Sex & Relationships

An emotionally closed off person might not be ready for a relationship.
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11 Common Things People Who Are Emotionally Unavailable Often Do

So you can protect your heart if the other person isn’t ready to open up.

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"I'm a magnet for unavailable men. And I'm sick of it," says Jennifer Lopez in The Wedding Planner, her voice coated in loneliness and frustration. It's a fictional scene, but the dialogue is sharply poignant, highlighting the pain of falling for someone who is emotionally closed off. Part of this particular kind of heartbreak comes from the fact that an emotionally unavailable partner can be hard to spot — it’s not always obvious when you’re initially getting to know them. This is why knowing the signs can help prevent you from getting in too deep with someone who won't be able to love you the way you deserve.

The vulnerability that comes with relationships is difficult for many people, and it’s not uncommon to feel nervous about the level of intimacy that accompanies romantic relationships. Putting your heart out there can be scary. But there's no one reason why people become emotionally unavailable, because all of our past experiences shape how we approach relationships in the present. "Any past traumatic experience with love can cause emotional blocks," Julia Bekker, matchmaker and dating coach, tells Romper — whether it be a particularly painful breakup or watching your parents get divorced.

Over time, this can develop into a sustained pattern of emotional avoidance. “People who have avoidant attachment styles get uncomfortable when they are close and pull away because sustained intimacy is really difficult for them,” licensed marriage and family therapist Nicole Richardson tells Romper. In extreme cases, they may be showing signs of avoidant personality disorder, a condition characterized by an extreme fear of judgment and rejection. While this is rare, it significantly impacts a person’s close relationships and often requires the help of a professional to feel confident engaging emotionally with others.

If you’re the person on the receiving end of these behaviors, it’s understandable if you feel frustrated and helpless. The good thing is that being aware of the habits of an emotionally closed off person can help you avoid getting too involved in a one-sided relationship, or from overcommitting to someone when you yourself are emotionally ready. Read on for 11 common signs someone isn't quite ready or willing to be emotionally vulnerable. While not every emotionally closed off person exhibits these traits, they can provide some general clues about whether your partner is equally ready to progress your relationship.

They Only Talk About Themselves

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"One huge sign [of being emotionally unavailable] is if they ask you absolutely no questions about yourself," says Bekker, particularly when first getting to know you. If your partner doesn't seem curious about your life, it could be a sign that they don't actually want to let you in, preferring to stay isolated.

You definitely want a partner to tell you about themselves, but if you feel like they're more interested in their own perspective than yours, you might want to take a step back and look at the relationship. “In a healthy relationship, both parties are seeking information from each other,” Richardson says. Connection is a two-way street, and you should feel like a priority to your partner.

They Evade Emotional Conversations

A pretty clear sign of being emotionally unavailable is actively avoiding talking about your feelings. “People often struggle to name their feelings for themselves,” Richardson says. “Once feelings are acknowledged, they are far more difficult to avoid. Someone who is avoiding talking about feelings with you is likely unable to sit with them for themselves.”

Worse, they may make you feel like the problems in the relationship are a reflection on you rather than them. Gaslighting is a common tactic people use to avoid taking responsibility for the problems they create, so you should be wary of a partner who turns a confrontation into a chance to blame you or shut down productive conversation.

They Criticize Everything And Everyone

It's normal to have standards for the kind of person you want to spend your time with, but those who attack every little thing about someone may be using criticism as a way to keep others at bay. "To an emotionally unavailable person, it’s safer to stay single and emotionally detached than to form a connection and bond with someone only to risk getting hurt again,” Bekker says. It's a defense mechanism that prevents anyone from getting too close to them.

They Bring Up Their Ex Constantly

Especially when you first meet someone, talking about people you dated in the past sends a signal that you're still focused on that relationship and don't have room in your heart for a new connection yet. Bekker warns that you should be skeptical if someone "talks about their ex and their past relationship on your first date," as they could be subconsciously showing you their heart is still with someone else.

It is important to talk about what went wrong in past relationships to ensure you don't repeat these mistakes with someone new, but that shouldn't overshadow the partnership you're building in the present. If you feel like you’re in a three-person relationship involving your partner’s ex, it’s a sign they’re not fully ready to be all in with you.

They Don't Receive Affection Well

There's no perfect way to make someone feel loved and cared for, but consider it a warning bell if you're putting in a lot of effort to make your partner feel special and they can't appreciate it at all. “This could be about trauma or avoidant attachment,” Richardson says. “Touch and affection can be about power, particularly when it has been taken from [your partner] in the past.” They may be subconsciously using this as a way to hold their cards close to their chest. This imbalance will lead both of you to feel unhappy, as you'll feel drained and your significant other will feel unloved.

There's only so much you can give to someone if they're not going to acknowledge your efforts, and you shouldn't feel like your partner is impossible to please. Having conversations with your partner about love languages can help make the relationship better for you both, as knowing the best way each of you receives affection can help you both feel satisfied.

They Try Not To Be Tied Down

This behavior doesn't necessarily apply to romantic situations specifically; it's more about having a general dislike of being forced into set plans or commitments. Your partner might want to spend time with you only when it’s convenient for them, disregarding your needs for their own. This kind of action indicates they're only focused on their own desires, and they aren't ready to balance your wants with theirs. “If someone is wanting more from you but not seeking a commitment, it's important to set and hold your boundaries,” Richardson says. You shouldn’t have to feel like your desires take a back seat to your partner’s.

They Don’t Make Time For You

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In that same vein, a partner who is always too busy to spend quality time with you likely isn’t going to be able to meet your needs. Richardson notes that burnout sometimes can lead to emotional avoidance. “Hustle culture can force people to work unsustainable hours and hold themselves to standards that are simply not achievable,” she explains. “This can cause them to lose connections with their feelings and just go numb or on autopilot to get through it all.” The problem may come down to mismatched circumstances — this person is not in a place where they are ready to commit fully to a relationship with someone else, and you shouldn’t have to be unhappy wondering whether things are ever going to change.

They Act Overly Charming

Who doesn’t have a weakness for smooth talkers who shower them with compliments and attention on a first date? Their charisma is intoxicating, and it's easy to fall for their flirtations because it feels so intense. But people like this are often only in it for the chase, and they'll leave you high and dry once you move past the puppy love phase.

Bekker calls this tactic "love bombing.” Although their affectionate behavior indicates they are engaged in the relationship at first, a love bomber may "actually run when things start getting real,” she explains. “They just need a temporary fix." This isn't to say a partner shouldn't flatter you and make you feel special; just make sure there's genuine connection underneath all of that, and oftentimes the best way to tell is to give it time.

They Are Hesitant To Trust You

Often, people are afraid to let someone else into their hearts because of the risk it brings of getting hurt. Those who are afraid of getting hurt sometimes resort to using tactics to try to control their significant others to make themselves feel less vulnerable. "When someone is afraid of being hurt, they create subconscious walls to protect themselves," Bekker points out, and limiting the things a partner can do makes them feel safer. But healthy relationships are based on trust, and your partner should be lifting you up instead of making your life smaller.

They Tell People They're Not Ready For Commitment

If you're aware you aren't ready for something serious, it's good to let the people you're dating know early on so you don't mislead them. Emotionally unavailable people often make their intentions clear verbally, but then act like maybe they do want something more serious, confusing their partners. Bekker warns against reading too much into actions in this case. "If someone tells you they are not ready or looking for a relationship, believe them,” she says. “Don’t think you will be the special one to change their minds."

It's intoxicating to think you could be the reason someone is ready for something real, but you'll most likely end up getting hurt if you try to change what someone wants.

They Only Date Other Emotionally Unavailable People

It might be a coincidence if you've dated multiple people who can't be emotionally open, but sometimes a pattern of unavailable partners may indicate that you're not ready for a commitment either. "If you are attracting unavailable people into your life, part of you is probably unavailable as well, and you are attracting a mirror image of yourself or ending up with people you know subconsciously aren’t right for you so you can avoid relationships and real connection," Bekker explains.

Even if you deeply crave intimate connection, you could be holding yourself back without realizing it. “Anxious or avoidant attachment styles will lead people to make distance when what they long for is closeness,” Richardson says. In this case, it may be helpful to talk to a therapist to better understand what is keeping you from being fully vulnerable. Take comfort in the fact that you have agency over your own actions, and you can actively work on opening up to people if you want a deeper relationship in your life.

While every situation is different, these red flags can indicate that the person you’re with might isn’t ready for a deeper connection. If you are seeking more emotional intimacy, it might be time to re-evaluate your relationship. “It's worth attempting to talk about it,” Richardson suggests. “If your partner makes an effort to change or make improvements, keep trying. If they don't, wish them well.” Though painful, this decision will ultimately open you up to a love that better meets your emotional needs.

Sources interviewed:

Julia Bekker, matchmaker and dating coach

Nicole Richardson, LMFT-S, LPC-S, marriage and family therapist