Commitment myth

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So, my boss at eharmony said, “Can you write an article about why some men find it hard to commit?” And I said, “Maybe, I’m not sure. Do I have to? I’m not ready for that kind of effort yet. Why are you so needy?”

OK, I didn’t say that, but I wish I had thought of it at the time.

What I did say was that I was going camping with some old friends, all men, for a few days and I would workshop the topic with them. “Great idea,” she said. “Can’t wait to hear the results.” She will be disappointed. Sitting round the fire, I told my companions (two men in their fifties and a 19-year-old, one of them’s son) what I’d been tasked to do.

Are some men reluctant to commit to a deeper romantic relationship?” I ventured.

The two older blokes looked at me puzzled, through eyes that had gazed on only the female forms of their wives for well over 20 years and after half a lifetime of devoting their energies to raising happy families. The teenager just stared at me blankly, obviously dreaming of where he could get his next hamburger. His years of supposedly dodging commitment were still ahead of him.

I say supposedly, because although it is a common belief that men find it hard to commit to a serious relationship, the evidence doesn’t support it. Millions of people are married or in stable, committed relationships in Australia, and half of them are men, so no lack of commitment there.

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What’s more, there’s plenty of research that indicates it is women who are also likely to initiate divorce, so let’s not be too hasty in the finger-pointing about commitment. According to one recent study by Stanford University sociologist Michael Rosenfeld, who surveyed more than 2000 people about their relationships over a five-year period, women opted out of wedlock in 70% of failed marriages. An examination of divorce rates in Australia by the Australian Institute of Family Studies came up with a similar figure (64%).

But Rosenfeld’s study also found that in relationships outside of marriage, the initiator of a break-up is divided roughly 50-50 between men and women.

The broad conclusion then is that men are actually more committed to serious relationships than women.

If you are talking about the courtship phase and getting men to take that next step into a serious relationship beyond the casual joys of dating, well that’s a more-nuanced topic.

When I hear someone say that some men are reluctant to commit, a little alarm goes off in my head and I automatically think, “They are possibly reluctant to commit to you”. Being circumspect about entrusting your emotional and most likely financial well-being to another person is a good thing. There should be more of it, because getting it wrong can have a detrimental effect on your quality of life.

One of the main things driving this perception that some men steer clear of commitment is that the genders have different time pressures.

Women have a small reproductive window and a primordial drive to secure resources and protection from a partner to help raise any children that come along. Men can produce children at almost every stage of their lives after puberty, so there’s no pressure on them to partner up until they feel like it. It’s unfair but that’s the way it is.

It’s also a fact of life that today, more than at any time in history, people have endless opportunity and choice when it comes to romance. Online dating and social media mean there is an unlimited pool of people to choose from, so men (and women) can afford to be picky.

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Men, with all that extra time up their sleeve, can afford to hold an “adequate” partner at arm’s length until someone “better” comes along.

The best way for a woman to be successful in finding a serious, committed relationship in this environment is to invest in self-confidence and place a high value on their worth as a person.

Men (and women) find needy, clingy people deeply unattractive. But if you are confident and relaxed, your appeal is universal. You won’t need to do the chasing.

If a man you like is being elusive, cut him adrift. His loss.

By being a good catch, you’ll be caught by someone on your terms.

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