How to Unhook from an Emotionally Unavailable Partner.

Via on Apr 2, 2014

couple distance holding hands nature river love

I met a man. He appeared interested in me but I didn’t know if I was interested in him.

We hung out. We talked. We shared stories. There was something there but I didn’t know what it was and I was having a difficult time reading what this man wanted.

My focus in a relationship is honest communication. It’s been a learning curve for me—once upon a time, I didn’t even know what I was really thinking and feeling, let alone how to communicate that with others. Now I’ve gotten better at figuring out my own feelings and thoughts, and I’m learning how to communicate them to the people I’m relating with.

I saw this experience as an opportunity to practice being clear and open.

I asked him: What’s going on?

This took courage—to be so upfront and clear—and I was too proud of myself to notice the quality and nature of his response.

He was unclear and cloudy but with just enough encouragement to keep me engaged.

Many deep conversations in, I found myself beginning to get interested in this man. I love men, always have. I love relationships too. I love being in relationships. Now here was a man I could potentially love and be in relationship with.

I opened up. I told him exactly what I was feeling. I felt brave, and vulnerable, and successful. I was getting good at this clear communication gig.

He invited me to a wedding, as his date. It seemed a clear signal that he was interested in pursing something. I still didn’t know for sure.

We went to the wedding. We watched this couple get married. We made small talk and ate canapes and drank wine and sat across the table from each other for dinner and listened to speeches. I still didn’t know. I knew I enjoyed his company. I loved our conversations. We had compatible interests.

We’d both had our share of difficult times, we’d known the darker side of life, we’d discovered yoga, we understood patterns and triggers and the ego and shadows. We discussed what we wanted out of relationship. We were on the same page, the same line, the same letter.

I sat in the unknown, staying open and present, seeing what might arise.

And then…

After dinner, he kissed me.

It was shockingly intimate. I was taken back. So that is what was there. My heart melted open and we kissed some more. All of my desires and longings rose up and poured into those kisses. I felt a degree of intimacy and oneness I hadn’t experienced in years. I didn’t expect this—there had been no hint when I first met this man, no lust, no desire, no wanting—just uncertainty and the unknown.

It made it all the more sweet.

The Monday after the wedding, I woke up feeling intense vulnerability. I felt shaky and freaked out and desperately wanted to grab out for something and hold on tight. Those kisses at the wedding had blown me open and I could feel the tenderness of my exposed heart. It was freaking me out.

But this was exactly what I’d asked for: a heart-centred experience. So I breathed, and called a girlfriend, and settled into feeling the vulnerability without closing down.

I even let him know, straight up and honest, what I was feeling. That’s good right?

He texted back: It means your heart is opening.

He lived four hours from me and we’d already planned to spend the next weekend together. It felt like the beginning of something that could be incredible and I was excited, nervous, vulnerable and open.

The weekend came, and it was glorious.

It was heart-breaking.

Everything I suspected could be there, was—we were connected on so many levels and in so many ways. Yet…

I could also see, clearly and plain as day, like the nose on my face, that this man was not ready and not available for any kind of real relationship.

He was absent when presence was called for. Occupied when I was in the same room. Distant unless I reached out and called him forth.

He was where he was. I wanted what I wanted. The two things were not on the same page, nor in the same book or even hanging out in the same library. No amount of wanting it to be different could change what was.

I said goodbye, got in my car, and drove away with tears streaming down my face. We’d only shared a weekend, yet the heartache was intense. All that potential and possibility, crushed by the reality of the situation.

He’d reached out to engage me, and hook me in, but once I was there, drew back and disappeared.

Continuing with my practice of clear and heart-felt communication, I sent a text sharing how I felt. There was no response at all. A few days later, I wrote an email, detailing it out. I received a short facebook message applauding my writing and ignoring the content.

couple hug love bridge loversSo it was to go for the next two weeks or so. My heart-felt, open communication led the way, and I eagerly inhaled any crumbs of response.

I already knew the truth but it’s hard to let go of a dream. Finally, I shook myself awake, and stopped communicating, curious to see what would happen if I didn’t lead the charge. Nothing happened. Communication stalled. Not a single peep. No text. no Facebook, no phone call. I resigned myself to reality.

It was but a three or four week blip, yet the feelings were as intense as if it had been a three year relationship—just condensed into a smaller time frame. The heart-break only lasted two days instead of two weeks.

I felt like a fool because I’d ignored key clues in the first week or so as to the availability and nature of this man. Yet I also felt proud of myself for being heart-open and clear all the way through. I had felt the truth, and while it had taken me a week or so to truly take it on board, I hadn’t denied or avoided it.

Because we know—we always know in our heart of hearts—what the reality is of the relationship we’re experiencing. Hope keeps us dangling. Desire. Wanting. Longing. Yearning. These things make suckers of us all.

Once upon a time, I’d experienced this same kind of intense connection and ultimate unavailability. Only back then, I held tightly to my dream of connected, heart-centred relationship and I’d pushed to make it so.

Instead of acknowledging the reality of the situation as it arose within the first three weeks, I stayed and stayed and stayed and had my heart broken month after month after year with the constant unavailability of my partner.

This seems to be the nature of life.

The same patterns present themselves again and again and again. We’re given the opportunity to see what this pattern is and choose how to respond to it. We’re given the opportunity to grow and change, until one day, that pattern doesn’t even arise.

If we ignore the pattern, if we hold fast to our assumptions and projections and desires we find ourselves back in the same situations again and again and again and we wonder how on earth we got there.

This time around, I felt everything as it arose, I sensed the truth of the situation, and I let it go. I determined that I wasn’t going to play this game.

I noted too that even though I was working on honest, clear communication I was still choosing written methods rather than picking up the phone and just talking to this man. But I cut myself some slack. I’m still a work in progress as we all are.

And of course, I questioned myself.

What in me attracted this experience and this man? Why do I attract men who are emotionally unavailable? Am I really emotionally available? Or is there other learning I’m going through?

My parents were both emotionally unavailable when I was growing up. No surprise there and it’s something more to explore. How do I make the leap from this kind of experience to intimacy with an emotionally available person? What do I need to do?

Relationships still seem to be the main way I learn about myself and how I relate to the world and other people. But then, how could it be any other way? How else do we learn to relate, but in relationships?

Since ceasing all communication except to respond, nothing has happened. It’s likely all my ideas about a possible relationship were assumptions and projections spun from my own desires and fantasies. Yet this man played a part—he intimated and suggested that he was interested. He pursued me initially, until I became interested, and then drifted off into his own world, content to let me pursue him.

There is still a conversation for us to have, for me to share my experience of our relating and to ask him about his experience. This I am determined to do via voice—if not in person, then at least on the phone. Of course, first I have to pin him down. He has to answer my message, and pick up the phone.

In the meantime, I’ve unhooked, let go and gotten clear, once again, always again, about what it is I want to experience. Now, added to something heart-centered, I’m also adding emotionally available. After all, it seems I keep getting exactly what I ask for.

And every time I learn something new.

This time around, I learned that I have what it takes to be honest and clear about my experience—but that that is not enough.

I learned that I also have to expect that of the person I am engaging with.

I can’t always lead the charge. I can’t hold myself to one standard and be forgiving, understanding, appeasing and accommodating when the other doesn’t respond in kind. I have high standards of my own behaviour and my own ability to grow and respond. Why don’t I hold the other to those same standards?

Because I’m afraid they won’t live up to them? It seems so—there’s a core belief that was revealed in this relating. This insight arose as I left after the weekend, sobbing behind my sunglasses, blinking away the tears so I could focus on driving.

I’ll never meet a man who fully meets me.

Wait a second. I caught myself. Where does that come from? Is that true?

I took the revelation of that core belief and turned it around. I asked myself: Do I fully meet myself? Do I fully meet life? How do I meet myself fully? How do I meet life fully?

Because there is a man out there capable of fully meeting me, when I am no longer afraid to fully meet myself, and my life. Such is the nature of our experience—always mirroring back to us that which we need to identify and heal within ourselves.

Such is the dance of life.

Such is the dance of relating.

 

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Editor: Cat Beekmans

Photos: Deveion Acker/Flickr, Petras Gagilas/Flickr

About Kara-Leah Grant

Kara-Leah Grant is the author of Forty Days of Yoga - Breaking down the barriers to a home yoga practice, and the publisher of New Zealand’s own awsome yoga website, The Yoga Lunchbox. She has just released her second book The No-More-Excuses Guide to Yoga. A born & bred Kiwi who spent her twenties wandering the world and living large, Kara-Leah has spent time in Canada, the USA, France, England, Mexico, and a handful of other luscious locations. She lives in Wellington with her young son, a ninja-in-training.

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119 Responses to “How to Unhook from an Emotionally Unavailable Partner.”

  1. Rachel says:

    Wow, I just disengaged from a situation so similar to this it's eerie, and I've been asking myself some of the same questions you talk about here (i.e.: Why do I keep attracting these guys, especially since they are the ones seeking me out?). I look forward to reading more of your thoughts on relationships, because I feel like I'm totally on this same trajectory!

  2. david says:

    yep,right there right now writing the same message, beautifully put, a poem for it

    free of love, out of love, why love, unloved. over love, not to love, love is pain, love never came.

  3. Being Realistic says:

    Kara:
    A friend of mine posted this piece and I found it articulate, refreshing, vulnerable, and respectful. I applaud you for that. It seems that some commenters have become distracted by considerations of whether it is you or the man in question who was emotionally unavailable and your responses have demonstrated a genuine humility which is also refreshing.

    Reading this piece has helped me to understand my interactions with a friend over the years who is emotionally unavailable due to past relationships and, probably more importantly, lack of interest in me beyond a friendship level. There is a connection between us but, at least for her, it is not a romantic one, and will never be. I have tried to be a friend in spite of my feelings, given up and kept my distance, and finally settled into a friendship of seeing her when I run into her but not making undue effort otherwise. I have also experienced what it is to "fail faster" and I've found it far more healthy. In that particular instance, I always need to keep that reality in my head that she is not interested in me on a deep level and simply views me as a trusted friend. There is always the temptation to make something work when you want it, even when your own brain is seeing clear signs that a person is disengaged.

    Other commenters have noted that perhaps your needs to communicate were unnatural. I have limited experience in relationships but I have found that when women treated me with respect and honesty, I did my best to reciprocate with my words and actions. I think that it is easy to initially reciprocate a woman's interest but remain disconnected on a emotional level if the interest isn't there. Unless I am very much unattracted to a woman, the interest is flattering. Granted, even interested guys can have times where they are less emotionally available than women want but I think the clearest sign of emotional unavailability is how he responds to your attempts to clarify. An awkward response is often better than a smooth, substance-less reply. No response at all is probably the clearest sign of no-interest a man can give. (Though I should clarify that a response from a man who is interested may not be immediate either if he genuinely cares about you and doesn't want to mess things up!.)

    The bottom line, perhaps an obvious one, is that once we've learned that emotional availability can lead to profound heartbreak, we often prefer to remain unavailable. It is too easy to stay safe and expect the other person to put themselves out there so that when we take a risk, we already have a good idea of how they feel. I personally believe that as a man, I am supposed to put myself out there first by pursuing. If I am not pursuing, I tend to assume that a woman will know I am not interested. Unfortunately, it can be easier to be emotionally available to people in whom we are not interested in anything more than friendship. I've had to learn to be cautious of what I share with my female friends as it is best not to be too emotionally available to a woman I am not interested in unless there is no interest on either side.

  4. Sarah says:

    Thank you so much for posting this!! I am wrestling with a very similar situation that has been going on for almost a year, and has been puzzling me… causing lots of tears and "energy leaks", and me realizing that I'm actually love with the person I have made up in my head, not the reality of the person. I have learned so many "lessons" from it. I think your questions at the end, about if you are meeting yourself fully, this rings true for me. Maybe the reason I accept these responses that lack heart/honesty from this person are because I still accept those kinds of answers from myself, and that kind of behavior from myself.

    I think my journey to learn how to really love myself and take care of myself is very much in-progress, and your article is an important sign post along the way! Bless you!

  5. colette04 says:

    If anything you will learn to love without conditions or guarantees. Many of us are deep and dedicated and loyal and we want answers as to what the other person thinks of us. The other person can keep us by giving us slight encouragement and evasive answers- which keeps us yearning for what we want to hear. When you decide to live in the moment, accept conditions as they are, appear secure and enjoy the present moment of your connection with a person without ownership , you will feel relieved.

  6. Catherine says:

    Thank you for this article. I spent the night crying over my boyfriend who is emotionally unavailable. I too worked on my communication skills with my last relationship. So now I am always straightforward with my current boyfriend while he was vague. I feel he is leading me on just enough for me to stay around but hides behind his wall saying he is emotionally close and thats the way he is. He wants a serious relationship but shuts me out when I get too close. I am thinking of saving myself all the pain and end it but I have come to love him. At times, I tell myself to be patient and he will come around. But it drives me crazy. I can't sleep…

  7. Mae says:

    What a lot of dribble. Sorry, Kara-Leah, but this article is a lot of babble.

    Woman meets guy, has good times for a few weeks. Guy seems to also have good times.

    Girl tells him how she's feeling, also concludes guy "was absent when presence was called for. Occupied when I was in the same room. Distant unless I reached out and called him forth."

    Basically you guys weren't on the same page. Fair enough. I would have given him a bit more time (a month or so) to open up.

    There's a place between staying in something that's not meeting your needs – and waiting for years while that never arrives, and discarding someone within weeks because they don't meet your needs ASAP.

    I think you still need to find that balance.

    I dated someone several years ago who pursued me, behaved super into me and I fell hard. The sex was amazing too, so I'm pretty sure that blinded me to some warning signs. Eventually, after a few months, I knew I needed more for him than just casually dating. I said so and he said "What I'm doing now is all I can do"

    I was heartbroken, but knew I needed to walk away. If we'd hung out for four months and he wasn't that into being something more with me, then I knew no amount of time would change that. Some people told me to stick around, but I refused to do that. The ultimate test was when I did end and I never heard from him again. If there were deep feelings on his end, he wouldn't have let me walk away.

    No regrets on my end, I'm glad I saw my time with this person through to its final conclusion. And again, the sex was fantastic. Don't regret that either .. hahaha

  8. Julie Kuorikoski says:

    A treasure piece of wisdom and truth. Thank you for writing this. I can relate and see the mirror which I have co-created to heal things within myself. The cycle repeats until the lesson is learned and we have evolved past the need for another.

  9. Avery says:

    going through the exact same thing right now.. thank you for putting my emotions into words, and for letting me know that i am not the only one to feel this way. i don't really want to talk to anyone about it because it seems so silly to fall so hard for someone within one little month, but it is intense and pretty heartbreaking.

  10. Gineen says:

    Thank you for sharing . I've had the same kind of relationship only it's been on and off for years. It's off now and I'm keeping it that way.

    My heart is opening and I need a man who fully meets me.

    Thank you for helping me understand how to get there

  11. Michelle says:

    You are amazing…. your words are everything I have thought and experienced all written out and fully explained… Beautifully written, thank you so much for sharing your words!

  12. Hogan says:

    After reading this, I have to ask myself if I am emotionally unavailable. Interesting. Good read.

  13. Mara says:

    Thank you for sharing this <3

  14. englishthistle says:

    I was dumb enough to try twice to have a relationship with a man who I knew I shouldn't be with. The first time around he was massively on the rebound and the second time, well, I already didn't trust him after all the lies and secrets from before so when I found out he was dating someone else I guess I only had myself to blame. But I had told myself it could work. After all, we had so much in common! We read the same books, watched the same movies and TV shows, had the same politics and beliefs, liked mostly the same music, had tons of chemistry – on paper a match made in heaven. But when it crashed and burned the second time I was forced to acknowledge that maybe that was the problem. When you put two magnets with the same poles together what happens? They literally repel each other. Yes, I hurt and I'm angry and disappointed and wonder why I'm still alone but sometimes having everything in common doesn't mean you can make it work.

  15. Connie W says:

    I too grew up in a home with parents who were emotionally unavailable. I am in my 60's now and single. The freedom I have now is that I no longer believe that what I am feeling has very much to do with what somebody else is saying or doing. I suspect that what happens is that there is a hidden agenda involved in which person we become so attracted to. We choose someone who is unavailable (and we sense in a heartbeat who is unavailable) because we are actually frightened by intimacy and presence. We are the ones who are not available, but regarding our unfortunate, unsuspecting ,available or not available, potential partner, we convince ourselves that it's really them. We become exhilarated with the attraction and usually instant connection, make everything significant as it relates to our own process and envelope the poor object of our affection with a giant expectation overlay, whether spoken or not, that makes them withdraw from the intensity.
    There is, I suppose, the rare man who is a verbal processor of feelings. I assert that, sadly, for many women who think that we are all just souls in bodies that happen to have this gender or the other one, the bad news is that men are not like women. We were designed for different roles. Our grandmothers knew the difference. A woman herself has a lot to do with what a man becomes in relationship. You can't just shop to find one that's ready to go, based on chemistry, thought processes, emotions, past experiences. They have to be trained and empowered to succeed with us, especially since no two women are alike or want the exact same thing.

  16. Connie W says:

    I have had to 'grow-up' the needy little girl heart that will forever wait for the love, nurture and acceptance I did not have as a child. I have that issue, that's just me, and a lot of other people have it too. I love a man today that you could say is emotionally unavailable. (How would I know since I am emotionally frozen?) He doesn't say much, ever. We fill the space with a kind of small talk and humor. We laugh well and often. I have never been into small talk. I am a processor. Or used to be. We do things in the moment, and he demonstrates in scores of indirect ways how valuable I am to him. Although he is an all boy manly man, which I love, he is actually rather tender and vulnerable. I know that I can either make him or break him as far as his success with me is concerned. For me to walk away or criticize him because of my psychological expectations would be like stomping on a baby bird.
    When he does start talking, it is usually to say something unexpected, delightful to hear, worth saying and he is direct and tells the truth. If he hurts my feelings, I don't say anything. Of course he would not do that deliberately. A day later, when I have no charge on it or agenda or significance attached, I will casually mention that I didn't like what he said or that it hurt my feelings. Usually, he will burst forth with an apology that shows that he has been thinking about it all along and wanting to put it right, or offer comfort, because over time he has tuned himself to my moods and knows when I am unhappy. It is important that I don’t reject him in those moments. Or, he lets me decide to just get over it. Not every upset requires a fix. The way I think of it, he bumps into me and later puts on the bandaid if needed. When he doesn’t like something that I have done or said, he ignores me benignly until I align with the direction he needs me to go in, then reacts with enthusiasm. I never feel criticized or inadequate. He graciously gives me space to be better at meeting his need in the moment. There aren’t very many things that are important enough to fight about anyhow.
    My behavior with him is new for me. My approach is observer/appreciater. I have decided that my time with him is valuable to me. He is right there in the moment, without a head full of tangled thoughts, agendas and significance. I guess I am going overboard illustrating this. I agree with the 'maybe' person above. Also, I am learning to let myself be an ordinary, unremarkable person that someone else can comfortably relate to, rather than enlightened, always striving to be some more perfect, me. That is the other legacy of being a neglected child. If only I could be 'better' or unique somehow, that would make someone love and notice me. When I think about the type of man I thought I wanted when I was still trying to repair myself, trying to 'learn' to be emotionally available, trying to find a soul mate type man who could be there with me and for me, I get really tired. And by the way, I did find of few of those, but they turned out to be sociopaths. Sociopaths are experts at reading a woman's hearts' desire and becoming that, so there you go. They are guru-like. They are never ‘available’. They are there to harvest what they can from you while making you feel special. They know how to build dependence and attachment, and probably cause countless suicides. (I am a psychiatric RN, inpatient, by profession.)
    I have read a lot of the replies here. Most of what I have read sounds like some dramatic form of attachment. I feel sad for all the pain these writers have gone through. But attachment, which can happen instantly, is not love, which takes time and shared goodness and knowing someone’s character. The process gets short-circuited when you jump right into something romantic that is based on a powerful attraction; sadly I don’t think that you can ever get that innocent discovery time back. The way that I ‘fell in love’ with my not-so-perfect partner is that we worked on a project together professionally for two-and-a-half years, remodeling a house, side-by-side through blood, sweat and sometimes misery. We disagreed often. It usually turned out that he was right. We worked things out. We were polite and appreciative. We had some things in common, but were different in many ways. One day I looked at him and it was as if love dust had been sprinkled on me. I think that over all those months together, his warm, strong, unassuming sweet qualities had quietly woven him into my heart without me knowing it. Than came passion, but it had a foundation.
    My final comment, just my opinion and not meant as a criticism of this writer. A weekend together is not enough time to know that much about anyone or make a decision about their availability or worth as a partner.

  17. Laura says:

    Such an amazing article. I have lived this countless times. Thank you for sharing and for articulating this so clearly. This is beautiful.

  18. Gé. says:

    Wonderfully conscious, I can only admire your inner strength and desire to grow. I’m a man, but I’m afraid few men are innocent&daring enough to do the same. Still, I’m writing this because I’m thinking maybe I can suggest something useful: not only you are "a work in progress", but the man in this story is, too. Maybe, when things got more serious, he struggled and failed to look his fears in the eyes and open up like you managed to do, and then couldn’t help but retreat, unable to meet the challenge to… grow.
    (I found this page through a link on the Facebook page of a Dutch book about fear of love/fear of separation: https://www.facebook.com/Liefdesbang?fref=nf)

  19. girl says:

    I love this piece…it made me cry and remember a guy i recently met. He seemed perfect, reached out, hooked me in and when I was ready for more he pulled back. His behavior was so inconsistent. Sweet one day and the next, absent. I felt like e could have something really beautiful because we connected and felt like we knew each other for a long time….Not sure about this but when I met him, the word "soulmate" came to my mind….

  20. Jill says:

    Wow! This has to be one of the absolute best articles I've read on the Elephant Journal! I think we all can relate to the scenarios you describe and I loved how heartfelt and introspective you were too. It's so hard to strike a balance sometimes between optimism and reality when it comes to relationships ~ leaning in either direction too much really gets us so off-balance. And learning how to trust without being too cynical in the process, based on our previous less-than-stellar relationships. Thanks for expressing what most of us experience, in a truly inspirational way.

  21. Celina says:

    Hi Kara-Leah,
    Thank you for sharing your journey lovely lady. It was helpful for me to read this, and I felt deeply supported by your words. I've been on a similar journey myself. Congratulations on your tremendous progress and the level of insight you have achieved. Keep going forward on your journey and please let us know how the next phase of it unfolds.
    Love and thank yous,
    Celina

  22. Maia says:

    Thank you for these truths!

    I enjoy reading this story again and again..it shows how we,women, are really amazing creatures-longing for the Truth,strong and empowering ourselves alone-perhaps is this something in our nature-like Mother and Goddesses,we give Love,even when we know the man is not ready…i always asked myself if women are just not patient enough or just meeting “wrong”guys..on the other side Love expects nothing,we should give not take,be grateful and just evolve with experience like you had.When we acceot that life seems so much easier,peacuful and wonderful.Rainer Maria Rilke (german writer)wrote this qoute about Love: “immature Liive: I love you,because I need you.Mature Love:I need you,because I love you”.I thibk he reeeally got the point

    Thabks again for your honesty!

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  24. DEE says:

    Excellent post. I just went through this and ager 1.5 months with not knowing where this was going I told him you date me and see where this goes or nothing . He walked away and after two weeks I contacted him to say hi. He was very attentive. Then after 4 days he contacted me first. Maybe backing off is working. Well, I can only hope, but doubt it. He takes off to long island from Westchester where he lives to visit "family" He NEVER reaches out while there. My guess is her has someone out there, and was thinking of trying to have the best of two worlds at my expense and hurt feelings. :(

  25. K-Bar says:

    Oh My God, thank you.

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