I was in the car eating frozen yogurt with this guy I had recently started dating and we were talking about our passions in life.
I’m a yoga instructor, so naturally I asked if he had ever done yoga.
As he looked outside the front windshield, spoon of froyo still in his hand, he explained:
“I’ve never done yoga before. And it’s not that I haven’t had the opportunity, because I have many times from friends who practice. I just know that if I try it there’s a possibility that I might like it, and then I don’t know where I would put that in my life. I like the way my life is right now. I do martial arts daily and I don’t want to change that. I just don’t have room to start a new interest. So in short, no I’ve never done yoga before.”
And even though I realized that in this story I was “yoga” and that he would not be making room for me in his life, I became more drawn to being with him—an attraction that would later lead to my experiencing self-blame and hurt.
There is an appeal to potential partners who are not open for true intimacy. As a result, there are many “relationships” that go on much longer than they need to. Heartaches and pining intensify our self-esteem issues and self-blame. Stories of potential futures together occupy our brain, preventing us from being open to anyone or anything else. And all the while, we feel loneliness even more strongly.
Why is it that we are so drawn to unavailable people? And what do we do to change this?
1. It is safe for us and coddles our own issues surrounding intimacy. Someone who isn’t available emotionally or romantically won’t see us in states that are less than desirable, mainly because they aren’t around enough to find out.
2. Intermittent reinforcement. Sometimes they give us attention, affection, emotional vulnerability. And then many times they don’t. But the memories of those feelings of being held, of being the confidant, of being needed keep us reaching again and again.
3. We want to save them. Show them the light. Show them what life and love could be like. We know of their dark past, struggles in childhood, and struggles with themselves. We have this desire to “be that person who can heal them.” We know that our love can hold them as well as ourselves—that is, until we feel drained because they won’t always receive it.
4. They aren’t needy. We are self-sufficient and we like our lives the way they are. Someone who is emotionally unavailable often tends to be self-sufficient, too. They don’t take from us, and that’s a refreshing feeling that allows us the capacity to then give freely and openly—a lot.
5. We don’t want to appear needy. So we stay quiet about those things that are bothering us. We don’t ask to be comforted. We don’t ask for anything! To ask may mean that we are high maintenance. And to be high maintenance may be more work than the other person is willing to do.
6. We struggle with pleasure anxiety. We start to feel good—whether that is a physical, mental or emotional sensation—and we close up. Not because we don’t want good feelings, but because in order to feel good, we have to experience a level of letting go. For many of us, letting go is scary because we want to control the outcome. We are afraid that if we relax our grip we might not get what we want. We shift into the default giving role, because that’s where we feel most comfortable and that’s where we have the most power—kind of.
7. They appear centered, but in actuality, they struggle with the need to be in control. We see them as having their life together: good job, financially stable, confident, cool, collected. We may have even fantasized what it would be like to have a future with this person. Maybe they will help relieve the stress of the parts of our life that we don’t have together. Calming thought. But when we begin to merge our life with theirs (as occurs in healthy relationships), we discover resistance. The other person has little desire to change their ways to accommodate us or any relationship.
8. Disconnection runs in our family. How close are we with our families, really? We may get along just fine, but are we emotionally intimate and open with them? Family is the foundation from which we build our understanding of relating to others. If our family’s mode of operation is to avoid conflict, this imprints on our brain, affecting relationships to come.
9. They won’t ever be the jealous type. We can do our thing and see the friends we want, including those of the opposite sex, knowing that this person will not give us a hard time or be jealous. Is this trust? Or is it lack of interest in us as partners? We like to think it’s the former.
10. What’s unavailable in real time we replace with fantasy, which is always perfect. We create stories in our head and play through scenes of passion, love, excitement, bonding, but they aren’t occurring outside the containment of our own head. These fantasies are keeping us in this position with the hope of it happening sometime in the future. But will it?
Lots of nodding yes? Major sighs of realization? Did you slump down into your seat? You’re not alone, nor are you helpless to this pattern.
Here are some steps we can all take to help move us forward toward loving, intimate and present relationships.
1. Knowing our boundaries in relationships and sticking with them. Create a list of what you want in a relationship and a list of what you won’t put up with in a relationship. Think this is the same list? Probably not. We may find that we have already been bending our boundaries to accommodate another person, which is how we got here in the first place. Knowing how much we are willing to give and then giving no more is self-love.
2. We need to know how we want to feel in a relationship. Maybe it’s the feeling of complete surrender in someone’s arms, knowing we’re safe. Can we bring this sensation into our bodily experience? These are what we are looking for. Not the buzzing feeling of anxiety in our chest or the tension from walking on eggshells.
3. Self-study. Know thyself. We can explore our core beliefs about being in a relationship, seeing which ones aren’t need to be updated.
4. We can look at our family of origin. How did our parents show affection and intimacy for each other? How did they show it for us? Our family creates the foundation for how we relate to the world. And yes, this changes over time; however, in childhood, these experiences imprint on our brains and affect how we see ourselves and the world around us, thus influencing our behaviors.
5. We can speak our needs. If they are refused, we can remind ourselves that it’s nothing personal. When we feel a sensation, whether it’s a flutter in the stomach, a sinking feeling in the chest, or our racing heart, we can call it out, even if e don’t know what it is. This creates an opening for dialogue to explore with them what may be causing your body’s reactions. At the same time, when we need someone to be there for us, when we need comfort and affection, we can ask for it. We are humans who have needs, and this is okay. Being “high maintenance” is better than being someone who never speaks up for themselves to avoid conflict. And if the other person refuses our request? It’s their internal issues coming out.
6. We need to get in the habit of filling our own needs. Let us be our own beloved and allow this to radiate out from our bodies. This is incredibly attractive to others, particularly mature, emotionally available people.
7. Has this been a pattern for us? Let us understand what our decisions to date emotionally unavailable people can teach us.
8. Assess our own worth and remind ourselves that we can survive in this world without them. We may be at an uncomfortable point of our lives, feeling like we won’t be able to get through it by ourselves. Let us remember that we are never stuck in the same feeling for the rest of our lives. We will get through this and we will be more than okay.
9. Give the responsibility for their healing back to them. It is not our job. It must be something they seek for themselves. We are individuals, and it is ultimately up to each of us to save ourselves. We can be present with them on their journey, and that is incredibly healing; however, it is not our job to save them.
10. Understand they are perfectly happy (or fine) without the life we want them to have. Let them be Peter Pan if their lifestyles reflect immaturity. That’s what they want. It is not what we want. End of story.
Relationships are not easy, but they don’t need to be that difficult either.
When we notice our patterns of reaching for relationships with those who are not emotionally available to us, we can check back in internally. What are our underlying intentions here? Are they serving us to the highest, or are they superficially relieving an inner discomfort? We can use this awareness to catch us in the act and choose differently.
Relationships are powerful catalysts for self-growth, but not when we feel insecure in putting our authentic self and needs forward. We deserve to be in love-filled relationships, and that starts with us.