Dating and Mate Selection — 23 October 2003
When you date the unfit to commit

A lifelong commitment to one partner is a scary undertaking even for
those who are madly in love with each other. We are all familiar with
the sight of a pale and shaken groom, the unsure bride and the
prenuptial jitters many couples experience. When you think about the
gravity of this commitment it is enough to give anyone cold feet. Yet,
most people contain their fear and proceed with taking the oath of matrimony. There are some people whose fear, masked in many ways,
hinders their capacity to mate.

The mere word commit- conjures up less than ideal associations. We
commit people to mental institutions, we commit offenders to jail,
criminals commit crimes, and most people commit errors. How do we spin a
positive meaning to the desire to commit to a partner?
Well, this is all semantic- you say. Perhaps so, since commit also means
to act upon, bring together, join and entrust. Though the latter are
more reassuring definitions, they still imply some dependence on another
person’s capacity to join, come together and be trusted.

Relying on the ongoing goodwill of your partner- requires trust. Knowing
that the one you love may bring you great joy but may also produce great
pain-requires courage. Some people are so plagued by fear that their
trust and courage falter. They also know about the great suffering
caused by failed relationships. The hurt, rejection, intense anger,
powerlessness and loss are only some of the painful emotions associated
with marital dissolutions. If making a commitment at times of bliss may
later render you victimized, perhaps this choice is not safe.

Many singles are not aware that their dating behaviors may disguise
their commitment fears. They profess to want to be coupled but engage in
conduct that does not support their goals.
These are some behaviors that MAY be, but are not necessarily
manifestations of commitment avoidance.

  • Searching for the perfect mate. Some people date and date. They meet
    many potential partners only to find a blemish that renders them
    disqualified as potential mates. If this experience sounds familiar to
    you, be cautious not to use avoiding making a mistake or a cautious
    style and discerning talents as excuses to avoid commitment.
  •  The two candidate ambivalence. Some singles find themselves unable to
    decide between two very appealing, yet not perfect potential partners.
    The unsure party often rehearses in his mind all the desirable qualities
    of each woman and the ones she lacks to make him happy. When this
    ambivalence lasts for some time, it may antagonize both mate choices or
    end up having the “chosen one” feeling battered and betrayed.
  • Pursuing an unavailable partner. A common practice of some singles is
    to become involved with a person who is unavailable. Choosing for
    example, a married lover, a person committed to remaining unattached, an
    individual who is in love with another person, or a much older or much
    younger partner not suitable for a life commitment. Some of these
    choices predictably obstruct the chance for marriage.
  • Acting as a “dance away lover”. This term was coined by Daniel
    Goldstein and others who published a book by that name. It is defined as
    conduct of intensely pursuing a partner until he or she becomes smitten
    and committed and then terminating the relationship. This lover thrives
    on the excitement and challenge of conquering the new partner’s love.
    Once the new partner is “caught”, Don Juan is off to his next challenge.
    Needless to say, this type of behavior in not conducive to permanency.
  • Pursuing a rejecting person. This type of behavior is based on a myth
    that the love target is the “only” suitable person for the pursuer.
    Though the pursued person is clear about his lack of interest, the
    pursuer is determined to win this person’s attention. “We were meant to
    be together and therefore, I do not take no for an answer”. This
    unyielding determination, over time may becomes obsessive and destructive.
  • The non-yielding approach. Some single people develop non-negotiable
    stances about money, children, living location, contact with family
    members, to name a few. This approach is likely to frighten most
    partners. It may signify that the non-negotiator is intending to usurp
    all the power in the relationship, or later develop additional areas of
    rigidity, or will be acting unilaterally without considering the
    partner. If the non-yielding party hopes to stay uncommitted, he has
    devised, knowingly or unknowingly a sure way to remain single.
  • My career comes first. You have heard people say that their careers
    are the center of their lives and that they will not allow anything to
    distract them from their life’s passion. Few potential partners
    knowingly opt for a second position. Since marriage is rooted in making
    each other feel valued and special, this attitude contradicts the
    essence of commitment. Some who are married to their jobs end up single
    and even very lonely.
  • The “bon vivant.” This person loves life, adventure, positive
    experiences, fun and living for the joyous moments. Though the “bon
    vivant” is fun to have at parties, his hedonistic pursuits may not blend
    well with a stable family life. All the protestations about just wanting
    to find a fun partner do not lead to settling down.
  • The “my way or the highway” attitude. Some people are self-referenced.
    They judge every thing in life only from their own perspective. It is
    extremely hard for them to consider other people’s views, wants and
    needs. A few of these people search for partners who are nurturing and
    expect little in return. This is a self-centered demand that may render
    them unfit to partner.

If any of these attitudes or behaviors is familiar to you, and you do
want to find a life -mate, you may need to alter your behavior to become
fit to commit.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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