Why Do Men Date If They’re Not Ready for a Relationship?

Evan, is it a good idea to date a guy who is in the final stages of a divorce or even right after his divorce is final? A guy in the final stage of his divorce pursued me every time I ran into him and called and said he’s so into me and hasn’t been attracted to any other woman. I was apprehensive to become involved because I thought he would need time and space and to be out there on his own for a while. We haven’t slept together, but still have become emotionally involved and the chemistry is intense. I thought it was time to make the connection physical and intimate… Now, he’s saying he doesn’t know what he wants and doesn’t think he’s ready to make any kind of commitment and if we become intimate, then what? He feels I would have some expectations and I’m not into casual sex, so I’m sure I would. Why would he lead me on to begin with, even when I was hesitant to become involved when I knew his situation? –Donna

I dated a guy for 6 weeks; after a casual conversation to ensure that we were on the same page, he apologized to me for being so detached because it was never his intention. He said he wished that his life was more stable and that he felt it would be unfair to bring me in any further when he felt like he was in a world of uncertainty and physically & emotionally numb/exhausted. He also informed me that he was at a crossroads in his career and that he felt like he may be going thru a midlife crisis. I believe he is honest and sincere about these things because those things are hard for any man to admit. We have remained friends who occasionally meet up for happy hour (nothing more!!) However, I see him online ALL THE TIME. So my question is…. Why do men remain active on online dating sites when they know they are not in an emotionally available place? Is it something to boost ego and fill their alone time at home? Is online dating a hard to break habit? Are they opportunists hoping to “get some” until they are at a better place in life? Or was he blowing smoke up my ass and I believed it? Regardless, I know when to stay and when to go, but I’m curious to hear your opinion on emotionally unavailable/available men! -Stephanne

Dear Donna and Stephanne,

Perhaps this story will lend some clarity to why men seem to be emotionally available, but aren’t really ready for a serious relationship:

Shana is 46 and has been divorced for six months, following a 15-year marriage.

She and her husband fell out of love and they parted ways, but there’s no denying that there’s a tremendous void in her life after spending most of her adulthood with one man.

Furthermore, Shana hasn’t dated since her mid-20’s and feels woefully inexperienced. She’s slept with fewer than 5 men. She’s never tried online dating. She’s trying to put her life back together, trying to figure out how she’ll keep her upper middle-class lifestyle post-divorce, trying to get happy and be a good role model for her children.

She knows, intellectually, that she’d like to fall in love and get married again someday…

She knows, intellectually, that she’d like to fall in love and get married again someday, and likes to think that she would be receptive should a good man enter her life.

In fact, Shana is so serious about not making any big mistakes with this important aspect of her life that she hires a dating coach for smart, strong, successful women!

She can’t even believe that such a thing exists, and she’s definitely not breathing a word of this to her friends, but what this guy writes seems to make sense. If Shana’s going to get back out there at all, she wants to be prudent and make effective long-term decisions.

Shana and I were only working together for about four weeks when she met Allan.

Allan’s 50, cute, balding, a divorced dad, an advertising exec, and leaps and bounds more thoughtful and generous than Shana’s ex-husband ever was.

He’s been alone for 5 years and has been through all the ups and downs of online dating. He’s had some intense one-month flings. He’s had a one-year relationship. He’s ready for the real deal, and the moment he meets Shana, he’s got this gut feeling that she might be “the one”.

She followed her heart because she wanted to be ready.

Careful not to smother her, Allan does everything right.

He calls her the day after the first date to say he had fun.

He sends her the occasional flirty text.

He makes plans in advance to book her for the weekend.

He hints that he’s falling for her and talks about what they’re doing to do for the holidays.

Shana is swept up, having the time of her life, feeling a way she hasn’t felt since she was 20, and thoroughly enjoying the attentions of this kind, decent man.

After their fifth date at a nice restaurant, following a bottle of wine, Shana sleeps with Allan. It’s good. He’s good. In fact, he’s too good.

The second they’re finished, Shana starts to panic.

Out of respect for Allan, she tries not to let it show. But she can’t fall asleep, and after a half hour of snuggling, tells him that she has to get home (even though her kids are with their dad).

The next day, Allan calls her, as he always does.

She lets it go to voice mail.

Later that night, she sends Allan a text to say that she had a hard day and that she hopes he’s well. But the process has begun.

Shana is pulling away from Allan. Sweet, generous, consistent, emotionally available Allan, who didn’t do a single thing wrong in his courtship of my client Shana.

Shana genuinely cared about Allan.
She definitely didn’t mean to lead him on.
She certainly never wanted to hurt him.
She very much enjoyed the conversation, the connection, the attention, and the affection.
She followed her heart because she wanted to be ready.

But when she found herself staring down the prospect of being in another serious relationship, she just couldn’t take it.

Instead of giving Allan more of a chance, instead of stringing him along in a casual relationship for six months, Shana had to do the right thing and break up with him.

He deserved someone who was available and, despite her desires, she realized that she wasn’t even close to being available. Not for the real thing, anyway.

Online flirtation, maybe. First dates, sure. A regular booty call, possibly.

But she’ll determine that later.

Right now, Shana just needs to sort things out and make things right.

If only she knew what would make things right…

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  1. 61

    I fall into a victim of this whole ‘dating’ for fun scheme. I am usually able to read people well so i was very on guard for the first 3-4 months and finally i put my heart out there and got hurt in return. Basically, these so call dating guys are not ready for anything serious but of course they won’t disclose their true intentions with you and then they just want out. I really wish they could stop toying people’s feelings and be honest. If you don’t want anything serious, say so. The more comments i read, the more confused i am.

    1. 61.1

      Dating should be fun and relaxed. Not stressful. We need to stop always looking and planning and simply enjoy the moments in life as they present themselves. It’s like going to see a movie. I enjoy a good movie, I’m not looking to invest in its future. I simply enjoyed the moment. My point to everyone is relax.

      1. 61.1.1

        Jen, there’s a lot to be said for that. I wish people would quit getting hung up on their prosthetics,  metric systems of judging each other by 1 through 10 or the six sixes, or all the other stuff that seems to get in the way of having a good time. We might find it we really like each other on a deeper level instead of all the superficial stuff.

  2. 62

    What I’ve gotten from this specific post is that the woman in the example couldn’t believe that this guy could really be as great as he was and so she started to pull away. The problem is that this post seems to be in answer to the two real women’s questions/problems. Basically the post is saying look at how a woman would behave and now see that the answer is that the guys these real women are having a problem with are going through the exact same thing. I call bull shit on that. Sorry. From my experience guys literally just want one thing. They wont even waste their time and money on one date unless they think they’re gonna get what they want at the end of that first date. And when it turns out they’re wrong, you never hear from them again. Story of my life. They aren’t looking for a real relationship they’re looking for a hook up. Nothing more. They are willing to spend a little money on a date to get it but that is it.

  3. 63

    Reunited with a man i had the hugest crush on since high school. He had mistakenly liked a facebook post of mine. We met went on a few dates and had chemistry and a connection. We had eve planned future dates. As luck would have it , I assumed that we were getting along just fine. He also agreed. However the red flag was that he would always bring up his ex wife that he had been divorced from three years ago after an 18 year marriage. he said he stayed home and alone for a year and that he eventually started dating again. He was always tagging us on facebook (odd for a man to do this) the only thing I could think of, was that he was trying to make someone jealous or that he was genuinely happy to be with me. So here goes, every date we went on he would bring up stories of his cheating wife and a friend of his that wanted a relationship. I told him that I was just getting to know him and not wanting to dive. I received a text not a call on he did soul searching and it was unfair to date anyone for that matter until he get’s his life together, he asked for support and patience. I was very hurt and unfriend him on facebook I figured another lie by a man saying he’s not that into you. Well, he became upset he said that I unfriend him and that I was not supportive. I said that it would bother me to see  him dating other women and that’s why. He didn’t want to talk about it. I apologized, I sent him a nice text stating that maybe in the future we could be friends and that I forgive him. I have seen him online, he has added new female friends. I was rightly justified. I just find that it’s so sad that today men and women can be so mean and bitter. Its a wonder we all get along. I would like to talk it out and get closure but I promised I would never reach out to a guy who says “support me, and don’t hate me or be mad” I need to do whats right for me

  4. 64

    I think this is a really interesting topic to muse on, specifically because it is a subject that resonates with a large proportion of the population.

    I tend to agree with others who have pointed out that the whole “I’m not ready” thing is synonymous with a fear of the unknown, a fear of rejection specifically. The phrase could probably be improved on if it was expanded to “I’m not ready to face that insecurity yet”.. Often when people are confronted with an aspect of a relationship that will demand something of them, they want to run away for fear of not meeting expectations and facing rejection, they run away from something which unearths a related insecurity. For example, when people seem to be asking for more commitment and a person works a very demanding job, they may pull away because they believe that their life choices will be scrutinised and criticized within the relationship.  They simply cannot face the possibility of having their ego hurt by somehow feeling not good enough. They would rather run away than try to create some kind of solution or even better, just communicate their insecurities in the first instance so that the other party knows where they stand.

    In some cases insecurity is pure projection, the insecurities of one person tend to be projected onto the other and they constantly fear the other believes what they actually believe themselves to be (unworthy) – it leads to that push/pull situation and arises from a need to protect what they perceive to be most vulnerable about themselves.

    I was in a relationship with a young man (I’m in my early 20’s) whom I broke up with 4 months ago. He was a classic insecure narcissist. I was taken in by his superficial charm and apparent eagerness to enter into a loving relationship, but as soon as I started to reciprocate his affections he would go cold and distant. I eventually figured out that he was so frightened of not being good enough, he would seek my affections just enough to stroke his ego and then not want any more. I suppose he thought I’d scratch too deep and see him for what he really was…which I did anyway. I also eventually found out that he had a pathological need for attention and was spending most of his free time stalking a girl he’d fixated on via Facebook and leaving flirtatious/sexualised comments on her profile as often as he could, as well as pursuing the affections of other men and women behind my back. When I confronted him about this, he claimed to be indifferent to the idea that flirting with every Tom Dick and Harry in the immediate vicinity is not a viable relationship foundation. After I dumped him he sent me a few pathetic ego-stroking-seeking kind of texts asking if I missed him…I never replied, considering that was after I discovered he’d gone back on online dating sites a few weeks after we split stating he was a “hopeless romantic”, looking for a “relationship”. I so badly wanted to tell him that he wouldn’t know how to navigate an adult relationship if it slapped him round the head, but I didn’t. I’m glad I got rid of him!


  5. 65

    I have made some dating mistakes of the past. If I went into them in detail, it might take days to explain. I will say these two things.

    1. If a member of the humanoid species that you’re attracted tells you they’re not looking for a relationship, regardless of their reason. They might be messed up and victimizing themselves from the last one. They might be “not the marrying kind.” Whatever the reason, I think it’s best to take their word for it and move on regardless of how far you’ve gotten. If (s)he’s the type that confesses (s)he’s not looking for anything serious, then gets upset when you don’t give anymore sexual/material attention because (s)he was hoping to get all the benefits without any effort, don’t walk, RUN away. You just don’t need that kind of negativity and narcism in your life.

    2. I will never put 100% or even 80% of the total effort into pursuing someone, or the relationship. Yes, I know all that feminism and equality is great, but how badly do you want to be with someone that treats you more like a person of convenience rather than a person of priority? Ideally, relationships should be joint efforts. Never “chase” a man, but let him know that you are interested in the best way that you can.

  6. 66

    How is it possible to be without baggage if there are children, extended family, business, or property shares with an ex? Unless the break is completely clean of these relationships, pieces of the past will be carried into new relationships. I may decide I am ready for a long-term romance but it’s entirely likely that something from my past will stress me or my partner again in the future. All I can do is be honest and see how a new man copes with the life I share with him. If he can’t cope with my baggage he’s not a keeper. If I can’t manage my responsibilities and the new relationship (that may include its own baggage) it’s time for an important conversation between the two of us. 

  7. 67
    Art Gal

    Evan. Umm found it interesting that you never really answered the question about men, the original question about men.  I’m sure this is a human response – both sexes do this….but I would really be interested in know your thoughts on why men act like this.

    Essentially I have had two experiences like this…I have learned to walk away when I get the gut feeling the guy is pulling back.  WTF.  I have worked hard to be consistent, kind and make me feel good when they are with me….and apparently I do a good job at it.  And then they bail.

  8. 68

    I think it is possible to not be ready for a relationship for whatever reason. Some people may think they are ready; but may have unresolved feelings for/still have feelings for an ex, want their freedom/to do what they please with whoever they want to, or just don’t want to deal with the responsibilities of a relationship. Now what isn’t right is not being honest with a person you are dating fairly early on about not looking for a relationship/wanting to keep things casual. With the last experience I had this is exactly what happened to me. This guy led me to believe he 100% wanted a relationship. He did and said all the right things, I met his friends, he met my parents, and he even spoke of a future together (ex. me moving down by him since we lived in different states). There was never any mentioning from his end that he was just looking for something casual, so it’s not like I was one of those girls that felt I could prove him wrong and we would end up together.

    Behavior like this is very painful for the person on the receiving end. Especially in my case I am the kind of person who will take time outs from dating to focus on myself and talk to people and friends about past experiences so I can reflect on that and make myself a better person before pursuing another relationship. Often times jumping from one relationship to the next whether to try to get over an ex or to make ourselves feel better will rarely lead to true happiness. This is because past emotions and experiences just keep getting buried rather than confronted. It is just a temporary fix.

    Who you attract is a reflection of yourself. You need to be in a good place emotionally to truly attract a good person and to establish and maintain a healthy relationship. Dating shouldn’t be something that is done just because everyone else is doing it or because you think “you’re supposed to do it”. It’s something you should do when you truly feel ready and are at a happy emotional place yourself. It is a pretty awful feeling to date someone for months and to develop feelings for them only to hear then “I’m not ready for a relationship.”

  9. 69

    Evan- whatever happened to Shana?

  10. 70

    I am one of these people who are not available. The reason being is i’m going through a transformation emotionally and physically and I want to look and feel my best as that’ll boost my self esteem and help me see my worth, i’ll be behind the glass cabinets kinda gal.

    I’ve been single for 2.5 years ad i’m proud of that. I have little respect for people who jump from one relationship to the next. People are so needy and can’t hack being on their own, they just settle for anything.

    I know my worth and i’m done dating poor quality men and the last man, my now ex husband destroyed my heart and i’m just letting go 2.5 years later, that’s with counselling and staying on my own healing, finding myself and feeling at peace with myself. So yeah that’s one reason someone may be unavailable. I won’t do casual either. I’m 40 in a few months and i look brilliant and young but I really couldn’t care if I had a relationship again. It isn’t the be all and end all in life I don’t get why people put a relationship as a priority. Sad really.

    And if someone says they don’t want a relationship I reckon 9 times out if 10 it really isn’t about you at all.

  11. 71
    Dave D.

    WOW, finally I found a story to match mine.  I fell very in love with a beautiful woman who had been in a very hard 20 year marriage.  She had no voice, she had no self in her marriage.  When i met her she had been out of her marriage for 4 months and had her own new place and was doing very well for herself.  She was not looking for a man but nonetheless we fell in love.  Everything about us was the best it could be.  Loving, caring, intimacy, you name it…. I was everything she ever wanted in a man and a relationship.  I was Allen above.  She was everything I had wanted as well, kind loving attentive genuine…. we talked of a long term future, we knew it might have some rough spots but we both agreed it was worth it.  She had her place and I had mine but the long term plan was we would live together when we were both ready, no rush just love and enjoy each other.  It was pure bliss for both of us and she said she knew this was how love and life was supposed to be…. about 4 months into it she started having doubts.  She started feeling the need to be alone like she was when i met her.  These doubts led her to question if she really loved me…..How could she love me if she was feeling this way was her inner monologue…. so as Im sure you can guess.  She called it off.   All of her thoughts became self defeating and she told me she wasn’t ready and needed to be alone.  That was mid August 2016 and as I’m writing this a week before thanksgiving, I am still very much in love with her and terribly lost after finding what I thought was going to be my forever love.  We don’t talk because any interaction we have feels like pressure to her…. It is very sad and I wish i could do it with her and help her but I can’t.  I pray every day for a miracle, bring her back to me or bring me someone better… I waited 46 years for that 42 year old perfect woman to arrive, I hope she finds her way back because i cant wait another 46 years…. cheers to you all.

  12. 72

    Just because someone doesn’t want to have a “relationship” in the traditional sense of dating, exclusive, engaged, married, does not mean one should not date. That’s ridiculous. That’s like saying I don’t want to be an athlete so therefore I shouldn’t play any sports even though I might enjoy it passively. Or, I don’t want to be a Chef so therefore I should not enjoy preparing meals from scratch. Why does most things have to be “all in or all out”? That’s not logical nor practical.

    1. 72.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      You can do whatever you want, but you’d better make sure you’re not wasting someone’s time who IS looking for marriage. That’s selfish and inconsiderate, regardless of gender.

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