How do I stop falling for unavailable men? Marriage and family therapist Dr. Marni Feuerman has answers. In her new book, Ghosted and Breadcrumbed: Stop Falling for Unavailable Men and Get Smart about Healthy Relationships, she inspires women to take back their power by asking for what they want in their relationships and intimate connections. We hope you’ll enjoy this excerpt from the book.
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It’s hard not to analyze why someone would be averse to intimacy and closeness with others. We have a lot of information from the social science field that says humans are hardwired to connect with others. This phenomenon is part of our evolution and critical to our survival as a species. Yet reality tells us that some seem to choose social isolation. Some people may also refuse to risk the potential rejection that comes when seeking connection with others. These individuals are not going to make themselves vulnerable to that type of emotional risk. Let’s take a closer look at science to uncover the deeper reasons why some people avoid connection.
It is beneficial to understand the basics of what is called attachment theory in the context of dating and relationships. Attachment theory is based upon work by psychologist and researcher John Bowlby that he started in the early 1950s. Attachment is about how we develop deep bonds with those we depend on. The first bond is most often with a parent, since we are not born with the ability to take care of ourselves. We are entirely dependent upon a parent or a substitute caretaker. How reliable and consistent the care is influences our sense of security with ourselves, the world, and others. These early patterns also create a blueprint for how we behave in romantic relationships. The core of this involves how we think about and know what we need and the ways in which we get those needs met. Several patterns, or “styles,” evolve from the safety and security of this initial relationship. We have either a secure attachment style or one of three possible insecure attachment styles.
A person with a secure attachment style is able to easily identify his or her needs and be comfortable reaching for other people to get those needs met if necessary. Securely attached people are also at ease meeting the needs of others, such as a romantic partner. In general, this style emerges from an overall happy childhood with consistent caregivers who met both the physical and the emotional needs of the child. The three insecure styles are anxious, avoidant, and disorganized.
Those who have an anxious attachment style, also known as “ambivalent” or “preoccupied,” seek a lot of reassurance, as these names imply, and become anxious when separated from a partner. Sometimes, they are viewed as “too needy” or simply “insecure.” This is often the result of inconsistent caregiving in childhood or a highly anxious parent.
Those with an avoidant attachment style, also known as “dismissive,” minimize their need for others or even deny having such needs. This frequently arises from the unavailability of a caregiver early in life, which left the child to take care of him- or herself or manage difficult emotions alone. Their view of relationships is quite negative.
The last category, disorganized attachment style, is also known as fearful-avoidant. People with this style often desire intimacy and connection but fear them at the same time. Hence, they give a lot of mixed signals and display “come here/go away” behavior. This style is often a result of childhood abuse, trauma, or severe inconsistency in parenting.
Typical behaviors of those who have any of the insecure attachment styles can also be viewed as coping strategies. They may have worked well in childhood or perhaps were needed for survival, but they work poorly in adult romantic relationships. For instance, a person who avoids conflict at all costs may be reacting to early bad memories of conflict within the family.
It’s important to know that we all have an attachment style. Attachment styles should not be considered normal versus abnormal. Your attachment style is affected by not just the quality of your parenting but the quality of your experiences with others throughout your life. It is significantly affected by how secure you feel (or don’t feel) within a relationship and how you respond to feelings of disconnection. Attachment is also a topic separate from mental illness. Some people may have a mental illness, “bad genetics,” a personality disorder, immaturity, or some combination of these things that is to blame for their transgressions or uncaring behavior.
Types of Emotionally Unavailable Men
Who are these men who behave poorly in romantic relationships? Do they all have an insecure attachment style? I would venture to say that many of them do. I have categorized these men using “proﬁles” that characterize their typical behaviors both when dating and when relating.
The Married (or Already in a Serious Relationship)
The ultimate unavailable man is the one who is already committed in some capacity to someone else. This person will also fit some of the other proﬁles listed below.
The Long-Distance Lover
You and he do not live in the same area. Such relationships often become passionate, and when you do see each other it is exciting and fantasy-like. I am definitely not saying that these relationships never work out. I know that they can, and not all participants in this type of relationship are emotionally unavailable. But some are, and purposely do not seek relationships with those they can see regularly. Just beware of how easy it is for him to hide must live in the same area to actually get to know each other and see if your relationship can really work out.
Perhaps he is a narcissist or, worse, a sociopath. Regardless, he keeps you around for his own exploitive or opportunistic purposes. He may be looking for validation of his good looks, virility, and manliness. He may lack both empathy and sensitivity to how his actions affect you. His feelings are the only ones that really matter. He is likely charming and confident as well, which can quickly suck you in.
This type might just be using you. He could be getting what he can for his own good out of being with you. This is not always sex. You may be offering him a place to stay or financially supporting him. If he is married, you may be the transitional person to help him out of his marriage. Regardless, love is not his motive.
Those with personality disorder traits also have the uncanny ability to make you feel like you are the one with the problem. He may be capable of committing to you in some respects, but understand that he will never love you as much as he loves himself. He may be in a position of high power owing to his career, wealth, political position, fame, or all of the above, and women often find this extremely attractive. Those in positions of leadership, control, and power are often admired by others and effortlessly capture the romantic attention of women. Just remember: he expects to be the “dotee” not the “doter.”
This man is incapable of monogamy or will pretend to value faithfulness but be unable to sustain it. He may lie to keep you as a sexual partner for as long as possible. He may have a sex addiction, only view women as objects, or think monogamy is boring. This guy may be a player already involved with others, or he might not tell you he’s married. You may find out on your own, or he may drop a bombshell after you are heavily involved. He is good at compartmentalizing and keeping secrets. He is also good at hiding his other dates while keeping you in the running. There is a coldness or an aloofness about him. He can keep you off balance, making you feel desired one moment and ignored the next.
A man of this type has some chemical involvement (a drug or alcohol problem) that causes him to be inconsistent in his behavior. The behavior may run the gamut from being “out of it” to being aloof to being hyper when you are around. You may not know he has an addiction at all, because many addicts are creative at hiding it. Your gut may tell you that something is wrong, but you can’t put your finger on it. If, and when, you find out, everything seems to click. Unless you want to get high with him or be his enabler, you need to run.
A trickier addiction is addiction to work. Workaholism is still a socially acceptable addiction. You may certainly admire him for his fantastic work ethic at first. Before long, though, you will feel the frustration of lonely nights and events missed because of his work schedule or constant meetings. Your guy should be working hard but not working constantly with zero work/life balance. An addict will not be there for you in your times of need, leaving you hurt and disappointed. The only thing you can rely on is his unreliability.
The Hot Mess
This man is emotionally unavailable (perhaps temporarily) owing to some tragedy or misfortune occurring in his life. A hot mess may have just lost his job or someone close to him. He may very well be a great guy, but the timing is unfortunate. Getting involved now is not a good idea. Keep in touch from a distance, and wait for him to get back on his feet before you consider anything more serious.
Another man may be more seriously impaired for the long run. He might be a “mama’s boy,” or maybe he’s too close to his sister or his buddies. He has a weak sense of self and is too needy and dependent on his current attachments to properly engage in a healthy adult relationship. His emotions are tied up in others, leaving little or no room for you. Alternatively, he may have trouble saying no to others. His boundary blurring will suck up all his energy and the time that he could be spending with you. He has to work out these dysfunctional dynamics before he is ready for a mature relationship with you.
The Straight-Up Avoider
A man such as this experiences much ambivalence about relationships and commitment. He is the type who has feelings for you but, because of past bad experiences or a bad childhood, isn’t able to commit or show consistency. This is the guy you can never seem to get close to. He holds his cards close to the vest. He doesn’t share his feelings and is evasive when asked. He may stonewall you when you fight, shutting down and refusing to talk. It is incredibly frustrating for you to have his physical presence but no emotional presence. The more you push, however gently, the more you are pushed back.
With this type of man, you will never develop the closeness and connection required for a successful long-term relationship. He may epitomize the fearful-avoidant attachment style: he might desire intimacy and closeness but get freaked out by it at the same time. He may be holding resentment because of his last broken heart. He may seem like a “victim” of circumstance. Or he may just be cynical and depressive, unable to get out of his own head. He might also be the one you had a great first date with, but then — poof — he disappears. Life is incredibly complicated for this person. This one may be the most innocent of the bunch, and you might be tempted to continue with him to be helpful or because you feel so sorry for him. It is, however, a terrible idea to do so.
I have tried to make this list of proﬁles as exhaustive as possible so you can get a sense of the characteristics commonly seen in people who are emotionally unavailable. As you can see, there is a variety of men who are emotionally unavailable for many different reasons. We have some idea of the reasons these men are the way they are and act the way they do. Much of it is likely explained through the lens of attachment theory. A lot is also explained by the man’s personal life experiences and situations, both past and present, that influence him. We can’t leave out the genetic or biological influences, either. The good news is that you do not necessarily have to know the exact reason why a man is acting as he is to make the changes you desire in yourself and find a healthy and loving relationship.
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Dr. Marni Feuerman is the author of Ghosted and Breadcrumbed. She is a licensed social worker and marriage and family therapist with a private practice counseling those with relationship issues. She also trains therapists to do couple's therapy and writes about love relationships for a number of online media. She lives in Boca Raton, Florida. Find out more about her work online at www.DrMarniOnline.com.
Excerpted from the book Ghosted and Breadcrumbed. Copyright © 2019 by Marni Feuerman.