March 13, 2011
Issue: 12.03
Intimacy versus Commitment Issues

Is there is a difference between intimacy and commitment issues? In listening to my friends talk about their relationships, as well as reflecting on my own, I have come to believe that these two concepts are close cousins, but not one and the same. They both are, however, based on fear. Intimacy issues stem from a fear of intimacy, which is the ego’s automatic defence system protecting us from being abandoned, betrayed, or rejected as we once had been. Commitment phobia, in comparison, is the fear and avoidance of having to commit to anything, especially relationships.

Many books, primarily about men and targeted toward women, talk about these concepts. There are books devoted solely to intimacy issues, those focusing on commitment phobia, and books that conflate the two. Although more often than not, the two fears go hand in hand, I would like to discuss each separately as well as present examples of how each is manifested.

Fear of intimacy is the more primary concept of the two. Simply stated, someone who has a fear of intimacy is afraid of getting close, of letting you get to know him (or her), or of expressing loving feelings. It affects the present and is manifested in some subtle (and not so subtle) ways.

For example, your expressions of empathy are met with resistance, whereby the initial presentation of the seriousness of the concern to which you responded is rescinded.

He: “My boss told me that my work wasn’t meeting expectations, but he wasn’t specific. I’m worried that I’ll be fired.”
She: “I understand how stressful this is for you. Is there anything that you can do, such as meet with him to discuss exactly what is wrong?”
He: “It’s not that important. He’s really disorganized, and I think that he was just having a bad day.”
She: “Oh.”

When he does express his emotions, he doesn’t formally “own” them as his. Specifically, in speech and in writing, he leaves out the word “I.” So, instead of “I miss you,” you get “Miss you,” and instead of “I love you,” you get “Love you” (or its derivative “Luv ya”). If you don’t think that this is such a big deal, say these phrases out loud and see how different they sound with and without the “I.” “Love you” is the equivalent of a Hollywood “air kiss.” Nevertheless, this man may be happy to commit to you for the rest of his life, as long as he can remain emotionally checked out.

Commitment phobia has different manifestations. It is tied to the future rather than to the present. A commitment-phobic man probably will not make plans with you much in advance or agree to plans that you initiate, particularly if they involve even the “near” future. If you invite him to a friend’s birthday party being held a month from now, he will not commit to going. It’s not that he’s planning to break up with you and, most likely, a month from now, he will go with you. However, for the present, it’s too frightening for him to visualize being with you that “far” into the future.

And, as is the case with fear of intimacy, his word choice gives him away. He will introduce you as his “friend” or perhaps “companion,” rather than as his “girlfriend,” a term that implies at least some degree of commitment.

In the best case scenario, with such a man, you can experience a deep connection, even emotional intimacy—at least in the present. Think of Beth (Jennifer Aniston) and Neil (Ben Affleck) in “He’s Just Not That Into You.” Most women would be thrilled to have a boyfriend who is so loving and attentive (and into them), until perhaps a year or so had passed and there was no “forward movement.” Of course, in the movie, Neil gets over his commitment phobia (does that ever happen in real life?)

So there you have it. With the intimacy-avoidant man, you could have a future, but not a present, while with the commitment-phobic man, you could have a present, but not a future. G-d help you if he’s both. But, in either case, something essential is being withheld.

Go back to:
The Gantseh Megillah
< Click icon to print page
Designed by Howard -

subscribe (free) to the Gantseh Megillah.
A  print companion to our online magazine