What It’s Like To Love An Emotionally Unavailable Man

Couple silhouette breaking up a relation on the beach at sunset

“Never count on a man,” her father had told her. “They will always let you down.” So she didn’t, and they still did.

Pretty powerful headline, huh?

This Modern Love essay in the New York Times sounds like it was directly downloaded from the memories of any of my Love U coaching clients.

Let me know if this dynamic rings a bell to you:

I thought of him as my lover, although he never said he loved me. When I was feeling concerned, I would ask him what we were doing, what he wanted, where this was going. He was uncomfortable with such questions, but if I was direct, he would answer.

No, he wasn’t seeing anyone else. No, he wasn’t having sex with anyone else. No, he didn’t want to.

But he didn’t introduce me to anyone in his life. Even when I asked him to. And he didn’t tell his family about me, although I knew all about them.”

It’s the smart, strong, successful woman’s comfort zone

Yep. This is what happens when you choose a guy because you “like” him as opposed to choosing a guy because of how he treats you when you’re not together. It’s the smart, strong, successful woman’s comfort zone – little investment, little vulnerability, little chance of such a relationship developing into something real and long-lasting.

“I was enjoying my career, good health, long trail runs with my Australian shepherd, a vibrant social life and the quiet time it took to read a book a week. I appreciated that he wasn’t needy, that he didn’t call just to check in. He didn’t send “good morning beautiful” texts when he needed attention or wish me sweet dreams in Bitmojis to see if I was home.

When we texted each other, it was to exchange information about when and where we would meet. When I asked him how he was doing, he answered in one or two words. When we were together, he often told me how much he appreciated my low expectations.”

Click here to read the rest of the essay, and forgive the spoiler: the man who expects nothing and gives nothing does NOT turn out to be the love of her life.
If you have a relationship like this, why are you still in it? If you’ve had a relationship like this, why’d you stay? Your thoughts, below, are greatly appreciated.

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  1. 1

    Maybe she is emotionally unavailable HERSELF. That’s my hypothesis. It may present different in women, but she DID have low expectations.

  2. 2

    Well, after my awful marriage, I am also emotionally unavailable so these relationships work for me. I don’t think I will ever recover.

    1. 2.1

      Tina, it took me over seven years to begin to love myself and then someone else again. I’m now in a healthy relationship with an amazing partner. Like you, I was emotionally unavailable and that’s what I attracted. But, there is hope….

  3. 3

    This essay felt a little bit empty, as if there were no leader in it. Ms. Dowd said she loved him first, but love wasn’t the impression I got from reading her words: more that she wanted something from him, so she said it (even if she didn’t feel it), and then didn’t get what she was looking for. How can you know you love someone if you see them 2 times a month, and barely communicate in the times in between? This was more friends with benefits. It doesn’t mean that neither of them can love deeply. But in this setting, meeting and communicating so infrequently, and both reluctant to take charge and be the leader, it wasn’t going to happen.

  4. 4

    I know many women willing to accept low standards just to “have a man.” It’s truly sad, but I see it all the time. You have to value yourself and your time and expect to get that back. As Evan says, “Slow to hire and quick to fire.”

  5. 5

    This women is equally emotionally unavailable. I would even say she seems contented with being alone.

  6. 6

    In the article, the author writes: “When self-reliance is forced upon you as a child, it can make it hard, as an adult, to be any other way.”

    One minor revision tells my story: When *emotional* self-reliance is forced upon you as a child, it can make it hard, as an adult, to be any other way.

    When you grow up in an environment where displaying emotion is unsafe, where there is no one to turn to when the hard emotions come, you learn to build high, thick walls around your heart to protect yourself. You choose emotionally and/or geographically unavailable people.

    It’s not that you are contented with being alone — but it feels safe.

    1. 6.1

      I know firsthand these are no truer words spoken.

  7. 7

    I am SO glad that I worked my way through my fears of intimacy and found my husband. This described my life in many ways a few years ago and my sister is still struggling with this. This is why I get very agitated when some people criticize women who end up unmarried and childless by 40, imagining that they have run through a huge number of alpha males and scorned betas out of pure lust and cruelty. Very very few people plan to end up alone. And of course being never married by 40 doesn’t mean that a person never will. But more often than not the reasons a person who wants to marry ends up without an appropriate partner at midlife is a combination of deeply complicated and personal reasons and fears. The only woman I know who comes close to having wanted to be a long term single, a relative of mine in her 70s who has been divorced for decades after a brief marriage, was molested throughout her childhood by an uncle. To say that her walls are thick is like saying that Fort Knox is heavily guarded. BTW I’m not knocking anyone who genuinely prefers the single life. I’m just saying that the scorn heaped on women (and some men) who find marriage impossible to achieve in their youth even though they desire it is unfounded

    1. 7.1

      I am squarely who you are describing! I was single for 16 years, from early twenties to late thirties. Everyone in your aquaintance circle puts you in the ‘voluntary spinster’ box and assume you will be there forever. I did not stay single this long willingly and it took a lot of therapy and work to take the walls down. My current relationship is worth it, but those years alone were no walk in the park, basking in the soothing light of pickyness, and it was always a drag when i was being interpreted in that way.

  8. 8

    I was in a relationship like this and it looks like my current relationship is heading this way. I’ve justified that I have little availability the same as these men due to my own kids and job. I also feel some sort of uncomfortable when a man has bigger emotions for me, is investing more, and has expectations of me. So in many ways I know that I’m situationally and emotionally not fully available. I think that’s why I accept and waste time with men who show signs of being unavailable. It feels mutual. However, I deeply crave emotional, physical, spiritual, situational life intimacy, while not knowing how to be comfortable receiving it. I’m fully able to endlessly give and pour my energy into a man who is a non-receiving bucket with a hole in it type. I understand playing the role of the person who gets hurt. I don’t understand how to find and take notice of a man who’s ready for a full relationship—and then be able to receive what he’s offering. I want something that I don’t know how to have.

  9. 9

    I’ve been with a guy like this for 5 years and I cannot seem to leave every time I try he mind Jedi me manipulates me that it’s a bad idea I’ve been married before we have kids from other relationships and it’s hard to find a partner when there’s kids involved.

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