1. You write people off before you even get to know them.
You’ve got a 100% ridiculous list of criteria for a potential partner in crime to meet ranging from choice of footwear to favorite movies and the second you find out they don’t share your love for sushi, it’s over. What kind of sick person doesn’t love sushi? Certainly not one you’d date. Unfortunately, if you’d step back for more than two seconds and look at what you’re doing, you’d realize that you’re in pursuit of an impossible person. You could build this ideal partner in a lab and I’d be willing to bet everything in my bank account that you’d still find fault with them – because this list you’ve built is your way of making sure no one can ever get too close. And if someone starts to, you’ll just tack a few more things onto that list to be sure they can never quite make the cut. I think a lot of emotionally unavailable people secretly know this.
2. You have this constant, nagging feeling that there might be something else better out there.
What’s worse than having a list of criteria in the first place is that you might find someone who actually does meet a good chunk of that (at least the important parts; sushi aside, fine) and yet your very pervasive belief that there just might be something better out there will keep you on the hunt. This person might be so compatible with you that you didn’t even do your usual neurotic list-checking, but never mind that. There could be someone better! And there honestly might be – or there might not. Because what it seems to really come down to isn’t whether there’s something more exciting for you out there. After basic compatibility (which isn’t too, too difficult to achieve with a large number of people), it seems to be more about whether you’ve found someone who’s willing to do the kind of work necessary to get through the hard times and grow alongside you (which is more difficult to achieve with a large number of people). If you’ve found that, it might truly be tough to top, no matter how shiny and exciting and new someone who’s just caught your eye may be. But those who are emotionally unavailable will continue to protect themselves from a real, shared connection by keeping up the search.
3. You go for people who won’t like you back.
To protect yourself from intimacy, you’ll seek out those who don’t have anything to give, who are unavailable too. You’ll fantasize about what it would be like to be with them. You’ll idealize. At night when you’re trying to fall asleep, you’ll strike up a conversation between them and you, entirely in your own head. Suddenly it’s 3am and while you haven’t quite yet hit a good REM cycle, you have successfully built a whole fantasy land with the two of you at its center. The thing is, the further and further you detach from reality, the more you close yourself off from being able to have a genuine connection with someone. The best part is the exquisite irony that follows: you’ll convince yourself that that you have so much to give, that you’re so very available, so capable of loving someone. Look at that conversation you just had with them in your head! You want to give them that! If only they’d just be more receptive; if only they’d just want you back. The emotionally unavailable are very, very good at tricking themselves into believing this.
4. You start relationships with people who aren’t truly right for you.
When you do finally settle down, it’s with someone who isn’t quite right for you, who embodies something that won’t ever challenge you. This is the last way that you lie to yourself: by telling yourself that this relationship is proof that you’re able to love, that you’re giving someone your all, while secretly knowing that something is off, off, off. When those relationships end – and being that they weren’t truly right in the first place, they often will – you’ll hold onto them for longer than you should, wondering what went wrong, trying to mend them, trying to understand, even though deep down, you probably know the truth about it all.
5. There’s a part of you that’s undeniably, shamefully superficial when it comes to who you’re into.
Looks obviously don’t mean anything but if someone’s holding a gun to your head and telling you to cut the shit, yes, yes, yes, okay, looks are something you care about. You’ve read all the quotes about how when you love someone you start to become one with their energy and looks just melt away and you’re down for all of that, but you’ll admit you’re occasionally a little bit specific about just who you let become “one with your energy” and they tend to be of a certain height, hair color, eye color, face shape, bone structure, way of walking– hold up, now that they’ve put that gun down, can we retract everything you just said??
6. You feel suffocated and terrified when you sense that someone is trying to wedge their way into your life and settle there; you feel suffocated and terrified when you’re entirely by yourself.
You start to feel like you can’t trust yourself and your feelings because a part of you wants closeness in your relationships more than almost anything, but another part of you becomes paralyzed at the thought of getting too close to anyone. When someone who is genuinely available expresses an interest in you, you’re properly horrified. The very request for your presence is suddenly stifling. You might react by shutting yourself off, fucking a stranger or eating an entire pan of brownies. No matter your numbing method of choice, it tends to work for a few minutes and then feel even worse after the fact. At the same time, when you’re all alone, you sometimes find yourself feeling very, very needy, wanting to have that unique level of closeness with someone that so many people out there seem so able to achieve so frequently. While these tendencies may seem like polar opposites, they’re really two sides of the same coin, and fear is the thing that connects them. Because although the emotionally unavailable will do everything they can to not have to believe this about themselves, at the true core of emotional unavailability is fear – of not being good enough for someone; of there being something too dark and damaged about you for another person to love if they were to know the truth; of ruining someone who gets close to you; of being left once you’ve opened up to someone; of investing in someone who might become bored with you; of investing in someone who you might become bored with; of real, vulnerable connection.