While Millennial and Gen Z men have been raised to be more aware of expanded gender roles (which facilitate emotional availability), Gen X and Boomer men may feel left behind, and the women who are trying to forge relationships with them notice!
Relationships at any age provide us a context for growth – for working through childhood wounds, understanding attachment styles, and confronting dysfunctional beliefs and behaviors. This is when the issue of emotional availability often comes up.
What does it mean to be emotionally available?
Sometimes women use the phrase “emotionally unavailable” to refer to a man who is not in tune with his emotions. This is something I refer to as “The emotionally unavailable partner.” Or simply a man with ‘low emotional capacity’ He’s a romantic “roommate”, with little, if any, access to real human emotions across the board. Does he feel? You’re not sure. Low emotional capacity = total indifference. Not allowing himself to feel… ever!
This is a little different to true emotional unavailability (EU), which is where a man (or woman) is unwilling or unable to make himself available (emotionally) for real connection. It basically means, in the short or long term, he won’t allow himself to fall in love and be in an emotionally connected, honest, committed relationship, with you, or probably, anyone else.
A short-term example of EU would be the guy that separated two months ago, the guy who’s heading overseas for work soon or the guy who is doing his first year of internship. “I need to focus on my work right now!!” A long-term EU example would be the guy whose mum was chronically depressed and always made him feel responsible for it or for her, the guy who’s been cheated on three times, or, hell, any guy who’s married.
This is an important distinction because some men can seem VERY keen despite being completely EU. For example, a guy fresh out of a relationship. He wants to fill the void, alleviate the pain and start dating right away; so he doesn’t take the time to process what happened. Hence why the very keen ‘rebounder’ is not actually emotionally available.
On the other hand, if a guy has taken time to learn and heal, he’s more likely to be ready to walk a new path with you!
People are complex; it is possible to be emotionally in touch with oneself (high emotional capacity) and still avoid commitment (short or long term EU). The simplest example is the great guy who’s just not that into you. Another would be the man who just separated from a narcissistic wife or who just lost his brother unexpectedly. Some of these might change, some won’t, but all are in the same bucket right now – emotionally unavailable.
Whichever it is, don’t sit around waiting. Believe a man’s actions and availability in the present. If he’s not willing and able to a satisfactory level now, best to assume he’s not into you and move on.
In terms of emotional capacity, things are further complicated by the fact that women are often operating with one set of expectations and men are operating with another. Understanding what kind of emotional capacity he’s able to provide can go far in preventing misunderstanding and hurt feelings.
We, men, don’t have access to our emotions as easily as you women do — it’s unfamiliar territory for us. Women often blame men for being insensitive because you expect us to be able to feel our feelings as quickly as you can. Our slow processing time or response time isn’t necessarily a flat-out conviction of poor emotional capacity or availability. We may just be slow, cautious, and inexperienced.
So, be aware that we, men, sometimes love differently than you women. It isn’t a lesser or inferior way of loving — just different. If we’re protecting, providing, and problem-solving, then we are doing the things that (to us) demonstrate emotional availability. Remember, in many cases, this is what we saw “work” in our parents’ or grandparents’ relationships, and this is what is familiar to us.
When you want to talk about feelings, remember that we work better when discussions have a ‘purpose’. We’re in the fix-it business. Don’t expect us to dialogue with you the way your girlfriend does. If you need to vent, just say, “Honey, nothing’s really wrong, you didn’t do anything wrong, I just need to get something out.” It lets us relax and listen without going into fix-it mode.
Being able to identify a man’s emotional availability and capacity during early-stage dating can help you manage your expectations and save you time and aggravation as the relationship progresses.
Here are four things you can do to spot Emotional Availability in men:
- Recognize that emotionally available men tend to have it more “together” in other areas of their life. This is not always true, but is often Continue to look for other clues!
- Ask good questions and follow-up questions. The tone should be curious, not pushy or interrogative. Psychological availability is difficult to evaluate, so don’t expect to figure him all out on a first date. As courtship evolves, you can find clues in his relationship “case history:”
- What is his history of long-term relationships? If he has a history of being involved with someone for a significant period of time, he’s probably more available than someone who’s a relationship “flipper.”
- How much time is he willing to free up to invest in your relationship?
- What does he say about himself? Notice both words AND actions and look for consistency. Having integrity means that how he acts lines up with what he says.
Think about this information and look for evidence of it in both his words and actions in the following dates.
- Notice whether he takes responsibility for his life and his happiness. Has he learned to think through his choices, consider the impact of his words and actions on others, and acknowledge his mistakes? Is he willing to enhance those skills inside a relationship?
- Finally, take responsibility in your part of the dynamic. If attracting and tolerating emotionally unavailable men is a pattern in your life, it’s also important to look inward and ask, “What is it about me that keeps drawing them to me?” Work with your coach on establishing boundaries and upholding values to end this pattern.
Take heart: When you find a man who’s committed to his own process of becoming a loving, giving human and an embodied, masculine man, your relationship will move beyond the power struggle to love, connection, cooperation!