What Makes a Person Emotionally Unavailable?

Dear Neil:  What makes a person—namely a man—become emotionally unavailable?  Why do men seem to value being emotionally available far less than women?  What are some things a man could do to overcome being emotionally unavailable?

Hurt in New York

Dear Hurt:  I get so many questions from readers about this subject that repeating some of what I’ve said in the past seems timely.  Some people prefer intimacy at a distance.  It’s less risky, and it doesn’t ask a 100% of us.   “Distant Intimacy” is about being in a relationship with a guarded heart.  It’s about keeping emotional armor in place so you don’t get too hurt if things don’t work out.

Ways to protect yourself from being vulnerable in a relationship include: needing a lot of space; not putting a lot of effort into the relationship or making a large emotional investment; being impersonal and disconnected; working too much; not having enough time for the relationship or making an intimate partner too high a priority; frequently getting angry or raging at your mate; being highly judgmental or critical; routinely being preoccupied with things that interfere with your ability to be available for a relationship; sexually shutting down; having an affair or keeping yourself available for one; and using substances (food, drugs, alcohol, etc) to keep yourself emotionally numb.  These are all ways of pushing people away, keeping guarded a heart and being emotionally unavailable for a committed, intimate, monogamous, long-term relationship.

Most people who need so much safety are afraid of being rejected, abandoned, betrayed, abused, controlled or of losing themselves in their relationships.  So they act aloof and removed, and they don’t permit themselves a deep personal investment.  Such half-hearted attempts at love keep them safe, but not intimate or connected with someone else.  How close am I going to allow myself to be when I’m secretly trying to be less emotionally invested because I fear you are going to hurt, control or reject me?  I may profess to love and care about you, and I may make wonderful promises about the future, but I won’t follow through with behavior that make you feel wanted, valued and secure.

The problem isn’t men.  It’s the type of men you’re choosing.  I would guess there are about as many emotionally armored, guarded or defended women as there are men.

If someone were interested to change their emotionally armored behavior and look at how they could risk emotional availability, here is what s/he could do:

  • Look at your abandonment issues:  the fears you have about being left or rejected.
  • Are you repeating a familiar pattern, doing to your mate what one of your parents did to you?  Or are you “repeating the familiar” by having a relationship similar to your parent’s marriage?  How?
  • Look at how you avoid making quality time, energy or investment available for intimate partners.  How could you change this?
  • If you were going to make your current relationship work, what would you have to do differently?  Answer this question thoroughly.
  • Examine your feelings about not feelings worthy of a close relationship; your fears that if your partner really gets to know you, he or she won’t want you and will eventually reject you.

All this being said, the real solution to your dilemma lies within you.  Quit giving your heart to men who can’t reciprocate.  Find someone who has the ability and the willingness to give back to you emotionally.

3 comments on “What Makes a Person Emotionally Unavailable?

  1. I have know a man emotionally unavailable for almost 9 years. He always comes over my house, has sex and leave right away. I use to call and tell him how I a feel. I called periodically and he would say busy in meeting, going to airport to somewhere, I will call back, I have lots of errands etc… He started to say I coming over at the last min. said he workout and was too exhausted to go, I had go out of my way clean the house, shower, made up etc.. I would be let down. He did that a few more times. I may a decision not to be a ” botty call” We did not go out, he just sex and gone for long periods of time and then call. He acted like he was calling a friend. He would say he was sorry and make it up to me for now showing up. Another time he said coming over and he went up north. I called he real did forgot. I finally laid it out. I want a real relationship and you talk like you wanted one, but actions did not line-up with it. He saw me in Dec 2015 last time until now. He had 2 times planned and failed to show up once because he said he had to fix a tire another time he was on the road and he went home said traffic was too bad. I had ended after tired incident. I called him told him I do not want you to come over and run away like I had the plague after he got what he wanted. I told him to find someone else that is wishy washy, does mind being used and abuse. I said I do not want to be last on the list that watching corn grow is a propriety over me. He does not spend a cent on me. He not invest in time, money or self do I am done. He did not call for 3 months and start again like nothing happened. He wanted to come over I said ok and the traffic go in the way. I was so mad. I said one time you are disappointed, a few more time depressed and it a slipper slope to self hate. I will not let any have that much power over me no matter how much I care for them. My principal of who I am is stake. It not even his problem it is mind for taking and not doing something sooner. It is what it is so now deal with it. He started calling say “sweetie? ? I did not know how to take it? He would call when he was in another state so he could have someone to dream of. He would tell me I was in his dreams. It would always turn sexual but not as couple but how he feels? I decide to play along. He started to do the too much text again and he said he would see me later in summer. I have not seen him since Dec 2015 and 2 attempts. He said his friend ask him to go up north to help him work on the cabin and fish. He clear his calendar and went for a week. I point out why with me do you not able to say something and plan it and be here. You made the plan, then do not show up. I done being treat like dog shit. He came back from his trip and one night I was off ( I work nights) he said he was coming back from up north and wanted to come over. I thought ok but if it turns into a no show I will NEVER even talk to him again. He did show up with a bottle of wine. That was new. He wanted to go for a walk and talk about TRUST. He said that he never meet someone like me that I am a very good person. He said I very pure, sensitive to my surrounding, that because I do not do drugs, smoke, drink, eat wrong, do nature medicine, it was refreshing, etc.. He said I never been here in the evening and I like it. He started to open up to me and said you have not seen the real me. I start to feel close again. He said he felt close to me and has never had sex with anyone but me. I said it has been almost 9 years I have not gone to home? I not sure what you do, You do not said why you divorce . I said I do not know much more about you then when we first meet. My questions is do I hang in there to see the changes? He lost his mother at 12 and I felt for him. I need to be in a real relationship and not a counselor .

  2. Wow Neil!!!
    Are you describing your way of conducting a relationship??? Or are you exposeing the way a player conducts the game??
    What’s really ironic is,my emotionally draining,I mean distant man ,is also named Neal…
    my first reaction to this was .wait..so The withholding and criticism,the very same fears you overprotect by imposing them on the lover???
    Why would one be so cruel?? Does one not consider that the lover may too be afraid of rejection,,or even severely ,damaged by the emothional abuse..This kind of manipulation, especially that which is imposed,and with intent.is a cruelty in a class by its own.
    I must disagree in that the reasoning behind it is not fear,but the payoff being an ego boost..”The
    Man” if you will
    .It’s the Game
    ..ie the snare,the chase,the capture,the conqure…the more pelts the more trophy…the more ego strokes the hunter gains by his peers..
    Sure ,I bet the emotionally unavailable are scared to invest in.a “REAL RELATIONSHIP…CAUSE karma is probably way past due for a visit,and anxiously awaiting for you….
    No ,don’t play this off like the victims not chosing the right kind of man when you know thats bull…Men pretend to be whatever to get a woman into his.game….no matter how cautious a woman can try to be…you guys hone in on the most vunerable most isolated,most gullible Bambi then play on her basic needs….you are predators.. and real men would want to protect not exploite such innocence..
    Did you ever consider the deep emotional ,physical,and spiritual damage this type emotional withholding can cause,?? Without a doubt you refuse to take any responsibility for it. When the poor woman walks away from the situation,says she’s done,and the ED male comes back to her door knocking again with the intent to exploite,to me is the same as ,. Revisiting the scene of a crime,. Having been told no longer the woman desires of him , he has now crossed the line of consent…at this point she Is merely tryimg to stay alive,
    Emotional Instability has a real physical affect on a person ,and should be a medical concern,where as any party whom will fully without requard to the consequential affects most like the under consentual age exploite one suffering this incompacity,should be held accountable in a court of law…as this is my opinion,ntil you have truly been as vunerable as the ones you built your ego on..you cannot claim fear, in any form,to be any logical reasoning as to why some men are distant.. unavailable, withholding, hypocrites..
    In fact, I should think any Real Man would be moved to tears to know the deeply hurtful wounds left by such calliousness…The hope that gets tossed,the sickness in ones soul that exclusion,rejection,cruel silence,creates…add the gaslighting and for some,you’ve invited the Devil and it’s legions to your game…
    If one finds themselves in so much fear of relationship,that being a dick is the only way to be in one. PLEASE,DONT attempt it..go get a therapist first or a paid lay. Don’t damage others doe your self gratification…ty
    My Name Is Muhd

    • Hi, I am impressed in how you really understand the emotionally unavailable man. It is interesting that you refer him as a predator. Technically he is. He is using a woman as prey. I am one of those women. I think he knows it. At first he tried to be a friend to help me with my losses. I bonded. I know there will never be any relationship at least not for awhile but I accept that reality. It does hurt that it is just sex. He does work a lot. I really like him. However, I am not lying around waiting for him. I am considered very attractive by most. The only problem I have is I am attracted….to him. I found someone close to my ideal (a younger version of him and emotionally available) but he lives farther than I can accept. It isn’t that he is clark cable but there is something about him. He made me feel like a woman again. (Just coming out of a very long relationship with older gents who passed). I was so hurt when after his separation (from his wife) he disappeared. We rekindled a few years later. He was a little annoyed because we could not get together (either he or I was working etc.) I was a little turned off by his impatience. Part of me wants him and his company but the other half does not want to use my energy to satisfy only his needs then he leaves. I have cried bitterly behind closed doors when he leaves. I don’t know when I will see him again.
      Sometimes, I don’t feel like performing. I dress in sexy lingerie for him and make lingerie pics that other men wish they were in his shoes. I want to make love with him and me. He is a great kisser. Otherwise, for some reason this time around he touches me very little but not in the way a man makes love to a woman. There is only oral sex on him. He told me he has ED but uses vigara. I think this is ideal since I like oral better (so does he). I have a tight vagina from not having intercourse for many years. My partner (an older gents) drank too much. Therefore, it would take patience of a lover to practice intercourse to loosen the vagina a little. This is…….. my fear of rejection.
      It took me a long time to accept that he may or may not be emotionally available in the future. I fool myself to think I am his friend. I am his friend. It is such a shame that he is a wounded soul. I wish I met him before it happened. He does have trust issues. I think he thinks he is not good in relationships. I am trying to support him but he has to want to be more transparent and share his feelings about himself. Meanwhile, I will persue other available men since I am single and not in a committed relationship and maybe someday the universe will bring me a man that I am attracted to (very important to me) and love me the way I deserve.

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