Several days have passed and the person you’ve been dating hasn’t responded to your last message or reached out. You have a feeling something isn’t right, but you’re confused because you thought you guys had a great connection. You may analyze your last interaction with such scrutiny that Sherlock Holmes would be proud. You secretly hope that perhaps their phone was run over or stolen and that you’ll hear from them any day now. I think we’ve all been there at one point or another. Dating can sometimes feel like a prolonged game of mental chess that we didn’t sign up for.
When someone we have feelings for disappears or pulls away unexpectedly, we often personalize it and assume it must have been something we did wrong. It can be helpful to explore your own role in repetitive dating patterns since sometimes you may be unintentionally engaging in certain dating behaviors that push others away. But what if you feel at a loss because none of your dating behaviors explain why you keep getting ghosted? There is another alternative possibility that is typically overlooked in such situations. If you consciously want a lasting relationship, but keep getting a different result, you may be subconsciously drawn to unavailable partners.
When it comes to attracting unavailable partners, there is one common denominator in this equation, and it’s you. This realization can be simultaneously unsettling and empowering because the pattern starts and ends with you, which means you have the power to change it. The first step in changing any dating pattern is getting to the root of where the issue stems from. Without knowing the reasons why you keep attracting unavailable partners, it will be difficult to attract the right one. Below are some reasons this pattern may be occurring for you:
The Role Models You Had For a Romantic Relationship in Childhood Mirror Your Relationship Patterns: One of the reasons people are drawn to emotionally unavailable partners is due to the role models they had for a romantic relationship in childhood. Perhaps your parents were together, but emotionally distant from one another, or perhaps one of them appeared to be much more invested in the relationship than the other, creating an imbalance in the partnership.
One or More of Your Caregivers Growing Up Was Unavailable: If one parent or both were absent from your life or emotionally unavailable, it’s not uncommon to be drawn to the same type of partner repeatedly because it feels familiar.
People often subconsciously try to heal what happened in the past by repeating the same dynamic that they witnessed as children and hold onto the hope that it will work out this time around. You may also have subconscious beliefs that you don’t deserve love or that love is not real unless you have to earn it. This pattern is often repeated until the wound from the past is brought into conscious awareness and healed.
Some Part of You Is Unavailable: This one can be a tough realization that you may feel tempted to deny. Consider that another reason you may be drawn to emotionally unavailable partners is that some part of you is also unavailable. Perhaps you consciously want commitment, but deep down you fear true intimacy, losing your sense of self in the relationship, or getting hurt. As a result, it may feel safer to be with someone who is emotionally unavailable, because you know on some level that you don’t have to fully commit to the other person.
Did your parents maintain their relationship and a healthy sense of self or did you witness an imbalance between the two? If there was an imbalance, you may have an underlying fear of being engulfed by a relationship. Or perhaps you’ve been burned by love in the past and the fear of getting hurt again could be preventing you from dating available partners.
Now that you’ve reflected about potential reasons for this pattern, below are 6 ways you can break the cycle:
1. Determine Your Attachment Style and the Attachment Style of Partners You Are Typically Drawn To: Think of your attachment style as the blueprint for the partners you are drawn to and how you relate in your relationships. The relationship you had with your caregivers as a child helps shape your attachment style.
There are three main attachment styles; secure, avoidant, and anxious. This quiz can give you a better idea of your attachment style.
Once you have determined your attachment style, you can reflect about how your attachment style influences the types of partners you are attracted to and the signs your previous partners exhibited a particular attachment style. For example, if you have an anxious attachment style, you may be prone to being drawn to emotionally unavailable people (who often have an avoidant attachment style). This book is an excellent resource for further insight regarding this topic.
2. Identify the Subconscious Wound You Are Trying to Heal: Often when people consciously want a long-term relationship, but keep attracting the unavailable partners, there is a disconnect between their conscious desires and their subconscious beliefs.
Identify what you are subconsciously trying to heal from the past by attracting unavailable partners and work on healing it. For example, if you felt dismissed or rejected by one or both parents while growing up, acknowledge and explore the pain this caused you, then work on ways to show up differently for yourself such as allowing space for your painful emotions, cultivating self-compassion, and engaging in self-care.
3. Explore Times in the Past Where You’ve Had Similar Feelings: Explore the initial feelings that come up when you realize you’re dating someone who is unavailable. When else in your life have you felt the same feelings of confusion, shame, or rejection? Pay attention to how you’re interpreting what this situation means about you (e.g., “I’m not good enough” or “I’m unlovable”, etc.) and when this belief about yourself originally developed. When we experience such beliefs, they were often shaped in childhood and impact the partners we are drawn to. Bringing these beliefs and associated feelings into conscious awareness can be a key step in deprogramming these beliefs.
4. Create a List of Red Flags and Identify Your Non-Negotiables: Make a list of red flags that previous partners exhibited which indicated that this person was emotionally unavailable. Think about those initial warning signs—perhaps their communication with you wasn’t consistent, they had difficulty committing to plans ahead of time, or they gave you mixed messages. Next, determine based on this list what your top 3-5 non-negotiables are. For example, if a potential partner often takes more than 24 hours to respond to you, that may be a non-negotiable for you. Review this list intermittently, especially when dating someone new.
5. Give People You Wouldn’t Normally Be Drawn to a Chance: When you’re drawn to unavailable partners repeatedly, there may be a feeling of excitement and an initial spark that occurs between you and this person. Many people mistake this spark to mean this person is the right one for them when in reality, feeling initially excited about someone may actually indicate the same pattern is repeating again. On the other hand, if you feel neutral about someone, it’s usually a sign that this person isn’t the same type of partner you are typically drawn to. Try to keep an open mind and go out with this person on a few dates to see if there is potential for a genuine connection to grow between the two of you.
6. Tune Into Your Wisdom and Intuition: When you’re dating someone new, try to pay attention to how you feel around them physically and emotionally. Following the first few dates with a new person, it can be helpful to meditate and journal afterwards in order to tune into how you’re feeling. Both meditating and journaling can help you date consciously and prevent your subconscious beliefs from being in the driver’s seat during this process.
Consider writing down answers to the following questions when you’re getting to know someone new:
• How do I feel around this person?
• How does my body react and what physical sensations do I experience when I’m with them?
• What do I like about this person?
• Is there anything about this person that reminds me of previous partners?
• Do they have any of the red flags that I indicated on my list?
• If a friend told me they were dating this person, would I approve or have concerns about them?
This can be a great exercise for increasing your awareness of potential red flags and breaking the cycle of dating unavailable partners.
Dr. Roxy Zarrabi is a clinical psychologist who specializes in relationship patterns.