"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, which 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. Licensed psychologist Hal Shorey, PhD wrote on Psychology Today that 17 percent of adults struggle with intimacy. 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. Julia Bekker, a matchmaker and dating coach, explains to Romper via email, "Any past traumatic experience with love can cause emotional blocks," whether it be a particularly painful break up or watching your parents get divorced.
The good news is being aware of the habits of an emotionally closed off partner can help you to avoid getting too involved in a one-sided relationship, or from overcommitting to someone when you yourself are actually emotionally ready. Read on for 11 common signs someone isn't quite ready or willing to be emotionally vulnerable.
Solely Talk About Themselves
"One huge sign [of being emotionally unavailable] is if [they ask you absolutely no questions about yourself" when first getting to know you, says Bekker. 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 themselves than you, you might want to take a step back and look at the relationship. Connection is a two way street, and you should feel like a priority to your partner.
Evade Emotional Conversations
A pretty clear sign of being emotionally unavailable is actively avoiding talking about your feelings. As Dr. Kendra Kubala, PsyD, a licensed psychologist, told INSIDER, an emotionally closed off person "may belittle, mock, or 'laugh away' serious topics that are introduced and engage in gaslighting, a form of emotional abuse that causes the victim to question himself when, in fact, he is entitled to ask the normal questions he is asking." 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.
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. Bekker explains, "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." It's a defense mechanism that prevents anyone from getting too close to them. Love isn't supposed to be painful, and a partner who brings you down doesn't deserve you.
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. On the flip side, 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.
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. As Sara Stanizai, MA, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, explained to INSIDER, "when you show appreciation for them — through a text, a gift, or taking their car to get washed — they don't recognize that you're showing that you love them," so they think the relationship is unsatisfying. 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.
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. As the Huffington Post explained, this kind of person will "seem to be available only when 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 their own.
Act Incredibly Charming
I know I personally have a weakness for smooth talkers who shower me with compliments and attention on first dates. 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," and says that although the affectionate behavior indicates they're engaged in you at first, a love bomber may "actually run when things start getting real. 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.
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.
It can be fun to be with a partner who isn't afraid to toot their own horn in jest at first, as they keep things fun. But someone who "brags and acts cocky [is actually] signaling low self-esteem. It takes confidence to be intimate and committed," and they're stopping themselves from getting into a vulnerable position where they would have to share feelings with bravado, Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist and an expert on relationships and codependency explained to Psychology Today. Be cautious of a partner who only acts super confident around you, as they may be using it to keep you a a distance.
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. But 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, saying "If someone tells you they are not ready or looking for a relationship, believe them. 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. I suggest giving He's Just Not That Into You a watch if you're in this situation.
Only Date 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. But if you are stuck in a pattern like this, 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.