Why men disappear when it gets serious

Perfect HusbandsI’m reading my new best friend πŸ™‚ Gina Barreca‘s book, Perfect Husbands (& Other Fairy Tales): Demystifying Marriage, Men and Romance. Dr. Barreca is an academic who can make all that stuffy research come alive through her gift of humor and insightful writing.

This book tackles understanding the perception of marriage and the evolving roles of husbands and wives. She uncovers men and women’s true feelings about commitment and marriage. And no surprise, many men are not thrilled with the concept of marriage! Even (especially?) married ones!

Her insights shed some light on why some men, even mature, sane, caring midlife men — can run the other way when it seems the dating relationship is getting too serious. One telling story was an exercise she had her college classes complete. She asked each student to anonymously and candidly write one word they associated with the word “husband.” The only thing they added was their age and gender.

Granted, we could argue that their responses were skewed by their age — generally under 22. The majority of responses by the men were things like trapped, caught, p-whipped, while women’s were nearly all positive: partner, companion, friend, lover, provider. Coupled with interviews of older men, both married and unmarried, she reveals that many men see marriage as something they are tricked into and they got the short end of the deal. After the first few years of the honeymoon stage, many men report they feel stuck.

While we can’t declare this one book to be the reporting of a trend — especially since it was published in 1995 — we can better understand why men would feel like bailing when a dating relationship gets closer than he’d like. All is blissful when he can see his lady on his terms, when he wants and for how long. However, when talk shifts to long-term plans, moving in together, even marriage, some see their lifestyle switching in a way they didn’t really consider before. After all, he likes his condo, his boys’ night out, his ability to leave his underwear on the floor until someone is coming over. He can eat directly out of the can over the sink, use paper towels for napkins, and his shirt sleeve for a tissue. Who’s to care?

Gina quotes Rita Rudner, “If you never want to see a man again, say ‘I love you, I want to marry you. I want to have children…’ β€” he’ll leave skid marks.”

So what are you to do if you want a committed relationship, perhaps even marriage? My suggestion is to discuss the concept academically. Not “How do you feel about marriage?” but something like, “I read a book about how men and women feel differently about the words husband and wife. When you hear the word wife what words come to mind? And husband?” Play this with him and share your words — honestly. And see what comes out of his mouth. Don’t argue or get upset. Allow him to say negative words without jumping on him. He may just be letting you in on the truth.

I remember on a first date that was going really well, I asked my date why he was now online dating when he’d been single for a few years. “My secretary signed me up. She said I needed to get laid.” I said, “And why did you let her post your profile?” “Because she was right!” While I thoroughly enjoyed this man’s company, it was soon apparent he only wanted one thing — and it wasn’t to have a meaningful relationship!

People will tell you the truth if you ask gentle questions and don’t argue or make them wrong for what they say. Just listen and see if what he says aligns with your values. And know that while some men can say the “right” things and act like they want commitment, they may still go poof when things get too serious for them. Of course, there are others who long for a long-term love and know all that this means. The trick is to separate the ones who don’t really know they want to stay single from those who know they want to be coupled.

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11 responses to “Why men disappear when it gets serious”

  1. Cupertino Avatar

    Nearly 20 years ago, Warren Farrell wrote, in his fascinating book “Why Men Are the Way They Are,” about how men grow up with the fantasy of having lots and lots of women throughout their life, and women grow up with the fantasy of finding that one special man to settle down and build a life with. He pointed out that when a couple marries, the woman gets her fantasy and the man gives his up. While that’s not the whole story, of course, I thought it was an interesting insight.

    (And the book had numerous other insights. My newly-formed men’s group read it 17 years ago to provide some structure for our first meetings; the group is still going strong today.)

  2. tim Avatar

    It’s not as simple as separating the single oriented men from the commitment types. At the extremes of the bell curve you can find these guys, but for the majority, it’s a question of compromise. Since all relationships require it, the real question is how much and what type of compromise is a man willing to make for a specific partner. Of course this applies to women too, but the types of compromises tend to be different – and possibly, the willingness to make them. Beyond this generality, many specific compromises are different with each relationship – depending on the personalities and chemistries involved.
    A stereotypical example (but often true) is men who will put up with a less than ideal interpersonal connection for beauty and/or fabulous sex. Ultimately, how long most people are willing to stick around is way more complex than one’s commitment tendencies.

  3. walt Avatar

    While some men (and women) are completely commitment-phobic, others (like myself) would like to be in a long-term monogamous relationship, but want that relationship to allow them to have some reasonable space – including separate living quarters and the ability to go out with the guys, or even to leave underwear on the floor when no one is coming over (as you put it). Why do so many women think that a good relationship means being joined at the hip, especially if having kids is not on the agenda?

  4. bookyone Avatar

    “The trick is to separate the ones who don’t really know they want to stay single from those who know they want to be coupled.”

    DG, if you figure out the answer to this one, let me know. I’ll pay whatever you want!!! πŸ™‚

    Best wishes from bookyone (who’s dying to figure out why she only attracts men who don’t want a relationship instead of those who do).

  5. Angela Avatar

    There are so many variables in life, that it is overwhelming sometimes. I have a husband that can’t do anything alone, his main friends are ones that he knew from college, but live far away so he can’t hang out with them. If he wants to play tennis, he wants me to do it with me, if he wants to exercise he can’t do it unless I do it with him, he likes to go shopping and takes forever doing it, I don’t like long term shopping. I like to get it and get out. Speaking of getting in and getting out, he is good at that in bed. He’s in me and out in under 2 minutes. I digress.
    I think the thing about relationships is not about “tricks” as some have put it, I’m learning that it’s about knowing yourself pretty darn good, not “settling” for someone and really watching out for the “red flags”. Listen to yourself.
    BUT, these are only things I am learning as I’mabout to leave my second husband.

  6. Alice Solomon, author of "Find the Love of Your Life After 50!" Avatar

    As a man ages, his values and views on marriage change. Through my research, feedback from numerous women, personal experience, and observations through the years, I have discovered men will always want their personal space and feelings of independence – married or unmarried. When a woman wants a serious relationship to result in marriage, most men must value their attraction to her (encompassing love, physical attraction, need for companionship, financial considerations) over and above their desire to move about as a single. Only then will they commit to a lasting relationship. Men over 65 or so are much easier to embrace than younger ones. My suggestion: gals over 40 should look for older men.

  7. Barry Avatar

    What if . . . a man didn’t leave a relationship that made him feel uncomfortable. What if he went ahead and did the things that he needed to feel comfortable (but thought and felt that his partner would not like these behaviors. Maybe his partner even told him that she did not like some or all of these.) He didn’t do these things because he wanted to hurt or irritate his partner; he just did them because, to the extent that he understood himself, he felt that he needed to do these things for himself. He did his best to compromise, to his understanding, and he felt that if he couldn’t do these things, whatever they are for him, that he would be miserable. What are some examples: insisting on going out with his friends, staying too long shopping (me, I just love to be around food), reading books nearly endlessly until prodded to do something else, procrastinating with fixing the house, spending more time with his kids than his wife/partner wants him to, being more/less religeous than his partner, taking a lower paying job that makes him happy/taking a higher paying job that takes him away from his family, and so on. He doesn’t leave, he just does his thing. And, I am not talking about a monster: this is someone who pays the bills, does his best to please his partner in bed, listens to his partner for some time, takes her out on a date (not necessarily romantically innovative) once a week or month, eventually fixes the house, keeps himself in shape, no drugs, cares for his kids, and so on. When he gets nagged about this and that, when he is critiqued when he is tired and hungry or wants to just sleep, when he is told that he is not romantic enough, when he faces obvious disatisfaction but knows that he is at the end of his strength, he finds some way that is his way to comfort himself, but he doesn’t run away forever (but maybe for some hours or a day or takes a vacation on his own) or file for a divorce. What if . . . ?

  8. Richard Avatar

    I agree with Barry. A man does what he perceives works for him. Sometimes it is a particular thing that he does, sometimes it the way in which he does things. If a woman shows me a way that works better for me, I’m on it in a New York minute. But normally she insists that I do things her way, then considers me inept when her way falls apart for me.

  9. bookyone Avatar

    BTW: That guy that made the comment about his secretary and getting laid needs to bite the bullet, open his wallet and call 1-900-HappyHooker. Either that or he can buy some lube and let his fingers do the walking… πŸ™‚

  10. Rod Avatar

    Well Barry, to answer your question “What if a man did the things he needed to do to feel comfortable, but didnt leave” the answer is, apparently, that eventually she would divorce him. Me. That was my marriage. Paid all the bills, fathered my kids with great love, took care of the house (albeit slowly), took her out once a week on a date, made lots of time for talking (which she didnt want to do), made sure the basics were well covered. Even gave up sex when she decided she didnt like it, and stuck around another 20 years with nearly zero affection… in return I just wanted a little me time with a classic car I’d adored for years. It appears that was the straw that broke our marriage… some times, Barry, nice guys DO finish last.

  11. Michele Avatar


    How do you expect a society that has been partying for 40 years to be committed? That’s unrealistic. The whole society is commitment phobic.

    Why? Because you are looking at the relationship battlefield. When the 70’s started presenting choices that took our society out of the commitment phase “Poof” out the window commitment went. That includes education, parenting, jobs etc. All you have to do is look at the emotional mess left behind. All projects require work. For both men and women. Not just women. In the old days Dad put his son to work. He didn’t just lay around the house and dictate terms to the family. That is what the song “Yakity Yak” is about. I suggest you listen to it. We treat men in this society like some exotic bird who needs special diets, cleaning and the like. We are far too focused on this. It’s like having a special employee. When men are on the job and they don’t perform they are fired. Period. The boss does not go out and get himself a therapist to figure out why he fired the lazy guy. If a man does not perform in the army he’s court marshaled. The army does not go out and get a therapist to figure this one out. Look at men the way men look at men. And this includes our buddy Walt up there in the upper column. The army won’t pick up your underwear and neither will the boss. I doubt the Donald will either. Your fired!