Here’s how to recognize an emotionally unavailable partner, according to a relationship expert.
DEAR DR. JENN,
The guy I am dating has the best sense of humor and always makes me laugh. We have so much fun together and the sex is amazing… but I have to admit that he can be inconsistent and evasive with making plans sometimes. It can also be really hard to get him to open up about anything beyond surface-level topics. My friends are warning me he’s emotionally unavailable and that I should watch out. How can I know if he really is emotionally unavailable like they say, and not capable of a long-term relationship? —Playing with Fire
DEAR PLAYING WITH FIRE,
It sounds like you are forming an attachment to this guy but he is keeping you at a safe distance.
Sometimes people are inconsistent cause they are just not that into you but other times, they are just emotionally unavailable. This can happen because of childhood experiences ranging from trauma to more subtle issues that create difficulty trusting or attaching. Other times, this can occur because of unresolved issues from past relationships or losses.
Either way, dating someone who is emotionally unavailable — and the push and pull that comes with that — can really screw with your head. How do you recognize an emotionally unavailable partner? They are as follows.
- They are inconsistent. Sometimes they call when they say they will and other times they ghost you. They act like the relationship is moving forward, but then it takes two steps back. You don’t feel you can trust them to do what they says or to say what they really mean.
- They don’t open up to you. They keep it superficial and when you try to go deeper, they get skittish or changes the subject. You don’t know about their family, childhood, or past relationship beyond the surface details.
- They are most drawn to you when you are unavailable. Sure, at the beginning of a relationship, there may be some game-playing but after a few months, people tend to move into a new phase where they see each other regularly. If your person doesn’t start to be more consistent and seems most interested in you when you are unavailable, that is a red flag.
- They are not over a previous loss. They still talk about their ex with too much passion. They lost their mother and can’t even say her name cause they are so distraught. Their dream job blew up in his face. If they haven’t worked through the pain and the loss, they are unlikely to be available. People get stuck in their grief and sadness which can prevent them from being open to a relationship.
- They bolt when things get tough. When emotions come up or things get hard, they disappear. They can’t tolerate big feelings, conflict, or needs. They go dark at the first sign of trouble.
- They don’t integrate you into their life. You have never met their friends, family, or coworkers. You don’t even know if they know you exist. They keep you at a distance. They don’t want the people they are close with to get attached to you because they aren’t sure you will be around in the future.
- They have trust issues. They can’t open up to you, be vulnerable, or tolerate closeness. They don’t share private information and are secretive. They expect the worst of people and you are no exception.
- They run from commitment. At a certain point in a relationship, people usually commit to taking the next step in the relationship, deepening their commitment to one another. People who are emotionally unavailable never get there. They may talk the talk or hint about future commitments, but they never get there.
- Their relationship history lacks significant commitments. Depending on their age, they have no relationships that last more than 18 months, they were not committed to their ex-partners, or they have never been married. They played the field and romanticize it.
- They are superficial. They keep the conversation shallow and their life is focused on the superficial. They care a lot about what other people think of them and are focused on what they have and how people look. They care less about creating bonds and connections than they do about looking good to others.
Dating someone who is emotionally unavailable can really mess with your mind. It can make you wonder what is wrong with you when the problem is really with the other person. The back and forth can make you feel highly emotional, needy, and desperate. These are warning signs, especially if you don’t usually feel that way in your relationships. Take the time to explore your relationship patterns. If you have a tendency to pick unavailable partners, spend some time examining what it is about you and your history that draws you to them.