"I'm going to this birthday party tonight," I said to Oli. "Do you want to come?"
He hesitated, as I suspected he might. "Oh, I'm not sure. Can I let you know later?" I held back from asking what new information would arise in the three hour space between now and then, that would help make the decision, and just said "yeah, yeah, sure, no problem," instead. So I phoned Karl. "Oh, sounds great, but can I let you know closer to the time?" he answered. Had I not known these particular friends so well, I would have been starting to take this personally by now. As it is, what Oli and Karl have in common is their crippling fear of commitment. But whereas this usually means not being able to commit to a long-term relationship, in the case of about 30 percent of Berliners, the sickness has spread to take over every part of their life. Any kind of arrangement further off in the future than about five minutes brings them out in a cold sweat.
The way to know if you are hyper-commitment-phobic is to visualize someone asking you these three questions and see at what point your palms starts to go clammy:
1) Do you fancy going to the cinema tonight?
2) Do you fancy going to the cinema tomorrow?
3) Do you fancy going to the cinema next week?
If you were already feeling anxiously trapped, with beads of sweat on your brow, by question one, then you are beyond hope.
"Wir machen 'was spontan nächste Woche" and "wir telefonieren" are two German phrases you learn very quickly in this town. The first means "I'd rather not tie myself to an arrangement as something better might come up in the meantime" and the second one means "no." Or rather "wir telefonieren" is a rather elegant way of getting out of any arrangement at all, without even the commitment of saying you'll ring: who will call who, is left very much up in the air.
What is strange, is that, if all this was restricted to dating, it would be perfectly understandable. After all it's always pretty unpleasant telling someone you don't fancy them – vaguely saying that there might be some sort of phone call in the future made by an unspecified person, is not the worst way of doing it. But the true hyper-commitment-phobe even does this with his friends. And then wonders why he stops getting asked out.
After in-depth research into this peculiar phenomenon, scientists have proven that the most chronic hyper-commitment-phobes are gay men living in Berlin. Considering that being just one of either male, gay or a Berlin resident is likely to give you a higher than average incidence of keep-your-options-open-itis, then it stands to reason that being all three turns you into someone who would find it difficult to commit to a definite time to visit a dying parent in the hospital. No wonder poor old Oli and Karl didn't want to come to the party with me. So what's the solution? I've decided to go for aversion therapy. I'm taking both Oli and Karl to Chicks de Luxe. I'm hoping that the substantial amount of commitment demonstrated by our sisters will make it clear that tying yourself down to something isn't fatal. At least, it isn't if you can stave off the boredom by knitting.