Vallarta Tribune, Jul 16-22, 2006, issue # 484, pg 18

We hear our friends and our patients complain all of the time that their friends, boyfriends, or husbands won’t make plans or always cancel after they commit or agree to do something. Besides feeling very frustrated and angry, they want to know why. Okay, here is our explanation for what’s really going on. NOTE: we recognize that many women have this problem as well, however, it seems to be more prevalent in men and so we will write the article in the masculine form.

How can I know what I will want ahead of time?

These are people who say they like to “live in the moment” or be “spontaneous”. They “react” to whatever their immediate sensations and needs are. They defensively ask “How can I know what I will want 3 days or 3 months from now?” For example, if they are hungry, they want to decide in that moment what type of food they want to eat, not plan ahead to have chicken or seafood 3 days from now. So, if you are asking them on Tuesday what or where they are going to want to eat on Friday night, they can not decide. Some cannot imagine how the rest of us are able to determine that in advance. They prefer to see how they feel, what sounds good at the time, or if they even feel like going out. What if they are tired from a long day or long week of work? They don’t want to make the effort to go out, they’d rather lay around or sleep. In order to meet their immediate needs, they can not commit to something ahead of time.

Poor impulse control

As we grow and mature, we learn to use various defense mechanisms as our psyche develops. One of the more mature ones is the “ability to postpone the need for immediate gratification”, however not everyone achieves or learns this one. Instead, they live life “in reaction to” whatever needs, desires, or circumstances arise. They impulsively react in order to satisfy their immediate desire. They are unable or have great difficulty postponing because they can not tolerate how uncomfortable and frustrated they would feel meanwhile. “Meanwhile” until a better more convenient time to satisfy the need arises. The rest of us are able to commit to something ahead of time knowing that in general, we usually like that type of food, activity, or social outing and we have the ability to plan ahead and fulfill the commitment whether we feel like it at the time or not.

What if something better comes up?

Another advantage of not making any plans is that they can “wait to see if something better comes along” If you call on Wednesday to invite him to go to dinner or the movies on Friday, he doesn’t want to commit because on Friday afternoon his friends might call inviting him to play soccer or go watch a great game together. He wants the freedom to decide without feeling trapped or the need to invent some excuse about why he has to cancel.

Avoid getting trapped

If he never commits or agrees to some plan, then he avoids being trapped or getting into arguments about why he doesn’t want to go or needs to cancel. How convenient, if he never said yes, then you don’t have any reason to be angry…or do you? It may seem that his need to protect his freedom is valid and that you shouldn’t be upset by it, yet you still are. Besides the obvious reason of being completely frustrated that you can never plan anything with this person, the other reason it makes you so angry is because it is so manipulative and self-fulfilling. He isn’t considering any of your needs or desires and isn’t willing to compromise or sacrifice for you, and in the end he gets his way.

Not accountable

Another advantage is that they are neither accountable nor responsible to anyone. The argument then becomes “I never said I would, I said maybe or I’ll see” which leaves the door open for whatever he ultimately wants to do. There is no sense of obligation or urgency towards themselves or others. An easy comparison is someone who is going on a diet but doesn’t tell anyone. This allows them to cheat and eat pizza or cake and no one will say anything. No will nag them. No one will remind them of how much they wanted to lose weight, or how miserable they are being overweight, or how fattening the food they are about to it is.

Avoid conflict

They also live by an unspoken rule to “avoid conflict at all costs”. They hate to argue. There is a very deep fear of being rejected and/or abandoned. From their very flawed perspective, if there’s no argument, then no one is mad at them and therefore, no one will reject them. This belief no doubt comes from their childhood experiences of which they have not recovered nor do they fully understand. When they were young, they concluded that it was better not to argue or make someone mad at you because of what was taught to them at home. Either they witnessed or were victims of angry outrage or the opposite situation where expressing anger was not permitted. In either scenario, they did not learn how to argue and so theyfear it and avoid it.

If you have friends like this or are in a relationship with someone like this, they either have to learn how to change and overcome this problem or you have to decide if you can tolerate it. To continue to complain and simply or magically expect him to change is unrealistic, permits the vicious cycle to continue, and not going to get either of you anywhere.

On July 29, 2006, we will be talking about What a Healthy Romantic Relationship Looks Like at Los Jardines Botánicos de Vallarta.  Come join us!

Written by: Giselle Belanger, RN, LCSW, CADC and Adriana Gonzalez, LCSW, CADC