#327: Why Humans Fear Commitment
Today, I'm coming at you with a solo episode, and I'm gonna dive deep into the subject of commitment. Not just commitment in the sense of committed romantic relationships, but the fear of commitment. And not just the fear of commitment from other people, like being in relationship with people who are afraid of commitment… but also ourselves and our fear of commitment and where this comes from.
We're gonna focus on a story I'm gonna share about my own life that looks at how fear of commitment can be pathologized, but also looking at taking this subject and extrapolating it to every area of your life. Your fear to commit to a dream, to a possibility, to a relationship, to your purpose, to a goal. All of these are the exact same process, actually. And that's why I think being able to understand what lives at the basis of our fears of commitment can allow us to become more committed people, more disciplined, and more discerning. It can allow us to move forward and create things we never thought were possible but always desired.
So if there's any part of you that sabotages, that chooses people who are afraid of commitment, and you find that you keep being gravitated towards that, that you yourself are running from people who would like to have a relationship with, or you just can't label why you can't be with them — I want to get into that. Because I think if we look at this from a psychological level, yes, there's a fear that lives at the basis of not being able to commit to things.
But if we look at this from a spiritual perspective too, there's an invitation to the evolution of your soul that you're being called towards something to complete a mission.
And that mission can be commitment, that mission can be a goal you want to achieve, but it's not just achieving a goal. Let's say you want to get a certain body fat percentage or you want to quit a certain food or you want to quit smoking. It's through doing something that can seem small - like a commitment like making your bed every day - that you actually get to see who you are. You get to build a level of self-trust. That there's a deeper knowing within yourself that you've got you - always, always, always, and in all ways. So I'm gonna tell you a story.
Now it's a funny story, but it's not gonna sound funny at first because it was fucking hard. It's one of the worst, one of the most painful experiences I've ever had in my life, but also the greatest teacher. The greatest teacher for something that was a blind spot for me that I wouldn't even discover till years later was a blind spot. And when I say years later, I mean it was about 15 years after this event occurred in a relationship that I discovered it had been living in my unconscious for 15 years. So I hope that through me sharing this story, which is also filled with some great experiences, you will learn something about yourself, and where you limit yourself and don't allow yourself to commit to things or move towards possibilities.
So when I was 19 years old, I was dating a woman who got a scholarship to go to the States to play a sport. And I bring up the States because that was very significant. We were living in Canada at the time, in Calgary. And we had been together for about a year and a bit. I think 14 months, or something like that, when she left or when she was going. And it was probably June and we were having that conversation of like, “What is that going to look like when you go?” You know, what are we going to look like?
So we had a conversation and we came to the agreement that we'd be able to see other people. We’d just tell each other if we started to. Now, I know what you're probably thinking as you hear this or you're watching this, like, oh, that's probably not going to go well. Yeah, and you might be on to something here, but when you're in it, you don't see it. You know what I'm saying? Like when you're in it, you're like, this is the best idea for right now. Even though in your body, you're like, I don't know about this, are you sure you want to do this? You know, that kind of feeling. But yet that was the agreement we made. And you know what? In hindsight, you learn a lot of things.
So she goes away in July or the beginning of August. I go visit her mid-August, something like that. Have a great time. I come back. And I remember I was at work. I was working at the Best Buy of Canada. It's called Future Shop. It was like the 40-Year-Old Virgin there, I'm not gonna lie. It was funny. We sold extended warranties and wore suits. We were cheesy salespeople. But I'm sitting at a computer and I'm looking up, like, how do you get a Visa in the US? Like how do I move there? Can I change schools? Can I join that school mid-year? Because I'm thinking I just want to be with her. You know when you're young, you think as soon as you're in a relationship in grade eight, you're like, I'm going to marry this person, or maybe it's just I was really naive and that's the way I thought. But a lot of people I knew, when you entered that commitment, you're like, well, I guess there's no choice. Like, this is just it.
This is also a flaw in our thinking in terms of relationship because we're just taught to find someone, get in a relationship with them and I guess you're just gonna marry them and that's it. Like, you made a choice and that's commitment and you can't unchoose it. And so we often enter with that level of commitment to our own fault sometimes, right? Because we do that without being committed to our own selves and our own values. But hey, live and learn.
So, I'm telling her this stuff, that I'm excited to potentially go down there, and she's like, yeah... And you know the real hard part was that everything around me reminded me of her and yet nothing around her reminded her of me and I just remember understanding that. I remember thinking, well, everything is new to her and she's like a celebrity, you know. When you're a college athlete, you're like a celebrity in your area. And so she's experiencing all this newness and novelty and here I am just thinking about her, pining over her, missing her, listening to frickin' Usher, You Got It Bad, Boys to Men…man. I think Water Runs Dry was coming out at the time, End of the Road… that one always gets you.
So she comes back at the beginning of October for Canadian Thanksgiving. And she has a really good friend who's also down there, so she brings him too. Just to give you some context, might be a relevant piece of information…he is built like Adonis. He is a giant. And he is, I think the running back for the football team.
So I'm like, oh yeah, that seems cool, that's great. And she's like, oh he wants to just see what Canadian Thanksgiving's all about. Let me just clarify things for you, people who don't know about Canadian Thanksgiving (or if you're American) it's the exact same thing as American Thanksgiving. Basically, we just don't have a sale after and it's in October. That way, you know, they don't mess with Christmas. It's like a nice space between, you got Halloween right in between too - that'll come into play.
So she comes back and I'm at Thanksgiving dinner at her house. And I remember, I'll never forget, I'm sitting down, he's sitting across from me, she's sitting here to my right, and then her mom and her stepdad are to my left. And I remember as I'm just sitting there eating my fucking potatoes or whatever I was eating, thinking like, there's something going on here, like there's something happening here, like there's a connection. Now, if you were a man, this is going to be foresight, but if you were a human with boundaries, you probably would have started to be out of there at that point. You know, throw the table. You're like, well, I'm done with it, you know, maybe not throw the table, but you know, you'd be like, oh, this isn't feeling good. I sat there eating stuff and my memory of that night is I'm at the bottom of the stairs of their house, and I'm saying goodbye to her, and my vision is blurry, and my sight's blurry because I'm crying.
And I say to her, “Is this how you tell me?” And she essentially says yes. So I get in my car and, you know, back then I didn't have great emotional regulation, so I probably just drove faster or like shifted harder because I was so upset. And I honestly, left there different. I left there different. I'd experienced a couple of betrayals, but this one somehow cut much differently, deeper.
And maybe because after a first betrayal when I was younger I still believed in people, I still trusted them. They wouldn't do that to me or to us or to whatever my narrative was. Now most people when they hear this story, the first response is “I can't believe she did that!” And they might use an expletive or a judgment of her character.
But I want to point out something to you that is maybe one of the most important lessons of this story. That is external betrayals almost always occur after giant internal betrayals. And my giant internal betrayal that led to that dinner that I never should have been at was that I never wanted to see other people, I never wanted to open our relationship. So it wasn't me now at the dinner, it's the abandoned version of me. Right? Like, think about that. My soul's going, but you're not honouring yourself. Like, why are we saying yes to this? This isn't going to go well. But of course, my soul's like, well, this lesson will come anyway, so we might as well get it now so we can move forward with some boundaries and stay in alignment with our values and ourself. And so we don't compromise ourself in order to maintain a connection that isn't actually even the type of connection I desire because it's not based on the agreements that are actually from the essence of myself.
That was the people-pleasing, not wanting to experience the hurt version of myself, not wanting the relationship to end for, you know the myriad of reasons, one including that it's painful. But you know, at that time, I didn't know how to say goodbye to somebody when it was time to say goodbye to them and do it consciously and mindfully. I didn’t know how to honour myself in that way.
And you know, we were doing the best she and I could do at the time. We were doing the best we could do. We came up with the agreement that was best for us. I'm gonna guess, I don't know this to be true, but it was likely she also abandoned herself in that compromised agreement. Right? So both of us are two people who forewent what we truly wanted for fear of disappointing one another or losing one another, and then ended up doing exactly that through perceivably more painful circumstances that probably elicited more shame and embarrassment for both sides of us.
Now, I left that dinner forever changed. I didn't tell everybody about what happened because it's so embarrassing, right? But shortly thereafter is Halloween and I think Halloween is a poorly timed holiday celebration if you're going through a breakup. Because there's, let's be honest, there's a lot of debauchery happening. There's a lot of opportunities. There's a lot of circulating sexual energy. Those are all great if you're looking for that. If you're heartbroken, not great. And you know one thing that happened when I left that house is that I unconsciously made that experience mean that monogamy leads to pain, that monogamy leads to suffering, that monogamy leads to betrayal.
You know, growing up playing on sports teams, often in the locker room are conversations about the BJ somebody got or sexual conquests. Not always, but often. There's not like a dude in there who's like, “Hey man, my girlfriend and I, we just dove deeper into intimacy and navigate a conflict on a deeper level, never done that, and it's just amazing.” You know that's never the conversation. And that's a whole other problem, of course, you know, we could get into the issues with locker rooms and male culture and all that kind of stuff, but let's get this story told.
So, it's Halloween, I get dressed up as a newsie, I go out with a couple of my best friends and we go to this bar. And to give you some context, at this point, I've kissed like 5 women in my life, I’m 19 or 20. And I'm very monogamous. But as I said, my narrative about monogamy is like, goodbye monogamy, you just led to total heartbreak. I'm devastated. You don't work. So I'm going the other way. So I make out with some chicks on the dance floor, never done that in my life. That was fun, fantastic. And I bring a girl home. Now listen, if you've never had a one-night stand and you're thinking about having one, there are a lot of ways to be mindful, you can do that mindfully for the most part. But that's again another podcast. Here's a first rule of thumb. Don't bring them to your parents' house. Right? That's a pretty logical, good rule of thumb.
But, I bring a woman, dressed like the devil (the irony is not lost upon me), a very nice woman, to my parent's house, and we're making out, all systems are go, and I'm like okay, I'm gonna do all these amazing things, it's gonna be wonderful, I'm talking all the talk and then I can't get an erection and I'm like wait what?! Like I'm kind of like a pilot on a plane, tabbing the fuel gauge, clicking “all systems are go” — but what's happening here?! It’s not working, but that's never happened to me, that makes no sense, like what's wrong with me? And you know, often in that experience the other person takes it personally etc etc, so nothing happens, you know, in that department. So after that happens, I mean gosh, talk about shame. I have so much shame, I can't get a boner now, I'm heartbroken, I'm in the deepest grief I've ever been in in my life.
And what I didn't realize, because there wasn't a lot of conversation about how grief can impact the body, is that my body was literally saying, you're not safe to be intimate with people. Think about when intimacy leads to betrayal and you haven't processed the betrayal. That means that unconsciously your body's going, but this is just going to go to betrayal. This is just going to go to betrayal. I haven't built the tools yet, the boundaries and the communication to be able to trust myself in intimacy. but here I am trying to thrust, pun intended, myself into intimacy.
Do you see that? I wrote an article years ago about this (and you don't have to be a dude for this to be true), but when this happens, our own internal compass, our moral compass is saying this is not aligned. And a general rule everyone should have if you want to have it is that if you can't do something sober, you shouldn't do it at all.
Well here's what I did, though. I learned that if I could drink more pints, I could get rid of my value system, and I could numb myself and be in intimate circumstances. But that wasn't a healthy way of processing that. It took me a long time to even figure that out, that I shouldn't be doing that. I remember when I was a pharmaceutical rep talking to one of the doctors, he said that one of the main reasons he wrote prescriptions for things like Viagra or Cialis was for new partner anxiety, that people get anxiety when they enter into new partnership and get performance anxiety.
If you think about it, when men experience performance anxiety or moral issues in terms of the position they're putting their body in, it's very obvious, it can show up very explicitly, right? Can't get an erection. For a woman, if they are putting themselves in circumstances that they don't want to be in, that can show up perhaps as not being able to get aroused or as vaginal dryness, and there are products for that.
You know, it's so interesting that I think, often, not always, the symptoms that are coming forward are actually saying, pay attention to me, something's unresolved, or this isn't good for us, or we need time to heal, or whatever it is. We actually just bulldoze right through, and there are products to help us do that. You think about how we have all these ways so that we don't have to feel.
And when I say these unprocessed experiences, I mean things like betrayal or grief or loss or heartbreak or whatever you want to label as being the thing you've been through relationally. Being abandoned, being let down. Feeling not safe, not understood. As we look through our past, we explore and identify these moments in our lives that were significant but have not been fully learned from.
We wonder why we're avoiding moments today. At the basis of the fear of commitment is the fear of the commitment leading to something, right? Like, I'm going to be afraid of it if there's something that I associate with it that is in the future. Do you see that? So if we're afraid of commitment, we're afraid of an outcome. Because we've likely experienced that type of outcome before, that type of emotion before, and we don't want to get it again. So for me, when I left that experience, I made it mean a lot of things about relationship. Not realizing that if I put myself in the driver's seat of being able to witness that experience, be able to learn from it, I could find myself unlikely to ever be in a circumstance like that again, because self-betrayals, lead to external betrayals.
Now there are four sentences that I have people finish when they wanna look at their upper limits in terms of love. So we're gonna look at their two sentence structures that have different endings. Are you ready? I want you to close your eyes and I just want you to finish these sentences for me. Ready?
When I love people, they…
When I love people, I…
When I let people love me, they…
When I let people love me, I…
Now for me, when I love people, I abandon myself, forget about myself, give up on myself, and let go of what's important to me.
When I let people love me, they betray me. They lie to me. They hurt me.
I give you different structures of those sentences so that you can find one that helps you unlock the thing you're afraid of, to let you finish that sentence in a way that you're like, ah.
Now, most of us spend our lives trying to avoid that upper limit. That upper limit is the pain that is beyond the level that we're willing to tolerate in relationships. So, if I think that when I get into commitment, I get betrayed, what I'll do is I'll control the depth of commitment. It'll show up as avoidance, right? So, am I doing all the research? Oh, I'm avoidantly attached. Oh, well, what's at the core of my avoidance? It's that people are going to let me down - they're not reliable, right?
Again, we’re coming back to the frameworks that allow us to see the different patterns that show up in relationship so that we can change the pattern. But what happens is, is my avoidant behaviours, my sabotage, the people I pick, the one-night stands I have, they are all because I don't want to touch this thing again that really hurts. Now, here's the interesting thing. If I was to sit down and really explore the circumstances that led to that dinner, I would have learned that I abandoned myself and that I needed boundaries and to learn how to self-express, which would mean that I wouldn't end up in circumstances like that.
But if I don't develop the skills that are found in the wisdom of the pain of the experience, then I can't get everything from it. I can't use the material, as we might say in the conversation about alchemy. I can't take the material that life is giving me and work with it and create some gold when painful memories are still really painful. It's often because we haven't sat with and learned from the experience.
So that mindset shift, which I've talked about before, is “I can't believe that happened to me” to “How did that happen for me?” Right? That's such a simple shift. We hear that a lot in the personal growth space. That shift, remember, moving from victim to being in responsibility and in charge and in discernment and in choice is not the negating of the experience of victimization. It's not saying there can't be painful things that happen to us. I'm not bypassing or gaslighting that that dinner sucked. But I'm saying if it was in service of my evolution, what is it teaching me?
Remember, at the basis of your fear of commitment is the fear of creating circumstances again that you do not want, to not get to the place that you most want to go towards. Love, depth, connection, and intimacy are the same place where your greatest fear exists.
So that's why we have to be able to confront the fear because it's in the same direction and left unconfronted, we'll keep doing weaves and we'll keep picking the wrong people.
Now here's how that comes back to being able to trust ourselves in choices. And remember, I said I want you to extrapolate what I'm teaching you to every area of your life. Now, let's look at if I'm trying to pick a partner, and I just don't seem to be drawn to people who want to commit. Interesting. And when they do want to commit, I'm like, eh, like I'm not sure about that person. Okay, here's an interesting thing. If I can't trust myself, and I don't know that I'm committed to myself, that I honour my own commitments and my own word, how can I trust myself in choices in other people?
If I don't keep these small promises to myself that seem insignificant, so if you're like, hey, I'm gonna go for a walk tomorrow, and you don't do it, or hey, I'm gonna go to bed by this time, or hey, I'm gonna stop using my phone as much, or hey, I'm feeling called to quit drinking - if you don't listen to that, and actually move towards it, you can't trust yourself, right?
It seems like it's not really a big deal, like no one else will know, I'm just not gonna go for a walk later even though I promised myself or made a commitment that I would. But you know, that's actually at the basis of your own integrity. If you want a liberating life, if you want a life that feels light, free, and easy, which is not synonymous with a lack of struggle and suffering, but if you want to feel light, get into alignment.
If you want your life to feel better, get into integrity. You want to be able to commit to things and commit to people, you have to commit to your values. You have to commit to being who you truly are. That will transcend into everything in your fucking life. I had to drop an F-sharp there because this is so important.
If you want to be able to commit to people, to goals, to possibilities, you have to be able to trust yourself and the only way you become trustworthy of yourself is by keeping your word with yourself. If you've never read The Four Agreements, it’s a must-read. And one of the agreements in there is, what other people think of you is none of your business.
And I've shared about this, that your capacity to be a good leader, to be in healthy relationships, will be directly correlated to your capacity to be disliked. You have to be willing to ruffle feathers in order to live the life you desire. You have to be willing to disappoint others in order to maintain peace within your own body.
Now, the first response to that often is, that sounds like a selfish life. If you have never prioritized yourself and you constantly people please and take care of other people so that you're not seen as selfish, that will be instantly where you want to go the moment you prioritize yourself and you'll even have people around you are like, that sounds like a pretty selfish life.
But let me ask you a very simple question. If I said to you, hey, do you want to be in a relationship where you and I bring each other alive? Like, our whole job through relationship is actually to help each other become more individually powerful and alive.
See, people are afraid of a partner being powerful when they see power as being a way to manipulate. People are afraid of seeing their partner as powerful if they're afraid that the partner will get powerful and move away from them. Because they live in a scarce world where if their partner has power, it means they don't. But I'm telling you, why not create a relationship where through the relationship, both individuals are actually elevated?
And that means that the relationship itself is elevated. This is interdependency. This is what it means to be liberated in love. This is what Kylie and I's new book is about, so please go buy a copy. It comes out in April, and buying the book is so supportive of us.
But that's what it's about. It's like using relationship as a vehicle for healing, expansion and liberation. And I'm saying if you want to get towards the goals you have and the relationship you desire, then you better get clear with where you don't keep your commitments to yourself and where you still have unresolved and unnavigated pains that live beyond commitments you've made in the past.
The relationship and life you want to create will only come when you can actually build the capacity to receive it. And the only way to build the capacity to receive it is to develop a deeper sense of trust and knowing with yourself, to go more deeply within yourself, so that you can bring more of you to the world so you can walk more deeply with another in relationship, but also in the path to your own purpose. It's all the same stuff. And I'm here to tell you, you can create that.
And I'm excited for you to create that. I hope that through sharing the story of my own suffering through that betrayal, you can help see where you betray yourself, where you are afraid of commitment and how the experiences of your past might show up for you today.
I hope that my failed one-night stand teaches you when your body is actually telling you things. That you put yourself in circumstances that it doesn't want you to put yourself in. That maybe, when you look in hindsight, some of the challenges you had being intimate or getting close to people were actually challenges with emotional safety and that you were still processing grief or maybe you weren't ready for that moment yet.
I want to close up with something that woke me up to all of this and that's that I had this call with a woman named Kelly Marceau who's a writer and she said to me (this is after I wrote an article that went viral and we connected through it): “You know, Groves, have you ever actually let a woman love you?” And I was like, yeah, of course I have. And then I got off the call and I'm like…
I was 34 when she said that to me. And it all of a sudden made all my avoidance make sense for 15 years. And remember, in that time, I'd been in two very significant relationships. A five and a half year one, got engaged, and I was in another two very significant year relationship. I wondered why I ran from women who could love me and towards ones who were maybe just not ready or were just maybe fresh out of relationships. Again, none of it is anyone's fault or a judgment on anyone's circumstances at the time, just like it's not a judgment on my own, but rather that it all finally made sense.
I hadn't let a woman love me because I was afraid of being loved because if I let someone love me, they would potentially devastate me, hurt me, betray me, and I wouldn't know how to come back from that again. And because I hadn't gone deeply into it and come out of it, I didn't know I could do it.
And so I made the journey of stepping into availability and going into that pain so that I could walk out of it stronger knowing that if anything like that ever happened again, I would have the tools to walk out of it.
And so here's to you, developing those tools, walking those tools, so that you can trust yourself in commitment, in relationship, in life, and in all the choices you make. Much love.