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Sex + Relationships

Why are We so Compelled to Love Emotionally Unavailable People?

“You will find,” she says, “that there’s a certain grace to having your heart broken.” – Laurie Simmons

Although we technically have the freedom to choose our romantic partners, it’s no secret that we don’t always choose what’s best for us. Sometimes, we choose people who end up hurting us and we’re left wondering where we went wrong. Emotionally unavailable people are appealing to us for a variety of different reasons, but the toxic cycle of dating men or women who cannot properly empathize and support us is emotionally, psychologically and physically draining. So why exactly are we inclined to date these people?

Pursuing a relationship with someone who is emotionally unavailable may be a subconscious way of dealing with parts of yourself that are emotionally unavailable as well. Perhaps you are not ready to truly open up to someone and have them reciprocate an intimate, loving relationship. If you’ve been hurt before, or have hurt someone else, you may be more inclined to pursue a man or woman who isn’t going to give you what you need and what you want because you’re afraid of losing something good. Heartbreak is a lot easier if you can look back and say, “I knew that wasn’t going to last, it was only a matter of time.” Sometimes it can be easier to enjoy a relationship if you believe that you have less to lose. However, once you reach a point of caring and having something to lose, you'll be left waiting for the other person to come around and most emotionally unavailable people rarely ever do.

Many men and women struggle to open themselves up to another person and would rather avoid fostering a deeper emotional connection and settle for relationships that never reach that level of intimacy. Some people just don’t “do” intimacy. It never appealed to them, and some of us love the idea of being the different partner that can actually open them up. This is another reason why emotionally unavailable people can be so attractive, we want to “fix” them. We believe that we are the chosen one, their one and the only person that can change them. We’re special. We’re different. The problem is, they’ll never be able to change unless they want to. But the very fact that they’re unattainable and emotionally unavailable further adds to their appeal. Dr. Melancon says, “When we want something we can’t or shouldn’t have, our desire for it grows exponentially.” If we’re doing something that we shouldn’t be doing, we believe that we must really be doing what we want.

If one or more of your caregivers was emotionally unavailable, the familiarity may draw you to a similar type of person. Subconsciously, we repeat the same dynamic we knew as children because we want to fix what didn’t work out. We may believe that love is difficult, it is earned and it comes in small doses rather than consistently. Even though we may claim to want romance, we fear and reject it because it just isn’t what we’re used to and comfortable with.

The hard part of reflecting on a relationship with someone who was emotionally unavailable is asking yourself, “Did this person ever truly care about me?” This is a difficult question and there isn’t really a satisfying answer. If you feel hurt, disrespected and unloved by your former partner, and you don’t feel like they recognize your pain and frustration, they clearly have problems with empathy. They wouldn’t have been with you if they didn’t want you around, but they may only view you as an extension of themself, and not as another person with feelings and needs of your own. They cared about you to the extent that they could, but for some people, particularly narcissistic people, they look at other people like new toys. And by their very nature, they’ll make you feel inferior to them so that they can make themselves feel superior.

Emotionally unavailable people always hurt the ones they love. In The Psychology of Romantic Love (1980), Nathaniel Branden states that “To love a human being is to know and love his or her person.” We feel empathy towards them, we care about them and we share intimate parts of our lives with them. Emotionally unavailable people, for whatever reason, lack that capacity. So, what’s the solution? It’s not easy but breaking away from someone who cannot fulfill your emotional needs is necessary to allow yourself the space to heal and to find someone who will meet those needs. If you find yourself emotionally drained, as Kanye West famously puts it, “Run away fast as you can.”


Cheney, Dina. “Why Women Find ‘Bad Boys’ So Attractive, Even Though We Know They're Trouble.” Good Housekeeping, 8 May 2020, www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/relationships/a32314885/dating-bad-boys/.

Mary Shanahan

Wilfrid Laurier '21

Mary is a fourth-year English student at Wilfrid Laurier University.
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