Love Hurts: Is Millennial Commitment Phobia a Lifestyle Choice or Defense Mechanism?

Love and Sex

Love Hurts: Is Millennial Commitment Phobia a Lifestyle Choice or Defense Mechanism?

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

If you’re a ’90s kid or older, chances are you’ve experienced at least one incident of life-altering romantic rejection or heartbreak, which ended up affecting the way you give and receive love. In some cases, dreams of growing old with a highschool sweetheart are thwarted by forced arranged marriages. In others, soul-crushing betrayal shakes the very foundation of one’s ability to love wholly again. But future partners will obviously still dismiss this as “trust issues”.

Commitment phobia, I’ve found, isn’t really a phobia at all. From what I’ve gathered from friends and past encounters, it’s merely a defense mechanism you develop after monogamy didn’t work out for you in the past. It isn’t that commitment-phobes are averse to the idea of love or just unwilling to settle down because they enjoy being fuckbois and cool gals too much. Most commitment-phobes are just people that have convinced themselves that they can never love the way they once did before. Think of it as the exhaustion that sets in by the time you give your third KT exam in a subject that you’re just beginning to think isn’t one in which you will ever excel. It’s not that you don’t want to pass the subject that all your friends seem to understand so easily. But you’re just exhausted by trying, failing, trying again, and failing again. That’s what lies at the heart of my commitment phobia.

This fear of commitment doesn’t necessarily bring about seismic changes in our love life — by which I mean it doesn’t stop us from frantically searching for someone who makes us feel less lonely — but it’s generally triggered at unsuspecting moments. When you come across an old, dusty love letter and are reminded of the naive, gullible teenager you once were. Or when you clean out your old shelf and find a box with movie tickets and Cafe Coffee Day receipts saved up from 2011. You wonder how your 19-year-old self could be unabashed and arrogant enough to assume that those remnants of a relationship could one day be looked back on with fondness? You judge this 2011 version of you and curse the wide-eyed optimism they had towards love and romance.

Because you’re a far cry from that kid now. And just like the rest of your millennial peers, loving freely is a luxury you can’t afford anymore. Falling in love after being hurt is like trying out the bottle cap challenge without having any martial arts training; Some of your friends will make it look easy and post their successes all over social media. But if you try to do the same, you will likely spin around aimlessly before landing flat on your ass.

You wonder how your 19-year-old self could be unabashed and arrogant enough to assume that those remnants of a relationship could one day be looked back on with fondness?

For my fellow ’90s kids who are still single while staring down the tail end of our 20s, what went wrong with us? I mean, we did most things right, right? Growing up, we enjoyed both playing outside as well as vegging out in front of MSN Messenger. We spent most of our teens being fooled into believing our digital friends were akin to real life friends who actually cared about us and at the same time lived in the delusion that Bollywood’s toxic version of pyaar was something to aspire to. And perhaps most significantly, we experienced hookup-culture on steroids while witnessing the advent of dating apps, where you needn’t care about finding Mister or Miss Right so long as you could swipe right. Alright, I get it. In many ways, this commitment phobia epidemic was inevitable. Perhaps us millennials were set up for loneliness from the very beginning. 

This is further proven by more and more of my friends — well, at least the single ones — who are aggressively adopting the belief that the key to getting over commitment phobia and staying content in their romantic life is to simply lower their expectations. Which is a fancy way of saying, “Just settle with the balding banker who doesn’t call you by a different name on the second date because you aren’t getting any younger, Namrata!” Or, “Why is your love life so important anyway? There’s bigger issues to worry about like money and jobs and the environment.” CJ Hauser sums it up perfectly when writing about suppressing her own need for affection in The Crane Wife, “There are worse things than not receiving love. There are sadder stories than this. There are species going extinct, and a planet warming. I told myself: who are you to complain, you with these frivolous extracurricular needs?” 

So yeah, I guess you could say that falling in love when you’re a commitment-phobe is a lot different from when it happens during your teens and early 20s. The romance is measured and maturity becomes an excuse for holding back feels. Because you’re apprehensive of coming across as needy, and let’s face it, being a romantic just isn’t cool in 2019. But then you also live in the silent hope that someday, you might meet  someone that makes you want to start saving those CCD receipts again.