What I Learned From Dating Emotionally Unavailable Men

Dating emotionally unavailable people is . You should never do it. An emotionally unavailable partner is one who “creates barriers to intimacy and can make you feel unloved or unwanted.”

Despite the trope, many women including myself fall victim to the lure of emotional unavailability and the thrill of chasing men who are only 50% present. We love the challenge. We love being the woman who gets a man in touch with his feelings again.

Throughout my dating life, I have fallen prey to the ‘thrill of the chase’ too many times. Every time I discover a man is emotionally unavailable, I lean in instead of running away. I like fixing men who are emotionally damaged and, in the process, forget I also have needs for emotional support and a healthy relationship. You think I would learn, right?

I have dated four emotionally unavailable people.

During mid college, I had an on-and-off year and a half relationship with a physics student from Arizona State University that was emotionally one sided and really fucked me up. Before we dated, he told me up front that he didn’t want a girlfriend or a committed relationship, and I had so little sense of my own self worth that I agreed. I was convinced that I could “not-date” him and be the woman who changed his mind. In truth, people’s minds change on their own, not because of anything you did.

People’s minds change on their own, not because of anything you did.

I spent the next year and a half trying to persuade an emotionally unavailable man to choose me. Nothing seemed strange about the relationship during the first few months. We would talk for hours and waste away summer nights together. We would hangout, watch movies, cuddle, and fuck. Towards the end of the summer, I began to notice a pattern, followed by a slow build up of knots in my stomach.

When we were together, he was the sexiest, smartest, most charming person alive. He pulled me in like a yo-yo, gave me the physical intimacy, passion, and quality time I desired, and then would consistently drop off the map. At first, the time we spent together was so blissful that I didn’t care, but then he began “forgetting about dates.” Getting up at 6 am and working long hours. Being too exhausted to see me. Disappearing on mountain hikes when we had already agreed on weekend plans.

I was confused. Sure, he didn’t want a relationship but why wouldn’t he communicate or spend time with me like before? Was I being too clingy? Desperate for the emotional high of being with him, I excused his behavior and blamed it on how demanding his work was. I justified it by saying: .

He never did. The relationship just got worse and worse. He waxed hot and cold for the rest of the summer but I was so infatuated that I refused to accept his toxic behavior. He would spend a few hours or a night with me every two weeks and blow my mind. We hiked and camped every weekend but only with friends. Upon sight of the smallest commitment— taking me to dinner, going to one of my dance events, calling me his girlfriend — he would suddenly have plans and would ‘see me soon, beautiful.’

I ended the summer 100% emotionally exhausted.

He returned to Arizona for the school semester for six to eight months, but we kept in touch and the vicious cycle repeated itself in 2016. I was seeing a very nice, cute man in my major (computer science) that spring but dropped him immediately when I heard J was coming home. Why I left a potentially healthy relationship for a man who had left me emotionally wrecked the year before… is, quite honestly, still a mystery.

J was highly emotionally unavailable, but never actually said the words and made excuses for treating me like garbage. He always left me wanting more but never satisfied my desire to date him or be in a relationship. The sheer ecstasy of being with him was heavily contrasted by confusion and anxiety when he disappeared, only to have him reappear the moment I felt like pulling away. If my old friend Keeley is reading this —

I believe J was the origination point of my pattern of dating emotionally unavailable men. After our breakup, I became a monogamous serial dater who chased unavailable men because I missed the passion of that first relationship.

One year later, I became involved with a young man from the CACI internship showcase. He was a student from Delaware University pursuing his degree in computer engineering (I’m a nerd so that’s hot), and I beat him in the competition. He congratulated me and bought me drinks afterward. Two high functioning intellectuals. Meant to be, right? I thought.

We casually dated for about three weeks. At the end of those three weeks, I drove two hours north to Delaware University to go see him for a few days. I thought we really had something. What I should’ve noticed, in retrospect — was the oddly willingness on his part to “see me long distance” without any regard for my emotional needs. I was too excited to have ‘snagged a good one’ to ruin my chances.

We had an amazing time. We hung out, decorated his dorm hall together, met some of his friends, listened to jazz… and got caught in a torrential downpour together at 10 pm one night. I remember walking admist a wet, hazy pastureland and taking his hand, so confidently, as if to say . He kept my hand in his as another thunderous sheet of rain fell, and we ran. We rung out our soaking clothes later, laughing.

I drove home from the university on Sunday. Then. I didn’t hear a single word from him for weeks.

When he finally reach out to me, it was a courtesy phone call to tell me how he’d gotten out of an abusive, four year relationship three weeks before we met. He was working through a boatload of emotional baggage but what was even worse… was that . His negative perception of her caused him to have a subconscious block against me in particular. I felt cheated.

Our lunch dates, the phone calls, the weekend in Delaware? . He had been emotionally unavailable the whole time, and I don’t even think he realized he was. The subtle signs were there — staying interested from a distance, allowing me to put in all the effort, being very shy with physical intimacy — but I missed them.

The distance and zero effort was a huge indicator of emotional unavailability, and the nervousness with physical intimacy was him figuring out how open he felt comfortable being. Emotional unavailability, as I later figured out, is a mental block against openness and vulnerability. Being with me made him feel too vulnerable, so he shut down like a clam shell. And stole eight months of my life in the process.

Thankfully, I had mostly healthy relationships for the next two years until Thanksgiving Day, November 27, 2019. That was the day I met my now ex-girlfriend, Cecelia. She was every bit Simon and Garfunkel’s heart breaker, and charming to a fault.

Cecelia was a whirlwind of a person. She was an anxious, dissociative maniac molded by her family environment, but very down to earth and social with all the friends that she knew. She always wore black and acted fairly masculine, which was weirdly attractive to me. When we met, she was openly bisexual and I was shyly so. She proceeded to, tease that side out of me, seducing me for months and months on end.

Over the months that we were friends, her emotional unavailability was unmistakable— she wasn’t over her ex girlfriend, she was bat-crazy wary of physical touch, and had a passive and emotionally illiterate relationship with her best friend. She was an emotional person, but dealt with her emotion by avoiding it.

I knew this time, that I was pursuing and being pursued by an emotionally unavailable person… but she was alluring. She was musical, poetic, dark, and intentionally spent lots of time with me. Plus, I had never dated a woman before so I ignored in favor of an exciting new experience that I thought was worth my time.

Five months after we met, in May 2019, we began dating. We dated for one month and it was bliss. Then, one night, I said I would drive an hour to DC just to spend 20 minutes with her on her break (she worked as a waitress at a Mexican bar). I thought it was a romantic gesture, but apparently that triggered her investment-shy side and she panicked. She texted me the next day saying we should break up and just be friends.

Who spends six months viciously pursuing someone only to back off when the other falls in love? She was emotionally unavailable, and yet went to interesting lengths for ‘the thrill’ of catching me. Once she’d caught me, I was just a dead fish. My time and energy had been wasted. I swear to god,

If I got all the time back I spent dating emotionally unavailable people, I could live a second lifetime.

Right after Cecelia, I had a summer fling with a hippie from Pittsburgh who liked cooking and jazz. Possible relationship material, right? We met online and he drove four hours to my city to meet me. I liked him the moment he showed up on my doorstep and couldn’t the last time I kissed someone in a back-bar alleyway.

He was independent and supportive of my dating preferences, and chill with me doing whatever made me happy. However, a few weeks later, I found out that wasn’t happy. He was miserable in his city, hated his job, and desperately needed to get out. He was trying to land a new job in San Jose before his work situation in Pittsburgh exploded and he was left unemployed with no backup when his lease ended.

He tried to emotionally support me, but was burned out from dealing with a terrible work environment and juggling life decisions. This was a new type of emotionally unavailable — he was overwhelmed. He was a healthy person, but had “the emotional capacity of a teaspoon” (Hermione, HP)because all his energy was being taken up by something else.

When I leaned on him heavily for emotional support, especially regarding my recent breakup, he snapped like a twig. He was so busy dealing with his own problems that he couldn’t handle mine. I ended up driving to Pittsburgh twice to see him, the second time to apologize in person and work through a huge fight that we had. In retrospect, he was not in a good mental state to date or give his time to anyone.

Eventually, he found a new job.

I was at his house one sunny, Sunday morning in late August when he began packing for California. I was very emotional and struggled not to break down in the bathroom that day, but he was… happy ? His good mood bordered on the reaction of a sociopath and starkly contrasted my open expression of sadness. I didn’t understand.

He was, in truth, so burned out and tired of being emotionally fatigued that he had shut everything out — including me. Thinking about it now, I believe both of us were emotionally unavailable and provided good company that the other one needed, but I became available again towards the end of the summer. He did not, and used an infuriating level of optimism as a coping mechanism to avoid dealing with his emotion. When I left that day, we separated as friends and not lovers.

As I drove out of the city, dwarfed by the towering bridges that had become so familiar to me, Seals and Croft’s ‘We May Never Pass This Way Again’ floated into the background. I turned the volume up, and whispered to myself that it was probably true.

Every time I dated an emotionally unavailable person, I had needs that were not being met — dating, quality time, physical intimacy, emotional support — but I justified my frustration with excuses so I could be with the person I was attracted to. I chose to date unavailable people because I was too insecure to handle a man who was genuinely interested in a commitment. No that was way too intimidating and scary.

Successfully dating emotionally available people appears to be centered on evaluating needs early on. If both people can meet the other one’s needs, then it’s an opportunity worth exploring. If not, then move on.

I need to stop buying cheap. My pennies would be well spent on a purchase that actually lives up to what I pay for.

Software Engineer | Musician | Dog Rescue Work | Bisexual poet and creative dark romanticist who writes about mental health, sexuality, & love.