Is it Peter Pan Syndrome, fear of commitment, or something more? Here are 5 observations about the man who won’t commit.
It seems like for quite a while there was a spat of movies about men who wouldn’t commit. Whether it was a movie about a long engagement (or one literally called The Long Engagement), about a single mum being left by some deadbeat dad (like Where The Heart Is), or some brooding superhero who’s too into his crime fighting to be present (looking at you, Batman… and Spiderman… Superman… all the mans I guess).
That seems to have died down in the last 5 years or so, but what hasn’t died down is the level of frustration that comes from mainly women about the men who won’t commit in their lives.
The lack of commitment is called gamophobia (there you go). While there aren’t many thorough studies on percentages of people who fear commitment, you only need to take one internet search (like you probably are right now) or one night out with the girls to realise that it’s a pretty common experience for many women.
Some days I feel like I’m still in primary school, when I see the boys and girls are still so separate. But you can’t be a man who avoids women or a woman who avoids men and expect to have a whole and healthy life.
I gotta say, I find myself thinking on this topic quite a lot recently. Maybe it’s because of a lot of the conversations and experiences people have shared with me recently. Maybe I’ve just been so filled with the frustrations of others that this is me about to pop. In fact I was talking to someone last night about how this one is actually one of my pet annoyances in life.
And it’s been a while since I’ve done more of a rant than a post, but on this one, I really need to go there. Maybe I should explain myself and provide some context first.
You and I know a lot of great people. And we can help empower them to become who they were born to be.
The other night we were out at a social event at one of Brisbane’s big evening markets with a bunch of people from our church. We had our Kiddo with us and the place was absolutely packed. Kiddo started getting mega hungry in the crowds and the waits, and with so many people around, there weren’t many places to be able to sit and eat properly. Throughout the night, a bunch of our friends chipped in to help with things that seemed really small to them – holding a bag, seeing if there was food still in the mouth cause we had to eat standing up, moving some rubbish – but if you’re a parent with a hungry kid, you know these “small” things actually make up a big deal.
It ruins dating prospects, it kills marriages and families, and destroys mental health – most people stop making friends as they get older.
But they really shouldn’t.
Defining the problem
I have been in a lot of conversations with people who are trying to find their life partner, expressing their desire to marry their best friend. However I am always quite fascinated by the answer to the question, “Would you date any of your friends?”. Many people say no.
Is the faith factor playing against your love life? Let’s have a look at whether or not it is harder to date as a Christian.
Dating can be really, really easy for some people. They meet someone, a week later they are already in the “hanging out” phase, and then six months later there’s a ring or two involved. I’ve known quite a few couples in this boat where things have gone exactly like this and they’re still doing really well years later.
These are probably the few people who everyone wants to be like. Unfortunately, these are the minority that the majority wishes they were like. I know I wasn’t in this boat.
For everyone else, dating can be really, really hard.
My main exposure to the current state of the dating market is largely in Christian circles. I am super involved in church life and a large number of my currently single friends are Christians across various churches. And as people head into their late 20s, 30s, even 40s, and still not able to find someone they deem to be suitable (or someone who deems them suitable in return), it can be an extremly frustrating experience.
And you begin to wonder… is it harder to date as a Christian than otherwise? Is my faith causing me additional grief in the area of dating?
Are your words demanding something that your life isn’t? To the man who wants to be the head of the house…
I’m always fascinated by common patterns and trends in human relationships. Maybe underneath my IT, technology focused veneer and career is an anthropologist lying in wait. But I find myself so interested in statements that get repeated in or about relationships, as well as paradigms that drive people together or tear them apart.
One I’ve heard recently in multiple arenas being thrown around is a number of men saying they want to be the head of the house, and a number of women saying they want a man who takes the lead in that regard as well. I’ve seen a big push about it in mainstream media outlets (such as Mama Mia’s married women’s worst marriage advice in 2022 which originally got me thinking on this post), I’ve heard it from single men and women saying that’s the way it should or shouldn’t be when talking about dating, and I’ve heard from a number of married men and women recently saying it’s come up to the benefit or the detriment of the relationship.
I’ve learned it’s really easy to become an absentee father, but if you can be a dad who stays, you can make a profound difference.
I recently went back through time and revisited my My Top 10 Favourite Movies Ever. Even decades after watching it, one of my favourites is the hit 1997 Jim Carrey film Liar Liar. It’s about a divorced dad who continually lets his son down with empty promises to the point that his son makes a birthday wish meaning Jim’s character can’t lie for 24 hours.
Hilarious in practice, but it is kinda sad in reality.
In truth, there’s a whole bunch of movies in the 90s about absentee dads and many movies like Liar Liar with an attempted message at getting dads to stay, or at least be more present in the lives of their kids. I found the same thing when I was doing a list of Christmas movies or even just thinking about a bunch of older movies and shows I have enjoyed in the past – think Jingle All The Way, Mrs Doubtfire, Click, or even that savagely poignant episode of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, “Papa’s Got A Brand New Excuse”.
These and many more aimed at dads in particular with a plea to be present and accessible to their children.
And then as time went on, when TV stopped trying to convey as many overt family values or messages, it became less about being a dad who stays and more about the people who had been left behind by dad’s decisions trying to live with it.
I’ve worked in the IT industry for 15+ years to this point now. And it’s an industry plagued with a lot of people in this boat of choosing career over children, overtime over playtime, respect in business over respect in the home.
Granted, our industry often does necessitate longer hours or super late nights given society’s dependence on technology for mission critical purposes, but it became obvious to me when I was younger that many people – dads in particular – would work far more than they needed to, especially on salaries and projects where all that overtime didn’t amount to a whole lot more actually being delivered.
And I remember as a young man thinking wow, I’ve known so many people growing up who wished their fathers were around more. Some cases a family breakdown meant dad didn’t have full custody and opportunity, but even then you would see some dads still working crazy hours unnecessarily even on their weekend or evenings with the kids. And here they were, hiding in their computer.
Men can be really good at hiding. I think it’s because we actively compartmentalise our lives, whereas women (generally) tend to address everything at the same time. I think this is really handy for certain types of decisions where we need to face things in a more staggered approach – but the obvious downside that TD Jakes points out in He-Motions is we put things in their box, and we just leave it there. Festering. Unaddressed. Not receiving our attention or effort.
That’s okay when it’s a stressful project at work, around the house, or relationally that needs a more measured approach, or for a temporary period of time. But when it’s our children that go in that box, we’re not the dad who stays, we’re the dad who gets hit with the “absent” label.
And then I became a dad myself. And I realised something personally of myself rather than just theoretically that I had seen and researched about absentee fatherism in others – that I too could very, very easily hide from the pressures of fatherhood in my work, my serving, my hobbies, my outings, my whatever.
That instead of being available to help when I knew I could, that I could oh just work a bit later. Or not be available that weekend. Or go out for hours at an important time when I could be helping.
And it was such an equalising realisation that being a father is very confronting and difficult. And I could see in those times when those ideas to stay hidden came up exactly what has happened in so many homes previously. I will say I feel like I have done my best to be as present as possible, but I’d be lying if I said there hadn’t been several times when that thought or pressure had built up internally.
It is really, really easy to be an absentee father. We have the opportunity and the societal “acceptance” that we’re not always going to be available. Because so many fathers before us weren’t, right? That’s just what dads do. All the jokes tell us how distant dad is. All the biographies and complicated backstories of real and fictional people tell us that so many others have been in that boat. We all know dad is either at the pub, the golf game, or the office when his son or daughter are at their dance recital or even just for playtime.
But to be a dad who stays… I think that’s where real power is. Possibly even the greatest power we have as men is to buckle up and be present for the whole ride.
Even in today’s society, many secular and religious studies have all confirmed that when dad is absent, everyone suffers. Particularly the children.
Stats from the United States over 2021 a consistently measured increase in absentee fathers being a factor in increased substance abuse, higher incidences of mental health issues, increased risk of going to prison, and higher risks of school dropouts and poverty. And this is not the first year these observations have been made. I’ve read the research of the authors of On Becoming Babywise which showed a strong correlation between dad’s presence in the early years and behavioural issues later on way back in the 80s, and even some more recent statistics from the last few years confirm this to be the case.
Canadian research found that brain development is altered in the early years by the absence of the father. Children of fatherless homes were found to be 5 times more likely to attempt suicide, and 32 times (!!!) more likely to become homeless or runaway.
You can research this for yourself in any country, and the echo chamber of research, stat after stat, story after story, resoundingly confirms that dad being absent is devastating. I still am haunted by the fact that the last verse of the Old Testament is that when the fathers refuse to turn their hearts back to their children, a curse is present. I think these stats confirm just how dire it is when it’s like that.
It can be really hopeless when you realise how devastating a problem we have.
But I take it as a real encouragement and a recogition of just how serious and significant our role and contribution as fathers is.
In a world where it can be hard to feel like you’re really making a difference, by our presence and participation we can improve our children’s brain development and set them up for strength and greatness for their life ahead. Yes it’s utterly terrifying to think how bad the stats are when we aren’t present, but conversely consider how much of an improvement you can make in the lives of your children by showing up and staying present.
But if it were that easy, we’d all be doing it. Here are some factors I think play into the challenge.
The law and custody. American research puts marital breakdown as the leading cause of fatherlessness making up 30% of those fathers considered to be “absent”. In Australia I have talked to so many fathers of various ages even recently who are trying their hardest to be present in the lives of their children in a joint-custody situtation but the law makes it very difficult being geared against men. If you’re in this boat my brother I would urge you to keep fighting to be present, even if isn’t anywhere near as frequent as you would like to be. The data shows us that your sustained presence makes a significant difference, and is worth fighting for.
Embrace, and have a sense of, purpose. I’ve written before looking at even more of the stats around the difference it makes in a man’s life when he has a sense of calling and purpose about him. Even moreso as a father. Even if you’re unsure about every other area of your life, recognise you are called to and are capable of make a marked difference for your children. More in Why Men Need Purpose, Direction, and Income.
Don’t hide. Man I’ve never felt that internal pressure to hide from the stress and pressure of life more than I have since becoming a dad. But I want to be a dad who stays. Myself and all of us need to make sure we’re finding coping strategies and strength that don’t involve us being out 4-5 hours a night and never being present with our children. Not saying you can’t hang out with the boys or keep up an active social life, but as long as the whole family is coming with us on the journey overall.
Toxic masculinity. A real man stands by his kids. We can be so worried about how we appear to people who really don’t care about us at the end of the day. It’s more important to be who we need to be with the people who really need us the most. More in Men and Rape Culture
Deal with the crap. All of us have big issues to deal with, and fatherhood is extremely confronting. It pushes every single big button you have – your relationship with your own parents, how you view your competence, your ability or confidence in earning income, the traits about yourself you never want to pass on to others, and especially how much you love or don’t love yourself. Anger, substance abuse, porn addiciton, lack of self worth – all of these can make being a dad who stays very difficult when you always want to run away from yourself. It’s not too late to start working through these things.
Prioritise your relationship with your partner. A Brisbane psychologist told me a few months ago that it’s very typical in her decades of counselling in cis marriages that when life gets tough, the mum in the relationship will throw herself into raising the child and the dad will throw himself into his other pursuits. You’ll see this all across much of the Internet when dads die inside as their relationship dynamic changes. More than just the dynamic change, much of this can occur around marital angst – be it emotional, sexual, or big disagreements that you haven’t resolved. I would encourage anyone in that boat to seek professional help and/or the help of a support network and friends. I continue to see it and I firmly believe one of the worst things we can do for our marriages is to hide away from others. We all need to live in the light. More thoughts and experiences in 10 Ways To Minimize Fights In Marriage and Love and 8 Things That Kill Your Marriage (If Left Unaddressed).
Do young people today get a bad wrap over an idealisation of the past? Here are 7 ways the younger people today aren’t worse than previous generations.
If you know me, you know my wife and I absolutely love Gong Cha. Not the milk teas or the tapioca pearls, but the green and alisan teas with a fruit in them. Oooh and Aloe Vera. If you’re shouting, Grapefruit Green Tea or Mango/Lemon Alisan teas no sugar with Aloe Vera you can’t go wrong. So good.
We were out with our young daughter around Southbank over the Christmas break at the store there when I realised something – I’m not going to be able to open this big door at the angle I’m wheeling the pram. What am I going to do? I’m on struggle street. And I’m blocking everyone inside from being able to reach the handle themselves.
A group of young men was walking passed, perhaps early 20s, and one of them saw me struggling with my life choices over by the door and rushed over to open it for us. I hope that young man is blessed beyond belief for seeing a stranger and helping out.
Could you be directly (or indirectly) ruining what could be great? Here are 8 things that kill your marriage… if left unaddressed.
John and Helen Burns rightly observed that a good marriage is the closest to heaven on earth you can experience. Conversely, a bad or troubled marriage they say can be the closest thing to hell on earth.
Feeling trapped in your own house, unhappy with the thing you once dreamed about, at the end of the rope with this person you supposedly used to love at one point – these can feel like a nightmare without end, and a great source of exhaustion, shame, and pain.
The motiviation for this post was about a month ago reading thousands of comments on the work of Sharon Pope on Facebook, full of people publicly posting about the struggle they have of wanting their marriage to continue but not loving their husbands (overwhelmingly) any more. It really stuck with me to see just how distraught so many people have been feeling trapped in their relationships and wanting to end it.
Hollywood romances are super popular, but not always truthful depictions of what really happens in love. Here are 10 realistic movies about love… well, as realistic as Hollywood can be anyway.
Love can be such a complicated and layered topic at times. Even moreso when it’s your own love life you’re looking at. It can be much easier to critique or explore the issues of love when you’re looking at someone else’s life.
And even if it’s not a real life, but a fictional one – watching someone else’s drama can be an escape from your own. Or perhaps more healthily, it can be used as an opportunity to evaluate and explore your own experiences.
Now you might have read this title and gone, “Matt you’ve gone insane, Hollywood romance isn’t realistic at all”. And I would concede your point, slightly. There are a ton of terrible depictions of love out there, my least favourite being the “hey I just met you and this is crazy but here’s my number so marry me in 10 minutes after meeting me” type.