She'z emotionally unavailablez.
July 22, 2008 11:03 AM   Subscribe

Is "not emotionally available" ever a temporary thing?

Long story somewhat less long:

Went to a music festival. Met a woman there talking to some friends from my old town who I felt totally smitten for immediately. She's a lovely, well, frigin fantastic dancer. I'm a musician. She was very friendly and relaxed and charming. Within about 10 minutes of talking to her, I realized that she was the ex-gf of a good friend of mine, who after breaking up with his long term gf, was playing the field pretty aggressively. I believe they dated Jan-Feb of this year.

I didn't tell her I knew this because I'd known that she'd been pretty upset by the breakup and I wanted to get to know her on my own terms. She probably could have guessed that I knew him but didn't mention it. (she'd traveled for a few months out of country, was hoping he'd be there for her when she got back but he'd moved on and now is pretty serious about someone else).

Anyway, I made a big effort to hang with her over the week of the festival. We went for a long walk and went swimming and talked quite a lot. There was definitely a sense of hurt about her, and at times she was quite distant and removed. But at other times our conversations clicked, and while she didn't go out of her way to hang, we ended up spending most of our time together. Towards the end she sat with me in a corner of a crowded bar till 2 or 3 in the morning and we talked and it was really nice. We talked about a lot of things we have in common and similar ways of looking at the world and understanding people.

The following morning we hung out at a concert a bit more and were having a really nice time. Later in the afternoon she seemed to tense up and was less friendly. It was the last day of the concert and I was feeling really anxious about everything and didn't want to just let it slide because I knew that I'd be rolling it over in my head forever if I didn't talk to her. So I told her that I knew she'd dated my friend and apologized for not letting her know (she didn't seem to mind). And that I had had a great time hanging out with her and would like to see her again.

She told me that she'd thought maybe she should tell me that she's "not emotionally available" but didn't know when to bring it up. Basically a combination of getting pretty wrapped up with my friend and being very hurt by him and a lot of turmoil in her life (she's got a lot of career uncertainty). Things are going well for her right now and she doesn't want to open up to anything because she was pretty wrecked in the last couple of months and is just now feeling ok. She said over and over again "this spring sucked".

She said "I hope this isn't the last time we see each other" and I told her I didn't know what to say. I've had a really hard time in situations like this and have really hurt myself in the past. I'm really gunshy about this particular situation...I never know what to do and it feels totally uncomfortable for me. I told her as much. She lives 2 hours away and it would be a lot of effort for me to keep getting to know her.

However I like her tons. For the record: we have a seemingly similar sense of humor (kind of a rarity as mine is pretty odd), she's smart and kind and interesting, and she's a fabulous dancer (watching her dance was just totally beautiful). We sort of seem to see eye to eye on a lot of things and she said how much she'd liked hanging out with me, people watching and shooting the shit. So to an extent I take her at her word that this is a bad time for her. I could see that in her face through the week and when we talked to. It turns out (related by my friend via IM from the country he moved to recently) that she'd dated yet another one of my friends, who'd apparently treated her badly to some degree too. It really does sound like it's been an awful year for her.

Oh yeah, I'm 10 years older than she is. Her: early to mid 20s, me early to mid 30s. She's young. But smart and independent and pretty mature I think.

Myself, I know that no matter how fucked up things were, if someone I liked came into my life, I'd clear the decks and hope for the best. So I'm not sure how to interpret her emotional unavailability. Need I think: this woman will never, ever come around and I need to put the possibility of a relationship between us totally out of my head? Or could I think: don't expect anything out of it, but nothing is written in stone, and if you enjoy her company it might be worth hanging out with her and getting to know her? I'm kind of a clutz at the kind of dancing we do (I'm more a musician), so I'm sort of interested in perfecting my steps and then coming down to dance with her sometime and spend some more time. But I really have no idea how to approach this.

I'm also interested in general what the appropriate response to "I'm not emotionally available" is. I never know what to say. I have a hard time switching gears and saying "sure, lets be friends". But I also feel like a jerk for saying "well, ok, see you".
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (29 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
"I'm not emotionally available" means she wants sex but not a relationship.

It's a silly-ass phrase but people in their early 20s will say some silly-ass shit to justify their own behavior.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:12 AM on July 22, 2008

You said, "She lives 2 hours away and it would be a lot of effort for me to keep getting to know her."

Dude, in the age of email, IM, free nights & weekends, et al., that's a massive cop-out. Getting to really know someone means more than learning how to dance cool.... if you think there could be something there, call her, write her, and then you'll get to know her.

"I'm sort of interested in perfecting my steps and then coming down to dance with her sometime and spend some more time"

Sorry to be harsh, but isn't that a plotline of some cheesy teen film?
posted by dicaxpuella at 11:17 AM on July 22, 2008

Or could I think: don't expect anything out of it, but nothing is written in stone, and if you enjoy her company it might be worth hanging out with her and getting to know her?

Yeah, this one. In fact, this is pretty much a good approach to any relationship, romantic or otherwise. The appropriate response is "Oh okay then, I'd love to hang out with you though."

P.S.: she may or may not want sex, but I disagree with drjimmy11 that she's using some universal sekrit code to get it. "I'm emotionally unavailable" does NOT translate to "Let's get laid" - and even if it did, proceed with caution as she's just told you that it might be an emotional minefield.
posted by desjardins at 11:20 AM on July 22, 2008 [4 favorites]

I am reading a whole lot into this paragraph so please feel free to correct me if i am wrong:

To answer the question being emotionally unavailable is a term that is not may last years, may last a couple of months but eventually it she will be "available"...what worries me is that for some reason I dont think she'll be available for you. See you said that if somebody showed up and stroke you in a particular manner you would leave whatever emotional problems you had behind and would go with that person.....most persons are like that (myself included) but let me just ask:

Why is this person telling you that she is not available emotionally after only a couple of days of hanging out? What exactly did you tell her? Did you make an effort in building attraction or were you going for the relationship part of her? See this is an issue...and perhaps an issue with you if people keep on telling you this........I have the feeling you were giving her too much too soon and she needed you to back off a advice is then for you to get your SH*T other people and next time you see'll be glowing...and PERHAPS you may have a chance........
posted by The1andonly at 11:21 AM on July 22, 2008

I always read phrases like "I'm not emotionally available" as a nice way of saying "I'm not all that into you at this time."

That doesn't mean "over my dead body" -- but it does mean not you, not now. Given time, maybe it could be you, or maybe not -- but if you push for an answer right now, it's going to be "no."

The answer I would suggest giving is something like Let's take things slow, let's hang out and see how we are feeling, let's stay honest and careful, things like that.

You need to meet her where she is, not where you want her to be. But you also need to be honest to yourself -- and "let's just be friends" doesn't pass the honesty test, because that's not where you are.

And honestly, I think that this can be the kind of thing that too much talking isn't helpful. You can really talk these things to death, and box yourself into a corner of hurt feelings and too much specificity. Or you can just hang out, enjoy each other's company, and let something grow more organically. She needs to heal, and that healing can come from time alone, or from time and you being a really good person to be around who makes her feel more complete. But talking out the details too much, too soon won't get you there.
posted by Forktine at 11:22 AM on July 22, 2008 [3 favorites]

Yes, it's usually temporary, but only for her, not for you. It's another take on the "It's not you its me" routine.

In other words you been "Just Friends"d. Move on and see more of the world.
posted by Ookseer at 11:23 AM on July 22, 2008

Emotionally unavailable is kind of a blanket description, wouldn't you say? I think she means that she's not really in the head space to be in a relationship right now, but likes you enough that she doesn't want to drive you away.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:24 AM on July 22, 2008

If theres one thing i've learned from dating in my 20s, its this:

When people tell you something about their emotional well-being or suitability for dating, LISTEN TO THEM. Whether or not you believe it to be true, or whether you think they will change when they start dating you, IT'S TRUE TO THEM.

So, if you're okay being wholly into someone who cannot dedicate themselves emotionally to including you in their life, then go for it. Otherwise, she's not the only fish in the blah blah blah.
posted by softlord at 11:25 AM on July 22, 2008 [15 favorites]

"I'm not emotionally available" might not mean that she "wants sex but not a relationship".. it might mean she doesn't want anything (or just wants friendship) and just doesn't like coming right out and saying it. It could also mean that she is just not emotionally available right now. It happens. I've been there myself. Sometimes for a day, sometimes a weekend, and sometimes for months.

However, with some people the emotionally unavailable routine is more of a lifelong endeavor than a temporary thing. You can only really find out by spending time getting to know the person.. so why not try that? Visit and call, but not too often. See what happens. The best approach is to treat this without the "end all be all" feelings I am sure you have in your gut because it only ends in misery that way. Just treat her as another person in your life you enjoy spending time with, and let it go where it might go. Good luck.
posted by mbatch at 11:29 AM on July 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

A lot of girls/women aren't very direct. This comes from the desire to please everyone and have everyone like us/not be mad at us.

So often, when a women is not interested in someone, but doesn't want to hurt his feelings, she might say things like "I'm not emotionally available" or "I'm not ready for a relationship right now." Sometimes women like the attention and flattery that an interested man will give them, but don't actually want to have a relationship with them. They may keep him at bay.

So, it is very possible that she is telling you a lie so as not to hurt your feelings. It is often very difficult for a woman to say "I really like you but I don't feel any chemistry" or "sorry, but I'm not interested in you in a romantic way" so there are all kinds of euphemisms we throw out so as not to get on anyone's bad side.

I'm not sure that this is what is happening in your situation -- I have no idea -- but I just wanted to throw this out there as a possibility.

I'm not sure how often men do this, I'm just speaking from a women's perspective and what I've observed other women doing.

We should all be more direct, but I guess that would take most of the fun out of dating.
posted by Flying Squirrel at 11:31 AM on July 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Myself, I know that no matter how fucked up things were, if someone I liked came into my life, I'd clear the decks and hope for the best. So I'm not sure how to interpret her emotional unavailability.

It is your belief that this is true. However, you don't know this for sure and you could be in this position yourself in the future.

This question is about you, not her. The question is are you willling to wait around for that possibility? I know for me, the answer has always been no up until now. I just am generally not willing to get stuck in this "in between" position after having suffered through a tough "in between" that turned into a terrible relationship.

Sometimes women like the attention and flattery that an interested man will give them, but don't actually want to have a relationship with them. They may keep him at bay.

This is very, very true and it isn't just women either. I've done it more times than I would like to admit. The problem is that we aren't one person--we're several and the part that wants attention will do things behind the back of the part that is really trying to be decent to you.

Taking this all into account, you have to ask if this is what you want, given the dangers that are out there.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:41 AM on July 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

As a direct answer to the question, when you're 23 everything is temporary. Permit me to make a blanket statement, but most people that age are still just beginning to figure things out. Spend time with her if you and her want to, but don't lock yourself into it. Move on if an opportunity arises. Usually something like this will move one way or the other (distance between you and her +/-) and the choice will make itself obvious.
posted by ninjew at 11:48 AM on July 22, 2008

it could be a "just friends" thing, the reason it sounded to me like a "let's do it but not date" thing is that she threw it out there preemptively, without you making a move.

That, and the sitting in the bar talking til 3am, made me think she wants some sort of fling. it's almost like she's asking your permission to hurt you in advance (if you go in looking for real relationship).
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:54 AM on July 22, 2008

What softlord said: stop reading the tea leaves and trying to find out what she really means. This is what she really means:

she's "not emotionally available" ...being very hurt... a lot of turmoil in her life (she's got a lot of career uncertainty). Things are going well for her right now and she doesn't want to open up to anything because she was pretty wrecked in the last couple of months and is just now feeling ok. She said over and over again "this spring sucked".

Folks, that's enough. As softlord said, when mature and balanced people talk to you about their emotional state, listen to what they're saying. Regardless of whatever other factors are in play, she's not interested in starting a relationship with you right now. I can completely understand this, I've been there myself, and it didn't mean I was lying or delivering seekrit messages or wanting only casual sex or trying to let someone down easy. It meant I was not emotionally available.

So yes, offer to hang out with her, because it seems you enjoy one another's company. But don't stop yourself from continuing to look around. Also, she is much younger than you, and probably has a few more years of these sorts of ups and downs before she really knows exactly what she's looking for in a partner to settle down with. It sounds like you're farther along on that continuum, and might do well to work toward finding a partner who's where you are when you are and shares all of this gal's good qualities.

One thing I think I've learned over time is that life is too short, and your own time to valuable, to chase around very long after people who are not interested in being with you right now -- no matter what the reason. I bet she is a great person, and yes, this is just about always a temporary situation, but you've been told she's not up for it. So take her at her word, and treat her as a friend while you keep looking for that clear idea of what you want.
posted by Miko at 11:58 AM on July 22, 2008 [7 favorites]

Definitely, when someone says "i'm not emotionally available", you better believe them. Is it a life-long thing? Probably not... But for sure it won't make things easy if you're sitting there analysing her and going "what is she thinking" or, even worse, discussing it with her. It's not good for you.

Also, yeah, when it comes down to someone saying those words, it usually means they are giving you fair warning so that later it's not their fault you got hurt.
posted by neblina_matinal at 12:00 PM on July 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

She enjoyed your friendly company, but doesn't want to go any further.
posted by Carol Anne at 12:01 PM on July 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Would you keep hanging out with her if she were a man? If not, cut it off now. Don't develop a friendship with any other motive. You will likely end up being just another shitty guy in her life when, after she fails to put out, you begin dating someone else and suddenly stop talking to her.

That sounds harsh, but as a woman who has (cluelessly, when I was her age - I was and am kind of socially retarded) developed platonic relationships with men, not realizing how they felt, it sure sucks to have a "friend" disappear when a relationship fails to materialize.
posted by out of context at 12:14 PM on July 22, 2008 [3 favorites]

She kinda fulfills are your hipster dreams, doesn't she? She's young, pretty, a "dancer", you met her at a music festival, spent all your time together, etc. She kinda fulfills are your dreams right now, doesn't she.

The problem is that, no matter how long you talked to her, you don't know who she is yet. It doesn't matter that you sat around talking till 2 am drink PBR's at some bar, she is still some girl that you've only known for a few days. She isn't into you as much as you are into her because, let's face, she fullfills your life fantasy and you're hyping her into something that she isn't. And guess what? Once the dream is over, she is going to disapoint you because you're too interested in her and too thrilled that she talked to you.

With that said, her line about being emotionally unavailable is either a line or it's the truth; either way, she's telling you to appear so desperate. She's busy, she has a life, and she's working through her own things - she doesn't need to become someone's fantasy right now, especially someone who seems to be more interested in his version of her than in her version of herself. If you want this to work, play it cool, act interested, and be friendly. But don't sit around and wait for her. If you're really as mature as you claim to be (and let's face it, no guy describes a girl as "mature" unless she really isn't or he himself isn't as well), let things be. She didn't want to actively seek you out during the festival - that tells you something. Play it smart, and you will be fine but, from the way you described the whole situation, you're hoping for her to just jump into your arms and that isn't the smart way to play.
posted by Stynxno at 1:00 PM on July 22, 2008 [3 favorites]

I've said something like this to a guy. Did I mean it? Sort of... I was convincing myself that I meant it because my feelings for the fellow were not all that strong.

If I were you, I'd keep things friendly, but I wouldn't actively pursue her. Wait for her to call/email you, be a supportive ear, and get to know her further without urging her to reconsider her "emotionally unavailable" stance.
posted by arianell at 1:10 PM on July 22, 2008

(I didn't read the other comments this time.)

My theory is that she got hurt bad and is still recovering. Have you ever gone through a time when you're so hurt that you'll just be sitting there when a wave of pain and sadness will hit you? You're not really available to be concerned about others, vulnerable, opening up, and so on. I'd respond, "I completely understand, I've been through some really rough times too, so I know how it can be. I'd still like to be friends with you, though." Then, give her a lot of space and don't expect anything to quickly become flirty. Let long stretches go by, but try to stay in touch every couple months or so. And if the situation seems to shift or you're growing more comfortable together, pursue things a bit more then.
posted by salvia at 1:14 PM on July 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

I agree with salvia, but how can we know? I mean, look at the diverse range of what a bunch of random strangers think it means: I'm not that into you; I actually just want hot monkey sex; I'm a batshit insane crazy girl you need to avoid; I'm getting over a guy and a bit sad so I need time before I start a new relationship.

Why not ask her? Hey, Her, I'm in the area, want coffee." followed by "Look, last time we met, you said you were emotionally unavailable. Do you think that's a permanent thing in our situation, or related to your current circumstances?"
posted by b33j at 1:27 PM on July 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

life is too short, and your own time to valuable, to chase around very long after people who are not interested in being with you right now -- no matter what the reason.

Should be a mandatory tattoo on everyone's arm. So true.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:32 PM on July 22, 2008 [6 favorites]

Thanks for the advice everyone. I was kind of thinking the same things (all of them seem plausible). I'm going to do everything I can to get her out of my head for the time being and get in touch at some point and see what happens. I do appreciate everyone reading in and the answers.
posted by sully75 at 2:33 PM on July 22, 2008

Yeah, I was "not emotionally available" when I met my partner and told him I did not want to date. I was available about two weeks later, when I finally extricated myself financially and emotionally from my ex. I had his contact information, and I used it because I did like him.

I just wasn't emotionally available at that time.

If she has your contact information she will contact you. The ball is in her court. Let it go.
posted by sondrialiac at 3:21 PM on July 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

I totally agree with sondriallac - the ball is in HER court.

"Emotionally unavailable" reeks of "not that into you". if she is into you, she'll come for you. you've made your interest clear.
posted by beccyjoe at 7:51 PM on July 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

What others said. If you like her as a friend, be her friend, but do date other people.

Also, she may be judging you by your friend (her ex) and your other friend (her jackass rebound guy). Which isn't unreasonable. Distinguish yourself.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 8:34 PM on July 22, 2008

I was going to post an eerily similar question, but this topic gave me something to chew on.
posted by spamguy at 9:40 PM on July 22, 2008

Count me as an nth for "not emotionally available" meaning "just not that in to you." sorry...
posted by paultopia at 12:03 AM on July 23, 2008

Myself, I know that no matter how fucked up things were, if someone I liked came into my life, I'd clear the decks and hope for the best.

I think the answer here has a lot to do with a certain personality difference. For some people (I am one of them and from your above comment it appears you are as well), circumstance and timing aren't so important. Finding someone we like is, and when we find such a person, we'll do whatever it takes to try and make it work. For others, however, timing and circumstance are everything. If this girl is the latter type, she might really go for you if she felt like it was a good time for her to do so. If she's the former, however, she probably just isn't as interested as you are and you should assume that it will never happen.

If I said this same thing to a guy, it would probably mean either #1 I really just wasn't feeling it or #2 there was someone else I liked a lot more. For my ex-boyfriend, however, who cared a lot more about timing and yada yada, saying this would probably mean that he needed time to get his life together before he involved someone else in it, that he didn't want to get someone else mixed up in what appeared to him an extremely unhealthy situation.

No matter which type of person she is, however, you need to realize that it will likely be forever or a very long time before you have a chance at a relationship with this girl. You can keep her in the back of your mind if you want, but don't depend on it ever working out the way you hope it will. Letting go now will probably save you a lot of pain later on.

I was just in a similar situation where the guy actually WASN'T really in a good position to start a relationship. He really WAS interested in me though and so we ended up dating briefly. The reasons he was not ready didn't just go away, however, and now he's off taking care of that while I wait to see what happens once his life is more settled. In this case, he really was trying to warn me that I was risking hurt if I got involved with him.
posted by florestine at 7:21 PM on September 7, 2008 [2 favorites]

« Older Jobs that are okay to leave   |   Why bother trying to sign electronic signature... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.