5 signs you’re subconsciously attracted to emotionally unavailable men, according to psychology

I recently read an article in Vogue about someone who confessed that they spent a lot of their younger years chasing people who weren’t interested in them. 

“I now understand this because this is how my parents were,” they said. “They were not affectionate people. They did a great job with providing for me but rarely showed love and affection.”

The love this individual was shown in childhood was also highly conditional. They would get glimmers of love if they performed well in school, for example, and followed their parents’ strict directions. 

“[But] most of the time, I was put down, ridiculed, and compared to others, particularly by my father.”

It’s no wonder then, that this person felt like they always had to jump through hoops to get any sort of love and attention from romantic interests who were ultimately unavailable (because of deep-seated issues of their own). 

Does this story sound familiar?

Here are five signs that you may be subconsciously attracted to emotionally available men, according to psychology.

1) You tend to be drawn to what you can’t quite have 

For some people, emotionally unavailable people can be exciting because they’ll give you a “hit” of affection, and then abruptly pull back. 

In other words, they love the thrill of the chase. 

“In this relational dynamic, the highs are high and the lows are low,” much like with someone who has an addiction to gambling, says Roxy Zarrabi, PsyD

“This person may run hot and cold, so you don’t know when they will be affectionate or pursue you but when they do, it feels special and exciting.”

Zarrabi says that this intermittent reinforcement can leave you yearning for crumbs of connection and give the illusion that someday, somehow, you’ll be lucky (or worthy) enough to get the “entire meal”.

“But instead, you often end up hungry and dissatisfied,” says Zarrabi. 

She advises paying attention to any old wounds this person is stirring up inside of you. 

“Take some time to reflect on why a consistent and emotionally available partner would feel boring or unfamiliar in comparison.”

This attachment style could be rooted in your upbringing.

“Adults who were raised with an inconsistent or unavailable caregiver or whose emotional needs were not met during a crucial stage of development are more likely to be drawn like a magnet to this same push-pull dynamic as an adult,” says Zarrabi.

She says it’s not uncommon for those with this early experience to be drawn to a partner with similar qualities simply because it feels familiar. 

“That feeling that you’ve ‘known this person forever’ may just be due to this person activating your attachment wounds from childhood.”

2) You might be inherently insecure 

Sometimes, it’s “safer” to have feelings for someone who isn’t emotionally available to you. 

“You might self-sabotage your love life by choosing to fall for unavailable people,” says Dr. L. in his article “The Psychology of Wanting Unavailable People”.

“This saves you the shame and humiliation of rejection because you already know that the relationship can’t develop.”

We might not trust our ability to handle a healthy romantic adult relationship. 

These unavailable partners reinforce our own beliefs about ourselves and about love, adds psychologist Zeenat Merchant Syal

“Core beliefs like ‘I am unlovable’…are subconsciously there and are replayed with partners who don’t meet your emotional needs. 

“We might choose unavailable partners because we are using our relationships as an escape from looking at our true selves, says Merchant Syal.

“When we seek relationships to fill a void or out of inner emptiness, we are less likely to connect from a place of mutual respect or shared values.”

3) You like that this man is a somewhat of a mystery 

An emotionally unavailable man can seem attractive at first sight because there’s an aura of mystery surrounding him. 

He may be the “strong, silent” even brooding type and this can be a turn on for many women. 

He may also be hard to “catch,” which can be part of the allure. 

It’s the mystique, says relationship writer Lori Jean Glass

“People are captivated by the unknown, including in romantic relationships. Since the person doesn’t fully give in, there’s a part of them that remains out of your reach.”

Some women can be initially attracted by the rush of the unknown, adds Glass. 

“This can have a powerful effect on you, keeping you enthralled and wanting to know more.”

4) You have an innate fear of intimacy 

Another reason we might be prone to choosing emotionally unavailable partners is because deep down we have a fear of intimacy

This fear can deeply impact how we choose a partner, says Merchant Syal. 

“Sometimes, the safer option is to choose someone who is just like you, which simply means [choosing someone] who also harbors the same fears as you. [This] boils down to them not challenging you enough or exciting you enough.”

A fear of intimacy can often subconsciously affect a person’s ability to form or maintain close relationships, adds Sabrina Felson, MD

“They don’t intentionally reject love from another,” she says. “Instead, they may behave in ways that create stress in a relationship, resulting in an early end, before any deeper relationship can develop.”

5) Some part of you is also unavailable 

Have you stopped to consider that the reason you may be attracting unavailable men might have something to do with the notion that you could also be emotionally unavailable on some level?

“This one can be a tough realization that you may be tempted to deny,” says Zarrabi.

It could be that you consciously want commitment, but deep down you fear true intimacy and losing your sense of self in the relationship or getting hurt, says Zarrabi.

“As a result, it may feel safer to be with someone who is emotionally unavailable, because you know on some level that you don’t have to fully commit to the other person.”

How to know if you’re falling for someone who is emotionally unavailable?

The team at The Wellness Society says there are some telltale signs that point to someone’s emotional unavailability.

These include:

  • They have poor communication. They show a lack of investment in maintaining regular contact or conversation. 
  • They avoid emotional intimacy. Emotionally unavailable people often find it challenging to open up and share their deeper thoughts, fears, or insecurities.
  • They have a fear of commitment. They may be hesitant to enter into or progress in a committed relationship, often maintaining emotional distance or creating barriers or creating barriers that prevent deeper connection. 
  • They prioritize their independence and freedom. Emotionally unavailable people will prioritize their independence and personal freedom over building and nurturing emotional connections. They will resist merging their lives and sharing responsibilities. 
  • They have inconsistent and unpredictable behavior. They might go hot and cold on you on the turn of a dime.
  • They have trust issues. This can be from past experience experiences, childhood trauma, and personal insecurities that make it hard for them to fully trust and rely on their partner. 

Isabella Chase

Isabella Chase, a New York City native, writes about the complexities of modern life and relationships. Her articles draw from her experiences navigating the vibrant and diverse social landscape of the city. Isabella’s insights are about finding harmony in the chaos and building strong, authentic connections in a fast-paced world.

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