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Attracting 'Emotionally Unavailable' Men? Here's How To Fix That.

To keep it all the way a buck, when it came to dating, I was repeating a cycle.

Love & Relationships

I really thought I was doing something proactive and smart. OK, maybe "slick" is the better word than "smart". I was sitting on the couch click-clacking on my keyboard, talking with one dude on the phone while chatting with another on Instant Messenger.

Phone Guy knew it was my birthday. He also knew that I traveled a few hundred miles so that I could hang out with him. But on the day of my birthday, his RSVP changed from "yes" to "maybe". Or more specifically, "I don't know."

I was lowkey livid although my tone maintained my professional voice because I figured I had a spare on speed dial. This was also after Phone Guy had already brushed off a prior birthday because, "You know it's Mother's Day." But it wasn't his mother he was celebrating. It was his son's mother and they weren't even together.

So on this birthday, I thought I was making big, slick moves by entertaining the dude who was IM-ing me about attending my local birthday outing upon my return. He expressed interest but apparently that was then.

All I was really doing was repeating a cycle.

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Months later, I cooked a midweek dinner for two. After work, I picked up some fresh salmon, fancy sides and libations for blended drinks. I timed the cook time of the fish to coincide with IM guy's arrival so that it would still be flaky and moist. Then, I poured myself a daiquiri and waited.

And texted. And waited. And texted back and waited some more.

I was the only one to eat the meal that I prepared. IM guy was a no-show with no legitimate excuse for his absence. But the more angering part isn't just that he had the nerve to ask me to bring the entire meal to work for his lunch – we worked for the same company – but that this mofo really had no intentions of even showing up despite his text messages expressing otherwise. And for the record, I threw that ish in the trash.

What made both of these situationships (because ultimately that's what they were) baffling is that I didn't approach either of the men. They pursued me. But honestly that's the part that requires some reflection because it happened twice in a row.

Blowing off plans and showing up late sends a passive message of "Sis he don't want you." But a much softer way of delivering this message is to say he's "emotionally unavailable".

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According to Healthline, emotional availability refers to the ability to build and sustain an emotional bond with someone else, generally in a romantic relationship. Emotional availability is a major component of a healthy relationship because without it, there's no intimacy. A person without any emotional connection to a potential partner will struggle in relationships and hella confuse the other person.

Emotionally unavailable people actually hate to make plans but agree to them anyway. They also avoid the word "relationship", although they happily engage in relationship behavior. Nevertheless, they can never quite articulate how they feel about you other than mirroring back what you say to them. For example, he may respond, "I feel the same way about you" or hit you with the "Ditto" the way Patrick Swayze's character did Demi Moore's character in the movie Ghost. (Until his ass died, of course, and then he could find all the words.) Ironically, emotionally unavailable people will ghost you if things get a little close for comfort.

The more distant an emotionally unavailable person becomes, the more tempted we may become to try and reach him. We convince ourselves that if I can get him to open up to me, then he'll appreciate me and this relationship will work. This tactic is a trap, sis. They'll simply avoid vulnerability and you'll emotionally exhaust yourself and damage your self-esteem in the process.

Ideally, we'll make healthier romantic decisions after encountering an emotionally unavailable partner, after all, as the great Maya Angelou put it, when we know better, we do better. But sometimes it seems that a more appropriate saying for our dating life is like attracts like. These men aren't drawn to us because we're the ideal companion to help them overcome their commitment phobias. It could be that we may very well be emotionally unavailable, too.

Here are a few telltale signs that you’re emotionally unavailable: 

You say you want a committed relationship but in the back of your mind, you keep your options open. OK. I didn't need to have my edges pulled like this. I'm indeed a relationship woman. I believe in exclusivity, monogamy and all that jazz. My intent is to connect with another person for a purpose other than casual companionship. However, there was this whisper deep within that kept saying, You don't want any ties to this area. The truth was I didn't really want to get involved with anyone because I planned to eventually move to another city, which I did. That part of me was still unavailable and I attracted that in a person.

This also manifests when you subconsciously think that you don't want to settle for a person because there may be someone better out there. So you keep swiping and dating. The problem is, again, you'll continue to meet the same person in different skin until you decide that you're going to give a great guy a real chance.

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You're worried about what a relationship could cost you. As a single woman, you're I-N-D-E-P-E-N-D-E-N-T but coupled up you don't want to risk the possibility of getting lost in a relationship or somehow becoming C-O-D-E-P-E-N-D-E-N-T. As a matter of fact, you may fear that you have to sacrifice a large part of yourself: your schedule, dreams, career, social life, travel, to name a few. But this way of thinking will limit you from making a meaningful connection with anyone because you're going to automatically build a wall with everyone. There's no exact formula for a relationship but it never means that you have to forego all of your goals. If the relationship is healthy, there'll be balance and compromise on both sides. You'll never know what you'll achieve as a significant other if you don't communicate and explore with your partner.

You're afraid of rejection and intimacy. You say you want a relationship but subconsciously you're afraid of getting hurt or revealing too much because you think someone will use your vulnerability against you later, either as manipulation or ammunition in an argument. In these instances, you'll find it safer to be with someone who's also emotionally unavailable because you know there'll never be a real commitment on either side.

Now that you have some idea why you continually attract emotionally unavailable men, here are some ways to break that cycle:

Understand your attachment style in relationships. There are four attachment styles: secure, anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant, and fearful-avoidant. Your attachment style links the bonds you had with your parents when you were youths to how you form bonds with significant others as part of a couple. It also helps to explain why you're too distant or too clingy. You can read "What Your Attachment Style Says About Your Love Life" to determine your attachment style. Once you know your attachment style, you'll better understand how it influences the types of partners you are attracted to and you'll easily pick up on what the signs of that particular style look like in a potential partner.

Practice expressing your emotions before you need to share them with a significant other. This is still going to be uncomfortable, of course, even if you speak to yourself in a mirror or talk to very trusted friends and family members. (And I stress the word "trusted" because if you divulge personal details and feelings to the wrong person and they repeat it, you'll have that much more difficulty connecting to the next individual.) Nevertheless, the idea is to get comfortable with vulnerability while you're still single. Other ways could be to journal those same feelings or use art or music to help foster those feelings and get them to easily flow.

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Make a list and check it twice. We're not talking about a list for Santa but rather a list of non-negotiables and red flags. A Psychology Today article recommends notating the warning signs that we ignored in the past and then from that list determine the top 3-5 that we absolutely won't tolerate in the future. Examples of no-gos may be haphazardly dismissing plans, disregarding important dates (like birthdays!) or showing little respect or regard for your feelings. And just as you do in goal manifestations, you want to review this list of non-negotiables periodically, especially when you start dating someone new.

Date another type. Yes, we do have a type, otherwise we wouldn't fall into these patterns. We also tend to pursue individuals that trigger some sort of feeling such as those butterflies in our stomach. But according to Psychology Today, that flutter may not mean that's the right person; it could indicate that we're about to repeat the old pattern all over again. Instead, we should consider the person who gives us a neutral feeling. Go out on a couple of dates and take notice of how this person makes you feel. Even if the attraction isn't there immediately, studies show that it can gradually increase over time.

I'm not going to lie to y'all. I don't know about having someone grow on me and I love butterflies, literal and figurative ones! But I wholeheartedly believe in breaking toxic cycles. If it means that I need to do reflexivity work or inner reflection to change my fearful-avoidant attachment style. Done. If I need to anticipate the deep questions and journal the responses, that's done, too. Because there's nothing slick or sexy about attracting and juggling two men who don't want or have the emotional capacity to reciprocate my love.

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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