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Commitment-phobia Leads to Heartbreak: Here are the Warning Signs


Boy meets girl, sparks fly, girl falls in love and then boy… has deep rooted commitment issues. He loves the chase, the sex, the romance, but not the everyday nitty gritties of a relationship. Girl craves for something more stable and is left heartbroken. Before we get started, I’d like you to know that this is a tale as old as time. It’s happened to many a woman before, including the one writing this. Falling in love with a commitment phobic man is painful at every level. But the good news? There are signs/ hints and red-flags of commitment-phobia that you can look out for right from the start, so that you never fall into this vicious cycle again!

Commitment phobic relationships tend to be different from usual relationships. They are chaotic roller coaster rides with ‘frequent’ emotional highs and lows, mental breakdowns, and anxiety. For many, this unpredictability is addictive. It comes with full and deep emotions, and you always live on an edge. And while it may be initially exhilarating, this rush is never sustainable. Such relationships are inconsistent. And if you are seeking a committed relationship, the behavior of a man who wants anything but commitment, will eventually be dangerous to your mental and emotional well-being. 

But relationships with a commitment phobic man comes with one basic contradiction: While they are very difficult to live with, they are very difficult to leave. 

Why is this so? 

Sudip Mukherjee, NLP sheds some light on this

“Relationships are about feeling. It’s about how you feel in the presence of the other person. To someone who craves attention – to be showered with attention is an overwhelming experience. One which you want to have again and again. And are willing to do absolutely anything (including accepting abuse) to live it again. And when you are in that state – this yearning becomes a clinginess which further pushes the object of desire away. It’s a vicious never ending cycle which only ends when the core psycho-social reason (Shame/Doubt, Guilt, Inferiority, Identity Confusion, Isolation, Stagnation, or Despair) is addressed.”

Let us understand what a relationship with a commitment phobic man looks like and what you can do to avoid falling in this toxic trap. Each relationship with a commitment phobic man has 3 distinct stages :

  1. The Beginning
  2. The Middle
  3. The End

The Beginning

“He wanted to interview me for a magazine. He was a reporter and wanted to meet me in person for this. I was skeptical: why insist on meeting me in person when he could simply mail me the questionnaire? I tried to avoid meeting him by saying I live elsewhere but he said he would wait till I got back. After his constant pursuits I met him and spent a nice evening with him. I was showered with gifts, dinners, and confessions of love.”

Yes, it was intense, and this is a distinct feature of all commitment phobic men – the intensity with which they start out. These men act intense because at this stage when the woman is not THAT interested, they feel safe in their want to pursue. They move a 100 miles per hour to impress the subject of their desire. At this stage, they are capable of going to any length to impress a woman. In the past, a commitment phobic man tried to get my attention by writing long romantic emails for me.

“I think I like you. I like the little glances we take—those discreet stares we give each other when nobody is looking. I like the way we purposely bump into each other just so we could feel close. I like the way we high five when we couldn’t hold hands. I like the way you call me during a busy day, telling me you want to hear my voice or see my face. I like the way you don’t smile all the time and yet when you laugh, it makes me stop. I like it when you sing. I like it when you tell me details—random little things, small incidents, and personal stories. Why do I like you so much? Is it your difference to everyone I know? Or is it the way you become vulnerable at random times of day, your honesty even when unwarranted, or your unconventional kindness that doesn’t pretend? I like you. A lot. I can only hope that I can handle this.”

Reading this, one might think that a commitment phobic man is manipulative, malicious even. That they have planned to get someone’s hopes up with the initial attention, only to abandon her later. But very often it may not be this calculated. Such men are simply lonely and unhappy people. They too desire a relationship, like everyone else, which explains their intense and even desperate behaviour in the beginning. But they almost always chase a woman who isn’t as intensely interested in him: this way, there is no ‘danger’ or a real connection.

The Middle 

The beginning stage may last from one month to up to a year but it will immediately end after the woman finally responds and falls in love. The middle stage starts with expectations. Having expectations in love is not a bad thing, in fact having expectations is a natural progression in a relationship. But this seemingly innocent progression doesn’t sit well with commitment phobic men.

These initial hiccups in the middle stage might look subtle and you may brush it off as ‘not a big deal’. Unfortunately, what seem like minor hiccups are giant boulders. Commitment phobics hate to be told what to do and they cannot stand to be tied down. They only feel truly safe when they are left alone. Having you on board means having ‘real connection’ with another human being, something they are very uncomfortable doing.

‘He invites men at home for smoke and drinks, something I was deeply uncomfortable with. I asked him to reduce such meetings and his nicotine consumption but he took offence.’

As you can see, commitment phobic men do not like the expectations or compromise that comes with a relationship. They are only comfortable with women who are disinterested and begin to feel uncomfortable when the woman becomes genuinely interested. A woman who is truly interested would want more, something these men cannot give. As the emotional connection grows, so does the panic. And for these men, the only way to respond to this panic is to back-off. 

‘In the beginning, he was so available, always replying to my chats and phone calls immediately but as soon as I fell in love with him, he would take days to even look at my chats while he was online all the time or most of the times. He got me to a point where I felt simply his presence in my life is enough, I could not even ask him to call me if there was a time I felt low.’

Has this ever happened with you? Have you ever had someone to pursue you intensely only to back off once you became interested?

Lonely Woman after Breakup

In the middle stage, you may experience confusion, pain, a sense of betrayal, anxiety, and self-doubts. Often, the women staying in these relationships attempt to wait out these negative emotions, believing that it will ‘go back to normal.’ But it will not. 

But unlike normal relationships, where two people enjoy a growing connection and closeness, commitment phobic men are frightened of it. The closer you get, the deeper their suffocation. And then they back off.

The best thing to do if you are in love with a commitment phobic man is to leave him as soon as possible. But being in love makes this extremely difficult. As a result many women hold on, act as nice as possible, compromise, and go out of their way to alleviate the man’s sudden change in behaviour. They may believe that their patience and sacrifice will change the man for good. But the more a woman chases this kind of man, the faster he will run.

The End Stage

Finally it comes to a point where the woman decides she has had enough. Devastated and hurt, she decides to leave. Here is where a relationship with a commitment-phobic man gets even more bizarre: while he cannot commit to stay, he cannot commit to leaving either. When the woman is gone, so are his fears. There is no pressure to commit, no excuses to come up with, no expectations and this distance is just too great for his comfort. As a result he feels lonely, miserable, yearns for closeness, and yes! Starts missing the woman.

So you’ve left your commitment phobic partner. You begin to move on with your life. And then one day, out of the blue, you get a phone call. He appears out of nowhere, with a sudden burst of passion for you, and then disappears again. Yet, you are moved by this phone call, by that old intensity, and maybe you try to contact him again. But he’s gone cold on you again. Somehow you can’t bring yourself to give up that old addiction. You call him again and again, only to be greeted with the same empty ringtone. Days pass like this, and this time he calls: He wants to meet. You may be ecstatic now, thinking your efforts have paid off. Thinking he may have changed, and that he would value you this time around.

If you are reading this, surprised at how I’m getting all these details right, it’s because the same thing happened to me. And of course,  I was wrong. Nothing had changed. He was still the same person, with a host of unresolved issues. The day I met him, I dressed up eagerly and joined him for lunch. He left in-between to smoke and I waited alone in the restaurant for an hour. He disappeared again. I received an e-mail two months later, in which he emphatically stated how much he loves me. I realised that if I responded at this point, the relationship would simply go through the same phases- chasing, love and then distance. This time around, I knew better and I put my foot down. I did not let him back into my life, because I knew it was time to prioritize my peace and happiness! 

Intimacy is a skill.

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