13 Signs You Aren’t as Emotionally Available as You Think You Are

Crystal Jackson

It’s time for a quick self-check …

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Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

It’s easy to dive into the chaotic world of dating and come up for air with a lot of terrible stories about all those messed-up fish in the sea. It takes about 5 minutes of scrolling through dating profiles to have at least a couple of horrible examples of humanity to show your friends. It’s even easier to identify the many emotionally unavailable, growth-stunted individuals trying to make a love connection while simultaneously trying to dodge one.

While they occasionally catch us by surprise, many emotionally available people provide us with some obvious clues that they just aren’t ready to date. All of this is unsurprising, but you may be surprised to find out that you might be one of the emotionally unavailable people — or at least have some pretty emotionally unavailable habits.

It’s easy to point out the flaws in other people, but it can be challenging to truly see our own. Yet, we can’t learn and grow without a little self-awareness.

13 Signs You Aren’t as Emotionally Available as You Think You Are

According to an article in Frontiers of Psychology, researchers define emotional availability as “the ability of two people to share a healthy emotional connection”. They go on to explore the Emotional Availability (EA) Assessment by Biringen et al. (1998) and Biringen (2008), which measures the following dimensions of adult behavior: “sensitivity, structuring, non-intrusiveness, and non-hostility”. While their research focuses on the parent-child relationship, this can also apply to adult relationships.

Dr. Erin Leonard explains emotional unavailability in an article in Psychology Today:

Emotionally unavailable partners are often incapable of accessing the uncomfortable feelings necessary for insight and empathy in a relationship.
Heightened defense mechanisms and cognitive distortions prevent a partner from looking inward and admitting mistakes.
Resolving conflict requires perspective-taking, empathy, and self-awareness — three things an emotionally unavailable partner may lack.

Let’s take a look at some not-so-obvious signs you might not be as emotionally available as you think.

You’re Not Over Your Ex

If you’re genuinely not over your ex, why are you dating? Believe me: I’ve asked myself this question, too. Someone being hung up on their ex is an obvious red flag, but haven’t we all gotten back out there before we were ready?

The truth is that we sometimes feel like we’ll never be ready. We’re gun shy of meeting someone and getting hurt all over again. So, at a certain point, we just have to get out there and make the best of it. If we do this and realize we’re comparing every single person to an ex, it might be time to take a break and do some healing.

You cannot be emotionally available for a new relationship if the measure is always going to be your ex. No one wants to have to live up to the last partner. If you’re hung up on a former lover, it might not be time to get a new one quite yet.

You Find Something Wrong with Everyone You Meet

Is absolutely no one good enough for you? It’s one thing if you meet someone and there’s no chemistry or you come across obvious deal breakers, but do you give anyone a chance? Or are you constantly nitpicking every single person you go out with from the very start?

If you find something wrong with everyone, you might not be as emotionally available as you think you are. Or perhaps the dating pool in your area truly is a cesspool of humanity. It happens. But ask yourself if you would give a good person a chance or if you are already mid-leap to conclusions before you truly get to know them.

You’re Always “Good” Even When You’re Not

Do you only show partners and potential partners your strong side? This is an indicator that you aren’t really open with them. If you’re “good” even when you’re not, you aren’t being available.

For self-reliant, independent people, and I’m including myself here, it’s hard to show what we perceive as weakness. We don’t want to be vulnerable and admit that maybe we don’t have our shit together all the time. But if we can’t ever let them see our messy, chaotic, true selves at any point, then we’re not letting them get to know — and possibly love — all of us. This is the opposite of being emotionally available.

Commitments Give You Anxiety

Does commitment make you itchy? Does the thought of a relationship feel draining to you? If so, you’ve walked right into the category of an emotionally unavailable person.

If you’re dodging relationships and trying to keep your options open, it could be a matter of timing, but it could also be a fear of commitment that indicates that you’re just not ready to date. Instead of feeling excited about relationships, you feel suffocated. This is a clue that you just aren’t ready — so why are you dating anyway?

You Don’t Like to Label Your Relationships

Do you have relationships that meet the criteria for an official relationship without the official label? It might seem rebellious to ditch society’s labels, but sometimes it just indicates that you’re — once again — avoiding commitment.

If you don’t want to be held to the rules of a relationship, you might not trust yourself to follow them. What does this say about you? Well, it doesn’t say you’re emotionally available, that’s for sure.

While there are always people who claim not to need the labels, this only works if both parties are completely comfortable with an ambiguous relationship. Otherwise, labels help form the parameters of the relationships. They set an expectation. If the word “expectation” fills you with dread, that could be another sign that you aren’t emotionally available to be in a relationship.

You Operate Out of Distrust

Is your default setting distrust of others? We’ve all been burned before, but that doesn’t mean we should hold all future partners accountable for the last partner’s mistakes. If you don’t allow the new person to develop trust with you, it’s impossible to build a healthy relationship.

This is another sign that you’re just not emotionally available right now. You have healing to do. You aren’t being realistic to automatically assume everyone is trying to cheat on you or lie to you. You’re just showing the wounds you haven’t healed.

You Choose Emotionally Unavailable Partners

Are all the people you partner emotionally unavailable? Know that they are your mirror. The interesting thing about being emotionally unavailable is that it’s easy to hide if you pick someone else who’s just as resistant as you are. In fact, you’ll look even better if their problem is more obvious than yours.

I couldn’t figure out why I chose emotionally unavailable humans. I wanted commitment. I wanted a love that would last.

I was also afraid of it. I was also distrusting that it could ever happen to me. Picking partners who wouldn’t push the envelope too far allowed me to be guarded without it being obvious. I could hide behind their unavailability and protect my own. In truth, I hoped that if they could address theirs, I could more easily surrender mine, but that’s not what happens in a pairing of people who just aren’t ready for healthy, long-term relationships.

You Get Defensive When Confronted

Getting defensive is a block to good communication. We can’t hear what other people are saying if we’re preparing to defend ourselves. Likewise, we cannot be heard if the other person gets defensive. So, that’s why this is a sign that we aren’t as emotionally available as we probably need to be to have healthy relationships.

Feeling defensive isn’t the problem. We can feel defensive, say that’s what we’re feeling, take some time to deal with it, and then come back to listen openly to what is being said. We can figure this out, but we have to be willing to acknowledge our defensiveness and learn new strategies for communication. Otherwise, we really aren’t being available for a fully intimate relationship with others.

You Can’t Hold Space for Others’ Emotions

Another more subtle sign of the emotionally unavailable is the inability to handle difficult emotions. If we make a joke, try to solve the problem, or change the subject every time the topic becomes challenging, we’re not holding space for the other person’s full emotional expression.

We can’t be good partners or even friends if we can never allow other people to struggle in our presence without taking that personally or trying to fix it. Emotional maturity and availability come when we get comfortable being uncomfortable with other people’s feelings so that they have the space to express them.

You Don’t Know What You Want

If you have no idea what you want in relationships, it’s curious that you choose to date. You might figure it out as you go, or you might fumble around with the feelings of people who already have taken the time to know what they want.

The best thing you can do for yourself and for others is to figure out who you are and what you want. Then, communicate that clearly. Otherwise, you could break hearts and hurt feelings — perhaps even your own.

You Don’t Want to Introduce Them to “Your” People

If you never want to introduce the person you’re dating to friends or family members, do you even know why? Even if you like to keep your private life private, it’s a sign of emotional unavailability to never introduce that person to the other people who matter to you. Keeping everything in your life in tidy compartments can help you feel in control, but it won’t bode well for good relationships.

Examining your reluctance could yield some solid information. Are you avoiding it because you know your friends and family won’t approve? Do they have good reasons not to approve? Following this line of thought could help you see your relationship better, too.

You’re a Flaky Texter

Inconsistent communication is often a sign of a partner who is emotionally unavailable. No one likes it, but it’s amazing how we can give ourselves a pass for this behavior when it suits us. Being a flaky texter isn’t a cute quirk. Sometimes, it’s just a sign that we’re not where we need to be emotionally to handle a relationship.

Good communication is necessary for healthy relationships. We’re all learning as we go, but if you run hot and cold with other people, it might be time to consider why that is — and how you’re going to address it.

You Don’t Open Up to Potential Partners

Do partners know the real you? Do you ever let them all the way in, or are they just outside that door to your inner sanctum? When we keep our deepest selves to ourselves, we’re denying our partners the chance to know us fully. We might be afraid of sharing this part of ourselves, but if we don’t share it, we’re not really allowing them to know us.

This isn’t just about letting them see us on our bad days. Opening up can mean sharing our secrets, disclosing the things from the past that have hurt us, and speaking up about our triggers. It’s sharing our emotions and our life stories so we can know and be known by going deeper than the surface in our relationships.

So, You Aren’t as Emotionally Available as You Thought …

We all have those moments when we’re dating when we’d be better off focusing on ourselves or healing from the last relationship. Our availability can be fluid throughout our lives. When my heart was broken and I was still desperately in love with an ex, I knew that the version of me trying to date wasn’t actually available to anyone new.

Did I still try anyway? Of course, I did. That’s how I figured it out. I learned. I took a break. I focused on my healing. I began to recognize other ways I was being self-protective to the detriment of intimacy in relationships.

So, if you aren’t as emotionally available as you thought, take the time to get there. Go to therapy. Focus on you. Quit trying to source validation outside yourself. If you know that you aren’t where you need to be, you can start working on it.

It doesn’t mean you have to stop dating, although that’s ideal. You just need to be self-aware and take responsibility for your actions. Just as it’s easy to see something wrong with everyone else, you can be pretty sure that other people can find something wrong with you. So, be kind. Be kind to other people, but be kind to yourself, too.

Just because you’re emotionally unavailable now doesn’t mean you have to stay that way. If you see the signs, you just need to start doing something about them. As you do, you’ll grow into greater emotional availability, ready for the relationship that’s meant for you.

Originally published on Medium

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Crystal Jackson is a former therapist turned writer. She is the author of the Heart of Madison series and a volume of poetry entitled My Words Are Whiskey. Her work has been featured on Medium, Elite Daily, Thought Catalog, The Good Men Project, and Elephant Journal. When she's not writing, you can find her traveling, paddle boarding, cycling, throwing axes badly but with terrifying enthusiasm, hiking, or curled up with her nose in a book in Madison, Georgia, where she lives with one puppy and two wild and wonderful children. Crystal writes about relationships, mental health, parenting, social justice, and more. Never miss an update. Subscribe to emails: https://crystaljacksonwriter.substack.com/

Madison, GA
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