Do you ever have recurring dreams? Dreams which show up randomly, sometimes year after year, and take your mind and emotions for a ride? If so, you have my empathy. I have experienced the same genre dream for about twenty years.
The settings are different, but the dreams always end the same way. Dressed in white, I start walking tentatively towards the altar and groom-to-be when I realize, “I cannot do this! I cannot marry this man!” (note: these men are not Eric) Then I turn, flee down the aisle, and I can see his face and feel his anguish and rejection in my sleep. It is gut-wrenching. Once, I dreamed the jilted groom even gave me another chance. Unfortunately, I freaked out again and could not go through with the second ceremony.
Only once in my life did I don a wedding gown and make it down the aisle without running (and I was very much awake). My guess is these dreams are a mixture of past guilt, current thoughts, and binge-watching Runaway Bride years ago (seriously, like 100 times – be careful what you put into your mind!). Though I know these events are only dreams, the emotions feel so real and so raw they often continue affecting me after I wake up.
Why Do We Want to Run?
The fear of commitment can be a powerful force and may be the result of some past trauma – whether your trauma or another’s trauma – which has influenced you. Fear can be paralyzing whether it is fear of public speaking, fear of spiders, fear of flying, fear of death, or fear of crowds. Fear is fear and if it is not confronted, it will hold us back.
Some fears are easier to deal with than others. My fear of snakes, though annoying, does not interfere with my daily life. Should I ever move to the woods, near a swamp, or to Australia, my fear of snakes might become a much bigger obstacle and concern.
Commitment is something we all face in our lives. Commitment to our education is one of the first commitment we face. Will we put our heart and energies into school or float by with as little work (and learning) as possible?
Employers are also looking for committed employees who show on time and provide valuable service. Commitment is not a fear we can afford to ignore if we wish to be healthy and fulfilled. There are too many choices which require honoring commitment – the commitment to love another being one of the most life impacting.
Why Does Commitment Make Me Nervous?
If you are struggling with commitment issues (as many are), ask yourself the following questions and see if you can get to the root of the fear:
- Am I mature enough for a relationship? Am I emotionally prepared for the responsibility of a committed relationship? Am I at a place in my life where I can be careful with someone else’s heart? If not, what changes do I need to make to become the type of person I would want my loved one to marry?
- Am I in a phase of life which would support the pressures of a marriage? You may believe you are mature enough, but is your life is so crazy between school, internships, obligations, and other commitments that you just don’t have time? Relationships take time and you need to dedicate a significant amount per week before devoting yourself to a partner.
- Am I holding on to something from the past? Is my parents’ divorce still hanging over me like a dark cloud? Are years of failed relationships whispering, “I will never be good enough?” Am I still holding on to a past relationship in hopes our romance might reemerge? Did I watch Runaway Bride too many times?
- Am I clinging to someone else’s experience? Statements like these may be giving you a poor education about relationships: “My brother got married and she ruined his life! I cannot let that happen to me!” or “My best friend was engaged and then found out her fiancé was cheating on her with someone at work.” “My mom told me the story about the man who broke her heart every time I started dating someone new. I hear that story in my sleep now.”
- Did someone villainize marriage for me? Did you hear the following statements? “Do not get married too young.” “Be sure not to marry the first guy who asks you.” “You do not need to marry the first girl you ever love.” “I got married young and I regret it.” “Wait until you are at least twenty-five to get married.” “Finish school first and then travel.” “Wait until you are at least thirty to get married and do everything fun you ever want to do first.” “Wait until you are at least forty-two to get married.” etc. Such statements can be very damaging to someone looking to others for advice about life and marriage.
- Am I afraid of commitment, or am I afraid of committing to my current significant other? Though I have never thought of myself as a commitment-phobe, I am dragging my feet in this relationship. Is there something I am afraid to see in my partner? Something I am ignoring? Am I settling for this person or afraid of settling? Are we not a good fit or am I putting off marriage because of a gut feeling? If I did not get married for the next few years, would I still be dating this person?
- What am I ultimately afraid will happen to me if I commit? What is the worst possible outcome if I commit to exclusively dating, getting engaged, or marrying someone? What am I afraid to lose/sacrifice? What am I afraid to gain? What might my life look like if I choose to make a lifetime commitment? What might my life look like if I do not make that commitment?
Did any of these questions touch a nerve? If I were single today, I think I might have personally bristled at the question, “What am I afraid to lose/sacrifice?” If you are at a crossroads with your significant other, or with someone you have been dating (or just friends) with no commitment for a long time, consider posing these questions to him or her – not in a confrontational way, but as a way to start a dialogue.
Depending on his or her personality, it might be wise to send the article first and then discuss after he or she has read and digested the questions. Eric could probably have a conversation like this with little preparation, but I would need some time to process beforehand.
Is Fear of Commitment an Excuse to Avoid Marriage?
Sometimes. Though I believe some people have genuine commitment concerns, there are others who are simply enjoying the freedom they feel by keeping their relationship separate from the central part of their identity. They are not in any hurry to get married nor are they in any hurry to commit to one person.
If you are dating someone who claims to have a fear of commitment, take a step back and observe. What is he or she doing to overcome this issue? Is he or she open to counseling? Does he or she talk out concerns? Show signs of progress?
Several years ago, we watched and waited for two of our friends move from dating to engaged to married over the period of a handful of years. Eric and I proceeded from dating to married in one year (literally to the day), so our friends’ dating experience felt somewhat endless by comparison. Did they have commitment fears? Maybe or maybe not. However, their relationship stayed on a growth path. Even though it took longer than some people (whose opinions did not matter) thought it should, they got engaged and married when they were ready. Marriage was always the end goal. Neither of them was playing games, and I must say, they have a marriage and family life I deeply admire.
So, the big question is: Are we moving forward towards the same relationship goal or are we meandering with no direction?
Fear can be overcome, but if your boyfriend or girlfriend pours out an endless list of excuses to avoid commitment, he or she may not be as serious as you are about the relationship. Know that it is okay to end stagnant dating relationships and move on. If you need to, give yourself the permission to do that if the lack of growth had been addressed and nothing has changed.
If you have gained some insight into why you (or your significant other) push away from commitments, that is great. Now take that knowledge and create a plan. Your plan might include some counseling or some reading. It might (hopefully) include some time in prayer and reflection. God is also the Great Physician and can heal your heart. Talk to people you trust. Confront and forgive those you need to forgive. Feel and deal with the pain you push down – the pain which keeps you bound to avoiding commitment. Then, take baby steps towards that commitment.
Keep breaking free!!!
Is something holding you back from making a commitment to your partner?