He romanced her in the usual fun, non-committal early relationship ways, getting her hooked on him by offering a hint here, a taste there, of who he was. Then, like a yo-yo, he would pull away, causing Joy to wonder if there was some underlying issue that made it difficult for him to get close.
My friend Joy loves to tell the story of when she first laid eyes on her husband. How he shuffled into the bar where she was working and, as he ordered his drink, very clearly intentionally avoided eye contact with her. She found this instantly mysterious, alluring, and a total turn on. That was it. She made up her mind to find out what was behind that aloof exterior, determined to uncover the obviously complex emotions he was trying so hard to hide. She later found out that he had bad allergies that day and was simply trying to hide his red itchy eyes. Thank God! Joy definitely didn’t need another emotionally unavailable man in her life. Joy had just gotten out of a relationship with a distant, brooding man whom she spent seven months of her life trying to understand.
Everyone loves a mystery—especially when it comes in the package of tall, dark and gorgeous. This guy was an unintentional master, he met her at a vulnerable point in her life and immediately honed in, romancing her in the usual fun, non-committal early relationship ways, getting her hooked on him by offering a hint here, a taste there, of who he was. Then, like a yo-yo, he would pull away, causing Joy to wonder if there was some underlying issue that made it difficult for him to get close, wonder what she’d done wrong, wonder what she could do to help fix him. At that point, what she really needed to ‘fix’ was herself. She was becoming an addict.
I watched Joy wither away in a vortex of confusion and self-doubt over the course of those seven months. As she would with any other addiction, she needed an intervention. A group of friends got together to point out the signs that she had become the puppet for an emotionally unavailable man, and to give her suggestions on what she needed to do to stop focusing on him and be available to herself again.
Makes you wonder—are you with an emotionally unavailable man?
Is He Ambiguous?
A relationship has to have a foundation of trust to succeed, and trust simply cannot exist without communication. Joy’s partner refused time and again to discuss the status of their relationship. He would get frustrated and play the poor-me card, citing, in the vaguest of terms, past failed relationships and women who had ‘done him wrong’ (including his mother) as reasons that he couldn’t ‘label’ what he and Joy were sharing. He was given the luxury of determining the momentum of their relationship, leaving Joy feeling lost and confused.
Is He Absent?
Part of any healthy relationship is sharing; friends, activities, interests, it’s all part of what makes up the whole of a partnership. Joy’s partner refused to become involved in any aspect of her life. He routinely declined to accompany her at parties, work functions or even meet her friends for a drink. I only met him a couple of times, and that was when I would go over to her house to watch a favorite TV show together, during which he would promptly disappear into the back room. Now, I get it, sounds perfect, right? But there is a fine line between giving your partner space and absolutely refusing to become part of your partner’s life in a public way. In Joy’s case, it was just another way for him to control the direction of their relationship.
What's His Story?
If you can’t get your partner to open up about any details of his past, that is a red flag. Someone who is emotionally unavailable may be reluctant to talk about past relationships simply due to his or her inability to maintain them or even form them. Admission to playing a part in the dissolution of a past relationship would be a potential glimpse into who this person is, and the emotionally unavailable man wants to keep his true persona out of reach.
Let’s face it, relationships are raw and revealing and can be terrifying to someone who wishes to avoid vulnerability at all costs. Going back to the importance of communication, this can be a detrimental barrier in a relationship. Time and again, Joy would come crying to me because she had done something to make her partner give her the silent treatment. She would rack her brains trying to figure out what it was, but his answer was always “I’ll get over it, I don’t want to talk about it.” Leaving her fearful and walking on eggshells that she would offend him in the same way again without knowing it.
What Can You Do?
Just like emotionally available men, some emotionally UN-available men are worth fighting for and some are not. It just depends on how much work you want to put into the relationship, or maybe more importantly, how much you’re getting out of it. In Joy’s case, the list of pros and cons we came up with at her ‘intervention’ convinced her that her emotionally unavailable boyfriend, otherwise known as ‘the addiction,’ was breaking her down more than it was lifting her up. Like any other addiction, it took her a while to recognize that, and even longer to act on it. Eventually, she let him go when she simply got tired of feeling like crap all the time.
But if you haven’t decided to throw your emotionally unavailable man out with the bathwater just yet, then do yourself a favor. Stop expecting him to return your emotions the way you want him to. I read somewhere that the definition of crazy is doing something over and over again the same way and expecting a different result. Stop making yourself crazy and find another outlet for expressing your emotions. Make sure you stay connected to a group of friends, particularly a group of friends who knew you before you started dating your personal challenge. They can be an invaluable touchstone to the person you really are, so that you don’t lose yourself in trying to ‘fix’ someone else. By that same token, make sure you participate in activities you enjoy, whether he deigns to be a part of them or not. Book clubs, girl’s night, softball, whatever it takes to feel connection with other human beings, if you’re not getting that connection from your partner.
If your partner is worth staying with, there must be something there that demonstrates his love. Maybe he quietly supports you in something you love to do, maybe he makes you coffee every morning. If those simple tokens of his love are enough to get you through the challenges of the relationship, then hold onto those moments. If you take a look at your pros and cons list (or, perhaps, the one your loving friends put together for you) and realize the bad outweighs the good, then it might be time to take all the energy you are focusing on your emotionally unavailable man and train it on yourself. Examine why you became attracted to someone who makes you do all the work for the love and feelings of value you desire and deserve.
So that you don’t do it again.