How to Spot the Emotionally Unavailable
Sex & Dating

How to Spot the Emotionally Unavailable

By Shelby Sells

As part of PAPER's month-long "Sexpress" series, New York-based sexologist Shelby Sells will be writing weekly columns that investigate modern sexuality. Dive into her sexpertise, below.

Knowing what you want out of a relationship is essential in achieving success with your partner. Whether it's purely sexual, deeply emotional, or somewhere in-between, once we've mapped out our wants and needs it becomes easy to spot these defining character qualities in potential lovers. But what if you know what you want, are sure of it, and are still having a hard time finding it? I often see this play out in people, myself included, who desire a loving and intimate emotional relationship but are unsure of how to find one.

There is no shame in wanting a relationship. People are often poked fun at for admitting they crave companionship, but love is in our genes. So many beautiful doors are unlocked while participating in a trusting committed partnership. This is where we find sexual exploration and experimentation, intimacy, and a strong bond of caring for one another. A great way to ensure a long-lasting, healthy relationship is if both partners are emotionally available and open to each other. How do we know whether someone is emotionally available? Here are some ways we can figure out if a person is ready or not for a significant relationship.

We must believe what people show and say about themselves. If a person tells you they're "not looking for anything serious" or that they're "not good in relationships," we should believe them. They're not playing games or hoping we'll be the "exception to the rule," or whatever else we make up in our head to ignore rejection. I know it's alluring to be the one who "changes" a person, but it's not your job and it shouldn't be.

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The emotionally unavailable is elusive, mysterious, and selfish. They often disappear without a word and reappear when it's convenient for them (most likely the 2 AM booty call). They are on their own agenda and can be hard to pin down. They often use charm to get their way. Their interests are physical (sex), and not focused connecting emotionally or spiritually. They send confusing messages without giving straightforward answers. They love the thrill of the chase.

The emotionally unavailable person is usually hypercritical and is unable to develop intimacy. This "perfectionist" attitude makes it easy for them to point out flaws and shortcomings as this person is looking for any excuse to leave the relationship or avoid taking it to the next step. More often than not they don't want you to meet their friends or integrate you into their lives. They use their past relationships as a way to avoid intimacy. Harping on ex romantic partners is a sure sign someone is not ready to move forward and begin a new commitment.

Recognizing these signals in potential partners will inevitably save us a lot of emotional grief. Accepting the reality that someone may not be a good fit as a love interest is key. By not wasting our time trying to change people or mold them into what we want them to be, we open ourselves up to people who are emotionally available and attentive to our needs. This freedom allows us to choose a partner we see a future with. Choose love.