Emotionally Unavailable Men: 8 Signs (And How To Handle One)
If you look back at the last few relationships you’ve been in, you can see a pattern: you seem to always be attracted to emotionally unavailable men. Despite your best efforts to get them to open up, you always end up hurt and frustrated that they never reciprocate the affection or love you feel for them.
So what can you do when every relationship you’re in seems to dead end emotionally?
First off, know you aren’t alone. So many women like you have thrown their hands up when they were unable to change a man who just couldn’t open up to them the way they wanted. But here’s a common scenario: these women (and maybe you too) assume that the man will come around, that when he falls in love with them, he will then become emotionally vulnerable.
That rarely happens.
So why do emotionally unavailable men exist? Don’t we live in a society where men are now encouraged to express their feelings?
While yes, it’s now more acceptable for men to be emotional or vulnerable, today’s man may not have been raised that way. He may have been taught to stop crying and be a man, or encouraged to toughen up by his father. He may have experienced trauma that he bottled up over a lifetime, which can make being vulnerable again a challenge.
My point is: you don’t know why these emotionally unavailable men are the way they are. The best you can do is to look for signs that the man you’re in a relationship with or just starting to date may be one more on your long list of emotionally unavailable men.
And while I’ll address this in detail at the end, I want you to understand that if a man is emotionally unavailable, it in no way indicates that you are being needy or clingy. I know women are hard on themselves often, taking the blame when they shouldn’t. So don’t. This is entirely on him.
Sign #1 of Emotionally Unavailable Men: They Come Off Like Robots
This guy acts exactly the same whether he’s happy, furious, sad, or tired. You have trouble reading him; you never know what he’s thinking, but you don’t want to be one of those women who is always asking what are you thinking?
You joke to him that he’s like an android, but you’re really not far off. He may be great in a crisis, but when it comes to opening up about his feelings (even his disappointment of his football team losing the Super Bowl), this man seems incapable of emotional expression.
How to Address This: You may be fighting a losing battle, but you’ve at least got to make an attempt to get into this guy’s head and heart. When something happens that you believe should have a significant emotional reaction (his dog died, his brother ran over his foot with the car, his roommate drank his beer), prod him gently for a reaction.
Wow, that really would have pissed me off/upset me/sent me off the deep end. You’re handling it really well. But how are you really feeling about it?
He can (and likely will) defer the question, but at least you’re making an effort to engage in dialogue about his feelings.
Sign #2 of Emotionally Unavailable Men: They Can Be Self-Centered
You may have initially been attracted to this guy’s self-confidence, but over time it’s turned into something else. He constantly talks about his own concerns and rarely asks how you’re doing. It’s plain rude! What gives with that behavior?
I think the primary reason emotionally unavailable men can be self-centered is that they can control the conversation. And they don’t have to care about your shit if they control the dialogue. If this guy actually started asking about what’s going on with you, you might — gasp — emotionally vomit all over him or demand his emotional support…and he simply doesn’t want to give it.
Being self-centered is a defense mechanism. If he’s in control of the relationship, he doesn’t have to open up if he doesn’t choose to. He’s so focused on his own agenda and needs, that there is no room for him to let you into his head and heart. That’s not going to change.
As a side note, many men who are emotionally unavailable are often also narcissists. The two go hand-in-hand, and neither is a good partner for you.
How to Address This: Even if he’s not asking how your day went, volunteer the information anyway. Make a point to match anything he says about himself with something about what’s going on with you. If he doesn’t take the hint and start letting you in, it’s time to move on.
Sign #3 of Emotionally Unavailable Men: They’re Not Incredibly Nice to Other People
It’s one thing that he’s closed off with you. Maybe you haven’t been dating long enough to know if he’s actually an emotionally unavailable man or not. But how he treats others is a pretty good indicator of what you need to know about this guy.
When he sees a homeless woman asking for change at the stoplight, does he say, boy I wish the cops would clean up the homeless problem?
Is he rude to waiters at restaurants, always demanding things from them?
Would he kick a puppy?
Okay, maybe that’s taking things too far, but my point is: is he compassionate and empathetic to others? Or does he take a superior attitude, thinking he’s better than everyone else, and everyone else is doing things the wrong way?
In general, you want a partner who can empathize with others. I’m not saying he needs to buy that homeless lady a house, but maybe throw her a few coins and appreciate that she’s down on her luck. Don’t judge her.
He should realize that people make mistakes, and if his waiter gave him the wrong order, politeness would remedy the situation better than anger.
How to Address This: When you first start dating a man, pay attention to how he treats others. You’re looking for respect, politeness, and empathy. Anything else may be a red flag that he’s an emotionally unavailable man, so keep an eye out for these other signs as you get to know him better.
Sign #4 of Emotionally Unavailable Men: They Never Take the Blame
When you ask what happened in past relationships, why they ended, he always puts the blame on his ex. Sure, it’s entirely possible that every relationship he’s ever been in ended because of someone else…isn’t it??
Probably not. He’s lying to you and to himself on that count.
Look, relationships usually end because at least one party isn’t happy. But it’s rare that one person contributes zero to the demise of the relationship. And the likelihood of that happening again and again — no less to a man who clearly seems to be emotionally unavailable — is highly suspect.
What happens when you ask about past relationships? Does he clam up or get bitter talking about his exes? Or can he tell you objectively what went wrong, including his role in the situation? He might be angry about a recent relationship (that’s understandable), but if he talks the same about one that was years ago, you have to wonder why he’s holding on to that resentment.
How to Address This: A man who is emotionally secure can talk about past relationships in a constructive way. He can share with you his insights without blaming or getting angry. If you feel uncomfortable with the level of ire he responds with when you bring up past relationships, realize that he’s going to talk about your relationship with him the same way one day. There’s no way to change that, but you can exit stage left sooner rather than later.
Sign #5 of Emotionally Unavailable Men: They Disengage from Their Relationships
Maybe when you first started dating, this man was all about you. He actively pursued you and did his best to woo you. As a result, you totally fell for him. Now, however, you’re feeling him disengaging from the relationship.
Why is he disengaging?
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He may want to deliberately sabotage the relationship so you end it. He may disengage in a number of ways, including:
- Working longer hours
- Drinking heavily
- Spending time away from home
- Avoiding difficult conversations
- Keeping secrets
- Avoiding you
And the more he pulls away, the more you move toward him, trying to understand his change in behavior. You want communication and connection. He wants space and quiet. You feel rejected because he won’t address the problem head-on. He is frustrated because he feels like you’re backing him into a corner.
E. Mavis Hetherington, a pioneer explorer of family dynamics, calls this the Pursuer-Distancer Pattern. You pursue him as he distances himself from you. It’s a lose-lose situation.
In her study of 1,400 divorced individuals over 30 years, Hetherington found that couples who fell into this pattern were more likely to divorce or otherwise separate.
How to Address This: There is a fine line between a man needing some space to think about his relationship and a man completely disengaging. You’re going to have to rely on your gut instinct here. If he says he needs some space, ask how long he needs. If at the end of that period, he’s still disengaged, he’s hoping to avoid conflict altogether. It’s time to end things.
Sign #6 of Emotionally Unavailable Men: Sex Ranks High in Their Priorities
You feel like things are good in your relationship, but consider where they’re good. Are you spending quality time doing activities like eating out, sharing hobbies, and getting to know one another’s thoughts on various topics, or does the bulk of your good times together center around the bedroom?
Men and women get different things from sex. Women may become more emotionally attached to a man after sex, but if a man is emotionally unavailable, it’s likely going to be “just sex” for him. He may want it and initiate it with little regard to what you’re getting out of it on the other side.
He may prefer to have sex than to talk about his feelings, hoping to shut you up by giving you pleasure (or just getting pleasured himself. He probably doesn’t care if you orgasm or not.). He may use sex or withhold it in a power play to assert authority over you in your relationship.
How to Address This: Look, sex is an important component of any relationship, but at any point, if you feel like the bulk of your relationship consists of having sex rather than emotionally bonding in other ways, then this is one of those emotionally unavailable men you’ve been warned about. But if you’re not sure, suggest going out rather than staying in for a Netflix and chill session that will inevitably lead to getting naked. If he refuses time and time again, it’s time to move on.
Sign #6 of Emotionally Unavailable Men: They’re in Denial
If you ask him how he feels after some occurrence that would make anyone else angry/sad/another strong emotion, and he responds I’m fine, you’ve got to raise an eyebrow. Sure, maybe he’s trying to come off as the macho man…or he could simply not want to acknowledge his feelings of vulnerability.
He may feel like being emotionally available or acknowledging feelings that make him “less of a man” in his own eyes can make him vulnerable in a way that makes him highly uncomfortable.
He may deny that he needs help with opening up his emotional unavailability. He may get defensive and say nothing’s the matter with him. He’s just never ever been in love or close to it because, well, it was always his partner’s fault that things didn’t work out.
Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.
How to Address This: If he’s unwilling to be honest with even himself, let alone you, about his feelings, then it’s not your job to try to change that. Because you will fail if you try to change a man. Trust me. Move on and make yourself available to a man who isn’t afraid to feel real feelings. That’s what makes a real man: he’s not masking emotions but rather facing them and owning them.
Sign #7 of Emotionally Unavailable Men: He’s Never Had a Long-Term Relationship
Sure, if the guy you’re dating is 25, it’s perfectly acceptable that he’s never been in a relationship longer than 6 months. But if you’re dating in your 40s, men in your age bracket should have had some solid relationship experience under their belts. If they haven’t, they may well be emotionally unavailable men, aka those who are afraid to commit.
There’s no rule about how long you want a man to have been in a relationship in his past, but if he’s been in at least one that was several years long, he should understand what a real relationship looks like. And it’s less likely that if he was in a longer relationship in the past that he would be emotionally unavailable today.
How to Address This: Root around in his past. Ask questions that help you understand his relationship history. What was his longest relationship? How old was he? What went wrong? Do your best to not make this an inquisition or make him defensive; share your own past so that you’re on equal footing.
Sign #8 of Emotionally Unavailable Men: He Has Some Past Trauma
You may never know that your boyfriend was molested or abused as a child since emotionally unavailable men often deliberately keep quiet about trauma from their past. They don’t want to talk about it.
But in the event that you do know something about his past, such as the negative impact that his parents’ divorce had on his ability to emotionally connect, or any kind of abuse or neglect, understand that this will affect him, even though he’s an adult. If he never sought therapy, this issue has been buried under the years, but just like the Princess and the Pea story, it’s still there, affecting him every day and in every relationship he has.
How to Address This: I’m going to say this with love, Sexy Confident Lady, and I want you to hear me: you are not his therapist. If he has issues from his past, he has deliberately chosen not to confront them head-on up to this point. There is nothing you can do or say that will compel him to open that door into the painful past. I know you want to fix him, but you can’t. Let go. Walk away. Find a man who isn’t afraid to battle his demons to become a loving partner to you.
Probably by now, you’re going, dang Adam. You just described my last five relationships.
It sucks to keep dating emotionally unavailable men. But you’re here because you’re ready to break that cycle and open up to finding a man (the man) who isn’t afraid of his feelings for you, who is communicative, and ready to enter a loving relationship with you.
He’s out there.
So if you’ve been berating yourself about how you’re so needy and demanding too much from this man…
This isn’t about you.
He’s got issues that you are completely unaware of. He wanted female attention and companionship, but as he’s likely done in his past relationships when it reached a point where you wanted more than he could give, he began to pull away.
You were doing what you should have been doing: opening up to a partner over time, trusting him, and maybe falling in love.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Unfortunately, you did it with a man who couldn’t reciprocate.
Now that you are aware of the signs of emotionally unavailable men, you can watch out for them in the early days of dating so that you don’t end up investing too much time and energy into them before you realize you’ll never get what you want. You’re now going to be a ninja at stealthily observing these guys to pick out the ones who can’t commit and run the other way from them.
So congratulate yourself. You now know what to avoid so that you steer clear of men who will never open up to you emotionally, and that puts you on the right path to love.
Leave a comment below if you’ve ever dated emotionally unavailable men, and how you dealt with them.