that getting to the altar isn’t the goal for everyone, but most people desire to have some sort of continuity in their intimate relationships. Many men will work through their commitment fears enough to be able to make some sort of long-term relationship choice. But for a hard core commitment-phobe, the thought of “forever after” gives him a sensation similar to what someone with a fear of small spaces would feel if they were crammed into a crate secured with a padlock.
Some men are upfront will say straight out that they have no plans of committing to you or anyone else. Others won’t come out and say it. Instead, they’ll try to provoke you into breaking it off with them by engaging in crappy behavior like nitpicking at you constantly or letting you find out that they slept with your best friend. (I like to call this the Breakup by Proxy). Another tried and true method is to slowly back out until there is nothing left between you but texts and the occasional call. It’s like they’re there, but not there.
And then there is what I like to call “The Relationship Magician.”
A real life magician performs his act in front of a crowd. A Relationship Magician has an audience of one, which is you. His act is to convince you to “tie him up” in a commitment, from which he then immediately breaks free by disappearing. One day he’s blowing up your phone nonstop and the next you can’t get him to respond to your texts or calls.
The Magician will flood your life like a tidal wave, and then just as quickly and destructively recede. This is a man who will pursue you relentlessly, never stopping until he is sure that he has your heart. And when he finally feels he has you, he’s suddenly nowhere to be found. Gone. Ghost. He’s a particularly emotionally devastating type of commitment-phobe because his way of ending a relationship gives you no sense of closure.
The Magician is in love with the illusion of a relationship with you. He does not want to deal with the reality of day to day issues. The Magician pulls his disappearing act because he knows that he pushed you to emotionally or sexually commit to him and now he doesn’t want to reciprocate. Any positive feelings he has about you have been overshadowed by his overwhelming sense of panic about the relationship. He knew he had reached the end of the relationship road….he just never bothers to tell you this. Because talking to you about his fears means you might come up with a solution. Which will lead to him making a commitment. Which is the exact thing he doesn’t want to do. He is not interested in a real relationship, no matter what he told you at the beginning.
So if you’ve been witness to the disappearing act of a Relationship Magician, there are a few things you need to realize. He is not dead. He is not in intensive care or trapped underneath a heavy piece of furniture. He’s alive and well, and very often already in the arms of another partner (because what’s a better way to escape one relationship than to throw yourself into another one?) Instead of calling Verizon to verify if his service is still working, put your energy into moving on.
WARNING: This man likes to make a repeat performance. Just when you think you’re over him he’ll miraculously reappear with a seemingly plausible excuse for his behavior. Don’t fall for this trick! He’s already established who he is through his actions. You just have to believe what you’ve seen and completely ignore his words.
Yes, I know you miss him. I know there was such promise. But there is one thing that we can never get back, which is time. If you’re going to share it with someone, let it be with someone who is capable of going the distance. Your goal isn’t to be in a relationship, but to be in healthy one that is best for you. Love yourself enough to keep it moving and don’t look back. And whatever you do, don’t blame yourself. You didn’t make him disappear. That’s what he does. He’s the one with problem and you’re just a symptom of it.
Sil Lai Abrams is EBONY.com’s Relationship Expert and the author of No More Drama: 9 Simple Steps to Transforming a Breakdown into a Breakthrough and a board member of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. You can connect with her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter. Got relationship questions? Email her at SilLai@ebony.com