Fear of commitment? It’s now a women’s thing

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The U.S. Census Bureau reports single women are the fastest-growing segment of the American population, with more than 47 million, 22 million of whom are between 25 and 44. Why? Many single women actively choose to be alone, says Elina Furman, author of the new book, “Kiss and Run”. The problem is they say they want to be in a committed relationship, but then they go about doing everything to sabotage their chances for love. They’re commitment-phobes. Furman was invited on TODAY to discuss her book and how women can overcome their fears of being in a serious relationship. Read an except of her book:

Chapter One

She's Got Issues

Whether you're dragging your Manolos down the aisle, rejecting every available man in your zip code, or jumping ship every time a man brings up the future, many of you are right now suffering from commitment-phobia. As novel as the concept may seem, it's hardly a laughing matter. I mean, how funny is it to want something, drive yourself crazy fantasizing about it every day, and then when you finally get it, drop it like last year's Ugg boots? I don't know about you, but there's something downright unnerving about being so conflicted — about thinking you want the whole enchilada (marriage, kids, live-in boyfriend, or husband) and when the time comes to sign on some dotted line (be it a one-year lease or a marriage certificate) realizing that you don't. Not even close. Not at all. Well, maybe a little.

THE CONFESSIONAL: Jane, 38

It's weird — now that I turned 38, I'm much calmer about the whole thing. But that wasn't always the case. For fifteen years, I spent all my time looking, dating, and trying to find Mr. Right. I read every self-help book. I visited psychologists, tarot readers, psychics — you name it, I did it. During those years, I met some great people, but nothing ever worked out. I remember all the heartache, the drama, the feeling that I just had to find someone or die trying, all the classes I took and all the insecurities I had, like maybe I was unlovable. I finally met someone a year ago. He was everything I thought I wanted — good-looking, stable, nice, secure, funny. And then out of nowhere, I freaked out and broke up with him. It was a huge shock to realize that I actually missed being single. Everyone thought I was crazy. But I know I'm not half as crazy as I used to be. At least, now I know what I want. I can't help regretting all that time I spent agonizing over my relationships and worrying about being alone. I wish I would have figured it out sooner and enjoyed those years a little more. I don't know ... hobbies, traveling more, whatever — just focusing on my needs instead of running around town like some crazy woman.

For years, I have watched many women struggle with commitment anxiety. I have seen perfectly sane females insist that their one goal in life is to have a stable relationship, and then do everything in their power to avoid it. Or those women who go on ad infinitum about their careers, the joys of living solo, and no-strings sex, only to collapse in a weeping heap when a guy doesn't call when he says he will. And how could we forget those who are so terrified of facing their commitment fears that they break up with someone they love when things get too close?

Let's face it — many of us can't even commit to a hair color, let alone a full-fledged, long-term relationship. And it's not just your typical runaway-bride scenario, either. You don't have to have a gaggle of bridesmaids and a reception hall reservation to experience cold feet. In fact, there are a million and one ways we express our fear of commitment, whether it's by staying in go-nowhere relationships, cheating on our spouses, blowing up our boyfriends' tiny flaws to mammoth proportions, serial dating, or hiding out at home watching reruns of Sex and the City. The behaviors may vary, but the underlying cause is the same: we want to engage in long-term committed relationships but are terrified of what we'll have to give up in the process.

Whether you recognize yourself or any of your single girlfriends in any of the above scenarios, you have to admit one thing: our commitment issues are starting to get a little out of hand. With so many options and conflicting messages (Date! Don't date! Be independent! Find someone to love!), it's no surprise that women are acting just a wee bit schizophrenic. Stuck in a seemingly endless cycle of desire, ambivalence, and confusion, many single women simply don't know that they are afraid of the very things they think they want — commitment and stability.

You're so not alone

As millions of single women stand on the threshold of commitment, struggling with their fears as they try to decide whether to get married, cohabit, or break up, many of them wonder:

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  • Is this normal?
  • Why am I feeling so anxious?
  • Am I the only one who feels this way?

The answers to these questions are simple: (1) Yes, it's normal. (2) Because commitment is scary. (3) And no, you're not alone.

The Census Bureau reports that single women are the fastest-growing segment of the American population, with more than 47 million in this country, 22 million of whom fall within the 25-to-44 age range. Many of these women are right now struggling with commitment anxiety.

While it's becoming clear that women have immense anxiety about commitment and are pushing back marriage later every year, there is almost no information about our ambivalence. As a result, many of us feel completely alone when in fact there are millions of others just like us. The most important thing to realize is that you're not alone. Not even close!

CPs around the world

If you thought American women had major commitment issues, you'd be surprised to find that your girlfriends around the globe are just as stumped. Here's how some other countries stack up in the commitment department.

United States: The number of women living alone has increased more than 33 percent in the past fifteen years to 30 million, and the marriage rate in 2004 has declined nearly 50 percent since 1970, from 76.5 marriages per 1,000 unmarried women to 39.9 (State of Our Union, National Marriage Project).

Japan: The number of unmarried Japanese women ages 25 to 34 is skyrocketing, so much so that the government is enacting policies to ensure the continuation of the population. How apocalyptic! What used to be a very family-centric culture has quickly become single-minded, with a bestseller about life as a thirty-something single female, titled Howl of the Loser Dogs, flying off the shelves and Boyfriend Pillows (headrests shaped like a man's arm) selling out as quickly as they're made.

Brits: When it comes to our friends across the pond, they're taking commitment-phobia to a whole new level. With the average age of women getting married now at 32 years (Office of National Statistics, 2001), there's a reason why singleton Bridget Jones was invented here. And with a new National Singles Week holiday to call their very own, it's unlikely that the trend will reverse anytime soon.

Aussies: Australia's marriage rate is the lowest it has been in a hundred years. Nearly a third of all Australian women from 30 to 34 are single. And this from the people who brought us Muriel's Wedding?

Not your mother's problem

Female commitment-phobia is a relatively new phenomenon. Not to say that our mothers didn't struggle with a certain amount of anxiety, because they did, and many still do. But when it came to 'fessing up to their commitment issues, the old-girl network never stood a chance. Back then, the idea of an unmarried girl on the loose was just plain unheard of. In fact, they had another, not-so-flattering name for that type of girl.

When it came right down to it, there just wasn't any room for ambiguity or indecision. Like it or not, a woman had to maintain a certain measure of semi-respectability. Translation: get married and have kids, pronto! Those who struggled with committing usually stayed silent, sucked it up, and went through with it despite their misgivings. Our mothers just didn't have the wherewithal to defy these expectations (ever see those pouty bride photos from the old days?). Besides those awful cone-shaped bras, there was a good reason why so many of them looked so peevish.

Of course, there were a few rare exceptions. Not everyone walked gently into that good night of matrimonial bliss. There were the brazen sex-kitten screen stars such as Mae West, fiercely independent actresses like Katharine Hepburn, and unrepentant serial wedders Elizabeth Taylor and Hedy Lamarr. These feisty femmes were around kicking up a storm the whole time, but no one really noticed or cared to think about the matter much. After all, they were famous, and certain allowances had to be made for Hollywood types.

But that was then. And now? Well, we have a much bigger problem on our hands. We're still confronted with a barrage of social pressure to settle down and commit, but it's not like anyone really cares what we do anymore (save for dear old Grammy and De Beers, of course). These days women are free to choose rather than just be influenced by social pressure. We have more opportunities than ever before. We can get married, get divorced, travel the world, run a Fortune 500 company, play the field, cohabit, have kids, adopt puppies, all of the above, or none of it. It's really anyone's call.

Excerpted from “Kiss and Run” by Elina Furman. Copyright © 2007 by Elina Furman. All rights reserved. Published by Simon and Schuster. No part of this excerpt can be used without permission of the publisher.