Am I incapable of commitment?

Hey there. We're going to take a vacation from chat today for the holidays. If you have questions, write them up as a letter, please.

Dear Meredith,

I've been dating a very kind, sensitive and thoughtful man, "James," for nearly 8 months now. We have fun when we're together, he treats me better than any man I have ever been with, and at 23 it’s the longest "relationship" this Miss Independent has ever been in.

The problem is, despite all of the wonderful qualities this man has, I can't seem to fully commit to him. Originally I was telling myself it was a matter of distance -- he lives 2 hours away (by car) -- though he travels to see me whenever he can (2 to 3 times a month) and we talk every day. From the time we started dating, I continued to see other people here in Boston, thinking that James and I were just going to keep it casual considering the distance. About 5 months after we met, James invited me to a big event with him and shortly thereafter mentioned wanting to organize a weekend getaway so that I could meet his parents. I responded noncommittally and about a week later broke things off with James over the phone. Always a bit of a self-proclaimed commitment-phobe, I reasoned with myself that it was for the best considering I wanted to keep my options open with him living hours away, and would probably end up hurting him more if we continued seeing each other.

After a few weeks of not speaking, I found myself out and about on dates with different men, but continuing to think about James and missing him a lot. He got in touch this fall to mention that he was coming to Boston and I went out to meet him at the bar as a "friendly" gesture. This of course led to more and we have resumed seeing each other since then, at a similar rate of 2-3 times a month.

We haven't had the talk again yet, but I know that James would like to be exclusive. It seems like I've gone through every excuse in the book to keep things casual. Though the distance is unfortunate, we've been making it work with regular visits, and so I don't think that that’s actually the problem. Then I thought that I may just like getting the attention from this very caring man -- but I don't have much trouble attracting male attention and dates outside of my relationship with James. Finally, I considered the option that I'm just not that into James, but after 8 months of dating and not being able to keep away from him, I don't think that’s the issue either. So what’s my problem? Is it because I've never been in a serious relationship? Is there an actual thing as a completely commitment-phobic woman?

– Still "Single" in Somerville

You're 23 and want to explore your options, SSIS. James sounds like a serious guy -- maybe someone who could wind up marrying the person he starts dating now. I'm not sure you're on the same path.

My advice is to explain to James that while you're with him right now, you're not sure about later. It's just not in your personality to think big at 23. After having that talk, test the waters by bringing him out with friends, family -- whatever you can do to make these visits seem more like a relationship. I mean, who wouldn't want a nice boyfriend who shows up to give you attention and then disappears before he gets in the way? You need to bring James into your real world as much as possible to find out whether you wind up feeling more attached to him ... or less. Getting closer will help you get to an answer.

You are not monumentally commitment-phobic, but you could use a push. This distance with James has allowed you to stay in a comfortable relationship waiting room. See how it feels to get just a little bit closer, and keep him informed about where you are in your head.

Readers. Is she in a relationship waiting room? How can she figure out how she feels about James? How do you think she feels about James? Discuss.

– Meredith