It can be difficult to tell if you’re in a relationship or trying to form one with an emotionally unavailable woman, and even harder to come to terms with the fact that you are once you realize the truth. There might be an intense emotional or sexual passion between the two of you, yet at the same time, she is evasive and distant. She has trouble talking about her feelings or the relationship. She may appear to be diving into the relationship headfirst at some points, but then, suddenly withdraws. She seems more in her own head than present with you when you spend time together, then makes excuses not to see you, or disappears entirely for a while. You simultaneously feel a passionate connection with her and the immense pain of not being able to get close to the one you love. Ultimately, you can end up feeling alone, depressed, insignificant and rejected. These feelings are attributed to the idea that the demise of the relationship was somehow your fault; that you weren’t good enough for this woman, or somehow did something to drive her away. Yet, relationships formed with emotionally unavailable people are destined to end in heartbreak because they aren’t ready to let anyone get close enough to form a loving, caring romantic relationship, not just you. The key is to pick up on the signs of unavailability in order to avoid ensnaring yourself in delusional relationships in which you see someone as the person you wish them to be instead of who they really are, saving yourself from heartbreak before it’s too late.
She Struggles with Chronic Intimacy Issues
Some women struggle with lifelong emotional unavailability stemming from mental illness, a troubled childhood, or a history of sexual, physical or verbal abuse. Unfortunately, the trauma of childhood sexual abuse can induce a chronic distrust of men and a sense of self-preservation that doesn’t allow them to get to too close with a romantic partner out of fear that he will hurt her the same way that she was hurt in her past. In this case, it’s not at all her fault that she has trouble with intimacy, and if you are so in love with her that you’re willing to dedicate yourself to helping her through her emotional struggles, feel free to do so. However, recognize that this is a difficult position to put yourself in and that it will come with some hardships. Thus, if you’re not ready to take on this role, know that it’s okay not to and you’re not a bad person for not staying in the relationship. Someone with chronic intimacy issues may need help beyond that which you can provide anyway, such that of a mental health professional.
She is Temporarily Unavailable
Some women are temporarily prioritizing something else in their lives over a relationship. This could be work, their education, a family obligation, a personal project or a health concern. Those who have recently divorced or become widowed are likely to need some time and space to themselves to grieve their past partner and get over them, before jumping into a new relationship. Sometimes, being hurt by one or more relationships in the past can cause one to fear the risk of falling in love again. It’s hard to tell how long temporary unavailability will last or if it will develop into chronic unavailability. Therefore, the best way to avoid the potential pain of her eventually breaking up with you, is not to wait for her. You deserve someone who is emotionally available and who prioritizes your relationship. If the relationship was meant to be sometime in the future when she is available, it will. But don’t set your heart on her and don’t let yourself get hooked.
She is Unwilling to Open Up to You
Trust is an essential element of strong relationships. However, trust cannot be established without both partners’ willingness to disclose information about themselves and their feelings to each other. Trust and self-concealment—the hiding of oneself from one’s partner and even keeping secrets from them—form a reciprocal cycle in romantic relationships involving an emotionally unavailable partner.[i] If you perceive the woman you are dating to be concealing herself from you, you will grow suspicious and distrustful of her. At the same time, distrust is causing her to conceal herself from you. This distrust can be attributed to a variety of causes: she may have baggage from a past relationship which is leaking into her current one, she may have been abused by a previous partner, or by her parents, another family member or someone else as a child.
She Wants to Keep Your Relationship a Secret
If she does not seem eager to include you in her social circles, meaning she makes excuses not to introduce you to her friends and family, this is cause for concern. Someone who is interested in having a close, intimate relationship with you wants you to be a part of their life. Emotionally available people do not keep their relationship with their partner separate from their pre-existing social circles, they are eager to introduce them to their loved ones and for all of you to become close. It is equally worrisome if she avoids meeting your friends and family. Someone who is genuinely interested in being with you would want to get to know those closest to you, and thus become more included in your life. Additionally, be wary if she doesn’t let you tell anyone about your dates because of complex reasons such as, “My insane ex might find out and cause trouble.”
Her Enthusiasm and Involvement in the Relationship Are Inconsistent
Everything is great at first, she texts you all the time and is eager to make plans to see you, but then suddenly all goes quiet. She doesn’t respond to your texts or calls, doesn’t initiate any sort of contact with you for a few days, a week or even two. Then when she finally gets back to you she has a million excuses for dropping off the grid: work was crazy, her family or friends needed her. If this only happens once, then it’s safe to say she was telling the truth, but if turns into a pattern, she’s clearly emotionally unavailable. If she really wanted to be with you, she wouldn’t ignore you for weeks at a time, even if she had a lot going on in other areas of her life. She would make the effort to see you and consistently communicate with you.
She Leaves You Waiting till the Last Minute to Solidify Plans
Emotionally unavailable people want to feel in control of the relationship and are selfish with their time. Typically, they have been deeply hurt by a past partner, and this has led them to become numb, out of touch with their feelings and intensely unattached. She’ll still keep you close enough that you won’t stray, since she still wants the comfort of being in a relationship, but you’re by no means her priority. In response to having her heart broken in the past, she looks out for herself and only herself, in an effort to make sure she’ll never be hurt again. Making herself readily available to you and making plans in advance would mean putting herself in a vulnerable position where she could experience the horrible pain of break-up and betrayal all over again. So instead, she puts themselves in the position of power in the relationship by not expressing too much interest and by contacting you to make plans only when she needs you or want the comfort of being with you.
She Makes You Feel Needy for Trying to Make Plans with Her
Acting like you’re asking too much of her or being overly dependent when you ask her to be her plus one at a wedding or a friend’s birthday, is a red flag that she’s emotionally unavailable. Maybe it’s even gotten to the point where you’re too nervous to even ask her about these things. If she really wanted to be your partner, she wouldn’t make you feel guilty about trying to make plans with her. She would feel happy and honored that you’re including her in important events in your life and that you’re making the effort to see her. The truth is, if she’s interested in building a future with you, she’ll make you a priority on her schedule.
She is angry at Men
She likes making and hearing jokes at their expense more than most other women do. It is normal for women to enjoy jokes about men and even make comments such as, “men are pigs,” while in a loving, caring relationship with a man. But, if she jokes like this too often, it is a sign that she’s guarded; she has put a wall up to keep men out. She has been wounded by her past which could have been fraught with emotional, verbal or physical abuse or heavy baggage from past relationships. She needs to heal from these wounds before she can be comfortable getting close to someone again.
She is an Addict
Practicing alcoholics, sex addicts or substance abusers, despite what they may try to make you believe, will prioritize their addiction over the relationship. Addicts are so wrapped up in their own all-consuming dependency on alcohol, sex or drugs that they let it control them. They devote so much of their time and energy to feeding their addiction that they don’t have enough emotional energy to dedicate to the relationship. You may find yourself slipping into a caregiver role in the relationship and feeling more like your girlfriend’s parent than her boyfriend. Because of her inability to take care of herself, if you stay in a relationship with an addict for too long, you may be forced into a role in this woman’s life that you never anticipated or wanted.
Unavailability Due to Psychopathic Traits
Again, you may feel called to stay with this woman and help her if she is important enough to you, and this is a noble cause to take on, but recognize the difficulties in doing so. Addiction is only a symptom of other problems, not the problem itself. A study of narcotic addicts[ii] found that they possess deep-seated pathology and embody traits such as depression, tension, insecurity, feelings of inadequacy and fittingly enough, difficulty in forming warm and long-term interpersonal relationships. Most addicts appear to suffer from a basic character disorder. Thus, if you’re not a psychotherapist or addiction expert, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to help your girlfriend through her addiction alone.
Recognize that She is Not Your Responsibility
Unfortunately, many addicts don’t want help recovering from their addiction and you can only help someone who is willing to help themself. You may recognize that your girlfriend needs to go to therapy, to a drug clinic, to AA meetings, to rehab or to some combination of the four, but if she is not willing to and isn’t trying to overcome her addiction, then you cannot help her. Even if she is working towards recovery, that is a difficult journey and you shouldn’t feel like you have to be there to support them through it if you don’t feel like that’s something you can handle or wasn’t what you bargained for in the beginning of the relationship.
She is Married or in a Relationship with Someone Else
Don’t delude yourself into thinking that a woman who is already spoken for is going to drop her current spouse or partner for you because what you two have is so amazing and she must love you more than her current partner. She could be bored with her current relationship or not getting everything she needs out of it at the time, or she could just be bored with the normalcy of her life in general and love the thrill of adultery, but this in no way means that if you fulfill what is lacking in her current relationship or bring the excitement she desires to her life, she will make herself fully available to you. Letting yourself be someone’s secondary partner will deliver a harsh blow to your self-esteem and will end in confusion and anguish in the long run.
She Can’t Commit to You
If it feels as though you are at the stage where intimacy and commitment normally develop, but she balks at the idea of committing to you, this is a sign that she’s emotionally unavailable. This can be confusing and hurtful if you care deeply about her and would like to grow closer, but she will not let you. Looking into her past relationships can provide you with some insight. Maybe she’s never had a long-term romantic relationship before, signaling chronic unavailability or she has had one or a few but ended them before anyone could get closer to her than her guarded boundaries would allow. Maybe she has gotten to the same point in the relationship with one or a few other people as she has with you, ending them at the point where intimacy usually develops because she fears emotional closeness and commitment.
She Texts or Messages You Frequently but Never Initiates Plans
The internet has given rise to a new phenomenon called “tethering;” the practice of stringing someone along by frequently texting them, but never initiating dates or plans in person. Tethering creates false hope, a feeling that many people who report getting hurt often in relationships experience. The woman on the other end of the tethering makes the person she’s texting feel as though she’s interested in them and that a real relationship will eventually materialize. However, in reality, she is too emotionally unavailable to handle meeting in person and would prefer to keep the relationship within the safe confines of the virtual world.
She has Difficulty Dealing with Conflict
Does the woman in your life shut down emotionally, make excuses or turn the discussion into a fight every time you ask her to define the relationship or when any other conflict arises? Emotionally unavailable people have a lot of trouble dealing with conflict as compared to emotionally available people. Many emotionally distant people may have avoidant attachment orientations causing them to shirk the responsibility of being a supportive partner during a conflict instead choosing to stonewall or add fuel to the fire, making the rift between them and their partner even wider. Additionally, people who are emotionally distant and have an insecure attachment style have less confidence in regulating negative moods than those who are emotionally available and have secure attachment styles.[iii]
She’s Both Evasive and Invasive
She evades your questions and is secretive about her life and whereabouts. She might also ask you inappropriate questions too soon about money or sex such as asking to borrow large sums of money, or to invest in her business. Such behavior may suggest a hidden agenda. She may just be using you for her own gain and thus, will not allow a genuine relationship to unfold. On the other hand, she could be concealing her true self from you because she’s ashamed of her past. Such concealment could also create a hurdle to a close, intimate connection.
She Seeks Perfection in a Partner
This is another one where looking into her relationship history will be helpful. If you can, find out why her past relationships ended. Some emotionally unavailable women nitpick all their partners until they find a flaw and then dump them for it. They’re not really breaking up with their partners because of perceived flaws in their character, they’re breaking up with them because of their own fear of intimacy. Don’t delude yourself into thinking you’re the man to break this pattern. It may be tempting to believe that you’re better than her past partners, but remember, it’s not really about you or her past partners, the real issue at hand is her own fear of a close, intimate relationship.
Know That Whatever Happens in the Relationship, it is Not Your Fault
You may blame yourself for the manipulation, chaos and betrayal in your relationship, or wonder if there’s something you could have done differently to salvage the relationship or “fix” your partner. But, in truth, there is only so much you can do for an emotionally unavailable person. Their behaviors and their consequences in your relationship were likely not because of anything you did, but actually, stemmed from the baggage left behind from past relationships, abuse or other emotional wounds. Only she has the power to work through her own intimacy issues, and nothing about her emotional state will change until she decides to do so. No matter what romantic leaps or commitments you make, you cannot heal her wounds alone. It can be difficult to see when you’re caught up in the relationship, but an emotionally unavailable woman will often not be who you wish she was and there’s no magical solution you can enact to make her the emotionally secure, available woman you wish she was. Understand that she is incapable of being your soulmate (at least for the time being), and therefore is not your soulmate, no matter how great the relationship feels in certain moments. It is a hard truth to grapple with, but she has not come into your life to stay a lifetime, only to teach you something.
[i] Uysal, A., Lee, H. Amspoker, A. The Reciprocal Cycle of Self-Concealment and Trust in Romantic Relationships (2012). European Journal of Social Psychology. Wiley Online Library, DOI: 10.1001/ejsp.1904
[ii] Gilbert, J. G., & Lombardi, D. N. (1967). Personality characteristics of young male narcotic addicts. Journal of Consulting Psychology, 31(5), 536-538.
[iii] Creasey, G. Kershaw, K, Boston, A. Conflict Management with Friends and Romantic Partners: The Role of Attachment and Negative Mood Regulation Expectancies (1999). Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 28, 523-543
Christine Lavosky – Website/CV
Christine Lavosky is a graduate from Emerson College who uses her minor in Psychology to develop complex, realistic characters for her novel in progress as well as her creative non-fiction. She is particularly interested in the psychological phenomena that come into play in romantic relationships and trauma and uses empirical studies and research on these topics to inform her fiction.