How do I stop wanting unavailable guys?
September 17, 2017 11:21 PM   Subscribe

I seem to have a type, and it is men who cannot or will not love me back and commit to me. I've read the self-help books, I've talked it out ad nauseum, I've thought it through, now how do I actually detach myself and find myself someone who really loves me and wants to be with me?

Of course there are lots of special snowflake details about my childhood and my parents and every relationship I've been in that have all led to the present situation. Suffice to say that just like every other adult human past the age of 30, I've been through some shit and taken a beating. The last few relationships I've been in have been with men who are the classic emotionally unavailable types. I think I specifically go for these guys. I'm probably afraid of commitment myself, to be honest. I'm sick of thinking about it, reading about it, diagnosing the problem, and endlessly debating the "why". I just want to figure out how to stop loving men who don't love me, and open myself up to finding one who does. do I do this? (I'm currently involved with just such a man, and find myself unable to detach, even though he obviously is not giving me nearly enough of what I want or deserve.)
posted by Dilemma to Human Relations (15 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I know it's probably the biggest Ask MeFi cliche as answers go, but therapy, if that's an option.
posted by Chairboy at 2:11 AM on September 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

You're opening up to men you see as Mr. Right. They, however, see you as Ms. Right Now.

Open up your Mr. Right criteria. In fact, the current type that's caused you nothing but grief, cut those mopes right out of your New! Improved! Mr. Right Criteria.TM There are quality men that want to meet you, and love you, and be with you -- might be that you're blinded from seeing them because of current Mr. Right criteria.
posted by dancestoblue at 4:12 AM on September 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: What do you want in a relationship? Think it over, verbalize it to yourself and to a few close friends, and write it down. This is your goal.

And now, like any goal, you have to do whatever it takes to get there. If a current guy isn't helping you get to that relationship goal? Tell him he isn't giving you what you need. And then walk away.

You might always be attracted to the wrong guy. I know I've got my type that's always my downfall. But you can also expand your type to include others as well. Seek those out.

Put yourself first. Watch out for yourself. Give your heart what it needs.

And yes, therapy can help, if you can.
posted by umwhat at 4:47 AM on September 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think I specifically go for these guys.

Give some consideration to how you actually go about doing that. What's the process? How does going for one of these guys actually play out? Break it down, step by step. Writing it out might help.

Next, realize that this set of steps most likely constitutes a habit. Habits are practised rather than reasoned behaviors, so knowing why you initially developed any given habit is typically not of much use to you if your main aim is simply to break or redirect it. Knowing how the habit unfolds and plays out and being keenly observant and aware of the dance as you're dancing: these are the things that will help you trip up, disrupt, derail, dissipate and eventually modify or replace a habit.

I'm probably afraid of commitment myself, to be honest.

That's probably just as well right now. Being afraid of commitment to any of a string of people who don't actually give a shit about you is completely sound and protective. You might be quite surprised to find just how ready you are to commit to the first person who shows real signs of being willing to commit properly to you.
posted by flabdablet at 5:48 AM on September 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Accept that what you choose is comfortable to you. What you are attracted to is unhealthy for you. Find pieces of your past relationships that you now see were healthy and good, and focus on finding people who mirror those behaviors back to you.

Accept also that getting into a healthy relationship will feel madly uncomfortable to you at times. You will want to run for the hills. You will think they are crazy, that you cannot deserve such good treatment, that they must be lying or want something from you. This will feel weird and make you twitchy. Stick it out. See if it still works in a month. See if you can get used to it.

Obviously do not ignore any obvious red flags. As suggested above, write out the behaviors and traits that you ARE looking for. Create a mix tape (or the current equivalent) that you would like to receive from them. Write down how it would feel to have this relationship, to be solid in who you love, who loves you, to know that you are loved and cared for. Imagine your way into feeling comfortable in that world.

and yes, therapy therapy therapy. You may have thought and read and thought about it, but sometimes someone else outside your situation can offer that fresh perspective that smacks you upside the head (figuratively) and makes you say, Oh Duh! It's best when that's a trained professional.
posted by knitcrazybooknut at 6:02 AM on September 18, 2017 [6 favorites]

Have you read Attached?

It talks about exactly this - identifying your attachment type and how to find people who are healthy matches for you.
posted by bunderful at 6:02 AM on September 18, 2017 [4 favorites]

Figure out how to love being alone. As soon as that happens, your tolerance for shitty relationships plummets pretty close to zero and your criteria for healthy, worthwhile relationships goes waaaaaaaaaaaaaay up.
posted by cocoagirl at 6:38 AM on September 18, 2017 [17 favorites]

Nthing spending some time learning how to be happy being alone. This will bring up the stuff that's making it hard for you to detach from these folks once they show you who they really are. Once you have worked through that, it will be a lot easier to spot these folks early on and nope out before you get too involved.
posted by jazzbaby at 7:08 AM on September 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Head over to Baggage Reclaim, which is all about emotionally unavailable men. The latest navigation design isn't as intuitive as it used to be, but I would start clicking through on the tags and associated links at the end of each blog post that sound most relevant to you. I'm pretty sure that when I first heard about the site here I ended up reading every single word, including the comments. I get it. Go have a look.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:09 AM on September 18, 2017 [7 favorites]

This probably falls into the self-help category, but you might find devymetal's advice about resetting a broken "attraction picker" helpful.
posted by postmortemsalmon at 8:48 AM on September 18, 2017

I'm also going to put forth the Ask MeFi standard of "therapy," but I'll also elaborate a bit on how it might be a good fit for you in particular, and how it fits with some of your specific concerns re: what you've already tried.

I'm sick of thinking about it, reading about it, diagnosing the problem, and endlessly debating the "why".

At first blush it might seem like therapy is just going to be more of this, but with someone you now have to pay on top of it. And to some extent, this will be true and hard to avoid. At the same time, if this is as far as your hypothetical therapy goes, then I'd say you wouldn't be getting your money's worth.

Because: where therapy's real value lies is in the fact of it being a relationship, which means that once you're in it, sooner or later the accumulated habits that you bring to other relationships will inevitably surface, shaping your therapeutic relationship. This means that you would have a rehearsal space -- a safe, protected one, in collaboration with somebody who centers what is good for you -- in which to observe and work on changing these patterns live, in vivo; this is exactly what you want!

Just to paint a little hypothetical example: you have a (male) therapist who shows genuine interest and openness towards your experiences and needs, and as you continue seeing him, you find your engagement waning, and a sense that the therapy is pointless and not going anywhere and why am I even paying for it? At that point it would seem to make sense to stop going. Except, this is a perfect opportunity to keep at it, by bringing it up for exploration with your therapist -- what if this is the appearance of that same dynamic which keeps you locked into the pursuit of emotionally unavailable men? Therapists are trained to reflect on these kinds of on-going dynamics, and how to teach skills and meta-communicate about them in a way that can open a way out for you, the client.

So yes, there will be thinking and talking about it, and some exploration of the "why"s, but in a good therapy, that will be secondary to the experiencing and re-learning of being in a close relationship, and becoming skilled in the same. And yes, it will be difficult and profoundly uncomfortable at times; it is, in my experience, also completely worth it.

If you're interested in pursuing this, you might do well to shy away from more CBT-style therapies, which are frequently geared towards a more explicit problem-solving style. You might benefit from more relational therapies, which sound like a much better fit for the issues you described (and is basically what I draw my hypothetical e.g. from, above). Please feel free to memail me if you need (and feel comfortable doing so), and I wish you the best of luck.
posted by obliterati at 9:19 AM on September 18, 2017 [4 favorites]

I agree with Cocoagirl. I think there's something to be said for getting comfortable with the idea that you don't actually need to be in a relationship in order to be happy. I think there's a level of emotional health that comes from that sense of self-sufficiency in being happily single that allows you to start seeing other people in a different way, and perhaps seeing more clearly what you actually need in other people, and being willing to wait for the right one.

In my mid thirties, I decided to get used to the idea of possibly being single for good. I think getting to that place actually opened me up to different people and different relationships than I might have considered earlier on. I suspect there's something about feeding the need to "be with" someone that fuels unhealthy choices.
posted by amusebuche at 11:05 AM on September 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

Seconding the recommendation for Baggage Reclaim. Natalie is really good at anticipating the rationalizations people do when they're embroiled in one-sided relationships. She deconstructs them constructively, if that makes sense... It is NOT the same old shame-y "he just doesn't like you, because you're not Chill enough" BS we all got from The Rules et alia, back in the day.

The best antidote I've ever heard of, personally? A little extra pride, even if you have to fake it at first. "Oh, he's emotionally unavailable? Well, it's kind of beneath my dignity to wait around/fall at his feet/linger and sulk until he pays attention to me. I'm just a little too vain for that, so I'm going to bounce."
posted by armeowda at 1:26 AM on September 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Nthing Baggage Reclaim, it's been a while since I've read it years ago, but it really helped me unpack my reasons for chasing after my own Hurty McHeart-stabby guy. Also nthing therapy.

Also a couple things. Understanding that intermittent reinforcement is a psychological phenomenon that unavailable people often give out, and that it's ridiculously addictive. Like incredibly so. These kind of relationships-- they feel exciting like a roller coaster, but instead of feeling fun and truly euphoric, at their very core, they feel kinda terrible. If I think about it honestly, I felt bad, more than I felt good. Anxious. Fearful. Sometimes obsessive. And I noticed I quash this 'bad' gut feeling in those kinda relationships to get the 'high' of the reward, and it can result in keeping me stuck pining over something that is bad for me. So, basically trusting my gut, and listening to that niggling 'bad' feeling I get in those kind of relationships, and not dismissing it and putting it aside, but listening to it and extricating myself before it becomes something addictive for me. It took me a really long time to be able to do this.

Also, here's something dear to my heart, that I mention often: Self Esteem.

I firmly believe that good, healthy, self esteem is at the root of these kind of yearnings. I put up with guys I thought I really wanted, and who treated me like shit because I deep down felt I deserved it. I had terrible self-esteem, close to abysmal, and despite working on it, it's something I struggle with occasionally still. But only in building myself up, in trying to see myself as awesome, to even let myself feel a little conceited sometimes, did it let me think, 'well, I deserve better than this,' and stopped me putting these guys on a pedestal as much. There is only one pedestal, now, and I'm on it. I'm great. I deserve someone great. I deserve to have my needs met. I can walk away when this isn't happening, now, not chase after someone's puny scraps. Positive thoughts, a gratitude journal, taking care of myself a bit more, faking confidence til I felt more confident, among other things, helped me with this.

Lastly, just trying to be better. Being a bit more loving-kindness and less, 'omg I looooove him!' *cough* and meditation, things like that. And realizing that 'love' isn't 'chemistry' necessarily. It's easy to chase that first 'in love' feeling, and get bored if its not super! intense! etc. But love for me, with a good partner, feels like a warm and fuzzy slow burn, rather than the intense, heady high. It's easy to chase the high over the warmness, but once I recognized how great the warmness was, and how much better and happier I actually felt, well, I wouldn't want the flash bang of that high ever again.

You can do this. You can break this pattern. You deserve someone great, and kind, who you love and loves you back.
posted by Dimes at 10:57 AM on September 19, 2017 [6 favorites]

I can't tell you how to find someone who'll love you forever and ever. What I can tell you, though, is how to stop wasting a second longer of your life with men who don't want you.

How I did it was to put 'wants the same kind of relationship I do + wants it with ME' at the top of my nonnegotiable list of requirements, right up there with 'okay with my not being able to have children,' 'kind,' 'honest,' and 'communicates.'

Then I treated that brand-new and thus-strange requirement in exactly the same way as I did the children requirement: doesn't matter how compatible we otherwise might be, how kind, honest, or how great of a communicator a potential partner was — if he wanted children of his own and wanted me to eventually be the one to bear them, it was doomed. Once I was able to mentally reframe that trait as an absolute deal breaker, then I was able to also cut loose the men who didn't want me or the same kind of relationship I did.

For yourself, substitute 'children' for whatever nonnegotiable, immutable requirement that you're able to view dispassionately — politics, hatred of a band, love of a food… whatever. Just pick some nonnegotiable thing that you already know you cannot do in relationships, and then add 'wasting my time waiting to be picked' to it.
posted by culfinglin at 2:47 PM on September 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

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