Commitment Aversion: A Fear of Abandonment and the Polyamory Band-Aid

Commitment terrifies me. That cliche statement seems so diminishing of something that heavily impacts my interpersonal relationships…

I don’t mean that I can’t commit in every aspect of my life…I do have a mortgage, which is a financial manifestation of a ball and chain wrapped around my neck and my career has been going strong for twelve years. But the idea of committing to one person for all romantic desires fills me with extreme terror. I didn’t know how bad my commitment aversion was for over a decade because I was given tons of “cheat codes.”

My ex-husband introduced me to swinging prior to marrying me in 2009. This opened up a world of sexual exploration that allowed me to breathe and relax in an otherwise “committed relationship”. Why else would a newly sexually expressive teenager tie herself down in a marriage? (relevant: the military practically doubles the income of married personnel, which is total bullshit) Unfortunately, my inability to keep sex a strictly physical act turned that marriage into a shit show. Chuck Berry was wrong; you usually *can* tell.

I began dating a great guy when I got back from Afghanistan and had gotten divorced, but I didn’t want to get married. The Marine Corps was going to separate us if we didn’t get married and we still wanted to be together, so we tied the knot in Vegas…The fact I didn’t want to marry wasn’t because I didn’t love him. Instead, it was that I had experienced a traumatic marriage with life-altering consequences and that marriage ended. My romantic dreams of one marriage for life had been dashed to bits when my ex-husband and I divorced. As a Christian-raised Southern woman who was brought up to believe marriage and babies were the “end-all, be-all”, divorce at 21 was embarrassing; it felt like I ruined every chance of the perfect life and the all-American dream. I was damaged goods; and I heard multiple times over the next few years about how I had failed by divorcing. Who would want to go through that again? What if I failed…again?? The shame attached to divorce clung to me…and maybe I wanted to prove that I was lovable (because you know how great it is to make decisions to prove other people wrong).

There was a few years of monogamy with my second husband…and I started feeling suffocated again. I turned to an open marriage, choosing some of the WORST people to act out this time period of self-expression. I moved onto polyamory and came out to my friends and family (on this blog, no less) so my lifestyle couldn’t be used against me (an ex had used my desire to stay quiet as an excuse to lie to me for four years about his own marriage). And things were alright. I had the love of two men while navigating jealousy and surgeries and children (my own and my partner’s older children) and military moves… But something still wasn’t right. Besides polyamory not being very well understood, I would get a lot of commentary about how I was selfish and a whore. It was extremely ostracizing, even in the open-minded city of San Diego. I also knew I was with two very monogamous men who respected each other but did not like the arrangement and were unwilling to walk away to get what they wanted, which was commitment from me.

So I walked away from both men (there were other problems apart from the dynamics I am explaining here) and tried monogamy with a man who was very vocal on how horrible and slutty polyamory is. Lucky for me, this man was so terrified of commitment in his own right that I spent almost a year trying to nail him down for something I actually didn’t want either.

And here we are now, over a year after that relationship ended. I am dating a good man…who wants commitment. And I want to throw up when I think of committing to him, even if I am not seeing anyone else currently.

So where did this commitment aversion begin for me? I have realized that my fear of abandonment manifests as fear of commitment. My abandonment story starts young, with my biological father out of the picture when I was three, and continued with my adopted father’s presence bouncing in and out of my life. When my older sister left for college, I felt abandoned by my built-in friend who used to make up scary stories over two cans and some string walkie-talkies as we played under the trees. When I had to move four schools in four years, I felt abandoned by my friends (yeah, yeah, yeah, I know I am the one who left) and struggled to make new ones. When my first boyfriend broke up with me after promising to marry me…I was crushed. When my next boyfriend died… the story just keeps getting worse.

So the idea of trusting that someone won’t leave me is nigh impossible. They always have. More so, this is why I have endured abusive relationships that should have long ended. I didn’t know how to end a relationship…because if they weren’t leaving, why should I? I turned my stance on relationships into STAY NO MATTER WHAT; even if it meant sacrificing my needs and my boundaries, because if they stayed, that was good enough. Phew.

I have been in therapy exploring the last thirty years of my life and I would venture to say that I have been using relationship dynamics to work out a lot of my problems (that’s typical for people, but most don’t seem to add in extra lovers). Polyamory was appealing to me because I didn’t have to put all of my proverbial eggs into one basket. “You guys don’t understand, I can equally love two people!” But what if my desire to love more people outwardly stems from my fear of letting anyone actually get close to me?

The chances of two people wanting to leave me at the same time was pretty slim, so I was able to monkey-bar between people with polyamory. Imagine it as some sort of heartbreak risk management…spread load the love and I won’t crumble to bits when it ends (because of course it will). Polyamory seemed to be a short term transitional solution to a long term problem with ME and my fears. If I felt a relationship was beginning to fail as I discovered I wasn’t happy or getting what I needed mentally or emotionally or physically, I could turn outwards and prepare to be left instead of turning into the relationship to address the problems (and possibly discover that the relationship should end and grieve it properly).

How can I want a healthy monogamous relationship so badly and not know how to nurture it?

The idea of one long term love and soulmate is equal parts exciting and terrifying. What if they leave? What if they die? What if I make the wrong choice…again? What if I miscalculate what needs and desires are most important for me and end relationships prematurely? Relationships either work out or they don’t…

I don’t know which is worse.