The societal narrative of emotional unavailability (EU), in my opinion, unfairly penalizes men. Women quickly echo in each others ears: “He’s not emotionally available.” Most of the women I know believe it’s men who are emotionally unavailable and they always feel bad for chasing someone who gives them hot and cold behavior, while they forget to take a look at the other side of the coin—why are we attracted to emotionally unavailable men? EU has nothing to do with gender, men and women can suffer from it equally.
Doing shadow work and years of therapy and reflecting on my own self led me to several realizations. When I was working on my relationship patterns, I realized that I am always attracted to emotionally unavailable people. Why? Our connections are often the most accurate reflections of ourselves. I figured everyone is just a mirror of myself and of course I chose emotionally unavailable people, because I myself, was emotionally unavailable. (When I talk about relationships, I do not only mean romantic ones, but friendships or any kind of relationship in the matter.)
Emotional availability is rooted in vulnerability. It’s stripping our souls bare, knowing that there is a chance we might get hurt. That every time we open up to the world and its gifts, we open ourselves up to pain as well—there can’t be one without the other. Essentially, fear of this pain stunts us emotionally, and we develop coping mechanisms for “protection,” which, ironically, only hurts us more.
Before you jump to the conclusion that someone in your life is emotionally unavailable, you should take a good look at the signs.
Signs that you or your partner might be emotionally unavailable
Avoiding Deep Intimacy
Emotionally unavailable people embody charming behavior and have great communication and listening skills. This quickly builds a feeling of (fake) intimacy or bonding in the other partner, especially through texting. There is a certain degree of vulnerability but not enough to sustain a relationship in the long-run. The relationship starts to require more understanding, more time, more compromise, more communication, more intimacy (and I don’t mean sex), and more showing up in the partnership. Then, they are unable to provide more and deepen the relationship, transitioning into the less exciting phases. You might even feel like “you hit a wall” with them, because they don’t let you get close enough to build deep intimacy.
Conversations get stuck on a surface level, they struggle to discuss feelings, or if they talk about their feelings, they forget to ask about yours. EU people get scared of their own feelings and are unable to handle them in healthy ways, hence they pull back or only feed as much into the relationship as the bare minimum to keep it going. Many people end up in “text-only” type relationships, where they choose to be with a partner who lives far away, or are otherwise unavailable.
Illusion of Control and Independence
If you would have asked me a few years ago, I would have proudly stated that I am an independent person. Since then I learned that this is one of the key indicators of an EU person and I’m working on it ever since. The old, EU version of me wouldn’t dare to be inconvenienced, she was inflexible, and couldn’t make a compromise—my relationships essentially revolved around me.
This behavior is a defense mechanism so in case someone decides to leave, the seemingly independent person still feels as if they have the power. But there is a difference between independence and control. A truly independent person knows the value of asking for and receiving help. They can allow space for mental and spiritual growth that two people need to navigate when they decide to share a life together. While I believed myself to be independent, I was a control freak and had to handle everything on my own, to avoid disappointment, abandonment, rejection, and possible pain.
The Game of Hot and Cold
I once dated someone who loved to play this game. Whenever I chased him, he pulled away. When I became distant because of his cold behavior, he turned the heat up to came back to chase me down. They send inconsistent messages, have no idea where they want to take the relationship, or want to keep their options open. You never know when you’ll hear from them and where will they be when they finally give a sign. You may find that you’re putting a disproportionate amount of effort into the relationship. For example, you’re the only one problem-solving issues in the relationship.
Signs of Emotional Availability
If someone is emotionally available, you don’t have to guess who the person is. They show you right from the start who they are and what they’re want, their words match their actions. They show up when you’ve made plans and are predictable—willing to emotionally engage on an ongoing basis. There is room in their life for others and they don’t hide away from difficult times or challenges in the relationship.
Self-love and self-awareness
EA people have cultivated a deep, loving relationship with themselves. They are their own best friend. These people are interesting because they spend time cultivating their personal interests. They spend time taking care of their physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs. Also, they do not have to rely on others to fill these basic needs. They are not needy, nor clingy because they are happy with themselves and provide us with room to do the same.
They are willing and real
EA people get into real conversation that shows interest in other people’s feelings. They are willing to be vulnerable and take risks. These people are honest, open and clear about their feelings and their own needs in the relationship. They can admit when they’re feeling scared. And they are present in their own life and its challenges.
Taking their time
When it comes to a romantic relationship, they are willing to take things slowly. They practice self control even if there’s an insane amount of attraction and take their time getting to know you before they commit or even sleep with you. As mentioned above, cultivating a healthy relationship takes time and open communication. They are willing to put the work and effort in the relationship and let it grow steadily because they have goals they and are building it.
We read a lot about avoiding relationships with people who are emotionally unavailable. We should always question before we use popular, societal narratives as another way to live in denial. I don’t believe we should completely cut emotionally unavailable people out of our lives, but we really have to think about why are we attracted to these kind of people, how do we show up in the relationship and if we want and can sustain the relationship in a way that is healthy for us. It’s different in every type of relationship, depending who were are talking about – your parents, siblings, friends, or romantic partner.
Building Emotionally Available Relationships
The best way to ensure we’re having relationships with emotionally available (EA) people is to become emotionally available ourselves. Emotionally availability is the key to creating and keeping healthy relationships. An EA person can make a heart connection with another person because they have built their reality on a foundation of self-love. They can bond in a healthy way—fulfilling a fundamental human desire.
Since I realized I was emotionally unavailable, I consciously worked on opening up, changing my patterns, and letting others closer. Implementing mindfulness of my emotions, exploring root causes, practicing emotional vulnerability, and, when needed, taking relationships slow were key factors in my progress in this area.
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Photo: Shea Rouda via Unsplash