Along with physical and mental health, being someone that is capable of emotional intimacy is one of the pillars of a strong person and a necessity for being in a strong relationship. If your relationship history points to the possibility of you being an emotionally unavailable person and you have trouble getting a handle on your own emotions – or if you’re in a relationship with an emotionally unavailable partner – you may have a hard time making things work in the long run unless one of you is willing to change.
While all of us may need space in a relationship to be ourselves, pursue our goals or spend time with friends, there’s still a sense of intimacy in a true partnership. Without a genuine closeness, and the deep emotions that go with it, it’s hard to sustain a romantic partnership that can stand the test of time. Having an emotionally available person to share that journey with makes things infinitely easier.
If you think your partner may be emotionally unavailable, or you have a hunch that you may have issues with emotional connection, read on to understand more about what it really means to be unavailable emotionally and how this distance can affect a romantic bond.
Emotionally unavailable meaning
The term “emotionally unavailable” isn’t an official psychological condition or diagnosis. But it is a very real phenomenon that people in the dating world comment on frequency. The term describes people who appear to be scared of emotional intimacy—they aren’t open to talking about their feelings and like to keep things light and surface level.
Emotionally unavailable people tend to be flaky, non committal and avoidant of a serious relationship. They can lack depth in conversation. They may have trouble communicating about anything other than superficial topics and they can’t talk about their feelings (or yours) without serious discomfort.
Emotional unavailability seems rampant these days in the dating world when someone better is always just a quick swipe away, or so it seems. This leaves many people looking for long term relationships stuck dating an emotionally unavailable partner with whom they can’t find true depth.
Signs of an emotionally unavailable person
It’s all too easy to excuse away some of the signs of someone being emotionally unavailable or confusing these signals for someone who’s shy or someone who’s just busy with work. It’s important to really pay attention and keep yourself from justifying emotionally unavailable behaviors so you don’t waste your time with someone who’s just not ready for the kind of intimacy you want (and need) in a relationship.
But in the end, it’s fairly easy to spot someone who’s emotionally unavailable after a few dates. The warning signs are fairly blatant. Unfortunately, many people only see (and hear) what they want to when they’re dating someone new.
Here are six of the major signs of an emotionally unavailable person:
They control the routine.
Emotionally unavailable people don’t like to be forced out of their typical routine. In most cases, you will need to find a way to fit into their life, instead of you both incorporating each other into your day-to-day existences.
This translates to them only wanting to hang out when it’s convenient for them and going to places that are easy for them as well. They won’t be battling traffic to come to your side of town or going out of their way to see your friend’s band play.
They can’t make solid plans
An emotionally unavailable partner is wishy-washy about making plans to hang out. If they do commit to plans, they are apt to cancel or back out at the last minute with a well thought out excuse.
They aren’t concerned about letting you down and, honestly, that idea likely won’t even occur to them. They just don’t like being tied to future commitments and only want to do things that they want to do—when they want to do them.
They won’t define the relationship.
Being unable to talk about their feelings is a clear warning sign of an emotionally unavailable person. When it comes to making things “official” in terms of your relationship, they won’t want to put a label on what you are.
They’ll talk about taking things slow or keeping their options open or make an excuse about getting burned in their last relationship. Usually, these are just excuses for not wanting to actually get close to you.
They seem to feel overwhelmed or smothered by emotional intimacy.
Emotional availability is all about expressing feelings and emotional needs, sharing these emotions and hearing about someone else’s feelings in return. All of this is too much for emotionally unavailable people. They seek distance, sometimes even physical distance, if you try to take your conversation to a deeper level. They may feel uncomfortable or just not be able to “go there” with you.
They don’t do any of the heavy lifting in your relationship.
An emotionally unavailable partner will never put in the same effort as you do when it comes to planning dates, talking about issues in your relationship, discussing your future—basically, anything that would cause them to make more than a minimal effort.
They shy away from deep conversations and don’t think ahead about planning for your birthday or your anniversary. They may make excuses about “not being good at” doing those kinds of things as a cop out to not have to do anything outside of their comfort zone.
You never seem to feel close to them, no matter how long you’ve been together.
When you’re with an emotionally unavailable person, your relationship never truly develops on that deeper level. You don’t feel a sense of intimacy after being with them for a few months, or even years. This can take a toll on your mental health when you feel distant from the one person you’re supposed to feel super close with.
How to tell if you’re emotionally unavailable
Now that you know some of the hallmark qualities of emotionally unavailable people, you may be considering your own emotional availability. If any of the above sounded familiar in an internal sense, here are a few more signs you can evaluate to see if you are actually emotionally unavailable—or at the very least emotionally averse.
You’re afraid of committing to someone.
Emotional unavailability is connected to attachment issues. You may be scared of getting into a committed relationship because you can’t predict what the future will hold and the unknowns are too overwhelming to contemplate. Or you may be worried that if you don’t keep your options open, you might miss out on someone better or someone who you think could be more of an ideal match for you. In any case, fully committing to someone else feels really uncomfortable.
You love the chase—and feel repelled by reciprocation.
Once you find yourself in a committed relationship and the exciting, uncertain period of dating is over, you start to look for an exit strategy. As intimacy and emotional bonds build, so does your discomfort. If your partner starts declaring love or deep feelings, you’re ready to run. You may have even ghosted people in the past just as a relationship was heading from the lust phase into the love phase because you were too uncomfortable.
You end relationships over minor issues.
It seems like you’re always looking for an excuse to get out of a relationship. You may tell yourself that you just have super high expectations but really you’re just worried about things getting too serious or emotional and you find issues and flaws to nit-pick so you can make your case to exit the situation.
You might complain to your friends that your new partner is “perfect, except for…” and this soon becomes your dating schtick. You always find faults in people you date, even if they seem to check all of your boxes.
You have a hard time letting someone in.
Emotional vulnerability is scary. You may not even realize that you can’t get on that deeper level with someone else, or why you don’t want to let people in. You might just have an aversion to allowing anyone to get to know the real you.
Maybe you’re scared that if they really know you, they won’t like what they see. Maybe you didn’t see an emotionally vulnerable relationship modeled for you when you were growing up so you’re clueless about what kinds of feelings people typically reveal to their partners. But you are so closed off that it’s hard for you to even tap into these feelings and fears.
You fear losing your autonomy.
Your emotional unavailability may stem from a belief that if you get into a committed relationship you can never truly be yourself again. You may worry about being swallowed up in your partnership and never have any emotional space or physical autonomy. This is a legitimate fear if you’ve seen other people in relationships lose themselves in their partnerships, particularly if this kind of relationship was modeled for you when you were growing up.
What to do if you have an emotionally unavailable partner
If you think you may have an emotionally unavailable partner, it’s important to understand that their behavior is not your fault. Some people who are emotionally avoidant can act in ways that borderline on emotional abuse, making you feel less than or not good enough for them, or just constantly keeping you guessing about where you stand. This can really take an emotional toll and erode your mental health.
Know that their emotional unavailability is on them. And, as such, it’s on them to want to change and grow to become more emotionally available. If you’re having a hard time being in the relationship as is, maybe it’s time to discuss the lack of emotional intimacy in your partnership and see if this issue is something they would like to work on (with you or by themselves).
Would they be willing to talk about it? Maybe go to therapy with you or solo? If the answer is yes, you may have a shot at a real relationship that can have the depth you need to make it in the long run.
If not, you may need to cut your losses sooner rather than later. An emotionally unavailable person has to want to change—you can’t force them to be different from who they are. If you really seek a loving, equal partnership, you likely won’t find it with that person.
You may also want to look into what attracted you to someone who is so closed off in the first place. If you find that you always seem to end up with someone who’s emotionally unavailable, you may be emotionally unavailable yourself, or you could have some attachment issues you need to work through.
By working on yourself, and knowing what level of intimacy you need in a partnership to really be happy, you can avoid these unavailable types when you see the first warning signs.
Can a relationship with an emotionally unavailable person work out?
The answer to this question is tricky. Can you be in a relationship with an emotionally unavailable person? Of course. Emotionally unavailable people have partners, get married, have kids and friends and all kinds of relationships just like anyone else. So perhaps this isn’t the right question to ask.
The real questions you need to answer are:
- What kind of relationship would be the most fulfilling for you?
- How much intimacy do you want in a partnership?
- Are you looking for a serious, committed relationship in which both people are truly invested?
While emotional unavailability probably won’t work when creating healthy relationships that will stand the test of time, being with someone avoidant doesn’t make a big difference if you’re simply having a fling and just hooking up.
It all comes down to what you really want out of a relationship, now and in the future, and what you think will be best for your mental health. For some people, dating an emotionally avoidant person helps them keep things casual and simple since they’re just looking to have some fun. For others, emotional intimacy is a must-have because they want to develop a long term partnership.
Only you know what dating behaviors are deal breakers for you. The important thing is that you stay true to yourself and your romance goals. Don’t compromise intimacy if you really want to know someone (and be known) on that deeper level. You deserve whatever it is you’re seeking.