The term ‘emotional unavailability’ is one that had been hovering over my subconscious for the past few months or so. After a series of personal struggles, I decided to sit and own up to the truth, and it was not a surprising one either. It turned out that all this while I have also been executing the signs and symptoms of an emotionally unavailable individual.
You see, confronting this truth was not easy but I believe one of the fastest ways to grow is learning to take responsibility for one’s mistakes. At the times when I thought about this term, I was quite oblivious of its depth; all I could identify with was its meaning at a surface level. So, off I ran to Google to check what this was all about.
“Emotionally unavailable” is used to describe those who create barriers between themselves and others in an effort to avoid emotional intimacy. Walls, fronts, false confidence, over-independence, arrogance, ‘workaholism’, escaping and shutting down are some of the traits that depict an emotionally unavailable person, and other traits could run as deep as insecurities, low self-esteem, fear of rejection, mental instability, abuse and flawed childhood relationships. Whichever way, it is neither a good nor bad trait. In fact, most of these individuals come off as logical and highly intellectual but it could be frustrating getting a meaningful friendship or relationship out of them. Book smart is one thing, emotional intelligence is yet another! The impact of ‘emotional unavailability’ can be felt most in relationships as relationships with them are often depressing and distressing, so their partners end up feeling neglected, unloved and unwanted.
According to PsychCentral, women are usually the ones who complain about emotionally unavailable men. Yet, many women are not aware that they are emotionally unavailable too. When you get hooked on to someone else who is (think Carrie Bradshaw and Mr. Big: Sex and the City), your problem is disguised as his. This keeps you in denial of your own unavailability.
There are different types of emotional unavailability, both temporary and chronic. Some people have always been unavailable all their lives due to mental instability, abuse or flawed childhood patterns; while others temporarily give other things a higher priority than a relationship such as projects, career and education.
The latter is something most people from African homes can identify with, as your life follows a particular timeline where education comes before marriage. Where the problem lies is that the intimacy required for marriage does not often come easy and it may take a series of learning and unlearning several interpersonal skills to get it right. In addition to this, we live in a busy age where our validation and success is attributed to accumulating wealth, fame and power. Therefore, nobody really wants to invest the time and effort required in learning the pre-requisites for real intimacy. When people date, especially ‘emotionally unavailable’ individuals, they do so with a ‘replaceable mentality’ which is another subject for another day. Overall, the different reasons for unavailability tend to overlap; therefore it is difficult to ascertain whether an individual’s problem is either chronic or temporary.
Here’s a list of subtle signs that may signal unavailability, especially when several of them add up, and they are applicable to both genders. These are questions you may want to ask yourself to find out whether you’re ready for a committed relationship or equally, look out for in a love interest. Please note that this is a broad topic for me to explore, so I do apologize in advance if I do not cover every aspect of it.
Flirting with sweet words
This is usually common with men who are too flattering and may also come across like skilled listeners and communicators like snake charmers. They are very good at short-term intimacy, and some of them attract women with self-disclosure and vulnerability, they often prefer the chase to the catch.
Emotionally unavailable people are hard to nail down. When you call them, you will most likely get a voice mail. When you text them, you don’t get a reply until 2 or 3 days after. It is also very hard to make plans with them as they are unwilling to state their plans or availability.
These people tend to give hints or even admit that he or she isn’t good at relationships or doesn’t believe in or isn’t ready for marriage. Listen to these negative facts and believe them. Ignore vulnerability, bragging, and compliments. I can remember meeting this English lad at a wedding; he seemed really nice and came across as the ‘perfect boyfriend material’ up until he mentioned that he did not believe in marriage. No thanks, I’d pass!
The past and repetitive relationship patterns
It is always useful to find out if a person has had a long-term relationships and why it ended. You may pick up repetitive patterns or cycles of non-lasting relationships.
Fear of Intimacy
Almost everyone gets scared of intimacy at some point because it reveals who we are, but there are some people who have spent all their lives running away from it. People with deep-rooted issues like abuse are most vulnerable to this as they struggle with acceptance.
Unnecessary secrecy and evasiveness with work, career or addictions may indicate an unwillingness to allow a relationship to unfold.
Emotionally involved with someone else
This could possibly be the most common form of emotional unavailability ranging from ‘the case of the ex’ to ‘he’s/she’s not just that into you’. Either way, I’m sure you get the drift.
You also need to be honest about your own availability, especially we women. It is very easy to point fingers at men but more times than not, what you get is an indirect reflection of who you are.
• Are you annoyed at the opposite sex? This is mostly applicable to the new age ‘independent women’ and feminists. We can still be pro-woman without being anti-man.
• Do you make excuses to avoid getting to know people? Introvert, maybe?
• Are you so independent that you think don’t need anyone?
• Do you fear falling in love because you may get hurt?
• Are you always waiting for the worst? Pessimist? Realist maybe? Though people whinge about their problems, most have even more difficulty accepting the good.
• Do you have trust issues? Maybe you’ve been cheated on, or lied to in the past and now look for it in everyone.
• Do you avoid intimacy by distractions? Addictions (food, alcohol, partying, work… sex?)
• Do you like loving people from afar (history of long distance relationships, do not like sharing personal space)
• Are you attracted to ‘certain’ types of people, or date particular ‘types’ of people?
• Are you uncomfortable talking about yourself and your feelings?
• Do you have secrets you’re ashamed of that make you feel undesirable or unlovable? (Pain, rejection, abandonment, abuse, insecurities).
• Do you like to keep your options open or just ‘go with the flow’?
• Do you fear a relationship may put too many expectations on you which may restrict your independence or autonomy?
If the answer to some or most of these questions is yes, then the problem is half-solved. Recognition is the first step towards healing. I suggest speaking to someone you trust or a Shrink. Perhaps keeping a journal or a blog can also do the trick. I believe in the power of letting things out. Once you own up to your truth, nobody can use it against you and it can no longer hold you captive. Please note that an ‘emotionally unavailable’ person is not necessarily a bad person, and sometimes they hurt people without knowing it. If you are involved with such people, pressurizing them to change who they are is always counter-productive. In order to get a real change, they must recognize this problem and desire a change from within. Therefore, a way to avoid unnecessary heartaches, pain and frustration is to learn to identify these subtle signs of unavailability.
Have you ever met someone who is ‘emotionally unavailable’ or are you an ‘emotionally unavailable’ person? How did you overcome or deal with it? Please share your experiences.
Photo Credit: Dreamtime | Ron Chapple