Dear Neil: I can understand your recommendation to avoid emotionally unavailable people like myself who have these deep personal flaws. But not one of us who are damaged people want to be where we are. From lousy childhoods to a series of failed relationships, our lack of progress about becoming emotionally more available is quite depressing.
Let’s assume your message is taken to heart by the mentally and spiritually unblemished. What about the rest of us? Many of us lack the resources on multiple levels to become the beautiful souls that professional therapy might promise. Your column is usually easy to nod in smug recognition. I felt this one with a painful recognition. In the future, would you please offer those of us on the other side of the relationship tracks some words that will help us grow toward having a happy relationship?
Despondent in Colorado
Dear Despondent: Deep down, if I feel inadequate and fear that I don’t measure up, then sooner or later I’m going to be afraid that you’ll find out about me, agree that I’m not good enough, and eventually dump me. So if I remain distant from you, aloof, disengaged and I don’t give you a whole lot of my time, it won’t hurt as much when you tell me you’re going to leave me. I have retreated into a web of self-protection and safety so I won’t get too hurt when things don’t work out, because deep down I don’t feel I deserve to be loved.
Such half-hearted attempts at love will keep me safe, but they will sabotage my ability to create a connected, loving and trusting relationship. How close am I going to allow myself to be when I’m secretly trying to be less emotionally invested because I fear you’re going to reject me?
I am also insecure and have low self-esteem. That means I get threatened and/or jealous easily, and I’ll get defensive or angry if I feel you’re putting me down, criticizing me, telling me I’m inadequate in some way, or being disrespectful toward me. This means you can’t actually tell me what you think or feel if it goes against what I want to hear, because if you do, I will make it very emotionally costly for you. And I feel empty enough that most of the time, I’m needing to tend to my own needs, interests and desires, and I may not be able to devote time and effort to your desires and needs.
This description is at the heart of why I am emotionally unavailable. You can see I have a lot of battles I’m fighting, and why I might not be there for you the way you want me to be.
If I were going to become a more emotionally available person, here’s what I will need to do:
First, I have to examine my feelings of not feeling worthy of a close, loving relationship. I would have to challenge my assumption that if you really get to know me, you will eventually reject me, and I would have to discover and embrace why I am lovable, and why I am deserving of your love.
Second, I would have to tune into your feelings and needs, and be very careful that I don’t place my needs and wants above yours. I would need to develop a greater level of empathy and compassion for your feelings, desires, needs and requests.
Third, I would have to act trustworthy, accountable and responsible. I could not afford to permit myself to have a secret life, or someone else on the side, and I would have to offer you complete transparency (access to my computer, phone, text records, and so on) in order to clean up any trust issues that I generated in the past. I would have to keep no secrets at all from you.
Forth, I would have to make time for you. I would have to treat you (and our kids) as top priorities in my life, and I would make myself assessable and available to you the vast majority of the time.
Fifth, I would have to cease being volatile, losing my temper, acting mean-spirited or saying hurtful things to you. I would never again threaten to end the relationship if I didn’t get my way, or use anger in order to get my way.
Sixth, I would commit to letting you in, by sharing my inner dreams, hopes, fears, disappointments and emotions with you. I would quit walling my inner self off from you, and allow myself to be known—warts and all.
Finally, I would become a better listener, gain control over my addictions, commit to being more of a giver than a taker, and cease being so judgmental and critical of you and of myself.