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Holly Sidell Headshot

What It Really Means When a Guy Says He's 'Scared'

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MAN AND WOMAN TALKING
ONOKY - Eric Audras via Getty Images

I happened to turn to the "Today Show" the other morning just as Matthew Hussey, a relationship expert, was giving advice to a woman whose story, unfortunately, is way too familiar to way too many of us. This woman said she had been dating a guy for a while. He had told her she was the "one," he was in touch with her daily, he introduced her to his friends and family as his girlfriend... you know, the whole she-bang. But then a week ago, she got a text from him simply saying, "I really like you, but I'm too scared. I need some time and space." She hasn't heard from him since then, and needless to say, is devastated. She asked what she should do. Of course Hussey addressed the awful way of breaking up with someone via text, but I want to address what he said regarding the "I'm scared" excuse, as it is something that will forever change the way I view a situation in the future if a man uses that reasoning for needing space or breaking up. And I hope it will help other women out there see it in a different light as well so that the next time it happens, they can move on quickly.

Hussey started off by saying that probably only 1 out of every 10 guys who uses that excuse is even telling the truth about being scared. I'll address the one who is telling the truth in a second, but Hussey says he's doesn't buy the "I'm scared" excuse, not even for a minute. He said using that excuse as a reason for breaking up is a Jedi mind trick that guys play on women, because it gives them an easy out; they get to walk away and get sympathy! The dude doesn't necessarily walk away looking like a bad guy because, poor him, he's just scared. I mean, how could a person possibly be mad at a guy for being scared and liking or loving someone sooo much that he had to let her go because of it? It's brilliant! He gets to walk away from the relationship without anyone being mad at him and he gets sympathy. Dang.

And regarding the guy that really is telling the truth and has so much fear and so many issues around commitment, the question Hussey asks is, "Do you really want to be involved with a guy with that much emotional baggage anyways?" But, I'd like to take it one step further from that and suggest that even that guy doesn't really mean it. Because if a guy is into you, no matter how scared he is, he won't run -- he'll stick around and try to work through it, because his love for you and need to have you in his life trumps his fear.

Here's the cold, hard truth (and one I have had to painfully face myself in the past): If he's too scared to commit, it means he's willing to let you go. I've asked many men about this and they all agree that no matter how freaked out or scared they are, if they love a woman and want to be with her, they will do whatever it takes to be with her -- they will not let her go, no matter what.

There's an article I love about dating written by Mark Manson called "F*ck Yes or No." The whole premise behind it is that we spend way too much time in dating trying to manipulate, navigate and figure out the gray area, when really, if there's any gray area at all, we have a problem. Why would a person waste his or her time being with someone for whom they do not feel a clear "f*ck yes!" for? And, on the other side of that, why would a person possibly want to be with someone who he or she is clearly a "f*ck no" to!? Ladies, next time a guy says he's scared and needs space or breaks up with you, move on; this clearly means you're a "f*ck no" to him. You are awesome and fabulous and there are lots of guys out there chomping at the bit to date you... guys who you will be a clear "f*ck yes" to. Why would you want to be with or spend so much time and energy pining over anyone who isn't that into you?

So, the next time a guy uses the "I'm scared" of commitment excuse and walks, don't wait for him to come back. Don't give him sympathy. Act with human dignity towards him, of course, as you would with any human being, but move on. And, yes, sometimes (very often even) they come back and have either worked through their commitment issues or have realized they can't live without you and are ready to move forward with you... and that's amazing. But you can't count on it or wait for it. Live your life, enjoy your life... and if you still want to be with him and build something together if he comes back, then that's great.

When a guy runs or even shuts down in the relationship because he says he's scared (if he truly is scared), he is showing you how he responds to discomfort. When he was feeling uneasy and uncomfortable, he bailed... which was easy for him (and selfish), but not easy for you. Hussey asks, "Do you want to be in a relationship with someone who has that kind of pattern in their behavior?" And I ask, "Wouldn't you rather have a partner who you know is going to stick around and face his fears instead of run when the going gets tough? Don't you want a partner who you are a clear 'f*ck yes' to?" I know I do!

Look, everyone's scared. We all have baggage. It's just a matter of what we do with it that separates the men from the boys.