This article on the characteristics of an emotionally unavailable man is a guest piece by Emma Jones.
When I started dating Matthew, I knew something was not quite right from the very beginning, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Our shared passion for dancing salsa united us, and I thought that the rest would come later as our relationship evolved.
As much as I was trying to respect his differences, some issues kept on emerging. It took me a while to understand what was happening until I heard the term ’emotionally unavailable man,’ and suddenly, it clicked: I had been dating one without realizing it.
I made a list of signs that will hopefully help you to identify if you are in a similar situation and decide if it’s worth continuing your relationship.
*A quick interjection from Amy*
First, let’s define some terms. What is emotional unavailability? What is an emotionally unavailable man?
We asked a therapist to weigh in to offer some help in defining emotional unavailability. Here’s what Kendra A. O’Hora, Ph.D., LCMFT had to say:
Emotionally unavailable means that a person is unable or unwilling to connect with their own or others’ internal landscape.
An emotionally unavailable person will likely show signs of being evasive with intentional or emotional conversations and/or unwilling to emote or express emotion. But here’s an additional, key piece of it all: their capacity for empathy is seriously lacking.
I could talk about empathy for days but suffice to say it’s feeling with people.
When describing emotional unavailability, I prefer to contextualize the behavior in a relational sense. Rather than list off all these things he’ll be doing if he’s emotionally unavailable (cough cough avoidance), let’s unpack how it shows up in connection so that you can be well prepared the next time you’re texting, partnering, or connecting with someone.
When you’re in an emotionally unavailable connection you’ll feel three key things:
Quick reminder: emotion is good, real good! Someone who is emotionally unavailable will likely stick to emotions that are safe for them (e.g., joy, pride, happiness, anger) and avoid emotions that feel unsafe (e.g., fear, shame, hopelessness). By prioritizing certain emotions he’ll naturally create distance between the two of you. In moments where you need to go deeper, connect with a specific feeling, or want to feel supported, he won’t be able to.
Another layer of someone’s inability to connect and empathize is that when you are feeling they will gravitate to offering solutions and/or dismissing you. This is because connecting emotionally is not an option so they’ll quickly tell you what to do or offer that what you’re going through is not that bad. If you’ve ever been in one of these conversations you know it’s incredibly exhausting. All you wanted was support, love, and connection and you were left feeling stupid, inferior, and annoyed.
As a result of feeling disconnected and invalidated you will likely feel alone. Friend, I’m sad you’re here. Not being emotionally supported in a relationship is painful and isolating. You can feel like you’re trapped, doomed, or stuck here forever. I ache with you.
Chances are you can pinpoint someone in your life whether colleague, sibling, friend, or romantic prospect/partner that is emotionally unavailable.
We’ll soon see that Emma was experiencing a lot of those signs in her relationship. Now back to Emma’s story!
He won’t show his feelings
Matthew lived in his own world, and he never said what was on his mind. When he came back from work, he merely said ‘hi’ and retreated to his studio. He didn’t talk much about his day, his joys, or his concerns. If I asked about his work, he’d either say ‘It was good’ or that he was too tired to talk.
He was even more secretive when my questions were related to his feelings, and I could only guess why he was hiding them from me. Another red flag was that he wasn’t particularly interested in my feelings, either. Sometimes in his company, I felt like I was talking to myself.
Silence at our dinner table became the norm. I got used to Matt either looking dreamily into the void or mucking around with his phone during dinner. As soon as he finished his meal, no matter how much food I had remaining on my plate, he’d jump up from the table and start washing dishes in the kitchen, or would go back to his computer to play video games.
You aren’t his priority
One thing that hurt me a lot was that Matthew never made me a priority over his friends or other activities. While I wouldn’t expect it all the time, every once in awhile seemed fair to me. When I suggested doing something together over the weekend, he’d say he had to check with his mates first. If his friends suggested anything, he’d go along with them no matter what I had planned.
In my previous relationship, I used to do a lot of things with my boyfriend, but Matt was saying that spending some time separately and having your personal life is healthy. I rolled along with it at the beginning, thinking that I should accept the fact he is a different person than my ex.
Eventually, when our rare trips and weekends together became non-existent, and the only activity we did together was a quick meal at the local burger joint, I realized that a proper relationship should be more than that.
Matthew focused on work, his hobbies, or anything else that was on his horizon more than he ever focused on me. He would go miles to meet his friends, but he won’t inconvenience himself to modify his routine for me.
I didn’t feel important or appreciated, and the feeling of being special to somebody became a distant memory.
He’s emotionally insensitive
If I was sad or upset, he remained cold and didn’t show any signs of empathy. On the contrary, sometimes, he became frustrated and started picking a fight. Forget about a comforting hug and understanding, he wanted no part of it.
He called me childish when I was crying, and he was cutting me off when I wanted to talk about our relationship and my feelings, saying that he will speak with me when I start behaving like an adult. However, those conversations never happened, and it seemed like he was avoiding any topics related to feelings.
The thing was that he couldn’t handle his own emotions. Any small mishap or frustration would disbalance him to the point that he’d start acting unpredictably, and that scared me a lot. Matt would start kicking the doors when he couldn’t take my tears any more or leave the house when I needed his compassion the most. This was the biggest deal-breaker for me as emotional support is the foundation of any meaningful relationship.
He dwells on the past
Matthew had strong sentiments for his past that were related to his previous girlfriend. He was in a long term relationship before that lasted over ten years, so I could understand it was not easy for him to just forget all about it. The problem was that he often told me his stories about what he used to do with his ex, but he never did those same things with me.
In the beginning, I let it slide, thinking that Matt needed to heal his old wounds. A year later, I found myself being compared with his ex more than ever, often pointing out her superiority. I even discovered that they had been keeping in touch and having frequent calls. I am not a jealous type, and his ex lived in another country by then, but it was obvious that Matthew couldn’t let his previous relationship go.
Haunted by the past, he couldn’t focus on what was happening here and now. It felt like his ex-girlfriend, and his past relationship was perfect, and that I could never level up with his ex. She was skinnier, a better cook, a more challenging conversation partner. Her name would come up every couple of days, so it felt like I knew everything about her, and she shared the apartment with us.
He doesn’t want to commit
Up until I met Matt, I thought that I was the one who was hard to tame and make to commit. I couldn’t exactly see myself being married and with kids within the next few years, but Matthew took the concept of commitment phobia to a whole new level.
Even though he seemed to be serious about me, planning the future with an emotionally unavailable man was mission impossible. Asking if Matthew wanted to move to a bigger apartment with me or go on a trip the following year was pointless.
He managed to find all sorts of excuses (an unstable financial situation, insecurity with his job, the unpredictability of climate change) so he could avoid making plans together. The truth was that he did not see himself as a part of my plans.
Matt used to get panic attacks every time I mentioned even a short weekend getaway. It took me a while to realize that it wasn’t about his tight financial situation, but rather about his personal anxiety related to committing to anything.
He creates distance
As weird as it sounds, oftentimes, he was treating me like an enemy. He’d refuse things I was offering him, including my help and emotional support. He’d dismiss my ideas, even though he was advocating the same things himself a while ago. If I was saying ‘white,’ then he’d surely say ‘black.’
It didn’t take long for me to notice that Matthew was always enthusiastic about going to concerts or restaurants that his friends suggested, and he wasn’t too fussy about anything, while all of my ideas would get turned down. When we made mutual friends, we started going out more often, but only when those friends were inviting us out or going with us. That was his way to demonstrate the distance to me.
The way I interpreted his behavior back then was as self-assertiveness. However, when I think about it from the current perspective, it seems to me like a defensive mechanism in an attempt to mask his inferiority complex.
So, what was keeping me tied to Matthew for over two years, you may ask? Why did I continue dating an emotionally unavailable man even after realizing what was going on?
Every time I felt unappreciated or rejected and started rehearsing the goodbye speech, it seemed like Matt sensed that. He switched to the nice guy mode: he’d bring flowers, take me out to a fancy restaurant, and even listen to what I was saying. He’d make my heart melt, and I ended up scratching my head, wondering why on earth I was even thinking of leaving such a good man.
Guess what happened a couple of days later? Yep, that’s right: he morphed back into this cold, emotionally insensitive creature who lived in his own world and didn’t care about my existence. There was this constant feeling that I didn’t have him, and you know how it works: when you don’t have something, you always want it more.
These are just a few signs of an emotionally unavailable man that I encountered. I am sure that there can be more that might emerge depending on your situation and the partner that you are with. The bottom line is to spot the red flags as early as possible and ask yourself if it is worth wasting your time on someone who doesn’t want the same things that you do. Otherwise, you will end up feeling hurt, depressed, unimportant, and rejected. Nobody wants to be there, and I know better that it doesn’t feel good to end up like that.
What should you do if you’re in a relationship with someone who is emotionally unavailable?
A few more words from Dr. O’Hora:
I do want to offer a bit of hope though for those who are thinking they currently have an emotionally unavailable connection in their life. Not every person who is emotionally available is choosing to be that way.
I come across many people who have not been properly modeled emotional availability, nurturance, or support. Therefore, they default to what they know. This does not mean that this person doesn’t care about you. Please oh please do not mix this up. I hear a lot of women lament that their partner must not love them or care about them and it breaks my heart.
However, just because a partner is emotionally unavailable does not mean it is your job to teach and educate them on how to grow in this area. They likely need therapy and other resources that can help them learn to empathize and connect emotionally. And this will take years of effort and healing.
Let’s jump back to the person who is unwilling to grow or recognize their weakness in this area. This is the person who is choosing to be emotionally unavailable. If you’re in the talking, dating, or early partnering phase – it’s time for you to pause and look within: why are you connecting with someone who cannot support your emotional needs? What are they offering you that is taking priority over emotional rawness and health? And, is this the best long-term fit? These are great questions to begin sorting through.
About the author: Emma Jones enjoys observing and exploring the world around her and writing about her discoveries. Human relationships is her favorite topic, and she likes to analyze them from a psychological perspective. She is a contributing author at Thought Catalog, The Huffington Post, GoDates, and several other media outlets.
You might also want to check out some of our other relationship posts:
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