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.