What does emotionally unavailable mean?

topic posted Thu, January 25, 2007 - 9:20 PM by  Craig
I've seen the term several times and am curious as to what exactly people mean when they use it. I understand, more-or-less, what it means when someone is unavailable because they have made a commitment to another person, but I don't get the other. What does an emotionally unavailable person do? What behaviors do they exhibit?
posted by:
SF Bay Area
  • Emotionally unavailable men do things like look for women for sex but don't share their lives with them -- no holidays together, no intros to the family, no leaving so much as a deodorant at their place.

    Emotionally unavailable guys don't want to talk about what's happening between them and the woman they're seeing. They just hide their head in the sand when a problem crops up. Nothing seems to affect them emotionally. They don't share their lives with the woman they're seeing.

    If you've got a problem well it's your problem they've no interest in helping you.

    Emotionally unavailable doesn't necessarily mean they're in a relationship with someone else. It means they can't be in a relationship with anyone. The men I know who are emotionally unavailable have been either alchoholics or sexually inept or incapable. They've often been divorced and either raising kids or still bitterly involved with an ex spouse regarding kids. They've been searching for that one woman who will magically transform their lives into happy ones (i.e. looking for happiness to come from the outside rather than putting in the work to make their own lives happy)
    • Good explanation Blue.

      I'd add that they are often self-absorbed and/or insecure with themselves. They have a hard time seeing past themselves in order to be able to love another person.

      They can be afraid of commitment. Sometimes with a bitter divorce (as mentioned) as evidence/excuse that they never want to be married again.

      When everything is easy and fun, they are fun to be around. But if there's a problem (with the relationship, health issue, etc.), they often become distant or angry/short-tempered. They don't deal well with difficult emotions and sometimes have a limited range of emotions that may only include happiness and anger.
    • Emotionally unavailable, to me, means that, even though you are this person's "partner", you are 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, plus, priority. Your relative happiness is your own problem. If there were something wrong with them, if they had any "issues", they would have taken care of it, which leaves the blame of anything being fucked up in the relationship squarely in your lap. They don't want to deal with your "bullshit", you're overreactive, you're overly emotional, you're too needy, you're too intense, and so on. However, when you get the balls to leave their lame ass, they realize how much they've come to rely on you, how much they "love" you, and how good you've made their lives. Sound about right, Blue?

      Sorry. Bitter, party of one. :o)
      • Wow, I think you know my boyfriend...or I guess as of last night, my ex-boyfriend. I've gotten angry at him twice in the last week because I felt he was treating others so well and ignoring me and taking me for granted. I was emotional and stormed out a couple of times. But when I went to talk about it with him, he was very cold and said he thinks we should break up because it's too difficult and complicated and I'm being overly emotional and we should just forget about the relationship (after nearly a year). I told him I felt sad, that I love him, that I really wish we could work things out. Silence.

        And yet today I still feel sad and wish we could work it out and dread breaking up. I'm living in another country with no real friends and I don't have much more than him. I know I am strong but I also know it will be a tough road.
  • Woah. I just got a serious case of deja vu reading these posts. It is a two-way street isn't it? There's some women out there who fit the bill too. Those descriptions sure hit close to home.

    Do you figure it is ever possible to correct the problem? It was a real (unsuccessful) challenge for me because that withdrawl/anger dynamic mentioned above shut down any meaningful communication. And then I just figured it was all my fautl and that I had to try to "fix" everything all by myself.
    • Bair, i wonder the same things as well. The only conclusion I've come to - and it might sound trite - but is to keep myself open, completely honest, and totally emotionally available. I say this because I think sometimes we attract what we are; the mirror effect so to speak.

      I no longer think of 'fixing' anything about a relationship that isn't balanced emotionally. I keep myself in good repair and the rest if up to them.
  • To me emotionally unavailble is something we all are to some people and at some times. Like I am to some extent emotionally unavailable right now. I know I'm not ready to be in a full relationship right now. I have a couple of deep but not full relationships right now and that is all I can handle. I'm not available right now to someone who wants a monogamous full time gf. It doesn't mean I'm messed up...well not any more than anyone else who has gotten divorced less than a year ago especally under the circumstances I did. There are people I am unavailable too...and people I am available too. It depends on how things click. and that is not just romantically but all relationships.

    I think emotionally unavailable is simply that someone can not give emotionally what you need to have a heathy relationship. Maybe they can give it at a different time...or to a different person. But they can't give it to you right now.
    • But, SV, I believe the difference here is that you are upfront and honest (not to mention self-aware) enough that you don't misrepresent yourself and your intentions. That's HUGE! I agree that we are different things for different people, and there can be so much range and complexity in relationship. I think more of us have had experience with someone who is (maybe this is better) emotionally withholding, or manipulative, or completely underfunctioning, and that's where the problem lies.
      • someone who selectively withholds emotions (which is an act of manipulation) is not emotionally unavailable, but they are sadists. unwarranted sadism in relationships is its own subject for a thread someday maybe. as for completely underfunctioning...does that include physically as well...cause that would be considered, regardless of the physical aspect, a form of retardation which may or not primarily affect the emotional centers. of course, I'm still not clear what you mean by underfunctioning. there are definitely mental handicaps which can impair ones ability to access, understand, and share our emotions.

        the only problem one, and all one needs to ask is "why do people like this and me seem to share a common attraction, and what can I do to move myself towards being attracted to and attracting people who are healthy?"

        by time someone is datable, they are most likely so deeply coded and programmed that only an honest attempt to change internally will help them. best we can do is make ourselves more emotionally available and let the magic of gravitation, magnetism, and quantum consciousness do its work to bring us what we need and want.
      • I don't think that emotionally unavailable has to include dishonesty anymore than being unavailable becuase you are in a commited relationship that means you can not be involved does. The unavailable part is one thing. The dishonesty is something else. although I admit many people use dishonesty as a tool to remain unavailable. I also think lots of people do not know they are unavailable...and I would even say that I think most people who go for unavailable people as a pattern..are in fact unavailable themselves at that time.
  • To me an emotionally unavailable person is:

    someone whose emotions will not avail. someone who, because of the way they were raised or the traumas they have encountered, either cannot access their emotions, cannot understand their emotions, or cannot share their emotions. obviously, the first is the most extreme, and the last the least extreme.

    as far as I can tell, everyone I've ever met seems to be involved in a cyclic pattern of emotional availability. even without external factors, it definitely seems that the seasons, as well as the time of day, affect my emotional availability.

    I would agree that your personal happiness is your responsibility and that no one else should have to worry about your happiness for you to be happy. you can maintain this philosophy without becoming emotionally unavailable. a lot of what women have described here may or may not be emotionally unavailable by nature or choice. sometimes men may just not want to involve themselves with what they percieve as a source of drama, and may still be very emotional in situations where they feel comfortable or in which they would like to invest themselves fully. people can be selectively emotionally unavailable. if I wasn't, I would not be able to walk city streets, with all the homeless people, and little whirlpools of drama, each one hooked and barbed, heart-seeking, and harmful.
  • Unsu...
    I think I am qualified to answer that question. I've had LTRs with two emotionally unavailable men. Basically these are men (or women) who are cut-off from their emotions - scared of intimacy. The first relationship I had with an unemotionally available man lasted for two years the second for 15 years.

    Although these men could stay in long term relationships - they could not open their hearts, always protecting themselves emotionally to the point of denying their emotions. When I first met them, they showed intense interest, immediately telling me that they were falling in love with me, but as soon as I fell in love, they backed off emotionally, although not physically.

    I left both of these men after being engaged to them - but it wasn't until this last break-up that I realized that I too an emotionally unavailable - and that I chose these men so that I could be so busy chasing them that I didn't have to acknowledge my own inability to handle true intimacy. What a big shock that was...
    • Very, very interesting observation about yourself. And makes me wonder about myself.

      How did you realize you were emotionally unavailable? And what does it mean about you?

      I know that I am more comfortable having someone just a little aloof and me pursuing than having them too into me -- I feel smothered easily and can view it as a weakness in men.
      • Unsu...
        After leaving one marriage and then leaving two relationships right after getting engaged, I couldn’t ignore the fact that I always left the relationships just when they were ready to commit to marriage. And I always “fell in love/lust” with someone before I left as an emotional vehicle to help me leave.

        With this last break-up, I again found myself attracted to someone outside my relationship, I knew something was wrong and I had to start looking at my pattern of leaving just when the man was ready to commit. It's funny you should mentioned the word "smothered" because that is the exact word I use to describe my feelings about this last relationship. I've lived my whole life thinking I wanted to be married but now just the thought of the words "relationship" and "forever" make me feel anxious and smothered.

        So what does it mean to me?? I don't really know yet. I’ve been trying to learn myself and work on my own issues with intimacy. As part of learning I read the book “He’s Scared, She’s Scared” and I thought, oh my God!! It was like reading my whole life story!

        Although I am still extremely attracted to this new guy, I have told him I am not looking for a relationship because I needed time alone. The irony is that I continue to play the pursue/distance dance in my relationship with him even though I know it isn’t healthy - I just can’t seem to help myself.
      • "How did you realize you were emotionally unavailable? And what does it mean about you? "

        I realized the truth in the statement 'Like attracts like.' Or, should I say I actually started to think about it more deeply and how it applied to my relationships. I came to realize that to me being emotionally available and open = being vulnerable to emotional pain. I've experiecend this pain many times in my life and felt the loss and the hole that is left. It means I've been gaurding my heart against what I've learned from experience is certain pain. *Hot burners will burn your hand so don't put your hand on them.* Of course, seeing this about myself gives me the opportunity to change. A slow, painful, challenging process to be sure, but one I welcome and willingly undertake. It is laborous but worth it.
  • Unsu...
    emotionally unavailable is when he can't care about anyone else but himself and his own needs. he may speak of caring for, or even loving, you but his actions tell a different story. there is a huge disconnect between his words and his actions, which becomes increasingly apparent as time goes on, creating more distance between the two of you instead of a closer connection.

    note: i use 'he' loosely. it is not gender specific at all.

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