I Quit Being Attracted to Emotionally Unavailable Men
I had a repetitive compulsion problem where I kept gravitating towards emotionally unavailable men. They were either not interested and I kept pursuing them despite their lack of interest, or they were interested but only in something casual. They would not be able or willing to commit to something more serious. I realized after some time that these men subconsciously reminded me of my dad in one way or another. The pattern repeated itself several times until I started noticing it and realized I must be making it happen. I’m attracting these types of men for some reason. Like a magnet, I would pick the unavailable ones and get caught up with them for a few months before I realized what was happening and put a stop to it.
I felt like I had a broken guy-radar or filter. I would head straight for the men who were not interested or available. To me, they look attractive. I think what they must look like to me is familiar and normal. I would pursue them because they feel normal, but then I would realize that normal doesn’t mean healthy for me. “Normal” was equivalent to “dysfunctional” for me because that’s the environment I grew up in. The ones who are emotionally healthy and available would look too boring for me. I wouldn’t give them a chance. I didn’t have a model for an available and vulnerable father and husband growing up, so it felt foreign and unfamiliar when I did encounter it. I tried many times to change my skewed preferences, but I realize it’s not that easy. I felt like I was stuck in a square box with tall rigid walls. The walls were difficult to scale. I also felt like I was glued to railroad tracks that kept leading me to this problem and it was a herculean effort to get off the destructive tracks.
I wondered about this for a long time, having many conversations with girlfriends about dates that went nowhere. I was resolved to break this habit. I wanted to get out of the rigid square box, get off the railroad tracks. Then a big realization hit me one day: I’m the emotionally unavailable one. I’m the one who keeps people at arm’s length and puts up walls. I’m the one who holds up a shield and sword in relationships. I’m the one choosing unsuitable men. I’m the one who is reluctant to rely on others and afraid of being let down. I’m the one who doesn’t let things get too serious, who starts wondering if someone else better is out there instead of committing. I’m the one who gets nervous when the other expresses big needs that I’m afraid I can’t meet. I’m the one who can’t deal with ambiguity in relationships. It is me who is avoiding intimacy and closeness.
It was really easy to blame the men I met, thinking I’m just not finding the right ones. It was much harder to scrutinize my behavior and thought patterns to see how I might be contributing to my unwanted situation. I realized that I have to be honest with myself to change something that is not going the way I want. I even realized that I have much choice and power to affect the environment around me when I want to. When things didn’t go in the direction I want, I could take action to change them. It hit me that I was where I was as a result of the same decisions I made over and over again.
It wasn’t easy or pretty, but very necessary. I needed to be clear with myself about my patterns. Only then could I focus on the root of my issue and start to address why I felt the way that I did. I realized I had a lot of things I needed to work out within myself to improve the quality of my life for myself, my family, and my dating life. I knew these things would take time, but I was fine with that because I knew it would be worth it. I had already seen improvements in my other relationships which resulted from the therapy work I put in and knew that putting the same amount of energy into my relationships would solve some of my problems.
“Tell the truth about your wound, and then you will get a truthful picture of the remedy to apply to it. Don’t pack whatever is easiest or most available into the emptiness. Hold out for the right medicine. You will recognize it because it will make your life stronger rather than weaker.” — Women Who Run With Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estés
I already figured out a while ago that my relationship with my parents was my “first heartbreak” in that they were not emotionally available for me. My father, in particular, was never a good listener nor was he capable of responding to my emotional bids when I made them. I experienced many feelings of emptiness, hunger, and desolation growing up. This formed many core beliefs that I was inadequate, that I didn’t deserve love, that people who loved me would one day “find out about me” and decide to leave. It led to issues of low self-esteem and insecurities. It made it hard for me to picture myself in a good stable relationship. I was used to seeing other people in them and not myself. That hurt.
It was exhausting work to revisit the places inside me that are old, hidden, and scary, and to experience again the desolate feelings I had as a little kid and healthily process them. In my head, I comforted myself as a little girl. I imagined hugging her, stroking her hair, and reminding her that “big Jennifer” will always be there for me. After I felt the full extent of my rage, grief, and irretrievable loss in a safe environment, I moved on. I got over my feeling of being extremely unlucky or cursed. I didn’t feel as strong of a pull towards emotionally unavailable men because that wound in me was healed. I felt more able to be emotionally available myself.
“When rage becomes a dam to creative thought and action, then it must be softened or changed. For those who have spent considerable time working through a trauma, whether it was caused by someone’s cruelty, neglect, lack of respect, recklessness, arrogance, ignorance, or even fate, there comes a time to forgive in order to release the psyche to return to the normal state of calm and peace…
…You [cannot] cleanse all your rage today or next week and it will be gone forever. The angst and torment of times past rise up in the psyche on a cyclical basis. Although the deep purging discharges most of the archaic hurt and rage, the residue can never completely be swept clear. But it should leave a very light ash, not a hungry fire. So the clearing of residual rage must become a periodic hygienic ritual, one that releases us, for to carry an old rage beyond its point of usefulness is to carry a constant, if unconscious, anxiety.” — Women Who Run With the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estés
I used to feel self-conscious when I was out on dates like bystanders were judging me and my choices. The critical inner voice has been a factor in many of my struggles and it’s the same in this situation as well. It didn’t help that my mother is such a critical person. I almost expect her voice to pop up and criticize me out of nowhere. It’s a consequence of all the lecturing by my grandmother and mother. They gossiped about me and my boyfriends, which I used to think would have serious repercussions but I now realize doesn’t matter at all. I am afraid I’ll be criticized by my parents and relatives if I do better than them. I feel like I just can’t win with them there.
It wasn’t all negative lessons from my father. I saw plenty of admirable traits and behaviors from him once I got over the painful ones. I learned from my father how it looks like when someone sticks around through thick and thin. He showed me an example of how to give people second, third, and fourth chances, and how to always help my family in the ways that I can. He demonstrated how it looks like when a man consistently finishes what he starts. He always tries to do the right thing, even if it is very difficult. He makes tremendous sacrifices for his family. When I looked a bit harder, I could see how my dad was conveying his love for me through his actions. Even though he’s not good at communicating it and was often angry or sad, I could be generous in my interpretations of his actions. Healing means I fully accept the fact that my father was emotionally unavailable for me and can choose to see past that now.
With these things in mind, I can focus on becoming emotionally available. I can be vulnerable with others and respond when others are vulnerable with me. I can work on being fine with depending on my partner while simultaneously being able to stand on my own feet. True security in a relationship requires being comfortable with interdependence. I can work on respecting my partner’s feelings as an equal and make the effort to hear their feelings and meet their needs while also ensuring mine are met. I can avoid shying away from requests for closeness, something that is difficult for me. I can look at another’s needs with empathy and compassion.
Perhaps with some luck, I can fix my radar and start to notice and be attracted to the emotionally available men I meet. “Normal” for me will start looking like healthy and stable relationships. “Dsyfunctional” will show its face and I will be turned off by the drama and lack of commitment and depth I find in these relationships. I won’t mistake avoidant with attractive, or kind and gentle with boring. I won’t think someone loving is eerie and suffocating. I’ve already started to notice some changes since I’ve done the internal work. I’m seeing men in a slightly differently light nowadays. I can even find dating fun again!
“Vulnerability is uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. With this definition in mind, let’s think about love. Waking up every day and loving someone who may or may not love us back, whose safety we cannot ensure, who may stay in our lives or may leave without a moment’s notice, who may be loyal to the day they die or betray us tomorrow — that’s vulnerability.
Love is uncertain. It’s incredibly risky. And loving someone leaves us emotionally exposed. Yes, it’s scary and yes, we’re open to being hurt. But can you imagine your life without loving or being loved?” — Daring Greatly, Brené Brown