Wanting the Unavailable

 Attracted to the Unavailable: 10 Ways to Overcome this Self Sabotaging Pattern


Why are we attracted to the emotionally unavailable? What can we do about it? 

Obviously, if we lose interested as soon as someone becomes available, that won’t work because all we’d be doing is forever chasing and never having a relationship.  So how do we get off the hamster wheel? 

I get so much feedback about this kind of pattern, that I’m digging into my files and presenting 10 ways to overcome. 

Most people think they are specially equipped with radar to detect the right person – if not at first sight, at least by the second date. But a common bind for many is that you are only attracted to unavailable partners.  Your radar hones in on those who are destined to leave you in the end.  You are caught up in cycles of abandonment.

If this describes your love life, it may be that while you believe you are looking for a relationship, you are in fact seeking infatuation. When someone comes along who wants to be with you, he or she is too easy-to-get to arouse that “required level of insecurity.”  If you can’t feel those yearning, craving sensations, you think you aren’t “in love.” So you keep pursuing partners who offer an “emotional challenge” in order to stay infatuated.

What is this chase all about?

Many people are afraid of commitment — they fear both abandonment and engulfment.  Engulfment is when someone starts to want you back and the walls close in on you.  You become overwhelmed by their expectations and fear you’ll have to abandon yourself completely!  So to stay out of either thicket – abandonment or engulfment – you pursue unavailable partners as a way of avoiding the risk a real relationship. 

Another cause lies buried in your early relationship with your parents.  Maybe you felt rejected or dismissed, or struggled to win their approval or recognition.  Now as an adult you’re easily “hooked” when someone pushes these old insecurity buttons.  Another cause is low self-esteem:  You wouldn’t want anyone who would want you.  You can only value them if you are in the one-down position. But this makes you more easily dismissed, hence abandoned (again). You may stay in the drama of pursuing hard-to-get lovers in order to distract yourself from an old wound.

To break the cycle:

  1. The first step is to recognize whether you have this problem.
  2. Question your motives: Are you looking for the emotional high of infatuation or are you seeking a trusting, loving, mutual relationship? In other words are you seeking romance instead of relationship?
  3. Reexamine your values about who is a “good catch.” False notions about love, about what a relationship is supposed to be, and about what kind of partner to choose, may be keeping you outside of love.  Revamp your old values left over from high school — the ones based on looks, money, status and the size of a person’s ego, rather than on his/her capacity for love and connection.
  4. Recognize that these patterns don’t just go away because you’ve become aware of them.  You have to change behavior.  Open yourself to new truths, new values, new experiences, and new people.  Do new things, new ways.
  5. Make breaking this pattern a primary goal of self-improvement and therapy.  As you aim toward your higher self, you become capable of mutual relationship.
  6. Be suspicious of your gut — when you feel attracted to someone, it may be because he/she is emotionally unavailable.  Your gut most likely got you into this pattern in the first place.  Your gut may be attracted to those who only seem available when they are choosing you, but when they catch you, they lose interest.  As you change your values, you’ll learn to distinguish being “attracted” from being “interested” in a truly emotionally reliable partner.
  7. Be suspicious of your notion that you “just haven’t met the right person.”  Maybe the right person came by and was too available — and it turned you off.
  8. Ask your prospective lovers how they ended their past relationships. Reading between the lines, you may be able to spot an abandoner — someone who can’t commit and who blames it on their former partners’ supposed neediness in order to justify breaking up with them.  We all act needy when someone we love pulls away from us. 
  9. Learn to tolerate being loved.  The feelings of trust, mutuality, and security are different from the intense emotional high of insecurity.  After pursuing unavailable partners, being loved takes some getting used to.
  10. When you find someone who is worthy of trust and commitment, rather than expect love to be an infatuated feeling that “washes over you.” think of love as an action verb that involves conscious choice and caring actions.

© Susan Anderson March 27, 2014

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  1. Thank you so much for all the information. My sister, and I have been choosing unavailable men since we were teens. We are now in our late 60’s and it is past time to work on our problems. It may be too late in life to find real love but I would still like to heal.

  2. Thank you so much for all the information. My sister and I have been choosing unavailable men since we were teens. We are now in our 60’s and it is way past time to get some help. It may be too late for love and a healthy relationship, I would still like to heal and finally get some peace and be happy with myself.

  3. Admin says:

    Thank you for the note. Feel free to e-mail at susanandersonlcsw@yahoo.com if you’d like to discuss your situation further and explore options for the road ahead.

  4. Lisa says:

    What about people who are genuinely interested until something happens, such as taking the one-down position (as identified above), and causing (or inadvertently influencing) them to lose interest? Or is that just a convenient excuse we come up with to avoid facing the burden our emotional deficits put on others? I also recognize the difficulty I have in allowing myself to outwardly appreciate or admire others for fear that if I did, they would realize they are important to me and would then lose attraction or interest in me. I’m always very grateful and polite, but I know Im secretive about my attachment feelings and when I reflect upon the latest loss (in what seems a misguided attempt to learn, grow, and avoid repeating), I get a sense that the other person hadn’t known my heart. Because I’d cloaked it in invisible cloth; it was there, in the right place, and it felt like things were going as one would hope. Until inevitable something was…” missing,” for them. Something one person called ‘magic.’ That was painful.

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