When she first met him, Laura thought she had hit the relationship jackpot.
Jason was handsome, successful, charming, funny, and intelligent. She felt proud to be on his arm, to be the one he wanted to spend his time with.
Who wouldn’t want to be with Jason? He was amazing. He was a catch in anyone’s estimation. His attention, flattery, and confidence won Laura over after the first few dates.
Laura fell hard and fast, but she knew she had to pace herself. She didn’t want to overwhelm Jason with the strength of her feelings. She didn’t want to push him away and into the arms of someone else.
For the time being, his charm and attention were enough.
Initially it didn’t bother Laura that Jason was reserved and kept his deeper feelings to himself. She assumed he wanted to take it slow, to really get to know her before he expressed his feelings.
But after several months of dating exclusively, Laura continued to feel a wall between them every time she tried to get closer to Jason.
When she looked into his eyes, wanting to communicate the depth of her feelings without blurting them out, Jason always looked away uncomfortably.
After six months, he still hadn’t said, “I love you,” or given her much of a hint about his feelings for her — except that he continued to see her, so that was something, right?
During lovemaking, Jason also avoided eye contact and intimate talk, and would get up quickly to shower after they finished, leaving Laura confused about her desirability and his feelings for her.
She felt she was doing something wrong or turning him off in some way, but his demeanor made it hard to talk to him about it.
Jason was happy to talk about work or sports or their upcoming plans, but when she wanted to discuss how she was feeling, he would be dismissive, change the subject, or crack a joke.
Even so, Laura hung in there and tried harder, thinking that if she just gave it more time, was more patient and understanding, he’d open up, show his true self, and they would connect on a deeper level.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t until 20 years into their marriage with several children, that Laura finally realized Jason was simply a shallow pool. He wasn’t going to give her more.
He was never going to be emotionally intimate, vulnerable, and connected in the way she needed him to be.
The Trauma of Being with An Emotionally Unavailable Man
When you’re in a romantic relationship, you expect it to deepen over time. You expect your partner to grow closer and closer emotionally, so you create a “couple bubble” of intimacy between you.
If you are open, trustworthy, and authentic, you expect the same from your partner.
But when your guy can’t open up, can only focus on himself or on superficial topics, and he refuses to reveal his “softer underbelly,” the relationship is bound to stagnate and eventually wither away.
A relationship with an emotionally unavailable man can be deeply traumatizing.
In fact these kinds of relationships can traumatize you twice: once by the loss of a real relationship and emotional abandonment by this man you love, and also by the feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem his detachment creates.
Whether it’s intentional or not, emotional unavailability if a form of emotional abuse. For the woman involved with an emotionally unavailable man, it feels as though you’re being deprived of the one thing you need most in a relationship — real love.
Even if your partner says he loves you, his behavior and demeanor make you feel unworthy of love. You do backflips trying to win crumbs of connection and closeness until you believe crumbs are the best you’ll ever get and all you deserve.
Emotionally unavailable men are not just the handsome, superficial charmers. They come in all looks, shapes, and personality types. They have a variety of backgrounds and life experiences.
Some can have bursts of real intimacy and passion, followed by periods of pulling back and coldness. Others never reveal an intimate, authentic desire for closeness.
Emotional unavailability doesn’t necessarily mean a man is shallow, selfish, or intentionally detached. He may long for closeness, but he simply doesn’t know how to achieve it.
Says writer Sile Walsh for The Good Men Project, “Being emotionally available is not that easy for any of us. And for a man in a society where we give our such mixed messages, it’s no surprise that both the people asking men to be emotionally available and the men who are trying to achieve it, are confused. My male clients desperately want to connect with friends, lovers, and family in a very real way. But often they have no model of what that looks like and how to do it.”
Whether they are impacted by societal expectations, their childhood experiences, or a narcissistic personality, emotionally unavailable men are missing the most rewarding and blissful facet of a love relationship: intimacy.
All too often, it takes a long time for women to figure out they’re involved with this type of man, as it did for Laura. They invest huge chunks of their time and emotional energy trying to “win” love and affection, only to eventually realize it’s not forthcoming.
Before you invest any more time with a man who can’t or won’t allow closeness and intimacy, it’s important to recognize the traits of this type of guy.
Here are 16 common characteristics of emotionally unavailable men:
1. Difficulty Expressing Deeper Feelings
No matter how hard you try, you can’t scratch the surface of this guy’s emotions. He is uncomfortable talking about his true feelings of love, pain, shame, guilt or any other feeling that might make him appear “weak” and vulnerable.
He has learned to ignore and deny his negative emotions in particular, and has become emotionally “color blind.”
He has a protective wall around his emotions and can get angry, confused, or defensive if you try to penetrate it. Sometimes he may give you a glimpse of his interior world, only to pull back and block you out once again.
2. Slow to Commit
These men often fear commitment because they know it will require more of them than they are capable of giving. Committing to one person means revealing more of themselves and taking the risks involved with intimacy.
This fear of commitment is more than just wanting to keep their options open. It’s a systemic fear of being overwhelmed by uncomfortable emotions and the needs of their partner. They need a quick escape route which commitment prevents.
3. Acts Distant, Above It All, Too Cool
In an effort to protect himself, the emotionally unavailable man will create a persona that initially seems mysterious and cool. But over time, you want and need to know the person behind the mystery man.
Unfortunately, this guy has spent a lot of time and energy crafting the way he presents himself to the world, and he’s not about to drop the facade.
It is an attractive barrier that keeps others, even you, at arm’s distance so he doesn’t have to cope with the uncertainty and discomfort of too much closeness which makes him feel vulnerable or overwhelmed.
4. Inability or Unwillingness to Be Vulnerable
The fear of vulnerability is the fear of showing your true self. This fear often stems from a deeper fear of abandonment.
If he reveals his inner world and less-than-confident emotions, you may see him as weak and unattractive and want to leave him.
He may also have a fear of engulfment, the feeling he is losing himself in the relationship. By revealing his true self to you, he may lose control of himself because he unconsciously worries you may control or dominate him.
5. Uncomfortable Discussing Emotional Topics
You want your love partner to be there for you when you are dealing with painful or confusing emotions. Sadly, the emotionally distant man has difficulty being fully present with your feelings.
He can’t simply listen with empathy and support your feelings. Either he deflects his discomfort by offering practical solutions, or he dismisses your feelings altogether by diminishing them or not listening to you.
6. Defensive and Quick to Anger
Anger is a socially acceptable emotion for men, and often it is the go-to reaction when things get too “touchy feely” or intimate with your guy.
If you suggest something like, “You seem really sad today,” his response is reactive and defensive. “I’m not sad. Don’t tell me how I’m feeling. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
This defensiveness and anger can pop up any time he feels threatened, vulnerable, or trapped.
7. Suggests You Are Too Sensitive or Needy
Deflecting the blame on to you is a common strategy for emotionally unavailable men.
Rather than accepting or acknowledging his inability to connect and share his feelings, this man will turn the tables to suggest your needs are unacceptable or over the top.
Your desire for closeness and intimacy reflects a weakness on your part, not a deficiency on his.
8. Quick to Blame Others
When someone says or does something that reflects poorly on your guy’s demeanor or behavior, he is quick to blame the other person rather than examine the possibility of his own flaws.
Often emotionally distant men are lacking in empathy and view the world through the lens of their skewed perceptions. They can’t or won’t see how their words and behaviors are impacting other people.
When someone highlights this issue, the emotionally unavailable man will deny and attack.
9. Rarely Self-Reflective or Self-Aware
Emotionally unavailable men don’t spend much time reflecting on their own behaviors and personal growth. They aren’t motivated to become more self-aware and empathic.
These men have trouble stepping back to look at themselves and how they are impacting others, particularly you. They are much more comfortable with achievement, action, and control.
10. Difficulty Showing Non-Sexual Affection
Emotionally distant men can view physical touch as overwhelming or unnecessary unless it leads to sex or is part of sex. They don’t often initiate hugging, cuddling, or hand-holding.
They might feel uncomfortable with public displays of affection or act put upon if you request physical affection.You might notice they pull away or stiffen up when you are affectionate with them.
They might even appear disgusted or agitated when you touch them because it feels like an invasion rather than an intimate, loving gesture.
11. Disinterested in Your Feelings and Needs
If you try to express your relationship needs — for more intimacy, affection, and closeness — he will either give you lip service, diminish your feelings, or blow you off entirely.
He doesn’t want to hear that he’s not enough and that you need more from him. That’s either a blow to his ego or a confusing conundrum that he doesn’t understand. “What does she want from me? I don’t get it, why am I not enough?”
12. Often Self-Centered and Needing Attention
Men who are emotionally unavailable are often too busy with themselves to have much more to give to you.
They want constant attention, affirmation, and praise, and they may view you as an extension of themselves whose sole purpose is to make them look good.
Your needs and desires are a distraction that puts the focus on the wrong person: you rather than him.
Behind this need for attention may be a deeply insecure, needy person who needs constant propping up. This is sad, but it’s not a healthy foundation for an intimate relationship.
13. Overly Focused on Sex but Not Emotional Closeness
The only time this emotionally detached man can connect is through sex. But sex for him is not a mutual expression of love and intimacy, it’s a physical release or a conquest.
Sex becomes a way to unburden himself of the tension of keeping it all together and staying in control, but tenderness, intimate expressions, cuddling, and affection are rarely part of the scenario.
Once sex is over, this man will quickly move on his next project or fall asleep right away.
14. Avoids Sex Altogether
Some of these men will avoid sex or initiate it infrequently because sex itself is too intimate and requires too much from him. This can affect his libido and performance.
He may know that you want more from him during a sexual encounter, and he can’t or won’t give it. So he simply avoids having sex with you. It feels like too much trouble.
Because he is unable to let down and be vulnerable with you, his stress levels may be so high that he is rarely in the mood for sex. It just feels like another chore.
15. Spends Too Much Time with Pornography
Looking at pornography doesn’t require an emotional commitment or intimacy. He can find sexual gratification without the discomfort and demands of a real relationship.
A man’s addiction to pornography can contribute to his lack of interest in you sexually. It further diminishes any intimacy between you.
16. Inability to Deal with Conflict
Conflict is inevitable even in the closest relationships. But a man who is emotionally detached will do everything he can to avoid conflict because it involves expressing emotions.
He may clam up, leave the room, or shut you down with yelling and anger. He can’t have a healthy conversation where you both express your concerns, fears, and needs in the relationship.
Are you noticing some of these traits with your boyfriend, partner, or spouse? Have they been going on for a long time? If so, I urge you to talk with a counselor to share your concerns.
If your guy is highly motivated to improve his emotional skills, there’s hope for your relationship and your ability to enjoy a deeper, more intimate connection.
However, if he is defensive, emotionally abusive, and unwilling to work on himself through counseling, this is a huge red flag that you may never find the love you want and need with this man.
The longer you allow him to remain emotionally unavailable, the more difficult it will be to extricate yourself.
As hard as it may be to cut the cord with someone you may still love, letting go is the best thing you can do for your self-esteem and ongoing happiness.