Dear Em and Lo,
As a guy, I’ve always felt a little distrustful about my sense of commitment. I know that I can sometimes get freaked out a little too easily over long-term plans, even if just talking about it. Throughout the few romantic entanglements I’ve been in, I’ve never had a clear feeling that I could “see a future with them.” So, my question is this: if I’m in a pretty solid long-term relationship, should I be worried if I can’t “see” being with them for all my life?
— One Eye on the Door
First of all, we love how you put “see a future with them” in quotation marks, as if the very phrase itself is foreign to you. Talk about commitment issues!
Then again, maybe not. You always hear women talk about guys with “commitment issues,” and usually it just means that a particular guy wouldn’t commit to them. Not to get all Mars and Venus on you, but we can’t tell you how many guys we know who were commitment-phobes until they weren’t. In other words, they could never “see” themselves with anyone…until they met The One. And we don’t see how that’s an “issue.”
Women, on the other hand — to make a huge, sweeping, so-not-like-us generalization — are more likely to “see a future” with a guy just because he spoons well. We’re not saying that every woman does this, mind you — just that women are more likely to do this than men. Em once said of a guy she’d been dating all of three weeks, back in her mid-twenties, “If I had to marry him tomorrow or never see him again, I’d marry him tomorrow.” Fortunately no one ever gave her that choice, or else she’d currently be shacked up with a pretentious, unfaithful, bad-tempered douchebag. We’d say that behavior like Em’s is as issue-ridden as yours.
Some people — both men and women, for the record — find it impossible think about permanent monogamy in the abstract. They’re able to get on board with the concept only after they’ve met someone they want to be permanently monogamous with. Which, when you think about it, makes perfect sense. Perhaps you just haven’t met the right person yet.
Other people — both men and women — are never able to get on board with the concept of permanent monogamy because it just doesn’t mesh with their world view. They might instead believe that either serial monogamy or non-monogamy (i.e. open relationships, or no relationships at all) is their true path — and that’s okay. (Some would argue it’s everyone’s true path, but that’s a whole ‘nother topic.) Despite what day-time talk shows and the entire wedding industrial complex would have you believe, it’s perfectly fine to never settle down. You just might be as free as a bird and unable to change (cue the raised cigarette lighters!).
If, however, you want to eventually settle down but think you can’t because of some kind of deep-seated commitment phobia, then you might consider seeing a professional therapist who can help you work through it. But we have a feeling that your few romantic “entanglements” (again, such telling word choice!) thus far simply haven’t qualified as a Great Love.
None of the above possibilities — whichever it ends up being — gives you permission to walk all over your girlfriends, however. The definition of “walking all over ” really depends on (a) your age and (b) any expectations you may have raised, either activity or passively. For example, we don’t think you necessarily need to tell your 21-year-old girlfriend whom you’ve been dating for one whole semester that you don’t see yourself walking down the aisle with her — but if she’s starting to build her post-college career plans around you, then maybe you should. And if you and your GF are both 35 and have been living together for three years…well, this is what we mean by passively raising expectations. At a certain point in a relationship, by not leaving, you are creating the expectation that you won’t leave…ever. Of course, girlfriends in situations like this should never assume anything, and it is equally their responsibility to find out whether or not their partner “sees a future with them.” But your girlfriend didn’t write to us — you did.
In the meantime, keep your eye on that door — you never know when someone you could “see a future with” might walk in. (Do we sound like your mother yet?)
Hopelessly devoted to you,
Em & Lo