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Fear of commitment in popular literature refers to avoidance of long-term partnership and/or marriage but it is often much more pervasive. In 1987 the term commitment phobia was coined by Steven Carter in his book Men who can't love.
In romantic relationships, the paradox is that the commitmentphobic craves what he/she fears most: love and connection. This leads to a confusing and destructive pattern of seduction and rejection that is generally experienced by the love object as emotionally devastating. Though generally attributed exclusively to males, it is well-documented that commitmentphobia is not gender-specific.
While this behavior has been documented for some time, the word commitmentphobia (no space, no hyphen) was actually coined in the 1987 New York Times Bestseller Men who can't love by Steven A. Carter and Julia Sokol (M.Evans & Co. Publishing). Interestingly, in 1987, legendary New York publisher George de Kay (Body Language, Aerobics, Open Marriage, Atkins New Diet Revolution, etc.) resisted printing the word commitmentphobia on the original book jacket, fearing it sounded "too scientific and off-putting." Within one year, the phrase commitmentphobia had become popular American jargon and the sub-title of the book was changed to include the phrase "commitmentphobic."
Commitment phobia is rooted in fear -- fear of lost options or fear of making poor decisions. The commitment phobic mind sees decisions as permanent. It symbolizes being caged or trapped. Commitment phobics actually take commitment very seriously, which is why the decision to commit can be so hard for them. "A rolling stone gathers no moss" is the appropriate proverb for this subclass of individuals. And like the proverb, commitment phobia is a double edged sword -- on the one hand you avoid obligations, ties, and commitments yet at the same time the commitment phobic may secretly crave the lives of those who committed and the growth that those roots produced. But when push comes to shove, the CPs' fear usually wins out -- commitment phobics desire freedom above all else and sometimes, alternatively, they desire fantasy over reality and yet in other cases, they desire both.
Commitment phobia is largely unrecognized as a real disabling fear. It is sometimes thought to be associated with fear of death, fear of intimacy, etc. But most CPs usually show signs of commitment fears across many domains of life. Sometimes it is so pervasive that that it interferes in their ability to make simple every day decisions and on the larger scale, of managing and maintaining their life. CPs are prone to self-destructive behavior and escapism as a way to assuage their anxiety. Carter and Sokol refer to both active and passive commitment phobics but usually CPs have elements of both active and passive CP behaviors (some may have stronger preferences). In terms of personality types, commitment phobics are usually enneagram types 7s, 6s or 4s, which are types that tend to engage in push-pull behaviors (7s tend to be more "active" phobics while 4's tend to be more "passive"). Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's is a classic example of a 7w6 active commitment phobic. Cameron Diaz (enneatype 7w6) recently admitted that she has commitment phobia, most likely of active variety.
"As a commitment-phobic individual, people often laugh at my only goal in life -- to get a dog. I have wanted a dog for at least 15 years and every New Years I tell myself, this is the year. 15 years and waiting... But like an ice-berg, the desire to have a dog is just the tip of the berg; where most of the hurt and anxiety manifests is in my one on one personal relationships. Each time I hope that this one will be different; That I won't run away. When forced to make a choice I almost freeze in panic. I have thoughts in my mind but I can't speak -- the only thing I can think of is how to get away from this source of anxiety. I may break things off or say something to get the other person mad (and therefore not interested in a commitment). I feel like a crab without a shell when cornered. And I can't stop feeling like that."
Men Who Can't Love by Steven A. Carter and Julia Sokol (ISBN 978-0-425-11170-3) M.Evans & Co, 1987
The Problem of Puer Aeternus by Marie-Louise von Franz (ISBN 978-0-919123-88-5) Spring Publications, 1970
The Peter Pan Syndrome by Dan Kiley (ISBN 978-0-396-08218-7) Dodd Mead, 1983
He's Scared, She's Scared by Steven A. Carter and Julia Sokol (ISBN 978-0-440-50625-6) M.Evans & Co, 1995
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