3 Signs of an Emotionally Unavailable Person.

Via Kimberly Lo
on Feb 6, 2014
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Danger sign keep away

Out of all the emotional vampires out there, being in relationships with emotionally unavailable people is the worst.

Some people who have never had the experience ask, “Well, why did you get involved with someone like this in the first place?”

It’s a fair question and a good one because it points out a common misconception that many have about emotionally unavailable people.

Despite what some think, emotionally distant people don’t always come across that way—at least, not at first. Indeed, many of them are fans of self-help or members of the mind and body community and on the surface appear to be emotionally available people.

They often show great moments of tenderness and intimacy. For the people who end up falling in love with them, that is what lures them in and why they stay. Those moments do not last long.

Therefore, if you are in a new relationship with someone who seems more mercurial than the weather, read ahead.

You may be in a relationship with an emotionally unavailable individual if:

1. There’s a tendency to have relationships with people who are physically unavailable.

Many emotionally unavailable people have a history of long-distance relationships or a habit of falling in love with people they have known for only short periods of time. (Think of the classic, “I met the girl/guy of my dreams on vacation.”) The fact that the person they long for is out of reach is often the spark that keeps the relationship going. However, once they get them—say, the person moves closer to be with them—the relationships tend to quickly fizzle out.

It’s easy to “love” someone we don’t know a lot about. It’s easier not to have to deal with those quirks and faults on a daily basis which over time may end up bothering us.

For the emotionally unavailable, there is the added benefit that they can have some of the perks of a relationship without actually having to be around them most of the time. There is literally distance between them.

This ties in closely to number two on the list.

2.  There’s an unwillingness to commit.

While some immediately think the above statement means: won’t commit to a long-term relationship or marriage, it goes deeper than that. Often, they will not commit to anything, even in the short-term. They may say, “Let’s not talk about the future” or “Let’s live in the present.”

On the surface, statements like these appear reasonable. After all, who can disagree that we should live in the present? While it is nice to live in the present, at some point all of us have to look to the future. If you’ve been seeing someone for a while, it’s not unreasonable to want to know if there is a possibility for a future.

Another big clue may be how often (or little) they say, “I love you.”

While some people are just naturally more comfortable saying the “L” word than others, the emotionally unavailable type may actually get upset even if you say it. When they do say it, often it’s “I love you, but. . . ” (That “but” could be anything from “but I am not in love,” “but I am not sure what love is,” or “but that doesn’t mean forever.”)

If the person in your life cannot say, “I love you” and simply leave it at that, it may not be the sort of love you need or want.

3. They appear insensitive to the needs of others or have highly unrealistic expectations.

Often when the emotionally unavailable person leaves a relationship, there is no warning. It’s common for people on the receiving end to say, “It came out of the blue.” They may also express genuine surprise that you are not happy for them if they are leaving you for another love interest.

I know of one case where a woman who dumped her partner (who had moved across country to be with her) was genuinely surprised that he was not happy when she shared that her new love interest was the greatest person in the world.

Sometimes it seems that they are lacking sensitivity or even basic human empathy but unlike someone who is deliberately trying to be mean or invoke a jealous reaction, they simply do not grasp they may be hurting someone.

In that case, be prepared for the fact that they may never “get” that they hurt you or anyone else. As frustrating as it can be, it may be more useful to try and move on. While it’s good to try to get  some closure and “get it all out,” your closure may be accepting that this is a person who will never get it.

While everyone can be emotionally distant at times, the emotionally unavailable person is a different creature entirely.

Should you find yourself with one of these types, realize that without professional help and the desire to want to change for themselves, these sorts are never going to change because of you.

Lastly, you’re not a failure. It’s likely that others have tried before you and were met with defeat as well.

May you move on to better things, and may you find someone who will allow themselves to be emotionally available to you.


Relephant reads:

Are You Dating Someone Who’s Married to Their Job? 

Finding Freedom From the Pain of Rejection. 

Relationship Intelligence: The Key to Picking a Life Partner.



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Editor: Cat Beekmans

Photo: Leo Reynolds/Flickr

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About Kimberly Lo

Kimberly Lo is a yoga instructor and freelance editor & writer based in Charlottesville, VA. In her spare time, she enjoys needlework, travel, and photography. Connect with her on Facebook.


53 Responses to “3 Signs of an Emotionally Unavailable Person.”

  1. hexbomb007 says:

    What if I am the emotionally unavailable one!!?!?! I know my heart is shut and I am everything you describe in this article.

  2. bholdsworth7 says:

    Great article – let me add to your list of buts – "I love you, but I should love you more". It took three rounds of relationship before I finally realized this would never happen. I have learned from the experience and feel grateful as it pushed me into a deeper look at my patterns, needs, and boundaries. I feel better about myself from the whole experience AND it was incredibly painful. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.

  3. Alex says:

    Agreed with the first one. Very well phrased and put…However, the other 2 apply i would say only to the needy & clingy relationship type. The only commitment and attachment one should make is to the present moment. The future does not exist- True unconditional love has no expiry date so it needs no commitment. As to 'not being happy for the other' – same thing, a selfish and possessive 'love' makes one unhappy- this is not love at all.

  4. I think there was are times it is healthy to be emotionally unavailable. I was in a relationship with an abusive drug addict. There came a point when I no longer made myself emotionally available to that person but I also felt manipulated to stay in the relationship. Even after he went to rehab and a sought help, I basically no longer made myself emotionally available or was willing to invest any emotional energy to my ex. I know I should have just left and walked away entirely. However, I ended up committing #3 where I found someone else (who I am still with) while still living with my ex. The fact of the matter is I emotionally checked out a long time ago and despite all the positive changes he had made, I was never going to be willing to make myself available to my ex again.

  5. swati jr* says:

    Excellent article!! Thank you. SPOT. ON.

  6. Argenta says:

    This article resonated so much with me — I've recently managed to divorce such a person, after 13 years of trying to mold myself so that he would be happy and love me, for I was constantly being persuaded that it was I who was emotionally over-demanding and unstable. After so many years of emotional and mental abuse, leading to severe depression and crippling low self-esteem, I finally managed to figure it has never been me, and try to move on. I would never wish such anguish to anyone, especially when coupled with my family's protestations that if he is not an addict, womanizer or gambler I should be happy to have him.

  7. I like this article. It's clear, concise, and practical, and I came away from it feeling both that I'd learned something and that I had food for further reflection.

    As someone who has found himself getting involved with emotionally unavailable people at times, I'd add that there's often a perceived need that these relationships meet. I've found, for example, that such people are often very good at making me feel special at first, and that I respond by forgetting to engage my brain before falling in love with them. Before I know it, I've destabilised my life for someone who's suddenly unavailable.

    So, I'd agree that sometimes the only option is to get out of these situations. I'd also suggest that it takes two to tango, and that anyone who finds themselves getting involved with the emotionally unavailable type more than once needs to ask themselves about their own role in the situation.

    The guy you mention, for example: A horribly cruel response on the part of the woman, and yet, if I was him, I'd want to analyse my willingness to put myself in that situation (moving across the country for someone that unstable). Could I have thought it through a bit more carefully? Did I really listen to my intuition, or did I press on thinking that this person was 'The One', and therefore they were certain to love and understand me unconditionally?

    I know the experience of being a little TOO trusting because, like David Duchovny, I wanted to believe, and having it come back to bite me on the ass.

    Thanks for the article. I look forward to reading more of your work.

  8. ali says:

    I am currently in a relationship with someone like that… moments before reading this i was thinking about how ever since we started dating he barely said anything PERSONAL towards me, and how this feeling of anguish and low self esteem seems to have been around ever since… I even had strong dreams and now feel such anxiety which i had never experienced before… It is so hard because every time i try to communicate i end up feeling I'm the one with the problem, he is totally blind to the effect he has on me. I am just extremely worn out now, and confused as to how to get myself out of this (extremely passionate) relationship.

  9. JLC says:

    What about having a relationship or friendship with someone who is very surface and cannot go deep? Isn't that a form of being emotionally unavailable? I find that to be extremely frustrating.

  10. breathinista says:

    Nailed it! Wonderful article and so relevant.

  11. Kirstin says:

    Number 1 resonates so greatly with me! I have a string of past long distance lovers. In the last few years I’ve told myself that I’m a free spirited romantic or too busy for something lasting but am now realizing that it’s something a bit deeper that is keeping me from making a real connection. It is difficult but I’ve entered this year with an open heart – while I’ve realized that I can’t necessarily completely let go of old hurts I can definitely open up some room for new joy and experiences. I’m working at it every day through mantra and meditation – letting in love is the intention of almost every yoga series that I practice. Despite my patterns, a lasting love is what I desire most (perhaps there is hope for us, he he).

  12. John says:

    I wonder how many truly emotionally unavailable people really recognize themselves as such. Your article describes my ex to a T, yet I would bet she rationalizes and justifies her leave-taking to her new friends (she doesn't have any old friends – see #2) as me being the emotionally unavailable one. (Nobody else in my hundreds of friends or family would describe me that way.)

    She actually wanted to introduce the guy she had an affair with to me (insisting it was a relationship), telling me how much I would really like him and what a nice guy he was. (They broke up two months later.) Since she left our 15 year marriage, she has been through a new "long-term" relationship every year, lasting on average about six months. I think the only reason she lasted as long as she did with me is because of our children and she needed me to take care of them. As soon as they were old enough (in her mind), she left. I found out after the fact that this dating cycle pattern of hers was how she was before she met me. Sad.

  13. nick says:

    how does one fix this problem if they are the emotionally unavailable one?

  14. Lse says:

    I think there is another layer for me regarding being emotionally unavailable. Falling on the autism spectrum often makes it difficult for me to connect the same way others do, even though I am able to fake it very well in my everyday life…. Faking it in a relationship thought all exhausting, and draining and utterly unfulfilling. I thought I found a great way around this by being involved with an emotionally unavailable person for over a decade. I moved halfway across the country to continue my studies, maintaining that relationship long distance–which took an incredible toll on my free time (being on the phone several hours a day, mostly listening to every detail of his day) and finances (flying to visit). I finally saw that the commitment he made to follow me once I had a job was likely not going to happen when he couldn’t talk about or plan concrete details about our future together. I ended it, and maybe it seemed out of the blue to him, but he hadn’t really been hearing or communicating with me for years, as much as I valued his friendship, companionship and yes even love. I have finally found someone who is more like me, emotionally, then I have ever known (thank you okc!) and our future is bright and fulfilling and absurdly concrete. I always thought I was the broken one, unable to really access my feelings or respond with the correct emotions. I know better now and couldn’t be happier. I still have sensory processing problems, but my partner understands and supports me through those moments, and that helps me grow and know that how I am is okay too.

  15. Lisa says:

    Thank you for writing this… It is hard to differentiate what is happening when you are in the situation. Feeling like it is unsafe to share your feelings by way of reading signals. Hard when the physical and emotional intimacy is there, but seems to be highly changeable or unpredictable based on situations…. Trying to work through to the other side of the process and see where it goes… Working on gaining insight from childhood on and connecting my dots to find me and how everything plays together and if this can be worked through for the benefit of everyone….

  16. Sharkio says:

    This represents a dismally regressive, needy, entitled, grasping and infantile view of human emotions and relationships. Anyone who thinks this is good advice must surely be emotionally stunted. The whole worldview is skewed. Lord preserve us from the wisdom of yoga teachers.

  17. Rob says:

    While I enjoyed readin the article and the insight it has provided, I’m a little confused. There are times my wife would have me believe that I am the one emotionally unavailable. And I can agree with that. I do shut down. But she has definitely been described in parts of this article. Strangely, I’m the one that has found myself in therapy now and it’s through that therapy that I am getting clear. Sad that I don’t think the marriage can survive but clear and present to who I really am. And what I really want.

  18. Heather says:

    I am one of these people , honestly somedays I feel “dead inside” when it comes to my empathy for a partner in my life .. I feel very selfish ( I have a pattern of starting off very generous with my affection, but when it isn’t returned comparably, after a bit I pull back and out completely) other than two longer relationships , most of my relationships don’t make it past 2-4 month mark and I usually break for about 6-10 months before I try again. Not too sure if I want to change or what, who knows lol, it may make a difference that I have three children from my ex husband we were together from 16 -20 now I’m single and busy and don’t have time for certain things anymore

  19. Nbar840 says:

    Thank you for this wonderful article, you’ve connected the dots for me. Aftwr suffering from a break up with such a person who walked me up to all those levels of extreme emotional and physical commitment and compatibility and then one fine day walked away in a snap. Never felt guilty or even showed a sign of love, care or even remotely acknowledging me. To date, after being through this suffering and constant try of showing him my unconditional affection and care for him and that ill be around, i failed to realize what went wrong why he was so ignorant and brutal to me. Like not even a microsecond when it’ll occur to him shit she has so much of compassion and love for me. Let me thank her or even asked her in these 2 years for once that how is she doing? All those points you described… I thought for a minute it was a flashback of my relationship with him starting from 1 how it started to 3 of how exactly it ended. Sadly, I still love him and find it so difficult to share myself with anyone else and he still walks all over me ignorant and careless.

  20. Molly says:

    I guess I don't follow the norm of opinions here. The article seems like a emotionally driven and emotionally stunted response to having been spurned by a lover. The author talks about the possibility of these "emotionally unavailable" people not being empathetic, but this article is the thing that displays no empathy, just a brick wall of calmly worded bitterness and a little bit of self righteousness. I had to wonder, was this advice coming from an actual social science professional? No. Not at all. Not that there's anything wrong with yoga.

  21. Grace says:

    It seems there are a lot of emotionally unavailable people out there. Thank you for writing this wonderful article, I was swept off my feet last summer by a man who you just described perfectly. I noticed the signs, in fact was keenly aware of what was happening but chose to doubt my own intuition, convinced myself i need to trust more, open up more. He was a wonderful lesson in knowing my intuition is what i need to trust more. Since our month long intense "love" and me coming to realize the truth of the situation he has wandered in and out of my life and i let him, he seems to have lost interest along with the loss of his hold over me.

  22. Avril says:

    This article showed up this morning after having another dream about someone who fits this exactly. I woke up tired of having dreams about someone from 10+ years ago. He was in a long distance relationship with someone else when I met him, but when she moved in with him, they broke up about a month later. I didn't know at the time that he wasn't emotionally available, but I fell deeply in love with him & have been suffering ever since. I'm in a very happy relationship now, so it really disturbs me when I dream about him still. I feel like I needed to read this in order to give my headspace some closure & acceptance to what happened back then. Thank you for writing this! I feel much better & I learned that I'm not the one at "fault" for his emotional distance. My heart feels a bit more healed now. Thank you <3

  23. sgysler says:

    That's just not fair. Even as an emotionally unavailable person, it's still possible to have loving relationship… it just needs some work on both parts.

  24. dsdesign says:

    I spent too many years with a person like this. He never once said "I love you" first. He would repeat it back to me, like a parrot, but I never felt like he meant it. And he left me very suddenly, "out of the blue" like the article says. So many signs I should have picked up on. He could be so cold, and not just to me. i don't blame myself anymore, though. I'm just glad I learned what to avoid – and he is the one missing out.

  25. Milly says:

    I've dated two guys like this, one very recently. I feel sad for them, because I put my all into them and saw the best in them I realised quickly that it was them who were missing out on building something real and meaningful. Whenever I think about them I truly wish them all the best on working on their emotions and relationships with other people in their lives because I know when they do they will never look back. I am now in two-way relationship with a lovely man who very in touch with both our emotions, I wish the same for them.

  26. RChristi says:

    What's your best advice to someone who became Emotionally Distant after a very long relationship with someone who was Emotionally Unavailable and wants to return to being Emotionally present?

  27. Dana A. Chamberlain says:

    I just went through the heartbreak of a beautiful woman that fits the description of an emotionally unavailable individual. I have come to believe that she has suffered a great amount of trauma at the hands of a emotional and verbal abuser. He was killed in a snowmobile accident about a year after their breakup and I believe she has never recovered from it. As well as denying that she is depressed and riddled with stress. What sort of therapy is there available to help a person that is so tortured by this. She must do this on her own and I hope and pray she one day recognizes that she needs help and it IS available.

  28. cathy says:

    Hi i feel like my boyfriend is closed off emotionally a little one side. I wanted to get some advice.  So we have been together for 1yr and 6mths both 37 both work m-f live 10 no kids for either of us.  (he has never been involved a long term relationship longest it has been is 6mths.  So we see each other 3 nights a week, i have been asking for more time with him but every time I do it causes a major fight and he claims that he feels like i think that he doesn’t do enough for me and he does but I simply want more times with him meaning staying the night and when i say that it is not always for the physical reason it is because I enjoy his company.  He gets fustrated, so he finally compromised not happy about it gave me 1 extra night a month  (and he of course brings it back up like look at what i did for you).  He counts the number of nights he has stayed at my house.  So i have a long weekend coming up and won’t see him for 5 days because we don’t see each other until Thursday night and I won’t get back until Monday so I asked him if he would see me the Tuesday night and he had a fit.  I would think any normal boyfriend or girlfriend would want to see there boyfriend or girlfriend after a few days of my not seeing them.  It is weird to me and unsettling.  So that is an issue,  another issue is he shows no public displays of affection and when i did hold his arm he told me that i wrinkled his shirt, all i am asking for is a hand hold, and if I want to cuddle in private i have to initiate that he has cuddled me but he does cuddle me when he feels like it, so i feel that alot of things are done when he feels comfortable.  I iniate all forms of texts and phone calls.  if i did not contact him, he would not contact me, and talking about the future is not really talked about, i have brought the subject and he will say, “lets not dampen the night by talking about the future lets just enjoy the night”.  Which annoys me he makes it sound likes it is a bad thing to bring up.  Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

  29. Nuria says:

    Thank you so much for posting this. I'm a young girl, 18 years old, and all these years I didn't know what was "wrong" with me. I saw everyone fall in love and get into relationships. I too, fell in love a few times. But at the last moment, when they came too close, I panicked. I shut down and pushed them away. It as an afwul feeling. Now, I got into my first serious relationship. He is an amazing boy, he is really kind and we are taking things slow. But at some moments, I still feel panic. But I really don't want to hurt him. But anyway, I started searching on the internet about these feelings. And then I read about emotional unavailable persons. And I realize I'm an emotional unavailable person. What should I do now? Should I go and talk to someone professional? I had a troubled childhood, I think this is the mainly reason of my behavior. Please, I can use some advice :)

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