Should I Just Accept That I Only Fall For Emotionally Unavailable Men?
I’d been on a couple of dates with him and I liked him. We couldn’t keep our hands off each other, drawing shapes on the soft underside of each other’s wrists. I started laughing at literally everything he said: when he asked if I wanted another drink, when he told me he was off to the bathroom. He asked me “What’s funny?” and I said, “I just do that when I fancy people.” We made out in public in a way that was probably awful for the people sitting next to us. Towards the end of each date, I found myself googling “bars open near me.” At one point we started talking about what our kids would look like.
But then I saw him again on a night out and it went wrong for one of the following reasons, which I can’t specify because I don’t want him to know I’m talking about him.
He’s had a break-up in the last month.
He is in a situationship.
He’s back in touch with someone he went traveling with and has a special connection to.
He doesn’t want anything serious.
He seems like he does want something serious but says he doesn’t.
All of the above.
“Why me?!”’ I write in the group chat.
I get lots of sympathy, and I also get my friend Moya pointing out, “You’re attracted to people who are on some level emotionally unavailable—the challenge, as it were.”
In my head, it isn’t anything to do with that. I’m convinced it’s my fault—not because of who I’m attracted to, but because of who I am. When we spoke, I was so nervous that I started saying something really boring about my headphones. The hairs on the ponytail I clipped on were all frazzled and you could see that they were plastic.
“You like working for affection,” Moya replies, when I say something along those lines to her. “You think you have to be perfect to deserve it. And, when that affection is withheld, you blame yourself.”
I find myself googling “Why do I fancy emotionally unavailable people?” Eventually I end up on Quora Digest, whose purpose is to provide “the best answer to any question.” In this case, the answer comes from someone called Ludvig Rose, who has responded by drawing from his own experiences.
Ludvig explains that he spent his upbringing chasing people who weren’t interested in him. “I now understand I did this because that is how my parents were,” he begins. “They were not affectionate people. They did a great job with providing for me but rarely showed any love and affection. And the love they did show was highly conditional. It only came with performing well in school, being a good little boy, and following strict directions. Most of the time, I was put down, ridiculed, and compared to others, particularly by my father.”
It’s weird because a lot of Ludvig’s behavior matches my own. But, at the same time, I can’t say my upbringing was similar to his. My parents were—and are—so loving that it can actually be annoying. Maybe that’s the problem?
If my mum tells me off for not rinsing plates before putting them in the dishwasher, my dad will say, “Annie can do no wrong.” If I tell him I love him, he says “Not as much as I love you.” My mum simply cannot process the idea that I might not be the best at everything, so, if I mention something good someone else is doing, she’ll dismiss it by pointing out that they went to private school, that they’re from London, that I’m prettier than they are. Their love is beautiful, but sometimes it feels like having an oven glove over my face.
“Maybe that makes sense,” suggests Moya, when I text her back. “Maybe because you had all this affection and praise, you think it means more when someone doesn’t give it right away.” I think she’s right. (It’s funny, no matter how hard your parents try, you still end up a mess.)
I guess I really do fancy emotionally unavailable people. Maybe that’s why the longest relationship I ever had was with someone I felt inadequate around. When we went to the cinema together, I would sit in the theater rehearsing clever things I could say once the film finished. And that’s also why that relationship lasted five years. I enjoyed that I had to work for him; it felt like I had won. But everyone has their own things. One friend of mine likes critical people because of the way her mum is always commenting on her weight. Another likes old men because their father left.
Looking at love in this way, you realize it’s probably the least romantic concept you could think of: it’s just a reaction to what we saw growing up.
Towards the end of his answer, Ludwig, the guy from Quora, provides some hope. He says that once he realized his attraction to emotionally unavailable women was based on “a lie implanted in his head as a child,” things started to get better. “I had to act as if I was worthy of unconditional love. So I began to only date women who could give me that. It is really hard, and it is not my instinct.”
I have been doing my fair share of unpicking for a while now, a lot of it without even realizing. When I lie in bed at night, I always make up scenarios in my head. They used to be these torrid love stories in which the guy I liked would get with me, but then he’d end up changing his mind until I saw him at a bar where my ex from uni also happened to be having a drink, and he would go up to the guy and say something dramatic, like, “Losing Annie was the worst thing that ever happened to me.” Then the guy would want me back, but it would be too late.
Now they’re much more concise. The producer of the hypothetical TV adaptation of my book makes out with me in the stairwell of the office. He likes my dimples and how I always have chipped nail varnish on my fingers. We get married, and I wear something cool and understated like a long, Champagne-colored silk slip.
But I still want what I want, and what I want is the guy in the first fantasy, which annoys me±or it did, until I went to an appointment.
I have been seeing someone to try and correct my posture. It’s a project that now seems, having nearly finished this week’s column, to be a lot less about my anterior pelvic tilt and a lot more about trying to “fix” myself in order to be good enough for a man. After the second session I was slightly disappointed by the lack of change. I still stand slanting to one side, stick my tummy out, my shoulders rolled over. I still wince when I catch myself unposed in a mirror. As if sensing my feelings, the posture guy started to speak. “You will never be in perfect alignment—that doesn’t exist.”
I realize the spine metaphor might be a bit too much. A bit Carrie Bradshaw. But I kind of like it. Maybe love is like my spine—it’s set in certain ways. I might always want someone who’s aloof, who flirts with other people, who only laughs at some of my jokes. But I can shift things slightly. I can make more informed choices, can learn more about my patterns and, in doing so, maybe I’ll want to follow them less. You can’t correct everything. But you can make things better. You can try.
Originally Appeared on Vogue