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What to do when you’re a commitment-phobe in the worst way

When a guy tries to approach you at the bar, does it turn into a really awkward game of Pac-Man? Does knowing you have an appointment that day make you completely miserable? Does the baby aisle of the grocery store make you squeamish? Me too. Let’s have T-shirts made.

I’ve always had hints of commitment issues: Making plans with someone and wanting to flake at the last minute, beelining it any time the words “meeting” or “appointment” were floating around, ending up in a tizzy when I had to make a phone call at a specific time — and deadlines? Oy to the vey. Basically, expect anything of me and I’d turn into one hot mess.

There were only hints though, and I didn’t let them hold me back. I faced the panic, stress sweat and queasiness head on, doing my best to navigate the system while staying in one piece. As long as I had a bottle of Pepto in my purse, I was good to go. I didn’t become a full-blown Chandler Bing until my last relationship ended — now, I find myself gasping for air any time FedEx wants to know the best time to drop off a package.

“The term ‘commitment phobic’ stems from claustrophobia, in that some people begin to feel enclosed and trapped when they’re in a relationship,” says relationship expert Nicole McCance. “They feel like as soon as they commit they’ve lost their freedom and feel stuck.” In my case, this is exactly how I ended up feeling at the tail end of my last relationship: Stuck, confused, uncertain, and I went through a difficult transition period after we officially called it quits. In not ever wanting to feel like that again, I find myself calling the irrational department for a price check.

“If you have a phobia, it’s because you’re dealing with an internal conflict,” says relationship expert April Masini. “You have mixed feelings about something. For example, if the baby aisle of the grocery store makes you break out in hives, it’s because part of you thinks you should want a baby, or part of you does while the other part is petrified you’ll be a terrible parent. If it was just a case of you hating kids, your feelings wouldn’t be conflicted and you wouldn’t hyperventilate — you’d just smack-talk your way through the aisles of diapers.”

My internal conflict has always been my sense of individuality: What I’m influenced to want versus what I actually want have always been on opposite ends of the spectrum — and while I’m OK with that, most people I’ve interacted with over the years tend not to be (or they haggle with me over my decisions like I should doubt them, which then leads to me doubting them). I struggle to share who I am as openly as I’d like to because I find the conflict to be perpetually exhausting — especially since doing so was the primary reason my last relationship crashed and burned.

So what’s the best way to deal with all of this baggage?

1. Start small

“The best way to recover from commitment phobia is to start with small (non-permanent) decisions and work your way up,” says relationship expert Kimberly Moffit. “Realize that life experiences give you valuable lessons that you don’t get when you’re avoiding things. Life is meant to be lived!”

2. Go with your gut

Stop second-guessing yourself when you do decide to commit to something — like setting a time for that FedEx parcel. Trust yourself to make the right choice.

3. Know it’s OK to change your mind later

Just because you say yes to something now, doesn’t mean you’re obligated to it forever. You are undeniably in the driver’s seat. If the only way you’ll commit to making plans that happen (gasp!) two weeks from now is to draw a map of every conceivable escape route, then do it — just get yourself out the door and into the land of the living.

More dating advice

Are you afraid of commitment?
Fear of commitment: How to get past your fears of marriage
I don’t believe in soul mates, and you shouldn’t either

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