Your Partner: Emotionally Unavailable. You: Clueless
Have you ever had a feeling that there is a wall between you two that is stopping you from reaching out? Maybe your partner is emotionally unavailable, and here’s how you can be sure.
This is my story.
My former partner and I led extremely demanding professional lives. It was mutually accepted, and things were placid for a year. One day, he said he was going to be busier than usual, so I shouldn't take it personally if he wasn't around. I agreed, finding it strange that he needed to assert an already existing
fact. Gradually, I stopped receiving replies to my calls/texts, and our weekend dates were few and far between. When I confronted him, he said, “I thought I’d made it clear when I said I was busy, that this is over”.
A week later, I tried getting him to meet me, explaining how we should end things decently. He returned with, “Is this your opening speech?”. With that, I realised what it felt like to be at the receiving end of emotional unavailability – a huge dollop in one go. The small, everyday signs, which I missed, don’t match the typical ones Google throws at you.
Here are some signs of emotionally unavailable people, to observe for consistent patterning:
Dismissing detailed descriptions – Especially of memories/office politics/fights with girlfriends. I would always be told to ‘get to the point’, instead of setting up ‘lights and cameras’. This didn't apply to deciding upon holidays/shopping/road trips.
Justifying gestures – I lived farther away from my home country than him, which meant I was away for longer. I would be greeted with surprises on my return, and I loved it. But, he would always launch into explanations about the choice of surprise – and they always had to do with X being ‘less dramatic’ than Y.
Segregating ‘couple activities’ – For an otherwise spontaneous person, he was remarkably stiff about changing the ‘flow’ of a date. Now, I wonder if it had to do with being mentally prepared for the intimacy of a movie marathon at home, instead of a movie in the hall.
Losing it over ‘milestone timelines’ – Given his aversion to labels, I consciously avoided highlighting the ‘6 month/1 year’ mark. He surprised me with bringing up both though, each time laughingly exclaiming, “I can't believe it”. At the time, I laughed along, not wanting him to clam up, but sometimes I wish I’d seen it coming.
Meeting the best friend. Only. – He’d met all of my friends, whereas I only got to meet the one ‘best buddy’. Again, at the time, I didn't read into it. But I can't deny I’d often felt like this buddy was around only to help him figure me out. For only one person to know I existed must’ve been a security blanket for him.
Now, readers could say, “It’s just his way”. That’s what I thought. I was disoriented because I gave him the freedom of no labels, yet I wasn't considered worthy of fundamental respect.
It was then that I realised people that use emotional unavailability as a defence mechanism against vulnerability. Perhaps if I’d read the signs properly, or if someone had given me tips to spot an emotionally unavailable partner, I could’ve opened communication channels wider, helping him clear any growing misunderstandings in his mind, giving him reassurances. Letting him have his way wasn’t enough to make him feel he could lower his defences.
My mistake wasn’t that I conveyed the typical of-course-you-can-trust-me. It was that I didn’t convey it in a language he understood well.