There may be more underneath the surface if you have an intense fear of commitment.
What do I do to overcome my fear of commitment or fear of failure in choosing or being chosen by the wrong person?
You ask a good question and sound like you have a lot awareness in terms of where to look for the answer. What I mean by that is you are looking at yourself in terms of your ability to choose and to figure out how you want to order your relationships. Many people just see it as a problem in the “other person.” They never get to where the real issue is and where the power is to change lies—in one’s own spiritual growth. (Matthew 7:5)
Having said that, let’s talk about the things you mentioned. The first is you can see your hurt in the past two relationships has brought you some pain. It is important you get with some good people to help you process all of that hurt, so you can deal with it fully and put it in the past. Cry it out, express the hurt and anger, forgive and then, let it go. But that is not all. The next step involves the great lesson of hurt—learning. Ask God to help you (Psalm 139:23,24)
Look at the past relationships and find the themes in the relationship that say something about you. What were the qualities you were drawn to? Were they good qualities of character and depth? Or were they things that made up in some way for aspects of yourself that you need to grow in?
For example, if you are particularly outgoing and spirited as you described, did you pick someone who was too passive and ultimately could not make the kind of commitment you needed? Or if you have some self-esteem issues, did you pick someone who had a lot of investment in their own “perfectionistic” image but did not have the depth qualities needed to sustain a relationship? There are many variations on this theme, but the problem is we often pick people out of some deficit in ourselves, and then their own deficits come out in the end. Find out what about you needs the kind of person who lets you down in some way.
The other dynamic that tends to come into play in this way is for someone to let the love “blind” them to other issues in the relationship. What about these men do you see now that you allowed yourself to not see then? Were there clues present that you ignored for some reason? Sometimes they have the same negative traits you have not faced in your family of origin, and so you are blind to them in others. If you have not worked through family issues, then they will often surface in the people you choose.
The way you describe your fear is that someone will “cage you in.” This has a couple of possible dangers. The first is that you may be a bit on the “hyper-independent” side of things, needing to remain a bit too autonomous in a relationship. If this is true, you need to find out what the underlying fear is and where it comes from. It could be a fear of intimacy or a fear of losing your boundaries when you are in a relationship. You need to be able to be close and at the same time not allow someone to control you. If your boundaries are too weak, then you may need to create distance in order to maintain them.
The other side of this problem is if you are hyper-independent, then you may be attracting dependent men and that is why they have a tendency to fuse with you early in the relationship. To the degree we are somewhat imbalanced, we will find imbalance that equals us in the opposite direction.
To discover these things about yourself and help you grow through them will require being in good friendships and support systems that will help you. As you change and are able to be close to others, maintain your boundaries, not be afraid of your own imperfections and other important dynamics, you will pick people of the same maturity. Mature picks mature. A good counselor who understands these kinds of issues can be of great help.
In the final analysis, we need to be able to recognize and pick people of good character—those who are able to be close and at the same time remain separate and independent in themselves…those who are able to be honest, real and not perfect, and to be equal and mutual. But to find them, we need to be able to do these things ourselves, and that requires spiritual growth. As you grow in these areas, you will be able to discern people of good character (Hebrews 5:14). I also recommend our book, Safe People (Zondervan) which was written about this very issue of how to discern the right kinds of people to date and to be close to. God Bless.