Dear Ziva,

I am 42 and so eager to get married, but so far all my dating experiences have taken me in the opposite direction. I’ve been dating since my early twenties. I’ve had long- as well as short-term relationships. I’ll admit that in my early twenties, I was wasting my time, staying in long relationships with men whose company I enjoyed, even though I knew they weren’t marriage material.

One such man was Josh, whom I dated for more than three years. He was a very charismatic man who took me to places all around the world and made me laugh all the time. But deep inside, I never felt he was my intellectual equal. So when he pushed me to marry him, I had severe stomach pain because I knew he wasn't the one and I didn’t want to hurt him. At that time, I was very young and confused but there have since been many other men who were similar to Josh – men whose company I enjoyed but didn’t want to marry when they eventually wanted to settle down. In each of these cases, I had the same stomach pain whenever they proposed.

Ziva, have you ever heard the expression trust your gut? It might sound crazy but I always felt that my abdominal pain was my gut telling me these men were not right for the long haul.

By nature, I am a sweet and gentle woman, and I attract men who are looking for sweet laid-back women. Decision-making has never been my strong suit. Most of my relationships have been with ambitious men with strong personalities, and I suspect they’re drawn to me because they don’t want to clash with another dominant type. Men like this are exciting to date but somehow these same traits stress me out when they push me to get married. I know a kind and gentle man would make a better husband and father, and I try to date this kind of man, but I always end up feeling bored.

So Ziva, what should I do? Time passes by so fast and I realize that I am kind of missing the next stage of life. My friend thinks I have a commitment issue. I really don’t think she’s right, because what I want more than anything is to get married and have a family. But I don’t know what to do anymore. I’m just not attracted to the kind of man I know I should want, and meanwhile the clock is ticking.

Sue

Dear Sue,

Indeed, it is very frustrating and painful to realize time is passing and you still haven’t found a life partner with whom to start a family. But it is possible to want marriage – even possible to want it very badly – and still be unconsciously afraid of the lifelong commitment it represents.

You might be surprised to hear that physical pain, along with difficulty in making decisions, are indeed classic symptoms of commitment-phobia. So I suspect that your friend is right about this.

Think about it – you liked these men enough to remain with some of them for a very long time, and none of their traits were deal-breakers until it was time to commit. If Josh’s lack of intellectual prowess was a problem, for instance, why didn’t it bother you during all the years you were together?

Furthermore, surely you know in your heart that many strong and decisive men are capable of being good husbands and fathers, and many kind, gentle men are also exciting and dynamic individuals. The fact that you’ve constructed a false dichotomy – in which the exciting men aren’t marriage material, and the ones who’d make good partners are boring – strikes me as another symptom of commitment-phobia.

But you are not alone. I have worked with countless young people who suffer from the fear of commitment in very similar ways. They’re smitten right up to the moment there’s pressure to get married – and then suddenly they’re plagued with brand-new doubts about their formerly “perfect” partners. Many of them even suffer with the physical symptoms associated with a panic attack – a pounding heart, shortness of breath and the kind of bodily pain that you describe.

The good news is that commitment-phobia can be overcome. I’ve worked with dozens of women and men who have conquered this fear, and I’m confident that you can as well. To this end, my dear Sue, I highly recommend that you consult a therapist and/or relationship specialist to assist you in resolving your intimacy issues.

Jewish wisdom would have you make important decisions about your future with your mind, not your stomach.

A good therapist can help you distinguish between real reasons to end the relationship and irrational, fear-driven excuses – as well as help you find ways to reduce and overcome your anxiety. And any relationship expert will tell you there is no perfect relationship – that all relationships need hard work and consistent nurturing.

I’ve heard a lot of new-age types say it’s good to go with your gut – but Jewish wisdom would have you make important decisions about your future with your mind, not your stomach.

To succeed, you must truly want to make a change in your life and be open to accepting help. The fact that you wrote to me is a sign that you are indeed ready and willing to do what it takes.

You clearly have no trouble attracting men who want to marry you. I wish you swift success in overcoming your fear of letting yourself have lifelong love with one of them.

Most sincerely,
Ziva