When I was researching for my book, Suddenly Single, I came across a pattern in women (and men) who had been through a painful break-up that I named “emotionally unavailable”. It wasn’t so much that they didn’t value themselves or that they had low self-worth, it was more that making themselves “emotionally unavailable” kept them safe from getting hurt again.
When I first started my business, I was pleased to meet many single female entrepreneurs who also had a similar story to tell as mine. It was hugely inspiring to realise how many had faced heartbreak and had directed all their energies into running successful enterprises, just as I had.
Yet, at the same time, I also had many conversations on a deeper level that revealed what was going on behind the scenes. Loneliness made a regular appearance in the down time. For some it was just an unpleasant side effect of being single that left little impact. Having meaningful work that fulfilled them was enough. For others, there was a fear that stepping forward to invest time in a relationship could result in negative consequences for their business.
No matter how wonderful any prospective partner might appear, just the thought of going through it all again, investing in an intimate relationship only to have it not work out was just too much of a risk. It was much easier to protect their hearts and have a relationship with their business or career rather than with another person.
It won’t be a surprise for you then to learn that if people are emotionally unavailable, it is likely that they will attract others to their lives who are also emotionally unavailable.
The classic of all the “emotionally unavailables” is a person who is married or still in love with someone else. Getting involved with someone in this situation, you can end up feeling lonely, rejected, disappointed and frustrated and not able to get close to someone you love.
Katherine was a smart and single-minded business development director in her late thirties and had carved out a successful career in the media. Five years earlier, she had been engaged to be married and at the last minute, her fiancé had a change of heart and called it off. Since then there had never really been anyone else. Then she met Rick. The first time he walked into her office, the chemistry was overpowering and Katherine was smitten. Whenever she was in his company, everything just felt right and he told her it was the same for him. What she didn’t know was that it also felt just right when Rick was with his wife and their two small children.
Katherine refused to acknowledge his situation. She stopped asking him questions about his life at home or anything about his family because the reality was just too painful to hear. It was much easier to block out the reality and hold on to the stolen moments they had together. She reasoned with herself, if something felt so right, surely it was meant to be.
She found herself acting out of character, making compromises to her work commitments which she would never have done for anyone else, in order to accommodate Rick’s busy schedule so she could see him. If her texts, emails and calls were ignored, she could always reason with herself why that would be. She did not care that she was making all the effort. She just needed to ensure that she had done anything to give the relationship a chance.
After three years of waiting and promises that “one day” they would be together, Rick’s wife got pregnant with their third child. Katherine realised that unless it was an immaculate conception, Rick hadn’t been telling the whole truth about his loveless marriage. When he ended the affair, she was left to deal with the loss of something she had never really had.
The message that comes loud and clear from any suddenly single woman who has found themselves embroiled with someone who is otherwise attached: no matter how much the person seems to be perfect for you, if that person is emotionally unavailable then there will be limitations. If that’s acceptable to you and your values, then you will need to manage your own expectations accordingly. If your actions are compromising your values, the result will always be inner conflict.
You have no control over another person’s choices but you do have a choice about what you do. If you meet someone who is emotionally unavailable, then you can choose to stay and wait. You don’t have to give up on someone because their situation is not ideal. All great relationships have problems but they are great relationships because both people care enough about the other person to find a way to make it work. If you trust them enough then you have nothing to worry about.
However, putting your life on hold for someone who is doing a lot of thinking and talking about their situation and showing little signs of action could result in a long wait. A great relationship is one that comes easily and naturally. It is a relationship in which two individuals bring out the best in each other and accept each other just as they are. Each person is able to function perfectly fine on his or her own without being dependent on the other. It shouldn’t feel like a one-sided uphill struggle all on your part.
We all deserve to have someone of our own who is committed to us fully and completely.
Denise Chilton is an Executive Business and Life coach, accomplished author, speaker and entrepreneur. She worked for in corporate banking for more than 15 years before launching her own coaching business in 2010. She has built a business working with women who want to make a change in their lives, empowering them to experience life to the full.
In 2017, she published her first book Suddenly Single: How to overcome heartbreak and find your way to a new happy ever after. Suddenly Single is a guide written partially from personal experience to help women to heal healthily after a significant relationship comes to an unexpected end.
Denise was also awarded ‘Mentor of the Year 2017’ by the Northern Power Women for her work with women in underrepresented industries like STEM.