Love + Dating

Does Divorce Turn You Into A Commitment-phobe?

January 19, 2016
does divorce turn you into a commitment-phobe

Divorce, as tough as the process is, can leave you feeling like you’re emotionally healthy, emotionally clean. This is how it worked for me: I felt like I was starting my love life anew with a fresh slate, ready to accept a new relationship once time had passed and I felt ready for it.

But recently, as I’ve become more of a Bridget Jones-esque long-term singleton, I’ve started wondering what the long-term effects of splitting up a marriage or long-term relationship can be.

I don’t have many problems meeting men. In the age of Tinder, Guardian Soulmates and Happn, single men really are all around. OK, admittedly it’s tougher to meet the good ones, but they’re definitely out there and I’m convinced I’ve dated some of them.

It’s just that I’m a bit (or maybe a lot) scared of commitment.

Commitment-phobia is a term most often associated with men. It has negative connotations of a cold, unfeeling relationship-shy person interested only in sex and hurting other people’s feelings. Born of the Sex and the City age that also brought us “modelisers” and “he’s just not that in to you”: the label screams of dysfunction, it does not feel nice.

But increasingly I notice in myself a hesitation to commit to a man, feeling quite physically repulsed the last time someone referred to me as their ‘girlfriend’. Not because I didn’t like him – not at all. He was a lovely man, a man who I liked very much, enjoyed spending time with. But there’s something about that term ‘girlfriend’ that suggests a commitment I’m not sure I’m ready for.

90% of the time in a divorce situation the main responsibility for the children falls to the woman – as it has with mine. This is something I’m totally happy with, I love being with my children and wouldn’t have it any other way. However, anecdotally this means the divorced man is both emotionally and practically more able to get back into the dating game; in comparison my free one weekend a fortnight is hardly conducive to the beginnings of a successful relationship.

does divorce turn you into a commitment-phobe

There’s also the worries I have with merging my love life with my existing family life. Any man I spend time with has to be a good ‘un: I want decent morals, political views similar to mine, a stable background. They might not be meeting my kids now but, should we spend more time together, it’s going to happen one day.

I don’t like to admit it but I also think that chip I have on my shoulder about being a single mum is still there. Taking on a woman with children is a huge undertaking for any man and – though I’ve seen it happen with happy step-families formed – I almost can’t see it happening to me. I’ve had one too many men describe my children as baggage and, with a big F YOU to all who have ever said that, it’s not what they are. Deep down I believe that any man will be so terribly lucky to have my children in their lives, the gorgeous people they are, but I want someone who will truly believe that.

And so I back off. As soon as a relationship starts to approach seriousness I find reasons to call time on it. To get away now before I, or the children, get hurt. It’s a totally dysfunctional approach that seems to have been working perfectly for me up until now ;) Until I had a Christmas drink with my best friend who told me relationship counselling might be a good idea.

(She lives in New York, they’re all in counselling. Plus I told her not to be so silly, that’s what friends are for!)

But this was a bit of a wake-up call for me.

I’ve started working on my feelings around properly starting another relationship. There’s always been a get-out clause with the men I’ve dated – they live far away, they live in a different country, they’re 17 years older than me – whatever, I always make sure there’s a reason to back off before I get hurt, to end it pre-‘girlfriend’ (gulp) stage.

Ironically, I’d love to have another relationship at some point soon. I miss the company of a man, the partnership, the support, the inside jokes. I miss having someone to cook for who actually appreciates my slaving over a stove to produce a marvellous meal instead of asking WHY ARE THERE COURGETTES ON MY PLATE AGAIN, MUMMY?! I miss chatting to someone in bed, I really missed having someone to discuss Making a Murderer with.

Now if I can only align my head with my heart, we’ll be golden.

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  • Reply Joanna Frangos January 19, 2016 at 4:55 pm

    hello again Alice. Funny but I think we are quite in sync as I have been mulling over this very subject the last few days. I have been single since May 2014 (although had a blip of getting back with ex boyfriend when I moved house in October 2014 as I seriously needed his practical support). I seperated from my ex-husband in 2010 and divorced 2 years later. As my ex boyfriend and I never made any serious commitment, I actually feel like I have been single for about 5 years (ie without a loving man in my life).
    I have been dating on and off for the last year or so. And then I met someone just before New Year 2015. He is lovely, sweet, kind, good looking, fit. But between you and me, I carried on “Tindering” even after I’d met him. Although we had two amazing “art dates”. It struck me the other day that I am so used to dating and being “on the look out” that I could be overlooking someone who is a real possibility. The possibility of being with somone who can embrace me and my children, who is geninuely easy-going and thoughtful. Gosh now that is scary. So I feel the way forward is to take “baby steps” with someone. Anyone who pushes me along too quickly and is impatient for commitment will drop away as that simply isn’t the way things work for me. Slowly slowy. Gently does it.

  • Reply Hannah January 19, 2016 at 8:39 pm

    Yes!! This is exactly what I’ve been thinking about this month. Is there something in the New Year air? I have been single for the last 3 years, divorced for 2, and find I jump out of relationships before they even become anything. Admittedly, 50% of the time I’m still prone to attracting utter arseholes, but the other 50% of the time my body goes into shut down after a few dates. Suddenly, overnight I don’t fancy them. I really want to connect with someone, but just can’t envisage it ever happening again. Also the practicality of every other weekend dating, and the fact I’m 34, means that men my own age often aren’t too interested in my ‘baggage’ (by the way, my gorgeous 4 year old is anything but baggage, and any man would be privileged to be in his company!) Really good to hear I’m not the only one. Thanks.

  • Reply Emma January 19, 2016 at 9:25 pm

    I have been here! But am happy to say that I came through the other side and am now married to an amazing man who loves my son (from a previous relationship) like his own. I think for me it was my independence that I was terrified to give up. To love someone and become a ‘couple’ meant I would rely on that person and I had fought so hard to be self reliant. I was lucky to find an amazingly patient man who stuck around even though it was a year before I let him meet my son. I remember clearly the turning point where he said to me that I had to let down my wall and let him in if our relationship was to have a chance of being something special. It took a lot of baby steps but 11 years later we are still going strong.

  • Reply Charlotte - Write Like No One's Watching January 20, 2016 at 9:23 am

    I feel like I probably wandered into a lot of luck this time around with Mark. I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t looking. I wasn’t expecting it to happen. And it did. It makes me feel like it is quite true – that love comes along when you least expect it. For me, I took the first year very warily. It took Mark an incredible amount of work for me to trust him, let him in, and knock down this really badly constructed brick wall I’d built between us. I pushed him to fail constantly, because I felt like I would have control over us failing then. But he didn’t. I think, I honestly do, that if someone like me can find a man like Mark, Jesus must be waiting for you somewhere. But like, a fit, witty, brilliant Jesus who isn’t dead, nor particularly massively religious. Should have just written Ryan Gosling really. I do know what you mean though. I think, for a long time, the independence of single motherhood, however long you experience it for, never quite leaves you. You know what it’s like now to do it alone. To manage alone. To earn alone. To put the bins out alone. To arrange things alone. And that’s actually something to be really proud of. But it also makes you realise what’s at stake the next time you let someone help you with that. At least, that’s how it was for me. xxx

  • Reply vela cire trudon February 23, 2016 at 1:56 pm

    ¡Muy didactico! Razonables hechos. Manten este nivel es un articulo genial. Tengo que leer màs articulos como este.


    vela cire trudon

  • Reply Tim April 25, 2016 at 12:44 pm

    Absolutely being divorced/ separated or losing your spouse CAN make one have a fear of commitment when you start to rebuild your life and date again. I would also say that the hesitation can be from many levels – emotional, physical and even financial to name a few and it does take time and (effort) to work out why we feel like we do but only then can we address our concerns to move our lives forward.

    Of course we can be happy without finding true love again but let’s be honest having that special person in our lives to share life’s ups and down is wonderful. To have someone that we can trust implicitly when we ask their advice or when we are seriously ill and we want them to make the right decisions for us. That feeling of knowing the closest person in our lives loves us unconditionally and will put us first is one of the most unselfish acts that we can experience as humans.

    So yes the loss that we experience in our lives can turn one into a commitment phobe but whilst we go through this journey we can still have Fun.. but more importantly knowing that not far away is true love again.

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