Will men forever be commitmentphobes? Will women forever feel abandoned?
My books are gender and sexual orientation neutral. I rarely write posts for just one gender but this one is mostly for women dating men but portions of it apply to everyone.
When I was a practicing therapist working with women moving on from a relationship and getting ready to date again, I would encourage them to be a little less available than they had been in their last relationship. Women, inevitably, would say to me, “I don’t want to play games. I want to be who I am.”
Okay, well why are you an always available person? Why would anyone in his or her right mind find that attractive? (Women, believe it or not, tend to be more forgiving of no-life men even though they shouldn’t be…everyone should have a life…if you are looking for a no-life person, it’s insecurity on your part).
BUT more importantly, in pursuing this person or making sure this person likes/is attracted to YOU, you are missing all the signs that he might be a problem later on.
To break that down:
1. Having your own life and your own interests makes you an attractive person. This is true when you’re dating or when you’re married 10 years. You do not want to advertise a person with a great life who isn’t ever going to be a burden or a weepy “you never pay attention to me” girlfriend and then give it all up for a relationship. That’s bait and switch and not fair to the relationship or to you.
I am telling you that a man will hardly ever say, “What happened to the vibrant, interesting woman I met?” but he’s thinking it. Even if he seems to WANT you around all the time, the bottom line is that he really doesn’t.
If a man is going to be there for you when you really need him, you have to choose your needing him times. Do you need him when you broke a nail? When your mother said something nasty to you? When you perceived that he gave you “a look”? Or when you lose your job? It is hard in the early going to figure out if someone is going to be a good and solid partner because usually you’re not going to go to your new boyfriend with a crisis and if you do, new boyfriend will usually respond the way new boyfriends do.
But if you start with the drama and waterworks right away, over practically nothing, he might say “there there” but he’s thinking “not here, not here.” Healthy men do not want emotionally fragile women. Unhealthy men don’t either but you’re not giving him the chance to “show his face” as one or the other if you’re always going on about something.
2. If it doesn’t work out, whether next week, next year or 5 years from now, you have a life and friends and good things to go back to. So many women are left at the end of a relationship wondering what the HELL to do with herself. “I gave up my friends, my family, my classes, my hobbies to nest with Mr. Wonderful. Now Mr. Wonderful is gone and my nest is empty and so is my life.”
Yes, women want to nest but your man can fly the coop. Especially if the coop is boring and engulfing. Biologically and historically women are the nesters and men are the hunters/gatherers. But women in 2016 should be spending time outside the nest and not acting like Ms. Cave Lady waiting for Grog to bring home the bronto burgers.
3. In general, men and women bond at very different places on the bonding spectrum. This is biological and innate and nothing you can do about it. It has to do with closeness hormones like oxytocin and anti-closeness hormones like testosterone.
Based on evolutionary biology and bonding hormones, the bonding spectrum is created. The bonding spectrum goes from complete attachment to complete separation. Think of it as line that goes to 100 with 0 percent being complete separation and 100 percent being complete attachment. Women, full of oxytocin and loving attachment, bond at about 80-90 percent on the bonding spectrum.
The closer they can get to complete attachment, the better they feel (nesting). Men – lower on oxytocin and higher in testosterone and biologically wired – bond at about 50 percent on the bonding spectrum. They fear engulfment and enmeshment any higher and they fear abandonment and insignificance any lower.
Women do not get that men are NOT trying to run away. Ladies, men do want connection and they want attachment. They just want it in a different zone. Remember, men were hunters and if they were just lazing around the nest, nothing would get hunted. So biologically they are designed to be out and about to get stiff done.
So women and men just innately bond at different places (yes, there are exceptions but the average is this).
So what’s the answer? For men and women to be in complete conflict forever and ever over where on the bonding spectrum they should fall…therefore never bonding? Will men forever be commitmentphobes? Will women forever feel abandoned? No.
In Getting Back Out There, I speak about what makes a happy and healthy couple and separate hobbies, interests, friends and time apart are almost universal in happy couples.
There are plenty of couples who just naturally fall into the “come here/go away” rhythm that makes for a happy relationship. People who know, just know, that to be a happy person they need to have a happy, whole identity separate and apart from the relationship. Even if there’s marriage and kids. A happy and whole person has SOMETHING TO DO that involves her and only her outside the family unit.
But these women are not the ones that have engulfment/abandonment issues. This is for those who do: I don’t know how else to explain it but when a man is secure that he will not be engulfed if he goes higher than 50 percent, he WILL go higher than 50 percent…even to 80 or 90 percent…but it has to be for a finite period of time and it helps if the woman breaks the bond and goes back to separation than if he feels as if he’s running away or needs to pull himself away in the face of tears and recriminations.
When his visit to the higher end of the spectrum turns ugly because he tried to move back to his 50 percent, he’s going to be less inclined, next time, to visit you at 80 percent and hang around the nest snuggling and cuddling on Sunday morning. If he feels warm and loving and you are getting the affection (not sex but affection) you so dearly want, it helps A LOT to appreciate it and even be the first to jump out of bed and get on with the day. Yes, I know how hard that is, but trust me, it helps a great deal.
When he is feeling less inclined, you will do the one wrong thing you can do: chase him. You will feel abandoned and unloved and run down to get him and try to DRAG him up to 80 but now he is running toward 30 and eventually to 0, trying to get away from this engulfing crazy person. And you’ll either breakup or be doing this dance forever.
I also know women who say, “Well why do I have to orchestrate all this? Why can’t he move closer to me?” Well, dear, he WILL move closer to you as long as he knows he can move away when the time comes. Even better, if he knows you will get bored with your intimacy first, he’ll be back for more in no time. And women pout and ask, “So how is this NOT a game?” It’s NOT A GAME because it recognizes that the differing bonding zones are biological and there is really no reason to try to fight it. We can march in protest, write treatises, scream from the rooftops and hope for an evolution of the not-fairer-sex but chances are it won’t happen tomorrow because you can’t overcome biological bonding by civil decree.
So why do women have to work on separation? Why can’t men work more on attachment? Because there’s really no payoff for men to be more attached. There’s nothing THERE for them on the higher end of the bonding spectrum. Even if you get them to sit around the nest, they’re going to play video games and watch football. For them nesting still involves checking out to some degree. So nesting to him is not the same as nesting to you. What is love and intimacy to you is laziness to him and do you want Mr. Lazy hanging out playing Madden 2016? No, you do not.
Even though women say they want men closer and at 80 percent, I can assure you that you do not. Ask any woman whose husband retired early and is now driving her bananas. Even if you, as a woman, wanted to be bonded and attachment at 80 percent all the time, what exactly do you do and how does it remain special? Answer: it doesn’t. You’ll both get bored and/or dysfunctional and it will be a mess.
So what is the payoff for women to work harder on being on the separation end of the spectrum? For one, when you “hang back” during dating, you get to observe this guy. Who is he? What is he all about? If you’re chasing him or trying to get him to chase you or you’re hyperventilating because he has called in the past 15 minutes, you’re never going to be able to collect objective data. Objective Data?!?! That’s not romantic!?!? No, it’s not. But being without it has led you to disaster, hasn’t it? SO COLLECT THE OBJECTIVE DATA!
Second, when you are not always trying to DRAG your guy to the closer end of the spectrum, he won’t rebel against it…and then he will WANT to be intimate and will want to get closer when you are on the higher end. So your bonding will be deeper and richer and nicer and better.
Now a caveat to this is men who purposely keep women (or several women) at arm’s length. They orchestrate this by having more than one woman or never committing fully to one woman (even if they’re married) and they dabble in the 80 percent with each woman knowing they can separate at any time. But again, HE’S orchestrating this because he doesn’t trust women and he doesn’t want to be tied to one woman. That’s a cheater. (stop calling them players and start calling them what they are–CHEATING LIARS, players makes it sound fun).
If he’s the one playing “come here/go away” you know there’s a problem. He should not be dictating YOUR availability. You should. And that includes “call me” or “we’ll go out…” blah blah. DO NOT get sucked into this early on. Do not let him call the communication shots. Do not do it. Get a grip early on otherwise you’ll be on the crappy end of a carrot on a stick.
Third, whole people have whole relationships. Healthy people have healthy relationships. Having separate issues and your own friends and time apart is HEALTHY. So if you both separate and go do your thing and have your own interests and friends, you are healthy people and whole people and when you come back together it will be BLAM! Seriously. And this starts when you’re dating and continues until you’re married 50 years. ALWAYS have your own friends, ALWAYS have your own interests, ALWAYS take time for you: alone time and time to be good to yourself, ALWAYS take some time away from the guy and the relationship that he isn’t totally crazy about (they’ll learn that it’s okay and you and him will still be okay), and ALWAYS work on yourself and the things in you that need attention. (if you have trouble being alone, you can start there).
So the idea is to not always be available when you are dating. Do not answer every call, text or email. Do not accept every invitation to every day. And do not act like this person is the be all end all of all time. Pull back a bit, physically, mentally and emotionally. When you do bond and things are good, leave sooner than you would like. Leave it good. Leave when you really want to stay longer. Don’t linger. Be upbeat about leaving and think of it in a positive way. It’s important to not leave too early and not leave too late. It’s important to leave them wanting more.
Also if YOU leave before the guy or you start to pull away first, YOU won’t feel abandoned. If he starts to end a great evening or weekend or event earlier than you’re ready to end it, your first instinct is to get him to stay longer because you’re feeling insecure and/or abandoned. He senses your tugging and it makes him want to RUN, not walk, to his nice little “not engulfed” corner and when he’s nervous, it’s not about getting back to his 50 percent…it’s about getting to 30 or 20 or 10 percent. This is when guys disappear and women panic.
It’s very preventable unless he has BIG issues and if he does, you need to know it’s not something YOU caused. Again, another payoff to leaving early. You’ll KNOW you did nothing wrong to cause this running off craziness. It’s also important to go for 50 percent most of the time. You don’t want to make a man SO insecure that he loses his mind because they tend to do that on the lower end of the spectrum. You don’t want him to feel engulfed OR insignificant.
Remember, he does not want to feel abandoned or insignificant. So you can’t just disappear completely for a long period of time…but don’t be always available either. It takes practice but you begin to know what makes a guy feel at 50 percent.
Some romantic, truly into you guys will want you all the time, but you have to keep your own life. But not to the point where they start to feel abandoned and unimportant (dipping below that 50 percent line toward 40 and then 30 and maybe even 20! Men start to miss you and want you at 45-25, but start to think, “Screw her.” about about 20 so 20 isn’t good.) If you’re out having dinner with friends, bring him home some food. If you’re out and about, let him know you’re thinking of him, but still be out and about.
This is not a game. And you ask WHY? because to you it SOUNDS like a game. It’s not. Although the idea is to spark desire in someone else, it also gives you the bonus of having your own life (because you don’t want to pretend to go out with your friends, you want to go out with your friend) and of being able to gauge someone’s reaction to this. If a guy doesn’t want you to leave and shows signs of controlling or being a big baby, you want to know that too. If a guy has objections about you retaining your friends and your interests, you want to know that. If a guy wants you to be a no-life nobody who is only interested in you being available to him, you want to know that. If a guy runs off to do inappropriate things when you’re not together, you want to know that. If there are red flags, you want to know that (and again, OBJECTIVE DATA GATHERING).
If you pull away or are unavailable and he never tries to pull you closer, you want to know that. You want to step back and give him the chance to show you what you mean to him. How does he respond if you’re not there? Does he turn into a demanding idiot? a control freak? or does he not give a damn? Again, you want someone in the middle…gives you the space but then says, “I miss you.” and asks, in a healthy way, for some “us” time. So the payoff for women is HUGE. Being unavailable sometimes and being in control of your time actually works MORE for women than for men.
Although it seems like capitulating to the way men naturally like things, it isn’t. There is a HUGE payoff for women. A better life. More interested men. Healthier men. The ability to pull back and see your own life as well as your budding relationship. Nicer and deeper intimacy. This is NOT about playing a game. It’s about understanding the innate and biological differences between men and women and capitalizing on that instead of being a victim complaining about men who won’t commit. Take Charge Today. And don’t stop doing these things no matter how committed or how long-term the relationship is.
Curated by Erbe