Fear of Commitment’s Greatest Hits

Posted on March 7, 2016


James Taylor is going to be playing in San Diego in June.  Tickets went on sale last week.  This prompted me to listen to some of his old records.  One of the running themes in his early work seems to be this idea that he must keep moving and can’t settle down.  It is interesting that there are a plethora of songs of this type on Sweet Baby James (1970) and Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon[1] (1971), and he married Carly Simon in 1972.  He either, quite literally, changed his tune or the songs were not intended to be autobiographical.

In any event there seem to be a reasonable amount of songs about a man (and occasionally a woman) saying essentially, “We can be in relationship as long as you don’t expect any commitment from me.”  A few years ago, I made a list of “infidelities greatest hits,”[2] and I thought I could do the same for a refusal to commit.  There are some instances where we have overlap.

I am a man who has been married for 32 years so as you might expect, I can’t quite relate to the sentiment.  My position on the subject is that human beings were designed for attachment.  Hence, married men live longer, have less depression, make more money, etc., etc., etc., than their single counterparts.  But I digress.  Here is my (off the top of my head) run at Fear of Commitment’s Greatest Hits.  Since I am getting on a bit in age, there is a tendency toward some older songs.

Free Bird (Lynyrd Skynyrd) – This one deserves the number one spot.  It is the quintessential, “it’s not you, it’s me, and I gotta roll” rock anthem.  “I must be traveling on now, ‘cause there’s too many places I got to see.”

The Worst That Could Happen (Brooklyn Bridge) – As far as I know, this was the only hit this band had.  Essentially, after the singer hears that the woman he has been dating is going to marry someone else he sings of marriage that “maybe it’s the best thing for you, but it’s the worst that could happen to me.”

I Wanna Be Free (The Monkees) – What can we say?  It was the zeitgeist of the 60’s and Boyce and Hart captured it with this tune.  The message is we can have lots of fun together as long as we understand there are no strings attached.  At some point, the “laughing in the sun, always having fun” would need to yield to “ya gotta work if you wanna eat” but apparently that was for another day.

Different Drum (Stone Poneys) – This Michael Nesmith (see The Monkees above) penned tune put a previously unknown Linda Ronstadt on the map.  Linda sang, “I’m saying, ‘I’m not ready for any person, place, or thing trying to pull the reins in on me.’  So goodbye.”

Highway Song (James Taylor) – There are many to choose from with James, some of which have been bigger hits.  This one seems to so nicely sum up the genre.  “I had a little woman in Memphis, she wanted to be my bride.  She said, settle on down, traveling man, you can stay right by my side.  I tried so hard to please her but I couldn’t hold out too long, cause one Saturday night I was laying in bed and I heard that highway song.”

Ex’s and Oh’s (Elle King) – Let’s have something from this millennium.  This song is less apologetic than many of the others on the list.  Elle is boasting about her love ‘em and leave ‘em exploits, and how once they have been with her, they are pretty much ruined forever.[3]

Ramble On (Led Zeppelin) – It was a toss-up as to whether to include this one or “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You.”  Both are apologies for an inability to stay put.  “Thanks to you, I’m much obliged, such a pleasant stay.  But now it’s time for me to go.”

Los Paraguayos (Rod Stewart) – In this song, Rod needs to take off because the rainy season is starting and he wants to go where it is sunny.  “I like your laugh, the hot romance, and your ornery sense of humor, but if it rains again like it did today, I’m gonna have to leave a little bit sooner.”  Incidentally, the lover he is leaving is apparently underage and therefore cannot travel with him.  “Don’t even ask me if you can come along.  Down at the border, you need to be older and you sure don’t look like my daughter.”

Hands to Heaven (Breathe) – This one is a lament about having to leave.  The plea is that I am leaving in the morning, but I need you tonight.

It Ain’t Me, Babe (Bob Dylan) – Bob suggests that the woman should go away because she is looking for someone who will be committed to her, and protect and defend her and he is not that guy.  These seem like reasonable things to seek in a long term relationship.  Bob makes it clear that she will not find them with him.

I Just Go (Boz Scaggs) – Admittedly, this one is pretty obscure.  Boz’s heyday was back in the late 70’s and early 80’s.  This one was from his album Dig from 2001.  The song is an apology from a man who just takes off without a word when the mood strikes him.  “I need you to know how I long to do all that you want me to… But there’s this other voice calling me sometimes and I just go.”

Don’t Work Yourself Up (Tristan Prettyman) – If you are outside of San Diego, you may never have heard of Tristan Prettyman.  She writes some candid and insightful songs.  This song opens with “I could run out at any given time.  Don’t leave no notes.  There ain’t no reason to lie.  I guess I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.  Can’t keep my hands to myself, or my eyes off the door”  It ends with “You don’t call.  I don’t blame you.  I don’t even trust me.”

Is it okay if a couple of songs made both this list and the infidelity list?

Follow Me (Uncle Kracker) – This song is a proposition to a married woman for a one night stand which landed it on “Infidelity’s Greatest Hits.”  It also includes the line “We’ll be all right if you don’t ask me to stay” which places it on this one.  It would be hard to image any woman being interested in this offer unless she had some serious trauma history (most likely, childhood sexual abuse).

Saving All My Love For You (Whitney Houston) – The title makes this sound like a song about commitment to a partner.  It is actually about a woman who is only interested in the married man who is her lover.  She has no expectation that he will leave his wife and family.  The reason to save all your love for a married man is that you don’t want a man who is actually available to commit to you.  Once again, there would have been some trauma history here.  The song, incidentally, was written by men (i.e. Gerry Goffin and Michael Masser).

The sentiments in these songs do not describe most of the men I know.  Most of us seem to appreciate having a partner, particularly if you make us feel good about ourselves.[4]  The men I have met who have fear of commitment mostly have been dealing with one or both of two issues: 1) not wanting to grow up, or 2) having difficulty with decisions.  Let’s talk about those.

The upside of being a kid is you have few responsibilities, someone takes care of you (hopefully).  The downside is you do not get to make all of your own decisions.  The reverse happens for adults.  You have greater freedom to self-direct, but you need to take care of yourself.  This is actually a great deal.  I would assert that there is a greater degree of life satisfaction to be had by actually assuming your responsibilities and building a life.  The research does not support the romance of the cowboy ethic of riding the range.

While we are on this subject, let’s talk about legacies.  One hundred years from now, it is unlikely that anyone will remember you or me.  That could be a depressing thought.  Do you really want your legacy to be that you managed to roam the planet with no significant attachments?  We can make a good case that one of the greatest impacts you could have would be as a parent.  Further, one of the greatest things you can do for your children is to love your partner (their parent).  If your family of origin was dysfunctional, you have an opportunity to have that legacy end with you[5].

Now, let’s talk about decision gridlock.  It is certainly true that you do not want to make a poor decision when it comes to mate selection.  We need to be able to hold the tension between two competing ideas.  First, you should not ignore red flags.  Problems that are there before you get married are not going to go away as soon as you say your vows and light a unity candle.  Emotional or physical abuse should not be ignored.  If you are concerned about your partner’s substance abuse, it is better to look at that before you get married rather than after.  Also, your chances of success go way up if you have known each other for at least 18 months.

Second, with regard to the fear of making the wrong decision, no one is a perfect fit.  Everyone is weird and if you think someone is not weird you have just not had to live with him or her.  I can guarantee you that your mate will be strange in ways you never could have imagined.  This is normal.  Also it is pretty common that individuals experience some point early in marriage where they think they married the wrong person.  Just because you have the thought does not make it so.  Part of the beauty of marriage is the process of allowing each other to sand off your rough edges.

I was working with one couple for premarital counseling.  At the end of our work together, my weigh in was “you should be able to do well together.”[6]  They found that rather unromantic.  My view is not that there is one right choice that God made for you and your job is to discern who that person is when they cross your path.  Rather, there are probably many people with whom you could develop a satisfying relationship.  You have free will and God can work through the choices you make.  Your part is to be the best partner you can be and do the work of building a life together, building each other up.  When it works, it is one of the most satisfying experiences you can have in life.

[1] I still have the LP.

[2] https://scottwoodtherapy.wordpress.com/2012/06/12/infidelitys-greatest-hits/

[3] Just for the record, great sex is not about technique, physical perfection or achieving a higher high, but connection, intimacy, and mutual pleasure.  I don’t think Elle has figured that out yet.  This also sounds a bit like eroticized rage.  The protagonist of the song seems to be angry with men and uses sex to control and then hurt them.

[4] But that’s another story.

[5] This usually requires some therapy.

[6] This is about as committal as I get on whether or not you should get married.