'Why Do I Keep Attracting Emotionally Unavailable Men?

Here's how and why you might be drawn to avoidant people – and how to change that pattern.
Young couple with problems after an argument in bedroom
LordHenriVoton via Getty Images
Young couple with problems after an argument in bedroom

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It’s not abnormal to have a type, in fact it’s quite common. The majority of us are attracted to people who look similar or have the same personality. But what happens when you keep attracting people with a negative personality trait? What does that say about us?

This week’s reader Emma has noticed a pattern in her dating history. “Why do I keep attracting emotionally unavailable men?” she asks.

“I constantly choose relationships with men that are either emotionally or physically unavailable. I have never had a healthy relationship with a partner. What do I need to change?”

Emotional unavailability is a term most of us are familiar with – but what does it actually mean?

“Emotional unavailability can be defined as someone who struggles with vulnerability and emotional intimacy, both in themselves and others,” Counselling Directory member Dr Kirstie Fleetwood Meade tells HuffPost.

“It’s likely an emotionally unavailable person grew up with similarly unavailable, or hostile or rejecting caregivers,” she adds.

What are the signs someone is emotionally unavailable?

Emotionally unavailable people tend to have an ‘avoidant attachment’ style.

There are three main attachment styles: secure, avoidant and anxious. These are usually based around the bonds we had with our parents as a child, although your attachment style can change depending on who you date and different relationship experiences.

Those who have an avoidant attachment style find it difficult to make space for others’ emotions, or respond to their emotional needs and cues, says Fleetwood Meade.

“They are guarded about their own innermost world, struggling to share their thoughts and emotions as well as the emotion of the other – they will avoid situations they perceive will become ‘too emotional’, such as getting too close to someone in a relationship, for example,” she shares.

Signs of emotional unavailability might include:

  • Not being able to have honest open conversations about your experiences or emotions, without feeling invalidated, shamed or ignored
  • Someone who is emotionally unavailable will be unlikely to take on board feedback, will be defensive, will not ask you how you’re feeling, or how they can support you emotionally
  • You’ll likely find it hard to have a conversation with them about the future of your relationship, often feeling dismissed or shut down

“They may create a push and pull dynamic, or leave you ‘breadcrumbs’ of affection, essentially stringing you along, but leaving you insecure about where you stand with them,” Fleetwood Meade. says.

“Trust your gut – you may get a felt sense that they’re ambivalent about spending time with you, or you may feel confused and uncertain about your relationship.”

What are some reasons why we might attract someone emotionally unavailable?

Again, attachment theory can be helpful here. As Fleetwood Meade explains, attachment styles are developed in early childhood, shaped by our experiences with our caregivers.

“If we experienced those caregivers as emotionally or physically unavailable in some way (eg. through difficulties expressing their own emotions, being dismissive or angry about the child’s emotions, being physically absent or emotionally absent through addiction, for example) then it is very possible we will seek out similar patterns in our romantic relationships,” she says.

If we grew up in a stressful or chaotic environment then we might find ourselves seeking relationships that make us feel like this in our bodies. “We are attracted to relationships that have familiar dynamics to us – even if these relationships are unhealthy.”

Equally, we might start self-sabotaging by choosing unhealthy romantic partners because we have difficulties around self-worth and self-esteem, she adds.

“We don’t believe that we are deserving of good things or stable relationships, or we don’t trust that we won’t be hurt in some way, so may unconsciously create situations which prove this to be true.

“We may also seek out someone with difficulties with a wish of wanting to ‘fix’ them in some way - perhaps it helps us feel we are resolving something from our childhood,” Fleetwood Meade adds.

What are some practical tips for this situation?

Emma should take this time out to reflect on where these patterns might come from and what purpose these relationships are serving right now.

Fleetwood Meade offers the following prompts:

“Is focusing on someone else keeping you distracted from reflecting on deeper issues within yourself? Is it keeping you stuck in a cycle of low self-worth? Do you have a belief that you will be able to ‘fix’ them in some way? Be truthful with yourself – how emotionally available are you?”

She also suggests connecting to our embodied experiences around relationships to understand more about herself.

“This is useful as we can often ‘know’ things from a rational, cognitive perspective (ie. that a relationship isn’t healthy), but have a very different experience in our bodies,” she says.

“Try wrapping your arms around yourself in a hug. What’s it like to get this care and holding from yourself? Does it feel familiar, unfamiliar, longed for? People with low self-esteem may find their own needs fall to the bottom of the pile. Can you start to incorporate more care for yourself in your day to day life?”

Lastly, she should take the time out to learn about herself and her patterns before jumping into new relationships. “If you’re able to, this is a fantastic topic to take to personal therapy to unpack and explore on a deeper level, to help you unlearn any unhelpful beliefs about yourself, to improve your boundaries, process any difficult or traumatic early experiences, to build and strengthen your sense of self, and to feel more aligned with your values.”

Love Stuck is for those who’ve hit a romantic wall, whether you’re single or have been coupled up for decades. With the help of trained sex and relationship therapists, HuffPost UK will help answer your dilemmas. Submit a question here.

Rebecca Zisser/HuffPost UK