Is your relationship an unsolved mystery? Are you a victim of a Crime of the Heart? Then it’s time to review this relationship rap sheet, and analyze the Dating DNA!
FILE: The Case of the Cad Who Couldn’t Commit (Abridged)
The DSI 911
On October 11 2005, DSI received a frantic call from Dating DUPE (Desperately Under Pressure to Evaluate), Ms. Amelia Jacobs, who’d been dating her boyfriend for 14 months. She believed it was moving towards the “next phase,” and the ARSE, (Anti-Relationship Suspect Examinee), gave clear indications that he was of a like mind and heart. Then, without warning, he began pulling away. Boundaries were imposed on the amount of time they “should” spend together. To cap it off, the suspect began reciting all of his faults and shortcomings, as if he were offering up ammunition to seal the deal with his own bullet. At her wit’s end, the woman called DSI with the age-old question: Was it to time to cut bait?
Our preliminary diagnosis of the ARSE suggests he suffers from a fear of commitment with an accompanying defense mechanism: the belief that someone better may be out there.
Location: New York
Occupation: Fashion consultant
Relationship Rap Sheet/Ex Files
Past Serious Relationships: 5
Total Number of Sexual Partners: 14
Exes Still In Contact: 3
Has a history of being a harsh judge of character, but is also exceptionally generous and giving
Finds it difficult to maintain close friendships with other women because they get “too competitive”
Her desire for a relationship is strengthened by the fact that both her older sisters are happily married and had children by 30
During her sophomore year of college, Ms. Jacobs constantly compared her boyfriend to her older sister’s fiancé, and eventually broke things off because he didn’t “measure up” in ways she felt were important in a potential husband, including professional achievement and financial solvency, which her boyfriend remonstrated was rather difficult at age 19. When he expressed shock that she was dissolving a perfectly happy relationship for not living up to her marital ideal before age 20, Ms. Jacobs said, “I’ll have plenty of time for fun once I’m married. Until then, I’m staying focused.”
Broke off an engagement with her brother-in-law’s boss, a man 17 years her senior with two college-aged kids from a previous marriage, after he confessed he did not want to have more children. Ms. Jacobs was devastated, having endured two years of painstakingly dull sex accompanied by Frank Sinatra’s greatest hits.
Ms. Jacobs is a complex character, driven by her desire to get married and start a family, yet unwilling to compromise on the ideals she prizes in a potential spouse. For most of her life she was the “prettiest girl in the room,” and has rarely been alone. While she is not the type who needs a relationship to boost her self-confidence, she is accustomed to being the center of male attention. Nonetheless, her high standards limit the number of men she is willing to date.
As the youngest of three girls in a tight-knit family, she is the only one still single. But Ms. Jacobs is more career-focused than her siblings, and it was this desire that drove her to New York City to pursue a career in fashion. Having reached a comfortable plateau as a well-paid executive, she has set her sights on settling this other piece of business and finding the right man to share her future.
Location: New York
Occupation: Senior magazine editor
Relationship Rap Sheet/Ex Files
Past Serious Relationships: 6
Total Number of Sexual Partners: est., 45
Exes Still In Contact: 2
Considered by friends to be a “perpetual bachelor,” based on his checkered dating background, which has alternated between serious relationships and periods of promiscuity
Has a distinct inability to focus on the person he is with, and is often called out by dates for his “wandering eyes”
His parent’s divorce when he was 14 has led him to be cynical of marriage and commitment in general
While living on a kibbutz in Israel, Mr. Brown “broke up” with a woman he’d been dating for six months. Spotting a “more attractive Israeli” while on a bike tour through Haifa one afternoon, he snuck off and fooled around with her in a citrus grove during a lunch break. Then he spontaneously invited her to join the tour. Rather than tell the former girlfriend he wanted out, he simply made out with the new woman in front of her, figuring it would convey the message.
November 2002 – August 2003
Mr. Brown engaged in a string of short intense two-to-three-week-long flings, ending each by saying that he “just got out of a tough relationship” and “needed some time alone.”
Mr. Brown is, in the language of pop psychology, a “serial monogamist.” This designation refers to a modern condition that most single women and men suffer from, to varying extents, leading them to pursue somewhat serious relationships until they find “the one,” and terminating healthy relationships before they get TOO serious.
Even in his late 30s, Mr. Brown still displays certain tendencies that are more consistent with the post-collegiate years. The fact that he lives in a large city that provides a rich vein of available bed-mates makes his lifestyle sustainable. The almost infinite sea of choices works against Mr. Brown, who is predisposed to doubt and indecision. His M.O. is to remain passive and uncommitted until a partner voices discontent with the situation and/or him, at which point he happily joins her in berating his inability to commit until they reach a mutual decision for her to dump him. Once the relationship is over or soured, he safely expresses his “true feelings” of remorse and sadness.
The relationship between Ms. Jacobs and Mr. Brown had a storybook beginning. They met on an early fall evening, one of those glorious New York moments when everything seemed possible. Neither was “looking” for anything serious at the moment and both had come to the event (a short film series at the TriBeCa Film Festival) because they were fans of the short-documentary form. After a series of evocative showings, the group went to a rooftop cocktail party overlooking the Manhattan skyline. Ms. Jacobs spotted Mr. Brown and walked over to him. They talked until 2:00 that morning, then shared a plate of French fries at a bistro overlooking the river. They went on their first date that weekend. From there the relationship blossomed, slowly at first, but in a manner that was consistent and unwavering. The first two months were more friendship than romance, and Mr. Brown showed every sign that he was emotionally ready for something real, while Ms. Jacobs tried to “play it cool.”
At the six-month mark, Ms. Jacobs took Mr. Brown on a surprise trip to a yoga retreat in Tulum, Mexico, and she was pleased when he didn’t wince at her desire to celebrate their “anniversary.” But for the past two months they have been “at the same place,” in a sort of limbo without moving forward or backward. Ms. Jacobs has made clear her desire for a definite sense of direction, while Mr. Brown has only responded that he “is unsure” and “needs time to think.”
Date Scene Reconstruction
One-year anniversary: Out in the cold, inn with a view
Locale: The Farmhouse Bed and Breakfast, Stowe, Vermont
Synopsis: While on a weekend ski trip coinciding with the couple’s one year anniversary of meeting, Mr. Brown seemed aloof and difficult at times despite the idyllic setting and the fact that Ms. Jacobs had planned and paid for the weekend as a special treat for the overworked Mr. Brown. Upon seeing Ms. Jacobs splayed across the bed in a rather comely ensemble, Mr. Brown complained “the bed is way too small for two people born in this century.” When Ms. Jacobs pouted and said, “Are you sure you don’t like the four poster bed? If you’d like we can get another room?” removing a set of pink feather handcuffs from her bag, he merely commented, “Oh whatever, it’s fine. All we’re going to do is sleep here.”
The next day, after an afternoon of skiing, they had a couple’s massage and a dinner for two, during which time Mr. Brown told Ms. Jacobs that he feared he had certain shortcomings with regard to his ability to “make her happy” and to “give her what she wanted.” When she pressed him for details, he grew silent, vaguely referring to his “problems.”
Forensic Assessment and Evidentiary Analysis
A DSI investigation of Mr. Brown’s residence and office reveal findings consistent with a fear of commitment, including:
While Ms. Jacobs gave Mr. Brown keys to her apartment, he did not reciprocate, his excuse being that he “rarely slept at his apartment”
Mr. Brown still maintains his “black book” and other mementos of his bachelor past
Photographic evidence and ocular retinal-mapping suggests that Mr. Brown has a “wandering eye,” indicative of a belief that there is someone better for him out there
DSI has developed a forensic index that examines parallel behaviors, as a person’s relationship persona is often consistent with personality traits in other areas of their life.
Work/Career: Mr. Brown’s career as a senior (rather than managing) editor has been stalled by his inability to remain at one company for more than a year. While he defends his checkerboard resume as evident of a gung-ho, in-and-up-or-out attitude, consistent with the fast-track magazine trade, his employers suggest he “grows bored easily” and is addicted to the “honeymoon period” a new job engenders, easily growing restless once he masters its challenges.
Friendships: While Mr. Brown has many old and deep friendships, many suffer from a lack of actual physical interaction. With email and instant messaging, Mr. Brown is able to maintain these relationships without actual contact. Mr. Brown has been described by such friends as rootless, with a tendency to go long periods of time incommunicado.
Housing/Life Plans: Despite a sizable trust fund inherited from an unremembered paternal aunt, Mr. Brown has not purchased an apartment in Manhattan, preferring to remain in a run-down illegal airshaft sublet in an overpriced fifth floor walk-up in Murray Hill until he decides where he wants to “settle down.”
Mr. Brown has a strong-to-severe case of commitment phobia, marked by many of the classic hallmarks. But Mr. Brown seems to have a deep fondness for Ms. Jacobs and a genuine awareness and desire for recovery. For this reason, the case has been forwarded to the Rehab unit for continued monitoring, treatment, and intervention.
- A short probationary period followed by an extended course of individual therapy
- Mr. Brown must begin to tap his inner adult and show a more refined level of maturity and, more importantly, an ability to recognize the early symptoms of a commitment-phobic episode (i.e., inference of lasting togetherness followed by intervals of heavy breathing, desire to flee and panic-driven expulsions of intellectual hyperbole or sullen silence)
- Ms. Jacobs must learn to enjoy the moment without placing so much pressure on how each moment connects to her “big picture” goals
Those of us who’ve been through the rinse cycle a few too many times sometimes run before we’re ready to walk. When the going gets tough, we bolt. It’s an irresistible impulse we may indulge now and regret later. As a culture weaned on the concept of “true love,” we cling to the myth of Mr. and Ms. Right, waiting for “true love” to bonk us on the heads and announce itself before we give it our full attention. Until that time, we focus on other things: our careers, our social lives. We date and dabble, figuring that when that special person comes along, we’ll know it and spring into action.
Hey, it’s natural to get a little queasy once things start to get serious. Even when we’re head over kneecaps in love, there is something about the word “forever” that induces dry heaves and cold sweats. Forever. Say it: FOREVER. Yeah, it hurts.
Yet sometimes we know, deep down, that even though it makes us want to lose our lunch, the thought of not waking up next to so-and-so twenty years from now is not a risk we’re willing to take. After all, we want to set up college funds for our kids together and build a doghouse in our backyards and go to early-bird dinners and argue about whether it’s time to go for our annual tooth cleanings. Why? Because the truth is, we’d rather fantasize about a first kiss and be with them than enjoy a first kiss with anyone else.
A one-year follow-up showed Ms. Jacobs and Mr. Brown cohabitating in domestic bliss, with the bouts of commitment-phobic anxiety having all but disappeared. Further DSI investigation revealed that Mr. Brown had purchased a “near-perfect” engagement ring several months earlier, but had yet to propose.
Perform your own dating diagnostic!
Is commitment phobia undermining your relationship? Are either or both of you any of the following?
- Being overly critical of the other partner regarding their suitability as a mate and/or of the relationship as a whole
- Deliberately offending or creating contention, thus sabotaging the relationship, even if seems to be working well. An example of this might be consistently showing up late for dates, being passive during situations that call for emotional action, or bringing up subjects in which there is known disagreement or discord
- Assuming a deer-in-the-headlights look of terror if one of you mentions “how great things are going” or “how perfect you are for each other”
- Fearing of loss of freedom or autonomy, and a sense of losing a separate identity distinct from the relationship
- Experiencing inability to calmly discuss the possibility of living together or getting married after several months of monogamous dating
- Falling for partners who are unavailable, married, live a long distance away, or have similar reservations about commitment
- Manifesting other forms of commitment-phobia, such as an ongoing inability to remain at jobs or at the same residence or even maintain long-term friendships (sometimes described as “rootlessness”)