Emotional unavailability

Many of the women I’ve talked to say they’ve dated men who were emotionally unavailable. I realized I’m not sure how to tell if a guy is emotionally available or not. So I did a little research.

An article at Neil Rosenthal’s Heart Relationships site listed a number of ways to tell if someone is emotionally unavailable. After reading the list, I would say that a good deal of the men I’ve gone out with had at least one sign!

So does this mean that I attract men who are emotionally unavailable, or there is an inordinate percentage of the unattached men — at least listed on dating sites — who have this affliction? If the latter, is this why they are single?

One of the signs Rosenthal lists is, “They’re too busy, sick, tired or preoccupied with other things. Their energy, time and life-force are all taken with other priorities.” Many midlife people — both men and women — seem to have already full lives. In “Dating takes time” I talked about how surprised I have been with men who profess to want to date, yet have a hard time fitting in dinner or a movie between work, kids, parents, working out, friends, and other life maintenance. So is this lack of time for establishing a relationship because of their overextended lives, or because of emotional unavailability?

And how do we know that we aren’t the ones who are emotionally unavailable? What are the signals that you are emotionally available?

What are the signs you’ve seen that point to emotional unavailability? Share them in a comment so we can learn from your experience.

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23 Comments on “Emotional unavailability”

  1. Christine Says:

    I think using the chronic excuse of “I’m so busy!” is a way of saying that I’m unavailable. It offers a socially acceptable way to keep distance that just about everyone can understand. But as we all know, when something is a REAL , from the heart priority, we magically find the time somehow. Also, it is so true that actions speak louder than words. If someone proclaims they are emotionally available, but I am feeling that they are not from their behavior, I usually trust my intuition and move on.

  2. traci Says:

    If a person is emotionally available, he/she will include another in these “busy” activities. According to your research, I am emotionally unavailable as well. But the activities that keep me busy definitely have room for one more person . . . but only the right person. I would think that this is the same for men.

    I don’t date much though because I just don’t have the time, LOL. It will take a very special person to break into my schedule. I have children at home, and they are my priority at this stage in my life. A man who can’t understand this isn’t very special in my eyes.

  3. Traci:

    I agree with your priorities!

    The challenge is how do we get to know if someone is special if we don’t spend some time with him? If we’re too busy, I think we send off signals of unavailability, even to those who would qualify as special. It is a hard one to balance – a full life with dating.

    Maybe your special guy would also have kids that are a priority (Bruce?). Then you could combine some kid time with dating!

  4. Mitsy Says:

    I have worked 2 jobs for almost 14 years. I don’t do it because I want to but because I have to. However, I do have set nights off and every Sunday is free. I think that is ample amount of time to date in my opinion. Since I have done online dating, I have dated or gotten to know a few guys who had jobs that simply did not allow them to have a normal dating life. The first guy I ever met was a “bounty hunter”. I didn’t think they even existed where I lived, but he lived about an hour away from me. He wasn’t ready to settle down and with his “on call” work hours, he had no time for a woman. I knew he would not be someone long term even if he did squeeze me into his schedule.

    One other guy I dated for over 3 months was a train engineer. He would work 36-48 hours at a stretch and even though he technically was not “on call”, they would sometimes still call him in early, thus messing up whatever plans we had. Of course he needed the $ and could not say no. He had a lot of other issues and baggage, but it was HE who bailed on me in the end. I was willing to work around the crazy work hours and his custody battle with ex-wife #1. I can look back now and see how dysfuntional he was and how self-centered his decisions were. He left town in mid-May and I’m just now getting back into the dating scene.

    The guy I’m “sort of” seeing lives 130 miles away and is a cop. He apparently works 7-8 days in a row at certain times of the month. With that schedule and the distance, I am not holding my breath that this one will work out. Otherwise, he seems like a great guy overall.

    However, I think there are a lot of men with weird work hours out there. Add to it any parenting duties if they have kids and you wonder why they have a profile online at all. Just when would they have time to squeeze a woman into their schedule? I know there are women who also might find it hard to make time for dating, but as adults, we need to know what we can handle and what we cannot. Since I don’t have children, I can juggle 2 jobs and still find time to date. I’m really looking for a guy who does not have kids or doesn’t have kids still at home. Otherwise, it’s a crapshoot if he would have the time I think is necessary to get to know someone. Some people do not know where their priorities lie nor do they know how to juggle more than one thing at a time. It’s those who should not waste their time on any dating site. Getting involved with someone like that is likely heartbreak for sure.

  5. Bruce Daley Says:

    Do I have a say in any of this?

  6. LA Says:

    All men are emotionally unavailable to some extent. They all consume themselves with work, surgery, kids, cars, motorcycles, golf, skiing, the buds, sitting at the bar, gaming, or looking at their navel. I work with all kinds of men and I hear the same thing. They don’t want to have some chick around to ruin the fun. Unless a woman is putting out for sex or a five course meal they are really not interested. They will put in the the obligatory once a month outing however because it keeps the sex coming. I think the one time a man truly wants the companionship of a woman is after twenty plus years of marriage and he is on his way down physically and hormonally. I am not saying that men are evil by any means. This is just the way they are. Throwing tantrums, talking, tears, or stomping feet will not cause change. It is best to accept reality and have three to four men in the stable with which one can rotate.

  7. John Says:


    Well, “I think” you either are just really unlucky or have some deep seeded anger towards men.

    I admit that i like to have fun playing video games, hanging with the buds, messing with cars and yes, even the occasional naval stare down, but I would much rather have a special woman around to chat, hang out and create an amazing relationship. It isn’t about sex. Sex is only an option after i feel like i really have a good connection with that person. Tell you the truth, i think relationships are better off without sex in alot of cases.

    Eh, but who am i to talk. I’m only 19 years old and have only dated or had sex with one person in my life (8 month relationship). I was deffinitely 100% emotionally available during the whole relationship untill maybe towards the end when i started having financial difficulties with moving, rent, school and things of that nature. So to answer your question about emotional unavailability signs, financial stuggles could be a big one(But everyone knows that right?).

    Actually, thinking back on it i think she was the one emotionally unavailable, not being able to communicate her feelings or what she wanted very well. So you could add that to the list of obvious signs.

    Not all men are like what you have just stated, so please don’t stereotype.

    “It is best to accept reality and have three to four men in the stable with which one can rotate.” That is just aweful. It sickens me to hear you say that. That’s a horrible mentality to have, let alone bad advice for whoever reads this. Maybe you are the one with the issues?

    Female Chauvinism is just as common as it’s male counterpart, maybe even more so.

    Keep your mind open, don’t get trapped into one way of thinking. Live life to its fullest, go crazy, have fun, be happy and keep an optimistic view of things. There is no definite sign or answer to anything. Everyone is different. Life is crazy, irrational and unfair.

  8. NYSharon Says:

    John, I wish you were 30 years older and lived in NY. U speak the truth. You sound articulate and wise beyond your years and any woman who gets your available attentions is very lucky. Unfortunatly there are unavailable men out there (sometimes its temporary) but certain women seem to attract them since they allow them in their lives to begin with. (and via versa) That is why we need to trust our gut and if the person isn’t meeting our needs and we feel disappointed often, we need to move on. We should not force it.

  9. Brock Says:

    John you said a lot! Thanks! I am totally with you on this one. I’m 29 and sometimes feel like I am going on 40 and am often discouraged when I hear the stereotypes myself.

    I have been dealing with the emotionally unavailability issues as well. I personally finalized a 2-year divorce and lost my job in the same month. I had been dating off and on and have also been a recovering marijuana addict. About 6 months went by and an old (really old) girlfriend called me one day out of the blue. It had been about 2 years since I last seen her and about 10 years since we last had a good quality conversation. To make a long story short this girl has always been on the back of my mind because she was my 9th grade high school sweat heart, first girl I ever kissed and fell in love with. I held back from dating her for over 6 months and we just talked mostly because I felt that I wasn’t emotionally available just yet. She was too just getting over a 2-year relationship with a guy who ‘didn’t love her’ and she was also recently divorced just before that. I had a concern that she also had some emotional baggage as well.

    I think this is something really hard to deal with because people often don’t realize their own feelings. So my point is that even after waiting until I felt ready to open up and be available I still get the feeling that she isn’t. Now, keep in mind this is someone who I might be willing to settle down with someday. We started dating again and she had been pushy in bed and I keep saying no just to make sure we are really ready. I think sometimes people just want to jump into things that feel good but are not really willing to express their feelings. When we are together it is the best feeling in the world, and it is mutual. But when we are not (she live about 2hrs away) she is often too busy with something or not willing to make a commitment even a few hours in advance.

    From my perspective it is important to be there for people as friends first and always. Regardless if they are interested in someone else or doing something else like working when they don’t really need to. Holding back a little romance might build respect but one must be careful to not miss opportunities to express your feelings. Don’t rush anything; if your feelings are genuine they should be unconditional. When they become emotionally available they will see your actions and respond with the same love. If you hold back even just a little here and there with a command for respect and self worth (IMO, only possible if you are emotionally stable) and they were to move on to something else then at least you still have your pride and didn’t get hurt. Patience is what I keep looking for and sometime it easy and other times it is the worst thing in the world to let time be on our side.

    I hope this helps someone. I didn’t intend for it to be a self rant.

  10. Mariah Says:

    Emotionally unavailable? Yes, it exists. In the 7 years that I have met men through internet dating, I have had a six month and a two year relationship (and some other short term dating situations) with men I now know are autistic to some extent (I studied a lot about it once it was identified for me). They were unable to emotionally attach to me or any other woman. They thought they wanted a girlfriend or partner but when it became inconvenient or they got too fatigued with having someone else to have to consider, they dropped the whole relationship from one day to the next with no emotional reaction at all. Even after I knew about autism and knew that the man probably was autistic it still took some time after the breakup to accept that he was just going through the motions that he had learned to do in order to act out a relationship.

    This is the extreme. The men who are “busy” — yes, they have full lives. Don’t we all. After being dumped with the reason “I don’t have time for a relationship” I responded with a reality check – “you have no family, no pets, one houseplant, a cleaning service for your condo. I have been a single mother for 10 years, have my 4 boys at home, I have a house with 3 yards and no money to pay for services. Don’t you think that’s a bit of a slap in the face when I made this relationship a high priority because I wanted it bad enough?”

    Bottom line, busy men — you gotta want a relationship for real or stop pretending you do in order to get sex, or just attention. After all these years and all these email correspondences and all these dates, I’ve come to the conclusion that mid-life men are too lazy, too settled in, too low in libido, emotions, and interest in a fully lived life to want to do the work of a relationship. In fact, just getting attention is OFTEN doing it for them and even trying get sex is too much work. They use online personals as a little hobby — they pay for a membership and get a set of pictures and profiles to play with like a trading card game; “Now let’s see if I can THIS woman’s attention…” Emotionally unavailable is one of the defenses thrown up from the very beginning by these guys — there’s also “travel a lot for work / have my kids on weekends / recently divorced / friends first” — all barriers against the responsibilities of a reciprocal, balanced, grown-up, and civilized partnership.

  11. Rumbera Says:

    The #1 reason women attract unavailable men is not due to some pathology in women, but due to the fact that it that most men indeed are unavailable.

  12. Tim aka The Foto Nut Says:

    Just so you all know, there are men out there who feel the same about women! Traci said, she has children at home and they are her priority. I am a full time single father so I too have children who are my priority. There comes a break point, however, if you wish to have another relationship. My last girl friend was constantly emotionally unavailable. She had time for me only when her ex had her boys. Even then she had workout time scheduled ect. Hey I go to the gym daily and know how important that is, but I always felt like I was being “squeezed in” for sex.

    Towards the end of our 4 month relationship we were trying to work through a major disagreement we had had. She never had time to discuss it cause she had the boys, ect. There was always some reason. What sunk it for me was when she got her next door neighbor to take the kids really early in the morning until about noon so she could participate in a triatholon, yet she couldn’t get that same neighbor to watch them for 2 hours one evening while she and I worked on our relationship. Right then I knew where I rated with her. All I was, was a dildo, that just happened to be attached to a man.

  13. […] “Hmm,” I responded, “I’m not sure I can define the difference. From the brief research I did on the ‘Net, it seems emotional unavailability is being too busy, sick, tired or preoccupied with other things. Energy, time and focus are all taken with other priorities.” (See “Emotional unavailability.”) […]

  14. Mitsy Says:

    Yes, and I met my share of “unavailable” men who just happened to have profiles online. As I’ve posted before, there are a lot of “players” on the dating sites. I’m sure there are women players as well. I just have not heard as many stories about them as I have men.

    OK, I’m going to throw out a concept that may sound self-serving, but it’s realistic. Knowing what I know now about men, dating, and the hurdles of online dating, I can only say that I learned that dating a man who has full custody of his children (or child) is not something I ever want to get into again. It’s not that I dislike the kid or that it’s the kid’s fault. It’s the fact that I found that some men are not emotionally up to being a custodial Dad AND being someone’s boyfriend. I’d also tend to go for the guy who had kids raised rather than still at home. I can only imagine that this would be just as hard (or harder) for the woman who had small children at home and had sole custody or shared custody with their Dad. I’m sure many men have felt slighted due to the woman having little time and also was emotionally unavailable. That said, with me having no children, I would have “thought” that I would have been a pretty good catch for some of those online guys who did not want a ready-made family (and several did not want more children or had none & were not looking to be Dads). I didn’t have the complications of kids in the mix, so Tim, you get my sympathies for what you went through with the woman who never had any time for you. I hope you have found someone more worthy of your time & effort. There are always risks with dating and it requires compromises and understanding. It sounds like this woman was a bit self-centered. I found that a lot with the men I met from yahoo & Match. Sad that the online dating game has gotten to be more of a joke than a real way to meet eligible people. I doubt that I ever try it again myself.

  15. Gina Says:

    Hey. I was doing some research on this matter and googled in “signs men are emotionally unhealthy” and clicked on this site to which I seen before. I’ve of course met people who were emotionally unavailable, but I think the key here is “Un-available for me” – they just obviously didn’t think we were the right fit and were pre-occupied elsewhere. As I dated, and honestly had my fair share of a bad childhood, I realized that may had something to do with it. Yet, my close family memeber who had a good childhood still has trouble with men who want to commit. I think the best way to screen them out first would be setting your standards, wants and needs. Secondly if a guy says that he doesn’t want a serious relationship, it means NOT WITH YOU. If a guy isn’t calling you, saying he is too busy – obviously he is not the one and MOVE ON!! I was more curious about the guys who are emotionally un-healthy “you know the ones who blab about exes” “spill too much info too soon”… etc… those are the ones you have to watch out for! I took this year, or several months to get to know myself much better, go to therapy (well starting) due to an emotionally unhealthy past with family that was beyond my control. While I didn’t stay in relationships that were unhealthy, I definitely am a magnet (it’s nuts!) They know how to spot ya, so my theroy is if you work on yourself, happy being alone, and don’t stand for what you don’t want or need, you will find an emotionally avaialble partner because you are. Whether we are males, or females were human. I bet you the same reasons a man doesn’t want to get involved is the same reasons why a woman doesnt want to get involved. I think it’s very important not to sterotype ex: all cops are players, all men with kids are unavailable, etc because that truly blocks your heart to someone worth it.

  16. Elaine Says:

    I don’t believe there is such a thing as emotionally unavailable man. Even the most “unabailable” man will make a woman his priority (or at least one of his priorities) if he really is into her. There is a difference between having an agenda, such as “I am fourty and I want to have family and children right now before it’s too late” and enjoying his life the way things are but being open to a very special woman coming to his life.

    I once dated a man who in fact proclaimed himself as unavailable, because of a serious custody battle he was going through for five years and a bitter ex-spose who tried to do anything possible to take his custodial rights to a minimum (he had 50%). Knowing that, I never stopped going out with other men and looking for the right one for me, while still enjoying his company. Well. guess what? He became available. Not only he became committed to our relationship, he also tried to “infiltrate” me into his family life, had me around his kids all the time risking his ex filing another custody modification motion based on his new relationship, etc.

  17. David Says:

    Contrary to what Elaine says, there are emotionally unavailable people. Entire books have been written on the subject. One of the best ones is BRYN C. COLLINS, EMOTIONAL UNAVAILABILITY: RECOGNIZING IT, UNDERSTANDING IT, AND AVOIDING ITS TRAP. Tim, I really feel for you. I felt the heart-break first hand with a friend that I’ve know for over 10 years, and it would be this pull-push over time with her telling me to keep in touch, call her, etc., but when I made the effort, after a little while, she would pull away (keep me at arm’s length so to speak), and often saying that she’s “busy” with things, and then communication would start up again by her. When she couldn’t take the time to talk to me over “thoughts and feelings” (actually a communication issue — this communication issue — and not “feelngs” feelings), I realized that things were simply not right. The point about emotionally unavailable people is that they are not available for you or anyone else, and like someone else said, an emotionally available person would include you in other activities (after getting to knw you and realize that you are a safe person). The Collin’s book goes on in great detail about the various types (at least ten different types) of emotionally unavailable people. I highly recommend the book and there are short checklists to help one determine if you are dealing with an emotionally unavailable person. Dealing with an emotionally unavailable person can be confusing — so when you recognize it, the book does a great job of teaching what steps one can take so that you can live a fulfilling life and avoid the problems of dealing with emotionally unavailable people. While not all single parents are emotionally unavailable, I would greatly encourage anyone who has started dating a single parent to really ask themselves the hard questions as to whether the single parent is really emotionally available for a real relationship (mutual give and take), and while one must be very understanding as to the single parents responsibility and commitment to their kids, the single parent must also be able to empathize with your feelings and be willing to be creative to find find common ground and time and reach a mutual compromise so that both persons needs will be fulfilled, and if the single parent can’t empathize with you too and treat you like it’s their way or the highway, the person is emotionally unavailable and too self-focused and self-centered (if not selfish) to be ready for any real and genuine mutual relationship. Look at the actions of the person and not just their words. ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS. I wish you all well.

  18. Marie Says:

    I dated a man for a year that was fixated on researching and potentially entering into a polyamorous relationship. It took an emotional toll on me although our relationship was monogamous. I ended the relationship due to his fixation. Emotional unavailability – a person’s inability to focus on the relationship they’re in (even though they say they love you very, very much). Note: this man is in his mid 40s and has admitted to never being able to focus on just one person.

  19. Kate Says:

    The last man that I dated was emotionally unavailable. Althought everything about him looked good on paper my gut instinct started telling me early on. I learned later that he mislead me about how long he had been divorced and separated from his ex-wife.

    He kept photos of his ex-wife up in his house. although he had custody of his daughter he didn’t just have photos of his daughter and his ex-wife he had photos of he and his ex together as a couple.

    I believe in learning from mistakes and what I learned from this relationship is to trust my gut instinct. Unfortuneately when he and I started dating I had a girlfriend whowas desparate and I mistakenly took her advice.

    There were several times that I tried to end the relationship and was honest with him. I didn’t think he was still in love with his ex but he wasn’t past it emotionally. Initially it may be a relief that a man talks poorly of his ex but it is still focusing on a past relationship that apparently he has not been able to get over, yet. I have also learned in my dating experience if someone constantly focuses on the shortcomings of his / her ex then they have not taken the time to reflect on what they needed to learn from the failure of the relationship.

    Sometimes if they are always pointing out what somebody did wrong then they are ALWAYS right.

    they don’t learn nor are they willing to

  20. Res Judicata Says:

    My relationship with my emotionally unavailable boyfriend has apparently ended, and my hurt continues. On paper, he looked great: fun, funny, separated 22 months, divorced 10 months, and very attached to his three out-of-state children. He made me feel special. We were very attached the first 50 days. After that, he began to become unavailable. I asked him to chose between “relationship” and “friendship”. We fell out of touch. He sends me internet jokes, but rebuffs my attempts to get together for a talk, a drink, or in other social settings. While, on the surface, he appeared like he was past his postmarital issues, it was apparent that he was not. I care for him deeply, but sometimes wish that we had never dated, for the pain of his absence is all-consuming. I wish they came with a DANGER warning label.

  21. I hate to hear that this happened to you. It also happens to many others. I guess that’s one of the namy dangers of opening up to someone.

  22. Larry Says:

    I have been married for 31 years to the same woman. I have tried to be emotionally close to her, but she will not open up to me. When I try to tell her what is the most important thing in the world to me, she leaves the room. We have everything but love. I am dying inside. I need love more than anything else. I am told by women that I am above average in looks and I keep physically fit. My wife has gained almost 150 lbs and is beginning to be unable to walk. I have begged, pleaded and offered anything to get her to lose weight. In the same time, I quit cigarettes, alcohol, and light marijuana use entirely. I have a lovely, lonely, beautiful hispanic woman paying me great attention. I am beginning to think that I need to take a chance on love. My clock is running out. It means that I will be the bad guy with my family, but I at a point where I am tired of waiting for one of us to die and I have lost all hope of things getting better.

  23. […] “Hmm,” I responded, “I’m not sure I can define the difference. From the brief research I did on the ‘Net, it seems emotional unavailability is being too busy, sick, tired or preoccupied with other things. Energy, time and focus are all taken with other priorities.” (See “Emotional unavailability.”) […]

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