Three types of unavailability and four options for moving forward
I’ve fallen for a handful of women that were emotionally unavailable. Either they were shut down emotionally, or didn’t want the kind of relationship I wanted. Every time I went through the wringer because of it. I came out the other end a complete mess, and I couldn’t understand why it was happening to me.
I remember a particularly tumultuous relationship with a magnetic woman, the kind of woman who draws everyone’s eyes, regardless of gender.
I was hooked from the moment I met her at Burning Man, which isn’t an automatic red flag but certainly something I might have considered more thoughtfully before ‘falling in love’ with her.
But it wasn’t a choice at the time; I was falling hard, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.
Our relationship burned hot and fast, and it was incredibly intoxicating. Being with her felt like a drug, which should have been a clear warning sign that something was amiss.
She was emotionally unavailable and couldn’t give me the kind of stability and attention I wanted. No matter how much I tried or what I did, nothing changed the fact that she couldn’t give me what I wanted. We dated for six months, and it was pure torture. It’s incredible how much damage can happen in such a short time.
She didn’t know she wasn’t available, and nor did I. Or perhaps I did, but I kept hoping that she’d start showing up for me the way I wanted her to.
She never did.
Hope Springs Eternal
That’s what my therapist told me.
I paid thousands of dollars for that piece of advice. It’s worth at least twice that. You can have it for free.
Going after unavailable people is like going to the hardware store for bread.You look around and ask the salesperson where they keep the bread. They look at you weird and say,
“There’s no bread here; we’re a hardware store.”
The next day you hope that maybe things will have changed — still no bread at the hardware store.
And so it goes.
Hope springs eternal because there’s no end to the spring of hope.
You can wake up every day thinking that maybe today, things will be different.
Today, they won’t flake on you like they’ve flaked before or finally give you the love and affection that you desperately want.
But. Alas. No bread today.
So — why do you keep going to the hardware store for bread?
You’re Hardwired For Love
Humans are hardwired for connection. We’re social creatures, and we want to love and to feel love.
It’s normal to want love. After getting your basic needs of food, water, shelter, and safety, the next need you crave is connection: love, friendship, and community.
The problem lies with trying to get your needs for love and intimacy from people who can’t give it to you. It’s easy to get roped up in the fantasy that you’ve found someone that will finally love you and care for you the way you need.
Nevermind that no partner can ever meet all your needs unless that was their full-time job, and even then, I’d be surprised. Humans are needy (not in a bad way), and to place all those needs on one person is unrealistic.
But some people fall short of meeting even your basic needs for presence, respect, and kindness.
Maybe they show up for you in some ways but fail to show up for you in other, more essential ways. And you think that perhaps, with time, they’ll show up for you entirely.
Unfortunately, they (mostly) don’t.
They Can’t Give You What You Want
Unavailable people can’t give you what you want. They have different priorities in life, and unfortunately, you’re not one of them.
That can hurt. I know.
People can be unavailable for a variety of different reasons:
This one gets thrown around a lot these days. Emotionally unavailable people are generally uncomfortable or unwilling to explore intimacy and vulnerability.
Being unavailable is a defense mechanism to keep them from getting their heart broken or going deep into their wounds and sadness.
These folks are too busy. Multiple jobs or long hours at work, lots of traveling, nomadic lifestyle, an overly-active social life, and little downtime mean no time to build a relationship.
Long-distance relationships can fit into this category if neither is willing to move or there’s no plan to be in the same place at some point (caveat: some people are happy with this kind of arrangement, in which case, knock yourself out).
Different Needs and Goals
A significant mismatch in needs and goals is another form of unavailability. If you want kids and your person doesn’t, they are unavailable to have kids.
If you want to travel the world and they want to settle down, you have incompatible goals. If you must marry someone from your religious background and they aren’t, you got a problem.
So, what now? Luckily, you have options.
Your Options Moving Forward
Luckily you have several, and you get to choose.
You’re 100% in charge of your life. No one will build the kind of love life you’re proud of, and it’s up to you to make it happen. You are the architect; your life is the project.
If it doesn’t look right, change it. If it doesn’t feel right, leave.
2. Let Go
Sometimes, your vision of what a dream life looks like is too rigid and doesn’t leave room for the mystery of life.
Life has a funny way of giving you what you need (not necessarily what you want), and letting life take over can lead to pleasant surprises. If you’re holding onto your list of what a perfect relationship looks like, maybe loosen your death grip on the wheel slightly?
Stay until it no longer makes sense for you.
Sometimes people and situations change. Someone who didn’t want kids can change their minds. A girlfriend who is scared of heights might want to try rock climbing. Someone who lives far away might get a transfer and move closer to you.
Stay until it doesn’t make sense for you to stay anymore.
4. Talk About It
Asking for someone to meet your needs is the best way to get your needs met. If something doesn’t feel right or if your goals are out of alignment, talk about it. If you see a red flag that indicated emotional unavailability, talk about it.
You rarely get anything you don’t ask for, so build up the courage to ask for what you want and get it.
The Why Of It All
Dating unavailable people might be a defense mechanism and a barrier against developing intimacy with someone.
If they’re unavailable, your relationship will never progress to the point where they can profoundly wound you.
And that’s what I realized I was doing with my ex. I was terrified of getting hurt, and so being with her was safe. It was frustrating and crazy-making, but her unavailability meant that we would never build the kind of intimacy that would put me in a position to get wounded.
If I never showed her who I was, she wouldn’t reject the real me. I’d built up walls, and only real intimacy, presence, and availability could start to dismantle.
So, how can you taste the fruits of love and intimacy if you don’t open up that precious heart, slowly and over time, to people who show up wanting to know you?
Love requires vulnerability.
People comfortable with vulnerability are hard to be around. They force us to meet them in their space, and that space can be scary.
That space is also beautiful, tender, profound, and intimate.
Being emotionally available means being open to getting hurt, and it also means being open to the deepest and juiciest kind of love possible. You can’t open up to one and not the other.
And, you can minimize your risk by being careful with who you allow into your heart.
The best way to maximize love while reducing pain is by identifying those who are available to the full richness of the human experience.
Date people who are available, and let them peek over the walls you’ve created to protect your heart. The work of dismantling the barriers you’ve built to keep you safe doesn’t happen overnight.
It’s a slow, long road, and it’ll take the time it takes, but do that work with someone who shows up for you with consistency and enthusiasm.
I want big love for you with someone who wants to love you big.