Knowing What Emotionally Unavailable *Really* Means Could Save You A Lot Of Drama (2022)

So, you texted that person you’ve been seeing for a couple months, and 10 hours later, still no response *sigh*. You’re trying not to be clingy and double text (let’s be real, quadruple text), but you can’t even get this person to commit to getting drinks in the next two weeks. They keep blowing you off, and they don’t even care how you’re feeling or checking in with you.

You don't know what you did wrong—and you don’t even think you did something wrong. If this is you, chances are you might be seeing someone who is "emotionally unavailable." It'd be nice if the term was just a throwaway label to help you deal with people who just aren't interested in committing to you. But sadly, this breed of dater does, in fact, exist.

As anyone with a pulse knows, feelings can be scary. But that goes tenfold for the emotionally unavailable peeps, who use excuses and aloofness to hide from authentic connection. As if dating today weren't hard enough, plucking out the emotionally unavailable from an already shrinking pool of available partners is just one more thing you have to deal with. Can't you catch a break?

What does being "emotionally unavailable" actually mean?

Feelings are overwhelming as is, but for someone who's emotionally unavailable, it’s a task and a half to even acknowledge what’s happening in their head. They shrink away from vulnerable moments that would otherwise create a real connection.

"An emotionally unavailable person has a hard time receiving love and other deep emotions from others," says therapist Alyson Cohen, LCSW. It’s tough to understand "the feelings of others, because they can hardly understand their own." They’re not self-aware about how their aversion to intimacy affects a potential partner, either.

"Oftentimes, they can appear quite socially advanced, but more complex emotions that go beyond niceties are often lacking," Cohen says. It’s easy for them to push people away who tiptoe toward their emotional boundaries—which, btw, can be extreme. Meanwhile, on your side, it feels like something in the relationship is off, and you can’t quite find your footing.

But, an aversion to opening up isn’t always a bad sign. So if you hear "Let's take things slow," that's not necessarily a relationship death wish.

As you can imagine, what it comes down to is communication. The person who’s a little more guarded will be "considerate of the fact that their behavior might make someone else feel anxious," Cohen says. This person will talk to you about it, whereas the emotionally unavailable person won’t.

(Video) Dating Damaged Men | 7 dating rules for handling emotionally unavailable men

There are a few reasons someone might be emotionally unavailable, some of which are bigger red flags than others. Maybe they’re just not that into you, says Marni Feuerman, PsyD, marriage therapist and author of Ghosted and Breadcrumbed: Stop Falling for Unavailable Men and Get Smart About Healthy Relationships. Or they’re going through a dramatic life transition (recent breakup, career change, etc.) and their emotions are hard to pin down.

However—and this is a big however—"if you find you are with someone who is willing to be in a relationship, but constantly puts up barriers to intimacy, then the cause may run deeper than a temporary situation," Feuerman says. Unaddressed childhood wounds and beliefs can undoubtedly bleed into their adult relationships (as do yours, btw).

For the emotionally unavailable, "the unconscious idea here is that if you can block feelings, you can also block out your pain," Cohen says. Too real? Try being on the other end of it, too. Neither is fun.

Dating today is hard—emotionally unavailable people are only one piece of it. Here's some help to navigate the rest:

Knowing What Emotionally Unavailable *Really* Means Could Save You A Lot Of Drama (1)

(Video) 6 Warning Signs Your Emotional Needs Are Not Met In A Relationship

Spotting an emotionally unavailable person isn’t as easy as it sounds, but experts have rounded up some potential warning signs that your person might not be ready for all that a committed relationship entails:

1. They haven’t been in serious relationships.

No, relationship history isn’t everything, but it can give a hint or two about what the future may look like. If a person has never been in a long-term, meaningful relationship, they might be incapable of it. "These partners will exit relationships before they are able to get more serious," Cohen says.

2. They don’t like talking about real sh*t.

As in, less talk about their latest Netflix obsession and more "Let’s talk about the work crisis ruining my life." An emotionally unavailable partner won’t seem engaged during these chats, even when you want their ear the most. If you can’t bond over the real conflicts in your life, you won’t be able to form an intimate connection.

3. They’re not affectionate (at least not consistently).

If your partner is emotionally evasive, your intimate life might be getting more mild by the day. Touch, compliments, and sex are all means to intimacy, which the emotionally unavailable person avoids.

On your side, "the partner yearning for emotional closeness may get turned off sexually if that effort isn’t made," Feuerman says. The result? "The relationship can feel more like a friendship or roommate situation." Not exactly romantic.

P.S. This applies for the sweet little gestures, too. Say you pick up their favorite Sweetgreen salad on your way home, to show them you're thinking of them and want to make them happy. They’ll eat the salad all right, but they won’t understand or fully appreciate the sentiment behind it.

4. They’re unavailable...literally.

Let’s go back to that text you sent hours ago. Still nada? Someone who is emotionally unavailable can be hard to get in contact with, and communication even via text can be spotty. It's intentional.

"Your partner is putting physical distance between the two of you, which can also mask their emotional distance," Cohen says. And if they say they’re busy all the time? Don’t even get me started on that excuse. Who isn’t busy?

(Video) Emotionally Unavailable Men & No Contact | Does It Work On Them?

5. They don’t respect your time.

A rain check for a dinner date once in a while is totally acceptable (even you have those days when you’d rather wrap up in a blanket solo), but someone who is emotionally unavailable tends to cancel All. The. Time. Not only are your plans botched, but it’s a way to cut down on quality time spent together.

6. They don’t introduce you to their friends.

If you’ve been seeing the same person for, oh, I don’t know, four months and you haven’t met their friends, it might be a sign that they don’t want to acknowledge the relationship. "They want to compartmentalize, and they’re not willing to make you part of their life," says Darlene Lancer, LMFT, author of Codependency for Dummies and Dealing with a Narcissist.

Now, this doesn’t really apply to familial situations (especially if they have children), Lancer adds. But, this can manifest in other ways, as well. Maybe they don’t invite you to a party or a work social event—throw up the red flag in those situations.

7. They think emotions are weak.

For the emotionally unavailable, people who wear their heart on their sleeves are easy to criticize and judge. This goes back to their avoidant attachment style, which is why they associate emotional needs with negativity. Uncomfortable with being serious, they might poke fun at you (cue: "You're so sensitive!") or try to lighten the mood when you start real talk. "They’re showing that vulnerability is a turnoff," says Cohen.

8. They misunderstand you.

"The emotionally unavailable partner can make someone with very healthy views of intimacy and closeness feel bad about their needs," Feuerman says. They may not even realize they're doing it (again, they're not good at reading emotions). Regardless, feeling misunderstood or dismissed can feel like a harsh rejection, not to mention extremely frustrating, especially when you're trying to handle things diplomatically. That’s the opposite of what you should feel in a relationship.

9. They seek perfection in themselves and their partners.

People who are emotionally unavailable will find any excuse to break things off, Lancer says. "They’re looking for an ideal. They’ll find something wrong with you and, a lot of the time, that’s used to create distance," she adds.

They’ll hone in on the smallest flaws and might even say "I like x, y and z about you, but I can’t get over this one thing about you." Whether that’s your job, a friend, or a habit that shouldn’t really matter, they'll find fault, says Lancer.

10. They call you "intense."

Say it with me: "My feelings are valid." Closed-off people can see those who express their emotions as really intense or over dramatic—and often will call you out on it so you second guess what you’re actually feeling. In reality, they struggle hardcore to be sympathetic.

This type of partner "deals with your feelings the same way they deal with theirs," says relationship therapist and owner of Modern Love Counseling, Alysha Jeney, LMFT. Read: shutting them down.

11. They’re defensive, okay?!

Considering an emotionally unavailable partner cannot, for the life of them, say how they truly feel, they automatically go on the defensive when they’re exposed. They often blame others, rather than recognizing and confronting the emotional fallout.

12. They pull away.

While you’re over here speaking your truth, your partner is over there running farther and farther away. The more you try to connect, the more they pull away, Feuerman says. "The push for closeness may feel uncomfortable or scary," she explains. In response, the emotionally unavailable person withdraws and says (or silently conveys, rather) "no comment" when talk of conflict or your future together comes up.

13. They don’t put the same effort into the relationship.

Equal partnership, who? The emotionally unavailable partner just can’t seem to get to the same place as you. "They anticipate being let down, so they don’t make the effort," Feuerman says. When that person stops putting energy into the relationship, the end is nigh, she adds.

Sooo...what are my next steps if I really, really like this person?

Here’s where it gets personal. It comes down to you to decide if it’s worth pursuing a relationship with someone who shows signs of being emotionally unavailable. Whatever your choice, proceed with caution.

"It was Maya Angelou who said, 'When people show you who they are, believe them,'" Cohen advises. "And in this scenario, I totally agree with that quote." Staying with someone who is emotionally unavailable could be a disaster—not quite the happily ever after you might be looking for, she says.

For the sake of your mental health, it’s important to remember that it's not up to you to change this person's ways. Again, while emotional unavailability could be a temporary result of one's current circumstances, many times, it can be traced back to long before they met you.


A one-sided relationship with someone who can’t support or love you in the way you deserve is exhausting. Not to mention, it could even toe the line of a specific type of emotional abuse, called gaslighting. If the person shows no signs of changing their habits, think of moving on as an act of self-care. It's tough to give up on someone you want, but it will be a lot less painful if you part ways early.

But, if your heart of hearts believes that your partner is struggling with opening up or being responsive to your emotions, then "they may just need help learning how to tolerate and understand feelings," Jeney says. There’s room to ask them questions that will help give you clarity on their hesitations and/or learn what affection means to them. Just remember to be gentle and patient, and try not to get all heated up.

With a concerted, mutual (keyword here) effort to progress—bonus points if your partner goes to therapy!—it’s possible to have a future together. "A person might be able to break down the walls of someone who has some willingness to slowly take out the bricks," Feuerman says. "It is ultimately up to them to become more emotionally accessible, present, and engaged."


What it really means to be emotionally unavailable? ›

Emotional unavailability refers to someone who doesn't respond to your emotional needs or cues. An emotionally unavailable man or woman has persistent difficulty expressing or handling emotions, and getting emotionally close to other people.

Is being emotionally unavailable a real thing? ›

When someone tells you that they're “emotionally unavailable,” it can sound a lot like they're just not that into you. But experts say emotional unavailability is a real condition, and it isn't hopeless.

What does it mean when a girl says she is emotionally unavailable? ›

Basically, someone who's emotionally unavailable isn't willing or able to be vulnerable or hurt in any way, adds California-based marriage and family therapist Tess Bingham. “They can't show up for you in the way in which you want a potential partner to show up,” she says.

Is being emotionally unavailable toxic? ›

While emotional availability is a key part of healthy relationships, emotional unavailability tends to be characteristic of unhealthy or even toxic relationships or patterns. After all, a critical part of forming and maintaining meaningful relationships is getting vulnerable and taking some risks with our emotions.

How does an emotionally unavailable person act? ›

Symptoms of emotional detachment

difficulty creating or maintaining personal relationships. a lack of attention, or appearing preoccupied when around others. difficulty being loving or affectionate with a family member. avoiding people, activities, or places because they're associated with past trauma.

Do emotionally unavailable people ever change? ›

Someone who is emotionally unavailable can certainly change, but it isn't an overnight change and there is little you can do to change someone else. An emotionally unavailable man who can't love must see his closed-off emotions as a problem and want to make a change.

Can an emotionally unavailable man fall in love? ›

Many people ask questions like can emotionally unavailable men fall in love? The answer is yes! They can fall in love when they see the right person. Emotionally unavailable men would be ready to drop all their unhealthy behaviors so that they would not scare their love interest away.

What does an emotionally unavailable woman act like? ›

Being emotionally unavailable describes someone who is not open to discussing or sharing their feelings. They can be evasive, flaky, or hard to read. "They're scared of intimacy," explains licensed couples therapist Brooke Sprowl, LCSW, CNTS.

What does an emotionally unavailable partner look like? ›

An emotionally unavailable partner is often “walled off” or detached from the deeper and uncomfortable emotions. He or she has difficulty recognizing, identifying, and discussing a tough feeling. This lack of insight is glaringly apparent in the midst of a conflict.

Why are we attracted to unavailable people? ›

The main reason we attract — or are attracted to — emotionally unavailable partners is because a part of us is emotionally unavailable as well. The fact is, an emotionally connected partner is not going to stick around an emotionally inept relationship. Healthy relationships expect growth.

Are introverts emotionally unavailable? ›

An introvert can be very social and outgoing. They can take an active interest in other people and can be great listeners. However, when it comes to sharing information they believe to be personal or private, they naturally shut down. Being 'emotionally unavailable' and being an introvert are not the same.

Are Narcissists emotionally unavailable? ›

While all narcissists are emotionally unavailable to some extent, not all emotionally unavailable people are narcissists. But sometimes the lines can get really blurry, especially since most narcissists are able to fabricate empathy for short periods of time.

How do you tell if someone is using you emotionally? ›

9 signs someone is using you in a relationship
  1. The conversation is always about them. ...
  2. They always let you pick up the check. ...
  3. You always have to come to their rescue. ...
  4. They never say thank you. ...
  5. They're always asking for favors. ...
  6. You start to resent them. ...
  7. Your emotional needs are never considered, let alone met.
1 Nov 2018

What do you do when a guy shuts you out? ›

What to say to someone when they are shutting you out
  1. “I understand you're feeling…”
  2. “I've given you a lot to consider. I'll give you time to digest.”
  3. “Let's take a breather and come back to this another time.”
  4. “I'm sorry I said…” or “I'm sorry I didn't…”
  5. “I'm not upset with you. ...
  6. “When you ignore me I feel…”

Why do I attract emotionally unavailable guys? ›

Perhaps you consciously want commitment, but deep down you fear true intimacy, losing your sense of self in the relationship, or getting hurt. As a result, it may feel safer to be with someone who is emotionally unavailable, because you know on some level that you don't have to fully commit to the other person.

Why do guys shut down emotionally? ›

Men are often afraid that if they begin to express what they are feeling in the face of their wife's frustration it will come out as anger and make the situation worse. They feel that by expressing no emotion they are taking the high road to preserve the relationship.

Do emotionally unavailable people miss people? ›

They do miss you but will not admit it

Missing someone is a natural human instinct. So, even if a man is emotionally unavailable, the chances are that he does miss you. But it'll be a huge struggle to make him accept it. That's because they have a habit of keeping their feelings to themselves.

Does an emotionally unavailable man get jealous? ›

Jealousy is about a lot of things, including insecurity, immaturity, and fear. Emotionally unavailable men may experience jealousy more intensely because they bottle up their feelings.

Why does an emotionally unavailable man keep coming back? ›

An emotionally unavailable man who keeps coming back is using you. He is playing out his commitment issues at your expense. If he talked to you about this pattern, you could possibly think that at least he's working on it. Otherwise, he's not working on anything; he's just doing his relationship thing.

When a guy keeps coming back to you what does it mean? ›

10) You're just a rebound for him

Maybe this guy keeps coming into your life because he's looking for a rebound. This means that he was just dumped, hurt in the past, or just not ready for something more meaningful. He may want to have some kind of fun, but this doesn't indicate that he has any real feelings for you…

How do you make a man crave you emotionally? ›

Here are 5 ways to make a guy fall deeply in love with you and get emotionally attached without playing games.
  1. Date him for who he is, not for his potential. ...
  2. Create emotional safety for him. ...
  3. Keep things light and playful. ...
  4. Be vulnerable. ...
  5. Give him space to chase you.
16 Mar 2021

How do you make a guy miss you badly? ›

8 Ways to Make Him Miss You
  1. Let him take initiative. ...
  2. Don't let him think he has you too soon. ...
  3. Don't say 'yes' to him every time. ...
  4. Make him feel like he can't live without you. ...
  5. Make the time you spend together amazing so he wants you around more. ...
  6. Make him miss you by not contacting him.
17 Jan 2021

How do you get a man to chase you? ›

To get a man to chase you, flirt with him by making eye contact, playing with your hair, and teasing him, to get his attention. Another way to get his interest is to let him see you talking to other men, since he'll want you more if he thinks there's competition.

Should I ignore an emotionally unavailable man? ›

Ignoring an emotionally unavailable man is the only way to go as long as you are going into no contact for your own emotional well-being and not as a vengeful tactician. The is no revenge that is more debilitating to an emotionally unavailable ex than your indifferent success.

How do you love a damaged woman? ›

You do it by following these 5 secrets to loving a damaged woman.
  1. Do not rush anything. Can you love a damaged person? Yes, but it's a bit different. ...
  2. Accept her...and her past. When he is ready to open up, you need to accept her story as is. No getting squeamish about what she did or has gone through. ...
  3. Tell. Her. The.
7 Nov 2016

How do you know if an emotionally unavailable woman likes you? ›

Here are five signs that you need to watch out for if you are dating an emotionally unavailable woman.
  • She keeps a safe distance from you. ...
  • She avoids conversations or replies vaguely. ...
  • She likes to take complete control. ...
  • She never compromises. ...
  • She is an attention seeker.
18 Mar 2021

What are good questions to ask an emotionally unavailable man? ›

6 Questions to Figure Out If You Have an Emotionally Unavailable...
  • Is Your Partner Saying That He/She Is Not Ready To Commit? ...
  • Does Your Partner Often Dictate How You Should Feel? ...
  • Do They Share Their Problems Or Are They Ready To Hear Yours? ...
  • Is Your Partner Empathetic?
11 Aug 2020

Do emotionally unavailable men apologize? ›

But the difference with the emotionally unavailable men and the rest of them is that they don't feel any sorry or regret for any hurt they've might cause. Some men don't feel the need to apologize for their behavior simply because they might not be familiar with empathy.

Will emotionally unavailable ex come back? ›

To put it briefly, people who are only temporarily emotionally unavailable do come back. Remember that alone time and space can do wonders as they can reflect on their own feelings. Encouraging them to get help can also help them understand themselves and their behavior.

Why are men attracted to trauma? ›

This is the premise of trauma bonding. Some theories suggest this is our subconscious mind trying to resolve old wounds. Even minor traumas, like the feeling “my parents never heard me,” can lead you to be attracted to, or hypersensitive to, someone who struggles to be present with you.

Why do I attract broken souls? ›

One reason you might appear to keep attracting broken people is because you never fully believe that they are as broken as they seem. There's a difference between believing the best in someone and just not believing them at all.

Can a woman be emotionally unavailable? ›

What is the meaning of emotionally unavailable women? Emotionally unavailable women are not open to reveal their emotions and feelings. They are usually unpredictable and difficult to understand because they are either unclear or confused about how they truly feel.

How do I fix being emotionally unavailable? ›

Here are six effective tips to stop being emotionally unavailable:
  1. 1) Take a hard look at the beliefs you have about yourself in your relationship. ...
  2. 2) Make your partner's needs and feelings equal to yours. ...
  3. 3) Stop the secret life. ...
  4. 4) Make time for your partner. ...
  5. 5) Work on taking responsibility for your emotions.

Are Narcissists emotionally unavailable? ›

While all narcissists are emotionally unavailable to some extent, not all emotionally unavailable people are narcissists. But sometimes the lines can get really blurry, especially since most narcissists are able to fabricate empathy for short periods of time.

How does an emotionally unavailable man show love? ›

For questions like how does an emotionally unavailable man show love, one of the correct answers is he loves being around you. He might not know it, but he loves being around you because he has feelings for you.

Why have I become emotionally detached? ›

Depression and anxiety are two of the most common causes. Severe levels of acute elevated stress or nervousness can also trigger feelings of emotional numbness. Post-traumatic stress disorder, which can be tied to depression and anxiety, can cause you to feel numb, too. Some medications can also cause numbness.

Do emotionally unavailable man miss you? ›

Yes, many men who appear to be emotionally unavailable might actually miss you even though they may never show it. It might not be a conscious decision. For some men, it could be an unconscious choice of avoidance in order to protect themselves from the pain of a possible loss.

Why do I attract emotionally unavailable partners? ›

Some part of you is unavailable.

Consider that another reason you may be drawn to emotionally unavailable partners is that some part of you is also unavailable. Perhaps you consciously want commitment, but deep down you fear true intimacy, losing your sense of self in the relationship, or getting hurt.

Do emotionally unavailable man get jealous? ›

Jealousy is about a lot of things, including insecurity, immaturity, and fear. Emotionally unavailable men may experience jealousy more intensely because they bottle up their feelings.

Are emotionally unavailable people insecure? ›

Many emotionally unavailable men often struggle with issues of insecurity and low self-esteem. Due to past trauma or bad relationships, for example, they might put up an emotional shield to protect themselves from future damage.

What is a boomerang narcissist? ›

You may even find them involved with an Overt Narcissist. The Boomerang Narcissist. Like the name implies the Boomerang Narcissist is one who is constantly popping in and out of your life. They offer very little in the way of believable excuses, but their co-dependent partners keep taking them back.

How do you stay emotionally detached from a guy? ›

How to let go of someone you love
  1. Identify the reason. Ask yourself why you're now deciding to detach from the relationship. ...
  2. Release your emotions. ...
  3. Don't react, respond. ...
  4. Start small. ...
  5. Keep a journal. ...
  6. Meditate. ...
  7. Be patient with yourself. ...
  8. Look forward.

Why do guys shut down emotionally? ›

For some people, shutting down emotionally is a response to feeling overstimulated. It doesn't have anything to do with you or how they feel about you. If your husband or partner shuts down when you cry, for example, it may be because they don't know the best way to handle that display of emotions.

What do you call a person who can't feel love? ›

People who are aromantic, also known as “aro,” don't develop romantic attractions for other people.

Can you ever stop loving someone? ›

It is possible to stop loving someone. The love, as you feel it now, will change. Different people serve different purposes in your life. You can be grateful for the time you shared with this person and deeply care about them, then also move on romantically and stop loving them in the way you once did.

Can men turn off their feelings? ›

For men, being told to “man up” or “act like a man” is something they learn in childhood, and it stays with them into adulthood. Over time, men get really good at turning off their emotions or coping with their feelings in a way that is more acceptable for males.


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