Why am i attracted to emotionally unavailable men
Why You Keep Attracting Unavailable Partners
Source: Antonis Liokouras/Shutterstock
Several days have passed and the person you’re dating hasn’t responded to your last message or reached out. You have a feeling something isn’t right, but you’re confused because you knew the two of you had a great connection. You may analyze your last interaction with such scrutiny that Sherlock Holmes would be proud. You secretly hope that perhaps their phone was run over or stolen and that you’ll hear from them any day now. I think we’ve all been there; dating can sometimes feel like a prolonged game of mental chess that we didn’t sign up for.
When someone you have feelings for disappears or pulls away unexpectedly, you may personalize it and assume it must have been something you did wrong. It can be helpful to explore your own role in repetitive dating patterns since sometimes you may unintentionally engage in dating behaviors that push others away. But what if you feel at a loss because none of your dating behaviors explain why you keep getting ghosted? There is another possibility that is typically overlooked in such situations: If you consciously want a lasting relationship but keep getting a different result, you may be subconsciously drawn to unavailable partners.
The first step in changing any dating pattern is getting to the root from which the issue stems. Without knowing the reasons why you keep attracting unavailable partners, it will be difficult to attract the right one. Following are several reasons this pattern may be occurring for you:
1. The role models you had for a romantic relationship in childhood mirror your relationship patterns. Research has demonstrated that we are often attracted to partners who seem familiar to us and have similar qualities to our parents. One of the reasons people are drawn to emotionally unavailable partners is due to the role models they had for romantic relationships in childhood. Perhaps your parents were together but emotionally distant from one another, or perhaps one of them appeared to be much more invested in the relationship than the other, creating an imbalance in the partnership.
2. One or more of your caregivers growing up was unavailable. If one parent or both were absent from your life or emotionally unavailable, it’s not uncommon to be drawn to the same type of partner repeatedly because it feels familiar.
People often subconsciously try to heal what happened in the past by repeating the same dynamic they witnessed as children and hold onto the hope that it will work out this time around. You may also have subconscious beliefs that you don’t deserve love, that others aren't capable of meeting your needs, or that love is not real unless you have to earn it. This pattern is often repeated until the wound from the past is brought into conscious awareness and healed.
3. Some part of you is unavailable. This one can be a tough realization that you may feel tempted to deny. Consider that another reason you may be drawn to emotionally unavailable partners is that some part of you is also unavailable. Perhaps you consciously want commitment, but deep down you fear true intimacy, losing your sense of self in the relationship, or getting hurt. As a result, it may feel safer to be with someone who is emotionally unavailable, because you know on some level that you don’t have to fully commit to the other person.
Did your parents maintain their relationship and a healthy sense of self or did you witness an imbalance between the two? If there was an imbalance, you may have an underlying fear of being engulfed by a relationship. Or perhaps you’ve been burned by love in the past and the fear of getting hurt again could be preventing you from dating available partners.
Previously published in 2019 by The Problem With Dating
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional or psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your mental health professional or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding your condition or well-being.
Geher, Glenn. “Perceived and Actual Characteristics of Parents and Partners: A Test of a Freudian Model of Mate Selection.” Current Psychology, vol. 19, no. 3, 2000, pp. 194–214. , doi:10.1007/s12144-000-1015-7.
Hazan, Cindy, and Phillip Shaver. “Romantic Love Conceptualized as an Attachment Process.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 52, no. 3, 1987, pp. 511–524., doi:10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.521.
Why Am I Attracted to Emotionally Unavailable Partners: Breaking Unhealthy Relationship Patterns
Blog › Why am I attracted t…
Because you’re worthy of an authentic, emotionally-present partner…
That charming guy who sweeps into your life, showers you with compliments and take you out to incredible places – but then suddenly evaporates into thin air a few weeks later. Or the girl who exudes that sexy, hard-to-get aloof vibe but who you later realise you can’t get close to.
If you keep finding yourself drawn to emotionally unavailable people, then you don’t need reminding of how exasperating and utterly lonely it is not being able to connect with the person you care about.
Before we start, let’s get clear on one thing: emotional unavailability is not gender-specific. There’s been a mountain written about emotionally unavailable men – but it can be the other way round too.
Emotional availability has nothing to do with getting in touch with your “feminine side”. It swings both ways. It’s about knowing that your partner will show up for you emotionally; that they have your back. Gender does not have a bearing on whether someone is emotionally available or not.What does it mean to be emotionally unavailable?
Being emotionally unavailable is essentially about building up a barrier that prevents people from getting close to you. This might present itself as someone appearing very evasive or aloof, avoiding difficult conversations that relate to feelings or the relationship, or maybe even dropping a relationship completely at the first sign of emotional intimacy.
Being emotionally available is not about oversharing or being “intense”. It is simply about having the capacity to create an authentic connection – one where both partners feel supported and cared for. For someone who is emotionally unavailable, this state of being can feel very foreign, driving them to retract.
It’s also important to note that being emotionally unavailable does not necessarily mean that someone does not want a relationship. And it is not about lacking the capacity to love. Emotional unavailability is a conditioning – or coping mechanism – someone has learnt (often at a very early age) as a form of protection. This might have happened for a number of different reasons.Signs someone is emotionally unavailable
Sometimes it’s very obvious that someone is emotionally unavailable. Maybe they recently got divorced or they live in a different country to you. In these cases, alarm bells should start to ring.
Other times, someone’s emotional unavailability doesn’t become apparent until further along in the relationship. You might find yourself already in a relationship with someone before it becomes clear that they are unable to connect emotionally with you in the way that you need.
The following should be taken as clear red flags:
- They tell you – this might seem obvious, but sometimes when we really like someone we block out the things we don’t want to hear. Often from the outset someone who is emotionally unavailable will warn us in so many words. Maybe they talk about a string of failed relationships or casually throw in that they’re not much of a “relationship person”. Take what they say at face value. If someone tells you that they’re not emotionally available, believe them.
- A cocky persona – it takes a quiet confidence to cultivate intimacy and truly commit to someone. Arrogance and cockiness are usually a cover for low self-esteem and should serve as a major red flag.
- They struggle with being affectionate – someone who is emotionally unavailable is going to find it difficult to be affectionate – or to accept affection from you. If your partner stiffens up or becomes awkward when you get physically close, it’s likely they’re not living fully in their emotions.
- Changing the subject when conflict arises – many of us struggle with conflict, but someone who is emotionally unavailable is going to be especially conflict averse. They might shut down, try to change the subject or call you ‘too dramatic’ when you try bringing up your emotions.
- You see flashes of anger – someone who is constantly pushing down their emotions is going to have a lot of pent-up anger. Perhaps they’re charming to you but they snap at the waiter when the food is late or they badmouth the taxi driver on the way home. When we’re not able to access or express our emotions, frustration is going to come out elsewhere.
- You don’t feel held or supported in the relationship – in order to show up for someone else, we need to first be able to show up for ourselves. Someone who is emotionally unavailable can’t commit to anyone until that happens. Because of this, you might find that when you try to talk about something important, they disengage. This could be apparent in their friendships too – either they have very few, or lots of surface-level friends that don’t carry much depth.
- They move too quickly – often people who are emotionally unavailable are very good at the first stage of a relationship. They might talk very intensely at the beginning and say all the right things, wanting to jump into the sexual side of the relationship fast. Be wary of this. A true connection takes time, and developing a relationship has a natural rhythm. You want to look for someone who takes things at a healthy, steady pace.
It’s important to point out that emotionally unavailable people rarely realise that what they’re doing is harmful. When you have never truly connected to someone emotionally, you can’t understand the depth of pain this vacuum is going to cause your partner.
Emotionally unavailable people are frequently highly intelligent. In fact, it is typical amongst high-achievers who naturally feel more comfortable living and communicating from their intellect rather than their feelings.
One key commonality with all emotionally unavailable people is this: lurking somewhere underneath it all is fear. A fear of things not working out, of being exposed or being vulnerable to abandonment.
We are all born with the drive to connect. Connection is a basic human need – and the emotionally unavailable person is no different. For this reason, normally something has happened in their past that has caused them to reject this aspect of themselves.
This can happen for any of the following reasons:
- Something in their childhood – at the extreme end, abuse (physical or emotional) and trauma can cause someone to become emotionally unavailable. Also growing up in a chaotic household where emotions were acted out aggressively or in an uncontrollable way might cause someone to shut down as a means of protection. On the flip side, growing up in an environment where emotions were stuffed down or seen to be a sign of ‘weakness’ can cause someone to start associating intimacy as something inherently negative – resulting in a complete rejection of it
- Afraid of falling in love – maybe they’ve been badly hurt in relationships in the past or witnessed an unhealthy relationship dynamic growing up which caused them to shut down as a form of protection.
- Simply not ready – and sometimes we just meet people at the wrong time. If someone’s only very recently out of a long-term relationship for example, they’re probably going to need some alone time before committing fully to someone new.
We don’t purposefully go around choosing partners we know can’t show up for us… Or do we?
The truth is that the way we interact with relationships today is closely intertwined with our past.
Did you have a warm, loving household growing up? What kind of relationship did you have with your parents?
As we grow up we develop subconscious belief systems about what love looks like based on our experiences. In other words, we create relationship dynamics that feel like the ones we had growing up. That’s good news is we grew up in a loving, supportive household – less so if that wasn’t the case.
If you find yourself constantly choosing emotionally unavailable partners, when you dig into your past you might find that this dynamic is actually a familiar one. Perhaps one or both of your parents were physically or emotionally absent when you were growing up, and your emotional needs went unmet. Some people make the discovery that they are actually emotionally unavailable themselves. And as much as they feel like they crave emotional intimacy, they cut and run before any real depth of connection has been formed.
The important thing is this: whatever your pattern is, you can change it. Identifying where it stems from is the first important step in breaking the cycle.Breaking patterns in relationships
Relationships serve as a mirror to what is going on inside of us. In order to break deeply ingrained patterns like this, we usually have to face up to the pains of our past. To move beyond old wounds, we need to first acknowledge and then release them. Usually this requires tracing back these experiences and looking them straight in the eye, and feelings all the feelings that they bring up for us. Once we have acknowledged and released a pattern, we free ourselves from the compulsion to keep acting it out. We can form a healthier, more supportive view of love. And when this happens, we are better equipped to identify these qualities in a potential partner.
We can only ever truly change ourselves. If you’re in a relationship with someone who is emotionally unavailable, this means that they will need to make these realisations in their own time. They will first need to get in touch with their own feelings before they can connect emotionally with you. Therapy is a great place to work on this as the therapeutic relationship illustrates how beautiful it is to fully trust another person and to feel emotionally present. And when we know how good it feels to sit comfortably and present in our feelings, that’s something we will never want to let go of.
Start your therapy journey today
Get matched to a psychologist, and have your first therapy session the same day.
Tips for teaching kids about mental health
To mark Children’s Mental Health Wee...
What is Trauma and How to Overcome it
Trauma manifests itself in a number of...
How to help a man with depression
Men often find mental health difficult...
Why do we choose emotionally unavailable partners
Man and woman
Attachment is like a big panic button in the brain. When life runs its course, there is no need for it. We make Easter cakes, collect bouquets of leaves, play catch-up. Or we meet with friends, make plans, go to work and enjoy every day.
But then something bad happens: we fall and break our knee. The school bully pushes us and we drop our lunch on the floor. The boss is threatening to fire you. These negative experiences generate worry and anxiety, and anxiety in turn activates our emergency button.
And she sends out a signal to seek proximity. We find those relationships that support us - or rather, what we think of ourselves. And this is the paradox: attachment, without which we would hardly have survived in childhood, begins to play a cruel joke with us. If we evaluate ourselves negatively, then we find comfort in relationships with those who evaluate us in the same way.
Three Relationship Strategies
The affection we felt for our mother in childhood dictates one of three relationship strategies.
Healthy strategy (secure attachment)
According to psychologists, no more than 50% use this strategy. Such people easily converge and communicate with others. They do not feel uncomfortable when someone depends on them, and they themselves are not afraid of losing their freedom. They perceive others and themselves positively. If something does not suit a partner in a relationship, they are always ready for a dialogue.
Manipulative strategy (anxious attachment)
These people are looking for maximum intimacy in a relationship. Their ideal is complete fusion. They often worry that their partner does not love them enough, they are afraid to be alone.
People of this type underestimate themselves and put others on a pedestal, do everything to justify the expectations of people significant to them. Unusually affectionate, constantly looking for external confirmation of their own value, because they themselves do not feel it.
Leave me alone! (avoidant type)
They feel uncomfortable in close relationships, do not like to depend on others and prefer not to be dependent on them either. Having learned from their own experience that intimacy brings only suffering, they strive for independence and self-sufficiency.
Such people perceive themselves super positively, and others negatively. They tend to use the insecurities of overly affectionate people to further strengthen their superiority.
Who chooses whom and why
If you carefully study these three strategies - as we once read the condition of the problem in school - it will become clear that all our further meetings and sufferings are already “set” in them.
People with the last two types of attachment are drawn to each other, although it is clear that their relationship is destined to be destructive. More importantly, they will reject a partner until he changes his positive attitude towards them to what they expect from him.
And what about people with the first type of attachment? They are looking for people with the same healthy, secure type of attachment.
It would seem, why can't the second or third type meet the first? Such meetings take place, but such people do not experience mutual attraction, interest that can keep them together.
What to do? First of all, understand what type of attachment you have. This is the key to finding and keeping relationships if you haven't been able to in the past. If you continue to date “the wrong ones”, the main reason is still in you.
So why do we fall in love with emotionally unavailable partners?
Emotionally unavailable people dominate the “dating market”
looking for his mate.
People with a secure type of attachment do not embark on a series of long meetings and searches. Feeling that very "chemistry", they decide that the partner suits them, and tune in to a long-term relationship. That's why they are the hardest to find - they rarely enter the dating market, and when they leave, they stay on it for a short time and immediately "settle" in a new relationship.
In addition, emotionally unavailable people almost never meet the same as themselves: none of them has a desire to emotionally invest in relationships.
If you put all the pieces of the puzzle together, it turns out that the probability of meeting an emotionally unavailable partner is very high. However, they do not form relationships with each other because they need space and independence, they do not meet people with a healthy secure attachment, because such people do not stay in the market for a long time - so who do they attract? Alas, partners with an anxious type of attachment who crave extreme intimacy.
We find them very attractive.
We often don't realize that the partners we're obsessed with are the ones who can only increase our deep self-doubt. It is our notions of love that attract special partners to us.
At the early stage of a relationship, an "independent", emotionally unavailable partner sends mixed signals: calls, but not always, does not hide his sympathy, but at the same time makes it clear that he is still in search.
Emotionally available partners don't play inaccessibility. In their world, there are simply no mysterious omissions
This tactic is quite advantageous: by receiving a vague conflicting message, the “needy” partner with an anxious type of attachment becomes obsessed with the relationship. Friends, hobbies, interests and careers fade into the background.
We lack “fire” in emotionally accessible partners
Let's imagine that we are lucky and we met a person whose childhood was simple and calm, and whose view of the world is just as simple and open. Will we realize that we have won the lottery, or will we decide that something is missing in our relationship with such a person?
Emotionally accessible partners don't play impregnable or, on the contrary, don't throw everything at our feet in order to conquer us. In their world, there are simply no mysterious omissions and suspense, agonizing waiting.
We are calm next to such a person, and we do not believe that he is the only one, because “nothing is happening”, because our emotions are not inflated, which means that we are bored. And because of this, we pass by truly wonderful people.
Ups and downs, doubts and elations, and constant expectation in relationships with emotionally unavailable people should not be mistaken for passion or love. It looks very similar, but believe me, it's not her. Don't let them captivate you. And, no matter how difficult it is, work to understand the mechanisms of attraction that are laid in us by our childhood. Believe me, it's possible. And emotionally healthy relationships can bring much more happiness.
Kyle Benson is a family psychologist and counselor.
Text: Maria Malygina Photo source: Getty Images
New on the site partner
Sleep well: a new way to deal with nightmares has been found
What men value in women: do you agree with the opinions of the heroes?
“My husband is eager to communicate with my girlfriend: how can I adequately get out of this situation?”
Married to a loved one or a dog? How to stop training your partner
“Students” and systematic harassment: how journalist Nastya Krasilnikova uncovered a “circle” of abusive teachers
5 reasons why you are attracted to emotionally unavailable guys – HEROINE
Our desires and actions often contradict each other: those who say they want mutual, serious, stable love, in fact, they are drawn to people who cannot give it to them. We understand why we are attracted to emotionally unavailable partners.
What is an emotionally unavailable person
An emotionally unavailable person is someone who experiences great discomfort from getting close to other people and developing a healthy attachment. He can be withdrawn, closed to emotional support, act inconsistently, and give mixed signals. Sometimes he suddenly becomes affectionate, but as soon as it seems to you that everything is fine and you have become close, he steps back: disappears or does something offensive.
Communication with such a guy can be pleasant and interesting, but it will not work to build a deep connection. There are several reasons why people are drawn to such partners. Let's talk about them in more detail.
1. You like a challenge
One thing that cannot be blamed on an emotionally available partner is predictability. Today he writes dozens of messages, openly flirts so that by the evening you are sure that you are in a relationship. Tomorrow he disappears, answers reluctantly and coldly. Now you (or rather your vanity) want only one thing - to return the guy's favor and again feel that he is interested in you.
We date emotionally unavailable people because we get little nuggets of attention or signs that the person cares about us, says relationship counselor Share L. Josie. “It can show up in the way the person responds to our calls or text messages. If a person initiates communication, it strengthens our desire for more.
You can continue to communicate with an emotionally unavailable person in the hope that eventually you will get his attention. Make sure you don't change goals, and you are driven by interest in the guy himself, and not by the desire to "win."
2. It's about your attachment style
Psychology Today explains that attachment style is how you behave in a relationship. There are four types, but in the case of emotionally unavailable people, only two are important to us: people with an anxious type of attachment and a dismissive-avoidant. The former usually do not feel safe in a relationship, so they tend to constantly check on their partners. Avoidant people may push the person away or shut down in emotionally vulnerable situations, such as when they are required to confess their feelings.
There is a cycle of relationships called the chase/distancing cycle and the demand/refusal cycle, explains individual and couples psychotherapist Tara Vossenkemper. “One person is chasing and leaning into the pressure, while the other continues to distance and pull out of the pressure. And this may be a product of our attachment style.
An emotionally unavailable person, as a rule, has an avoidant type of attachment. If you constantly find yourself in the role of a stalker, the reason may be that you have an anxious type. In this case, it is worth contacting a specialist and discussing how to form a safer and healthier type of attachment.
3. You do not believe that there is a healthy long-term relationship
If you perceive love as a test in advance and are convinced that any relationship leads to suffering, this can contribute to the formation of a model of dating an emotionally unavailable partner. Often people subconsciously seek out those who can't be with them because they believe they deserve it. As the relationship expert points out:
We tend to repeat the pattern of dating emotionally unavailable people because it fits some basic understanding of ourselves (I'm not good enough or attractive enough), or it may fit our understanding of relationships that comes from our parents' relationship. .
Low self-esteem can lead you to look for relationships that are doomed to failure. In this case, it is important to first understand your beliefs, believe that you deserve a healthy stable relationship, and only then look for someone with whom you can create them.
4. Your parents were emotionally unavailable
Parents have a lot of influence on how you build relationships with people in the future. If they were emotionally unavailable and their love and approval always had to be earned, this would lead to a search for such people in adulthood.
One reason we may be attracted to emotionally unavailable people is because one or both of our parents are emotionally unavailable, says therapist Elizabeth Kush. We model, give meaning, find solace, and base our assessments of the world on our childhood experiences. We look for similar, comfortable and familiar situations and people who reinforce our past experiences.
5. You hope to change him
Sometimes, when we meet an emotionally unavailable person, we think that with time he will change. But here it is important to understand that your efforts in this regard are meaningless - he can change only if he wants to and sets out to form a serious attachment.
According to family therapist Cathy Siskind, sometimes people are attracted to emotionally unavailable people because they are too caring. In a relationship, this can be dangerous because it leads to codependency.
Constant attempts to please a partner, to get approval, the desire to take on as many worries as possible destroys self-esteem and emotionally drains.
You want to help your partner and at the same time expect him to show gratitude and love, but if the partner is emotionally unavailable, this becomes a vicious circle.