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By "Today" contributor
updated 1/27/2005 11:30:13 AM ET 2005-01-27T16:30:13

Q: My boyfriend of two years really pursued me, and now we’re talking marriage. But lately he seems a bit distant and is increasingly impotent. I call it “sexual anorexia.” Does this mean he is a commitment-phobe?

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A: It’s a distinct possibility.

After two years, it’s normal to talk about whether you have a future together. And since your boyfriend pursued you so aggressively, it appeared that you did.

But that’s not a foolproof indication. Men afraid of commitment often pursue women intently and even make great boyfriends — as long as they remain only boyfriends. Once the issue of permanence intrudes, they become fearful and anxious — feelings that are evident by the loss of his erection.

The timing of his sexual problem is suspect. It’s no coincidence that he is losing his erection when faced with the possibility of a permanent relationship with you. It's also no coincidence you are noticing other signs of distance between you.

If he’s a commitment-phobe, he probably shows a pattern of failure to commit in other areas of his life. He might always feel trapped at work, bouncing from job to job. He might suffer from buyer’s remorse after every big purchase. Some people feel uncomfortable with any kind of stability.

The most reliable indication is his past relationships. If he always got cold feet when a relationship deepened enough to lead to talk of marriage, or if he pursued women aggressively and then dropped them, you should really take heed. If his pattern is to get serious and get out, you could be next in line.

Before jumping to conclusions, though, examine other areas of his life. Fear and anxiety can come from many sources — a difficult new boss, financial concerns, an illness in the family. His behavior might have little to do with your relationship. Or he might have a medical problem. All of these can affect his ability to have an erection.

It’s a good idea to bring this subject up with him. You need to clarify his intentions. If you are willing to try to nurture this along and wait him out, that’s your prerogative — but unless he wants to change, and decides stability with you is preferable to any alternative, you’ve got a low probability of being content with this guy over the long haul.

If he doesn’t want an improved sex life with you, he’s unlikely to want a future with you. He can work on it, but you cannot work on it for him.

There’s another possibility, which you won’t be happy to hear. He may not be afraid of commitment at all — he may be afraid of commitment with you. He may have thought you were the one, but, as the relationship evolved, decided he was wrong. He may have simply changed his mind.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: A plunge in a boyfriend’s desire and functioning can be a physical manifestation of commitment fears. Unless he has unrelated stress or medical issues, this man really appears to be losing interest.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.” Her new book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was recently published by Riverhead Books. For more information, you can visit her Web site, www.drgailsaltz.com.

PLEASE NOTE: The information in this column should not be construed as providing specific medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand their lives and health. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist or psychotherapist. Copyright ©2004 Dr. Gail Saltz. All rights reserved.

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