Are You Dating a Commitment-Phobe

At first, everything was going great: Your date was attentive and caring, and voiced multiple mentions of the "f" word-future. But just as you let your guard down and began allowing yourself to think maybe this is it, something shifted. Suddenly, your sweetie is hedging about booking that trip for next spring, or even about whether you two should be seeing each other exclusively. What gives? The sad truth is, you've been duped by a closet commitment-phobe: someone who thinks he/she's raring for a relationship but never seems able to cross the finish line. Could you have avoided the pain of falling for a person incapable of truly falling back? Yes. Allow us to share the signs that someone, despite attempts to act available, actually houses a heart that's closed for business.

Sign #1: Your Date Has a Life and Isn't Letting You In
Sure, she says she wishes she could spend Saturday with you rather than volunteering at the local animal shelter. Or he says he can't wait for work to let up so you two can spend more quality time together. No problem, right? This person's got a life, after all, and that's not something you should take personally. But Tom, 32, now knows that there are limits to what you should put up with. "I knew Beth had a busy schedule when we met," the Baltimore attorney insists. "She was a single mom of two girls, had a demanding job, did volunteer work and bowled once a week." He thought the longer the two of them dated the looser her schedule would become-"or at least she'd include me in the bowling," he says ruefully. However, nothing changed. Beth continued being "sorry" there wasn't enough time for him in her life right up until the night she dumped him because - hello! - her life was too full to include a boyfriend.

The moral of the story: If the relationship has become somewhat established and a partner still can't make you a priority, that sends a clear message: You can stand at the doorway of this date's life, but you can't walk in.

Sign #2: Your Date's Falling for You Too Fast
It's fun to feel someone new is really into you. Still, having a brand-new prospect gush about how wonderful you are before you've even ordered dessert on your first date is a little suspect. After all, the two of you are strangers. How can he or she know what makes you wonderful yet? More likely, this person's ardor is being fueled by a love of the chase rather than you in particular-and, once you're caught, you may see the interest wane just as Jean, 24, did. "Tim took me on a romantic weekend to Martha's Vineyard two weeks after we met," recalls the Connecticut school teacher. "He kept talking about how he wanted to be with me forever. It sounded like heaven.

You know the coda to this saga: As soon as Jean began reciprocating her beau's ardor, his need for her cooled. "I should have listened to my gut," Jean laments. "But I wanted to believe he was going all out for me because I was special, not just another conquest." But the bottom line is, when it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Sign #3: Your Date's Falling for You but There's a Catch
When someone admits to having strong feelings for you, it's understandable to feel like your insides have turned to mush. Only, in that state, your B.S. detector might not pick up what else your date might be saying when delivering this sweet declaration. Ron, 29, was a victim of this sort of selective listening. "Brenda and I felt a strong attraction right off the bat," says the New Orleans-based publicist. "She'd say stuff like, -I didn't expect to fall for someone so soon after my divorce.'" Understandably, Ron chose to focus on the first part of her statement (she's falling for him) versus the latter (given the ink's barely dry on her divorce papers, she's probably not ready for a relationship yet). Only over time did the less savory part sink in. "Even though she kept saying I was wonderful, the bottom line was, she just wasn't in a psychological place to deal with a relationship," he says. "And I'd have seen that if I hadn't had blinders on." In other words, Ron learned the hard way what we hope you will not: that we have to pay attention to the whole message our beloved is imparting, not just the part we want to hear.

Sign #4: Your Date's Story Contains Inconsistencies
There's a reason why cops grill crime suspects over and over and then compare and contrast what's said one minute to the next. That's because tiny inconsistencies are signs of a cover-up-and this pertains to the lines your date lays on you as well. No, we're not saying you should give your sweetie the third degree, but any conflicting messages should be duly noted. Debbi, a 27-year-old Boston-based interior designer, struggled for months with a date who was "the king of mixed signals," she says. "He'd tell me he didn't know if he'd ever be able to live with someone because he's used to his own lifestyle. Then he'd follow that statement by asking if I could break my lease and move in with him!" What's more, Keith was indecisive in other areas of his life, constantly changing his mind about the sofa he wanted to purchase; then once he sprang for it, he came down with buyer's remorse and yearned for the couch he hadn't chosen. The bottom line: Changeability and indecisiveness doesn't bode well for a stable romantic future. "Keith couldn't even pick a spot for us to go on our first date," Debbi admits. "How I wish I'd been wise enough to make it our last!"

Sign #5: Your Date's All Talk and No Walk
Closet commitment-phobes give great lip service to the idea that they want a relationship, and it can be easy to trust they'll put their words in action. But the longer that takes to happen - or, if it doesn't happen at all - the only thing you should trust is your instinct to get outta there! Lisa, 32, knows this all too well now. "I dated a guy for three years," she says. "Throughout the relationship, he indicated marriage and children were in our future. But each time I tried to nudge the relationship forward, he backpedaled." Looking back, the Denver ski instructor realizes that her boyfriend never backed up his promises. For example, while continuing to insist one day he'd invite Lisa to move in, he never actually gave her key to his condo. It's easy to be seduced by pretty words, but unless there's follow-through in the end, you're left with nothing to hold onto but an empty promise.

So those are the warning signs of a commitment-phobe to watch for. Consider yourself warned and well-armed to avoid the next one that crosses your path.

Sherry Amatenstein is the author of Love Lessons from Bad Breakups.

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