Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“I’m a Afraid of Commitment. Should I Take a Pause From My Relationship?”

I’ve been with my girlfriend, “Angela,” for 23 months. We see each other three times a week and, like all couples, we have our differences, but I feel we are compatible. I love her, but I’m afraid of commitment and I’m over 45! We’ve met each other’s friends, but – and you will probably find this weird — I still haven’t introduced her to my folks. She’s met my sister and her kids, but I haven’t met her mom and brother. She thinks that’s weird and understandably so. When she asks when this will happen, I just tell her that it will eventually happen.

Angela has picked up on my reluctance to commit. I’m hot and cold, and this has frustrated her. But she’s put up with it, and she’s loving, caring, and devoted. I’m feeling dissatisfied with the relationship and have been for months. A friend suggested I take a break. How do I tell Angela that I’d like to take a break? I don’t want to break up with her; I only want to pause for a month.

By taking a break, perhaps I can get some clarity and perspective. Maybe a break can steer me in the right direction, which hopefully means to continue to be with her. Maybe a break can help me figure out why I’m feeling this way and what I can do to change it. I could also see what it would be like without a partner and a relationship for this period of time. I can find out how much I miss my significant other. The thought of suggesting this to her makes me feel ill. The possibility of breaking up makes me feel nauseous.

Have you had a short break like this, Wendy, and do you have any advice? — Commitment Phobe

Well, I have been through something similar as a matter of fact, but the situation was different from yours and I’m not sure what worked for me would work for you. I’ll share my story though and offer some advice that I think would be most helpful for your particular scenario.

Most longtime readers of Dear Wendy already know the story of how I met my now-husband, Drew, and the trajectory from our blind date to marriage (and our eventual move to Brooklyn and having a couple kids). We met 15 years ago when I was 29 and living in Chicago. I was visiting NYC for the weekend and a mutual friend set us up on a blind date. We hit it off, and we spent the next six months or so visiting each other every few weeks and enjoying what was an exciting and whirlwind courtship. But like you, I eventually had to confront my fear of commitment. Unlike you, I don’t think my fear was about commitment in general, but more so about the way our long-distance status complicated taking our relationship to the next level. One of us would have to move, and Drew had made clear early on it wasn’t going to be him. The commitment I was afraid of was uprooting my life to be with him and it being the wrong choice. It felt so high-stakes (and it was!). At the end of a visit to Drew one October weekend, I told him I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t do the long-distance thing when the only options for ending the long-distance part of the relationship was either my moving or ending the relationship. I chose the latter, and we had a super sad goodbye at the bus stop before I headed to the airport to go home to Chicago.

As the bus pulled away, I immediately regretted my decision. I cried all the way to the airport, and when I got to the gate, I met up with my friend, who’d also spent the weekend in NYC and was returning to Chicago, and filled him in on what had happened. We were so engrossed in conversation that we didn’t notice our flight boarding. We didn’t notice the plane pulling away from the gate. When we finally did notice that we were suddenly alone and the plane was no longer parked outside the jetway, there were no more flights to Chicago that evening and we were forced to return to the city and to our respective hosts. I returned to Drew with the kind of perspective change you are hoping a short break from Angela will give you. I returned to Drew far more certain that, as the song goes, I’d rather live in his world than live without him in mine.

My situation differs from yours for several reasons. For one, I could name exactly what it was I was afraid of and it wasn’t really the relationship: it was uprooting my life and moving to a new city where I didn’t know many people or have a job or a place to live. You say that you’ve been “feeling dissatisfied with your relationship for months,” but you don’t say why. The “why” of feeling dissatisfied in a relationship is kind of a big thing to include when asking for relationship advice, don’t you think? And that leads me to believe that maybe you don’t know why. Maybe it’s just a general dissatisfaction that you can’t name and so you call it “fear of commitment” and wonder if time away from Angela would clarify what you haven’t been able to articulate, even to yourself. And maybe it would, but I think in order for that to happen, you have to really believe you’ve lost her. A non-breakup “pause” isn’t going to work. You need to actually break up and set her free.

“But I don’t want to lose her!” I can hear you saying. And that’s the point. You have to figure out if you really don’t want to lose her or if you’re afraid of the idea of losing her the same way you’re afraid of the idea of losing whatever it is you think being committed will cost you. You’re not going to figure that out if you have Angela on the back burner waiting for you to see what life is like without her. And do you even need a month to figure that out anyway? You’re 45 and you’ve been together two years, so you had 43 years without her already. If you don’t know by now whether her presence in your life enriches it in a way you can’t live without, you need to actually, truly live without it and feel the fear in your bones that you’ve lost it forever. You need to take a step outside the relationship that you cannot easily step back into, and feel the grief of losing it, in order to heal yourself.

I don’t know if Angela will be there on the other side of your healing. I don’t know if you’ll even want her on the other side of your healing (which, by the way, could be helped along with the guidance of a good therapist). But I do know that whatever the next phase is after ending your relationship, it will be different from where you are now. There will be space in your life that will (hopefully) be different than a void begging to be filled with whatever. There will be space for you – to expand and grow and evolve – to become the kind of person who can stand certain in his choices, confident in the sacrifices he makes for the things he gains in exchange. The path from where you are to there will be uncomfortable and scary; that’s the point. If the past year of our collective existence has taught us anything, it’s that sometimes it takes a disruption to our status quo to appreciate our lives and to know we’re deserving of the blessings we’re lucky to have.

***************Follow along on Facebook,  and Instagram. If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.

25 comments… add one
  • FYI March 9, 2021, 12:32 pm

    I’m not gonna come down too hard on this guy, who seems to genuinely want to do the right thing, but it’s unfair to expect Angie to wait around for him to make up his mind. You can’t just hit pause on another human being’s feelings and say, “I’ll get back to you.”

    LW, if you want to get some clarity and perspective, why not meet her mom and brother? Or introduce her to your folks? That doesn’t lock you into anything at all, but it’ll be some kind of movement, which is what you seem to want. See what it’s like to be more open. You can still shut the door after that if you want; it’s not like a preacher is gonna meet you at the door.

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  • Peggy March 9, 2021, 12:56 pm

    Well you are struggling for sure. I honestly don’t know how a break will work. As Wendy says, it has been years you have had to figure yourself out and 2 years with her. That should be plenty of time to know your mind and feelings.
    If you have never been married or in serious long term/live-in relationships,then maybe you are a commitmentphobe. But if you have loved/committed before, then it could be she is not for you. You mention your differences before you say you still think you are compatible.
    If my guy of 2 years told me he needed to step back and think about whether he wanted me/ a life with me…I would break up/let him go. Certainly would not wait around.
    Perhaps before you say anything to her you could take a couple sessions with a therapist to sort yourself out. I think really though, you would know by now if she is “it”. You don’t know, you say…which I would take as a no and let her go to find someone who is “all in” for her.

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    • LW March 10, 2021, 7:48 am

      I’ve never been married and haven’t had many long term committed relationships.

      This is my longest relationship.
      The second longest was when i was 26 and it was for a year.

      Between 26 and 45, it was casual dating. 3 month to 6 month relationships.

      Maybe if i had more long term committed relationships, i’d find it easier to make a decision.

      I guess i’m a commitment phobe.

      LW

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      • Kate March 10, 2021, 7:51 am

        Robert??

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      • ron March 10, 2021, 10:24 am

        He doesn’t write quite like Robert and I think this person has been in a longer current relationship than Robert could be, if everything he told us was correct.

        LW — You have to fix yourself? The big therapy question: exactly what is it that you are so afraid of wrt commitment? Why? Perhaps you are simply someone for whom marriage isn’t a feasible option. You’ve been involved in mostly casual for a very long time. Has this made you happy? If it has, then no problem sticking with it — other than it may be harder to pull off as you get older, but if it works for you, it works for you.

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  • Helen March 9, 2021, 1:30 pm

    Usually when someone wants a break from the relationship it’s over. You want to want to be with her, but you don’t. Asking someone who loves you to disappear for a month while you consider if you want them around again is cruel. If you’ve been afraid of commitment your whole life maybe consider casually dating women. Committed monogamous relationships aren’t for everyone! Just be upfront and direct to anyone you date.

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  • anonymousse March 9, 2021, 2:52 pm

    I agree that it’s not really fair to ask her to wait while you take a break to figure out if you want to be in a relationship with her or not. Go see a therapist and figure out what you actually want and get tips to break up with her gently! Don’t ask for a break. That never works.

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  • ron March 9, 2021, 5:48 pm

    How do you plan to spend this proposed month break — solitary thought? Banging as many other women as you possibly can? Trying to see if there is someone out there whom you’d consider a trade up who is interested in you? How do you expect her to behave during the break?

    If you’ve never been willing to commit at age 45, I don’t see marriage in your future. That’s the big thing to talk to your therapist about. Not whether Angela is right for you, but how you see your ideal future life and if there is any place for commitment in that life you dream of.

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    • FYI March 9, 2021, 8:06 pm

      I think he plans to see if he’ll miss her, which of course he will. You’d miss anyone you’re used to seeing a few times a week, esp when sex is involved. It’s not gonna be the litmus test he thinks it’ll be.

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      • ron March 10, 2021, 10:25 am

        I think this goes a lot deeper than that. It is not about the quality of the relationship. It’s about his view of relationships and some unspoken fear of, I’ll call it ‘entanglements’.

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  • Jinni March 9, 2021, 7:12 pm

    Gonna be honest, when I meet a man in this age range and he hasn’t ever committed to anything longer than a couple of years…I pass. The more I read and speak with my own therapist, it’s clear there are deeper issues going on here – attachment style, childhood fears coming up, etc. While all that is interesting on an intellectual level, it’s no fun with a relationship that’s not progressing UNLESS the guy’s up front that he’s not in it for a long term commitment. Maybe that’s you and if you’re not interested in therapy to work through that (no worries if you’re not!), then dating casually and being UP FRONT about it would be preferable. There are plenty of women who are up for this – they may not be monogamous, but it’s hard to have your cake and eat it too.

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  • Bittergaymark March 9, 2021, 7:46 pm

    Eh. It’s very easy NOT to meet the right person. Hell… Over half of everybody I know that ever got married is now divorced.

    Most clearly marry the wrong people.

    What about the relationship dissatisfies you? How grounded in reality is that? What really is holding you back?

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  • Bittergaymark March 9, 2021, 7:54 pm

    That so many think rushing into shitty marriages is healthier than a fear of commitment is fucking hilarious. Good luck with all those second, third, and fourth marriages. 😉

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    • 000 March 12, 2021, 8:08 am

      Totally agree, but nobody is suggesting that he marry this woman. Quite the opposite: he needs to admit that his hesitancy IS the answer, at this point, and make a clean break. The fact that he would ask her to wait in the background while he hems and haws, at age 45 and 2 years into the relationship, kind of says it all.

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  • Fyodor March 10, 2021, 11:25 am

    That airport story is amazing-it’s like the end of a 1990s romantic comedy.

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    • Bittergaymark March 10, 2021, 2:01 pm

      It is. Very! 🙂

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  • LisforLeslie March 10, 2021, 3:51 pm

    I say break up. You’ve got one foot out the door and everything is going fine right now. What happens when you get sick, or she gets sick? What happens when someone loses a job or deals with the death of a parent?

    If you haven’t determined that this person makes your life better, then you’re just holding her back from finding someone who is going to adore her, commit to her and think she’s the best thing to happen to him.

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  • LW March 11, 2021, 12:14 am

    I think my issue is that i always liked variety and that’s why i never married. I found this more exciting and would get bored if i stayed with one woman.

    The problem with that is you never build a life with anyone, you’re always going from one woman to another.

    I think because i dated too many women, now i can’t commit.
    Or is this an excuse?

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    • Kate March 11, 2021, 5:58 am

      Dude, maybe you really just like variety. Maybe you like going from one woman to the other. Don’t fight it. Don’t try to build a life with someone just because society says you should.

      But I mean, no, I don’t think the reason you can’t commit is because you’ve dated a lot of women. That’s backward. There’s probably a reason that you could uncover in therapy if you really wanted to do the work, and if you really wanted to settle down. But you can also just keep dating around.

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    • Wandering through March 11, 2021, 8:01 am

      How is that a problem?
      If you’re happy dating a variety of people, do it and just be up front that you’re not looking for a long term commitment.

      Building a life with someone is only one option. It’s not the only way to live your life.

      It feels like you don’t want to commit, and you’re trying to find excuses for that because commitment is the societal norm. If you don’t want to commit, don’t commit, and don’t lead people to think you want to commit.

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    • LisforLeslie March 11, 2021, 9:15 am

      It’s totally fine to want variety, to not want to settle down. The only criticism I have is that you have been holding it like a carrot to your gf telling her that eventually you’ll get there.

      No dude. You have to be up front and repeat yourself ad nauseum. Right now you’re telling her what she wants to hear because it’s easier than telling her your truth.

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  • anonymousse March 11, 2021, 9:14 am

    Yeah, if you go from woman to woman, you will never build a life with someone. If a life with someone is something you want to build, get yourself in therapy. If it’s not, be honest with the women you date in that you will not be making a commitment to them. Yeah, this probably cuts down on the number of women who will want to date you, but that’s part of being a semi-conscientious womanizer.

    If you feel yourself compelled to lie and pretend you also one day want a commitment in order to be successful in the ability to convince women to date you, you’re a selfish jerk.

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    • Kate March 11, 2021, 9:53 am

      The thing I’ve seen with this is that guys want a steady girlfriend with the perks that go with that (she’s loyal to you, cooking, sex, cuddling, companionship, all that), but they will not tell her they’ll never marry her / settle down. They know they won’t, but they won’t tell her. LW, you need to have this kind of honesty with women you date. It’s ok to know you’ll never settle down, but you can’t withhold that info from women you date. Will some of them not believe you? Sure, but that’s honestly their problem.

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      • LisforLeslie March 11, 2021, 11:27 am

        I have a friend who is VERY upfront about it. He makes it clear, he has no intention of getting married. he does not want children. He’s had girlfriends move in, but he makes it clear – there is no proposal coming. Most women are fine until they realize he’s been honest and then he just kinda shrugs and moves on.

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  • SherBear March 13, 2021, 12:40 am

    Break up with her and let her be free of this. I just finally got out of a 3 year hot and cold relationship with a commitment phob (who is almost 40 yrs old) and honestly it was exhausting and a waste of my time. Like what are you waiting for to introduce her to your parents? It’s been 2 years (don’t say 23 months that’s weird) – shape up or ship out! The break isn’t going to do anything unless you spend it working on yourself in therapy – for which you’ll need much more than one month. The most loving thing you can do for her is let her go.

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