'They Fuck you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do'
Don’t mind me, just quoting Philip Larkin’s This Be The Verse at the start of this instalment of Half-Hearted, but he did say it best. I’m no Freudian, but the guy was so onto something. This week I’d like to chat about commitment phobia and then subsequently blame my flakiness on my father. Hi, Dad.
Honestly, (well-manicured) hand on my heart, the only thing I don’t fear committing to- beyond my family and closest friends- is dark red nail polish. It just, never, looks, shit.
Beyond that, the rest is totally up for grabs. I am like a worn out bit of sellotape that’s collected lint and fluff. I look like I should be able to secure your wrapping paper, but there’s no hope for me, I will not stick to anything. I am a girl that constantly cries wolf ('I really want a boyfriend') but does sheep (any whiff of interest and I’ll pivot on my heel and flee. a hint of disinterest and I’m handing over my womb and bank details).
I’ve never stayed at a job for longer than a year (I know). I’ve lived in four different flats in four years. I can’t watch TV because it’s boring and I might miss out on something. I have to try everyone on the table’s food- stranger or not- just incasies. I’m reading three books. I have bum length brown hair. Once I bleached it ginger. It took nine hours. Then I dyed it brown two days later. Shortly afterwards I bleached it nervous laughter.
This inability to sit still has rubbed off onto my (somewhat suspect) dating habits. Like all bad habits, they repeat themselves in an endless cycle of predictable self-flagellation. I am sorry to have called out my dad up top there, but he’s not The Debrief’s target audience (to my knowledge) so it will (probably) be OK. And, in fairness, it’s not all bad. From him, I did also inherit a breath-taking lack of self-knowledge which is quite fun, very thick hair and a big, very generous heart. But, if you were to ask me about my dad’s dating habit’s I’d pull that face that’s all like, 'don’t get me started' because the man has just settled down- last year- for the first time, at 63. I remember once in passing, when I must have been fifteen, him referring to one his (hundreds of) girlfriend[s] as 'the police' because she’d asked him where he was on a Friday night. The guy was 50 at the time. Long story short, while I giggled at my dad’s bachelor lifestyle, I both secretly admired and feared him for it. I recognised myself in his need to be both constantly surrounded by friends but, under no circumstances, attached to one individual romantically, to be both reliant on people, and simultaneously in constant pursuit of freedom.
Freedom might sound strong to some, and perhaps it is. I know, rationally, that my fears are entirely irrational, but I have experienced shivers down the spine, goosebumps and cold-sweat-fear every time someone has asked me: 'are you dating X?...'. Without fail, my overblown reactions kick in. 'Dating him? Us...dating? DATING...ME!?!?'. All of this is made even more strange by my sporadic but vocal insistences that I 'need a boyfriend NOW' - usually on a Sunday at around 12 am. Of course, my dad’s bachelorism was very 90s and happily trussed up as another aspect of his multi-faceted bouffant sex appeal. Society doesn't extend the same swagger to me; my inability to settle, as a 26-year-old woman in 2017, still somehow reeks of mental health issues, insecurities or sluttiness. In other words: what men have always accused women of being: hysterical, weak sex objects.
Today, there is still no narrative about women suffering from commitment phobia (at least, there isn't one that's totally sexist). We are raised to be motivated by the mystical gift of marriage, wired to desire commitment, trained like emotional athletes to see monogamy as the end goal and fed the Disney spiel about 'loves true kiss' (which is just as fantastical as squirrels doing housework) from day one. And that shit fucks you up. No, really, it does and it might be at the bottom of other extreme behavioural traits exhibited by both relationship-hoppers and commitment-phobes. If you’re brainwashed into thinking it’s a dialectical choice between ballroom dancing with a hunk, sponsored by Swarovski, or growing old in an isolated hut where you rub newt oil onto your warts, of course, you’re going to see finding a partner as a survival of the fittest scenario.
In reality, and I don’t need a PHD to qualify this, just as men do, women fear 'forever' too. No one needs someone on their arm to be a successful human being. We partner with people because we want to - because it brings us joy, intimacy and other necessary aspects of the human experience. I, too, like to feel loved. I, too, like being intimate. I am not an amoeba. I just can’t think about six-month, let alone life-long monogamy as a plausible lifestyle.
I have a few love sensei’s that I like to consult in times of romantic turmoil. They’re a motley crew, but a solid one. From Judith of the deuterocanonical Book of Judith, who in revenge slices biblical warlord Holofernes’ head off as he sleeps, to Cleopatra via Karley Sciortino, Anne Boleyn, Cher, Angelica Houston, 8 marriages Liz Taylor and Leonardo Dicaprio. Nobody likes to admit that the whole wedding malarkey that so many of us drag our asses through, is done despite the fact many of us internalise serious doubts about whether we can do the whole 'until death do us part' bit.
As comedian Aziz Ansari puts it:
'Imagine if marriage didn't exist, and you're a guy and you ask someone to get married. Imagine what that conversation would be like. You'd be the guy and you'd be like,
[guy’s voice]: Hey, so we've been hanging out all the time, spending a lot of time together and everything.
[girl's voice]: Yeah, yeah. I know.
[guy's voice]: I wanna keep doing that … 'til you’re dead. I want to keep hanging out with you until one of us dies. Put this ring on your finger so people know we have an arrangement.
[girl’s voice]: Who’s that guy?
[guy’s voice]: It’s a priest. I want you to swear to God you won’t back out of this deal.
[girl’s voice]: This is really strange. Why are we doing this?
[guy’s voice]: Tax purposes.'
Hyperbole sure, but it strikes a cord with me. This isn't just how I feel about marriage. I know many people who feel similarly sceptical of the whole marriage plot, and so many who will do it anyway. But I also know I’m in the minority when it comes to being unable to even relax into 'seeing someone'.
I have had one three year long relationship that I very much enjoyed, but (and I hope he’s not reading this) I think it filled my decade-long quota for worrying whether someone else is ok, picking up somebody’s clothes, arguments in clubs, snoring and jealousy. Yes, there were great bits, and yes I felt very strongly about him, but, ohwee singledom has some serious perks. Like- ummm, eating when and where you like, constantly meeting new people, late nights that run into early mornings, cash, time, flirting, and no compromises. It needs to be OK to admit this without society's instant condemnation.
If we were more honest about commitment and worried less about altars and happy ever afters then, maybe, we could have other conversations. For instance, I do also worry that singledom might be making me a more selfish person but, then again, I know that being in a relationship doesn't preclude a person from being selfish (or worse).
I know I mistake feelings of interest and excitement for anxiety. I fear being comfortable. I dread the thought of watching TV with someone and of having routine sex. I worry it might distract me from my career. I worry I’m a sadist. I play out really long scenarios in my head where I am Julia Roberts in my best friend’s wedding; sat in some damp marquee at all my mates’ weddings, watching everyone slow dance at the end of the night, while in the corner I- in a tight, short dress-wonder if I should’ve given one of the ghosts of my twenties an actual go. Fuck, maybe I do need to meet someone so I stop doing that. That’s really cringe.
But then, I remember, that was a film. A film peddling the very same female stereotypes we all grew up on. I need to stop doing that, worry and fear are not reasons to commit.
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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.