“Combolationships” are in vogue.
By Swetha Sundar
It is common to hear among people of older age groups, that young urban Indians today are commitment phobic, primarily focused on career, pursuing their interests or making money and that “relationships are not what they used to be” and so on. Is this really true?
Let’s take a fresh look at the issue of commitment phobia in urban India and how it affects individuals, society and relationships at large.
If there’s a day when Shashank Wazir, 21, doesn’t party, it’s on Valentine’s Day. For the self-confessed hater of the red hearts-and-balloons ritual, dating is all about “picking up the right girl”. No love, no commitment. “We party, have fun and then part ways with no phone numbers, no names, no hard feelings,” says the Armani-clad student of the Mumbai University who scours the Capital’s upscale nightclubs thrice a week.
Welcome to the age of instant-hook-ups-and-instant-break-ups where a ‘date’ means heady partying and ‘commitment’ is oh-so-passé! Men and women no longer ‘fall in love’; they are ‘in a relationship’ and when matters start going wrong, it merely gets ‘complicated’; there are no ‘heartbreaks’. Flooded with options, the urban youth now wants to explore and experiment. No one bats an eyelid when they hear that their friends are sleeping together; it’s all about discovering the other person before thinking of commitment.
Gone are the days when men wooed girls with silly Hallmark cards and women listened to Backstreet Boys on loop. New are the times of tough love, quick gratification and commitment phobia. “The new rule of dating says don’t get emotionally involved unless you’re sure of the person,” says Vikrant Gupta, 22, a finance consultant in Mumbai for whom strobe-lit nightclubs are the perfect place to meet potential dates. Urban India is in the clutches of commitment phobia, blind dating and instant physical gratification with special emphasis on the phrases “one –night stands “ and “ no strings attached”.
“Phobia” is a word that carries a negative connotation, implying irrational, even neurotic, fear. But you should be careful before accusing your partner, or yourself, of being “afraid” to commit. “Cautious deliberation when making a decision with life-long implications is not necessarily irrational or fearful. Sometimes it is the most prudent thing to do. Does double-checking your parachute before jumping out of a plane make you acrophobic? Certainly not,” says marriage counsellor and relationship expert Padmini Rao.
With casual being the key, young couples are snipping those emotional strings and trading commitment for fun. Teenagers proudly state they are in combolationships or complicated relationships where the status can change from committed to single in a matter of hours. “There is too much stress around anyway. Why would you want to add to it with tears and fights?” says Anusha Singh, 25, a Chennai DJ who lives in with her boyfriend of two years and shares an ‘open’ relationship.
Contrast this with an earlier generation where courting couples dreamt about walking down the aisle. India’s GenNext wants to discover and explore before taking the vows. Some are even glad to take the matrimonial site route for a suitable match when relationships get sour.
Blame it on international sitcoms where casual sex is cool or recent Bollywood flicks which celebrate the no-strings-attached relationships. “It could be the influence of western entertainment, but the nature of dating has completely changed today in India. Youngsters are less afraid to experiment and switch partners. Casual relationships are seen as cool and romance is labelled as passe,” says Sandeep Murari, a Bengaluru-based relationship counsellor and psychiatrist.
For most people, relationships are fairly easy things. They come as naturally to life as breathing or making a meal. For some, however, relationships are not so easy. In fact, they present such a challenge to the individual, that a person can be said to have relationship anxiety, a fear of relationships, or suffer from “commitment phobia.” Commitment issues in relationships are nothing new. But our understanding of how the fear of commitment for some people can be paralysing has increased. And while you won’t find “commitment phobia” in any diagnostic manual, it is a very real experience of anxiety and fear.
People who have commitment issues, commitment phobia or relationship anxiety generally have a serious problem in staying in a relationship for the long term. While they still experience love like anyone else, the feelings can be more intense and scary than they are for most people. These feelings lead to increased anxiety, which builds upon itself and snowballs as the relationship progresses — and the expectation of a commitment looms larger.
People with commitment phobia long for and want a long-term connection with another person, but their overwhelming anxiety prevents them from staying in any relationship for too long. If pressed for a commitment, they are far more likely to leave the relationship than to make the commitment. Or they may initially agree to the commitment, then back down days or weeks later, because of their overwhelming anxiety and fears.
People who are commitment phobic feel they need to cut off their feelings after a certain point of knowing someone as a means of feeling in control and feeling emotionally protected. This is often not conscious and going on at the deepest level of the sub- consciousness.
According to relationship experts, these days, it is becoming harder for men and women to choose somebody they would ideally like to settle down with. Further, the notion that women ‘know’ that they’ve met the perfect guy doesn’t hold true anymore. More and more women are finding it difficult when they have to commit in a relationship or get married.
Way of marriage
Relationship expert Heena Pathak says, “Though not all, many women are wary of marriage these days. This is because they are more aware about their choices. They travel the world extensively, meet new people and are also ambitious. Thus, their choices are not restrictive any more. They are financially more stable and often do not feel the need to settle down or be in a bond forever.”
Even as quick flings and cyber dating start to become common, there are still some who dream of the perfect romantic happily-ever-after life. Despite five heartbreaks, for Shilpi Rai, 18, a student of Delhi University, the ‘knight in shining armour’ fantasy still holds true. “I don’t want a life that is based on text messages, electronic love and physical intimacy. I want emotional connection and real-life romance. My friends call me old-fashioned and gullible. But I feel I am just a believer,” she says. In times of quickies, not all are as hopeful. In Kolkata, Surbhi Chatterjee, 20, went from being a topper to college dropout and commitment-phobic overnight after she caught her boyfriend of four years cheating on her. “Just because I did not want to have sex with him, he was sleeping with other girls,” she says.
Some people with relationship anxiety may confuse positive feelings of excitement for another person and the potential of a relationship with the feelings of anxiety. For instance, normal feelings of anticipation, or
may be misconstrued by the person as a panic reaction, or general negative anxiousness. Some may also just have a difficult time resolving the inherent conflict of romantic relationships – the craving of intimacy while wanting to retain their own individuality and freedom.
People with commitment issues come in all shapes and sizes, and their exact dating and relationship behaviours can vary. Some refuse to have any serious or long-term relationships longer than a week or a month, because of their fears. Others may be able to be involved with one person for a few months but, as the relationship becomes more serious and deeper, their old fears again come to the forefront, driving the person away. Both men and women can suffer from relationship anxiety and commitment phobia, although traditionally it was thought primarily to be a male problem.
A lot of commitment-phobic people tend to grow up in volatile addiction families or in families that the parents are in a loveless and silent relationship. In both the scenarios, there is a palpable feeling of tension, unhappiness and dissatisfaction that everyone just wants out of. In the case of a loud and volatile family there is a lot of insecurity about what will be happening the next day or what the mood of the mother or father will be at any given time. These people were brought up to constantly have one foot in and one foot out. For those who grew up in a silent, loveless and inexpressive home the child has no role model for healthy, committed adult attachments. They have no idea what it feels like to have a healthy emotional bonding.
We all want to be in control. It’s natural. It’s just that good relationships are about mutuality. It’s about give and take and accommodating each other. Sometimes partners will be on an equal emotional plain. Sometimes one of them will be hurting and they’ll need their partner to be strong—and sometimes vice versa. It’s all about meeting each other where you are, in any given moment and on any given day. In order to enjoy mutuality with each other, both partners need to feel safe – but that’s got to come from within. Relationships will blossom only if groundwork and perseverance is there. Love is worth the effort.
When all other options have been considered and discarded, what’s left may be an unpleasant truth—that your partner is dragging his or her feet to keep options open in case someone better comes along. Usually, there are other obvious warning signs as well. If so, call it quits and move on.
What’s the best antidote to confusion over commitment phobia? Patience, discernment, and communication – lots of it.
All young Indians have a few ideas in common. They seek honesty, compatibility and appreciation. They value relationships and want to make life-long bonds based on trust.
They are patient and realise that every commitment should be nurtured with love. They are willing to wait, therefore, for someone whom they feel truly compatible with. It is also a reflection of changing families that are slowly but surely, allowing this young, self-reliant generation to explore in their own way rather than pressurising them to adopt the time-tested route of arranging relationships.