Hint: It’s not because they’re sexy.
Picture this: You’ve scrolled through dozens of men online and finally have a date with someone you’re excited about. He picks you up for dinner, you order Champagne and oysters, have an amazing conversation, then share a passionate kiss at the end of night. Sounds perfect, right?
Fast forward to the next day. You notice yourself thinking only about him—obsessively. You cancel any other plans you may have and text to let him know what an amazing time you had and how you can’t wait to get together again. A day or two passes. You text again. After many agonizing hours of checking your phone, he finally texts, “Yeah that was fun. Thanks for the great night.” You immediately text back asking if he’d like to get together again. He responds that he’s pretty busy this week, but maybe he’ll check in next week.
Next week rolls by—you’ve been counting down the minutes—and you finally cave and text him: “Free this week?” No response. You feel crestfallen at having lost a week of your life to yet another unavailable man. But at least this time it was only a week. Until you meet that next match on Tinder, and the cycle begins again.
If this story seems painfully familiar, you’re not alone. I’ve declined dates with friends just in case Mr. Unavailable decided he wanted to hang out. I waited in the rain one night in my early 20s hoping to catch a glimpse of a guy who hadn’t returned my calls for over a week. And there was even a time in college when an older guy I was hooked on, who had a girlfriend, promised me for weeks that he was going to leave her—before finally asking her to marry him.
It’s not just me, or you. I’ve talked to hundreds of women caught in the same frustrating loop of excitement and heartbreak that costs them weeks, months, and even years of their lives. Sometimes it isn’t just ghosted dates. Women waste years caught in relationships that don’t go anywhere—hoping that their “love” will be enough to make Mr. Unavailable commit. I’ve seen women lose money, jobs, and friendships because of this cycle—and it’s partially what inspires me to work with Empower Love, an organization that helps women to shift the addictive pattern that keeps them attracted to unavailable men.
Wait, addictive? Yes. That crazy cocktail of hormones that sweeps through our bodies when we get romantically attached completely hijacks our logic and intuition. I’m sure you’ve experienced the high when Mr. Unavailable finally texts back, and the agonizing withdrawal when he ghosts or deploys a painful distancing strategy (“I really enjoy hanging with you, but I’m just not looking for a relationship”) that leaves you hungry for another “hit” of his love. Which is why you just can’t quit—even though you know you should get over him, all your friends are begging you to stop seeing him, and your boss is starting to notice you’re distracted at work.
Darling, it’s time to put down the UMC (Unavailable Man Cocktail) and give yourself a heavy dose of rehab. And the first step is realizing that the reason you’re hooked on unavailable men is because—wait for it—you are unavailable yourself!
I can hear your protestations already. You, unavailable? You always text first, make yourself available for dates, offer help and support, tell him you love him. How could that be construed as unavailable?
We often confuse catering to someone’s needs and over-giving with being “available.” But the truth is that centering your life around someone else’s needs and desires makes you unavailable to your own.
Dating and relationship coach, Maya Diamond says, “We cannot be fully available in relationship if we can not fully communicate our needs, requests, and desires.” So if you’re hard-wired to deny your own needs and desires in favor of another, the likelihood of you choosing a man who’s unavailable is going to be pretty high. That’s because an unavailable man—whether he’s emotionally or physically absent—never lets you know where you stand in the relationship. This keeps you focused on managing his ever-changing needs so that you won’t lose him, rather than expressing your own.
But why would you—an intelligent, attractive, open-hearted woman—choose to be with an unavailable man, especially when you have been praying night and day for the relationship that you know you deserve? The surprising reason is that your nervous system feels safer with a man like that than with an available man who can show up for your needs and desires.
Diamond says one reason why it might feel safer being with an unavailable man is you might have “felt overwhelmed or invaded by one or both of your parents. So being with an available person might create that similar feeling of invasion.” This renders you more comfortable attracting unavailable people so that you never have to face that fear of invasion.
Conversely, you may have grown up in an environment where you were shamed or punished when you spoke up for what you needed. Or perhaps you were neglected and felt the sting of rejection. In all these cases, the experience of being emotionally intimate and available simply wasn’t safe. Fast forward 20, 30, 40 years and you now find yourself trapped in a subconscious survival mechanism that screams “DANGER!” anytime an emotionally available man crosses your path.
Again, I know from whence I speak. There was a time in my life—seven long years to be exact—when I shut down my body by starving myself so I wouldn’t have to face those emotional wounds. Through my anorexia, I made myself unavailable—emotionally, physically, and sexually—to men, especially to the available ones, who truly frightened me. It wasn’t until I realized how lonely and unfulfilled I was in every aspect of my life that I knew I had a problem that needed serious attention.
But knowing the problem is only half the battle. Shifting this pattern so that expressing your needs feels safe—in other words, learning secure attachment—requires a lot of time, effort, skill, and a huge leap of faith into the unknown. That’s why putting down the UMC is so hard! You are literally fighting against an addictive neurological wiring that is trying to protect you.
How can you shift this pattern so that being available to your needs while in relationship with a genuinely available man feels safe? Reading books that help you learn the difference between secure and insecure attachment is a great first step. Working with a relationship coach who specializes in helping people create secure attachment and who will hold your feet to the fire when you try to slip back into addictive patterns is a bona fide way to call in a lasting, loving relationship.
One of the biggest lessons I had to learn was how to put myself first. It can seem foreign to women who are used to overgiving in order to prove that they are worthy of love. But selflessness to the point of codependence serves no one. I had to learn to set healthy boundaries, tap into my desire, and ask clearly for what I wanted. I made a list of things that I would not tolerate in a relationship, and stuck to it. And through that process, I started to attract incredible partners into my life. Thanks to the work I had done, I was able to let those partners see me in my vulnerability. Allowing my authentic self to be seen was a huge step in my healing. And even when a relationship didn’t work out, which recently happened, I felt like we both emerged from it as better people.
It takes a tremendous amount of courage to kick an addictive pattern. You have to acknowledge the pattern, take responsibility for changing it, excavate the wounds driving it, and finally, replace old, underlying beliefs of unworthiness. From there, you can begin to slowly bring your new skills into the dating world and your relationships with available partners.
Addressing emotional availability and attachment is no small feat. It requires bravery to plumb the depths of core wounding, heal trauma, and learn new ways to express needs. But when you finally choose to put yourself first and become available to the relationship you know you deserve, your wasted days with the UMC will be a faint bitter taste compared to the sweetness of secure attachment.
One last note: Based on most of my own primary relationships, I’ve written this from the perspective of women chasing after men in heteronormative, monogamous relationships. But attachment wounding—whether anxious, avoidant, or disorganized—can happen to people of all genders, sexual orientations, and relationship configurations. Whatever your situation, I highly recommend that anyone interested in healthy relating look into how attachment wounding might be affecting you.
Candice Holdorf is an award-winning screenwriter, teacher, coach, and author of Reclaiming Eros: A Heroine’s Journey. She works with Empower Love, a company dedicated to helping women learn secure attachment.