Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas


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My boyfriend of a few months has suffered from depression and anxiety, on and off . He feels guilty at being responsible for someone else's feelings (probably because his mother was an alcoholic who relied on him for emotional support.) It means that in relationships, when he gets too close, he panics and ends it. He says he doesn't want this to happen with me, but he now wants a couple of months on his own to sort himself out. However understanding I am, I can't really understand the extent of his anxiety. Why won't he just commit? Yours sincerely, Val

Virginia says... A champion "non-committer" myself, I'm always very wary when "not committing" is seen as some kind of disease. It is quite true that the presence of an alcoholic parent (and I should know – I had one) can make you exceptionally wary of getting too closely involved with other people. Your experience is that sooner or later you'll either be kicked in the face or let down in some way or another, and naturally any sensible person, having been in that position so often when young, decides to take action, when getting involved with anyone in later life, and get the kick in first.

A non-committer of the type you're talking about (and there is more than one type) usually falls wildly in love. The moment the other person gets close, they become extremely wary and back off, since the very closeness itself sparks off such painful emotional memories. The hurt partner usually withdraws, then the non-committer feels safe again and comes close, only for the whole pattern to recur again and again.

What you should do, Val, is (and I can hardly bear to repeat this old cliché) play it cool. Think of your partner as a nervous pigeon. If you sit very still and don't make any advances, the pigeon may, eventually, agree to take corn from your hand. But make any attempt to stroke his feathers and he'll be off with a great flapping of wings.

Now I wouldn't blame you if you felt it wasn't worth spending your life treading on emotional eggshells around your boyfriend. However, there's another kind of non-committer. And that's the person who thinks they want to settle down and have a family, but actually doesn't. They have far too many interests and a rich life of their own, which they feel will be hampered by the presence of another person. It could be that your boyfriend is one of these.

The final non-committer is the one who is, at heart, a committer but just doesn't want to commit to you. Calling him a non-committer stops you feeling hurt. But it could be that your boyfriend's instincts are right, and you're not made for each other.

Don't get swept up too much in his psychological problems or, even worse, his psychological answers. It may be that his therapist is right in his or her conclusions about his reasons for not wanting to commit. It may be that they're completely up a gum tree.

Let him have his time on his own. But don't hold your breath that he'll be in touch after the time has passed.


Readers say...

He's being honest

"Why won't he just commit?" you ask. Read a copy of any wedding service, which spells out in detail the enormity of the commitment required to throw in your lot with one other person. The reality is that thus far your boyfriend has not met the person to whom he would willingly make such a commitment, and that, I'm afraid, includes you. One day he might meet that person; or then again he may not. In the meantime he is wise not to promise what he feels unable to deliver.

Ian Hurdley By email


It's not him, it's you

In my experience and, from talking to male friends, a man usually "panics" not when he gets too close but when he realises his feelings do not match those of his partner. I am sure he cares for you and does have issues of anxiety and depression. But I doubt these will affect him so much when he meets the right woman. Ask him to be honest, and if he still says he loves you and wants things to progress, suggest counselling. If he agrees to this you will know he wants it to work.

Natalie By email


Next week's dilemma

Dear Virginia, Four years ago I had a baby with my then boyfriend. Things weren't going well – he was into drugs and even hit me once – so we split up. When our daughter arrived he was over the moon but after we split he gradually lost touch. Now he's written asking to see her, saying he's changed. He's with another woman, and they've got a child, but I'm in two minds. I've been so happy without him in my life. And don't see why he should disrupt our situation. My parents are dead against letting him see her. What do you think? Yours sincerely, Jen

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