Dear Neil: I grew up in a household with an emotionally unavailable father, and I courted “bad boys.” Even now, I find myself questioning the “good guy” I am now involved with. He’s emotionally available (which I sometimes find to be weak), and I’m constantly trying to play up his “macho” side. His sweet side (talking in a baby voice, expressing his emotions, not liking football) are things that scare me into thinking he’s weak. In all other ways, including sexually, we are great together. But I can’t help questioning whether he is strong enough for me. I constantly waiver in my answer, thinking that it’s my own issues that prevent me from loving a good man, but at other times thinking that I need a stronger man and less of an emotional one.

Waivering in Boca Raton, Florida

Dear Florida: Someone who is emotionally available is in touch with his feelings and speaks up about his needs and wants. He is a good listener, tends to other’s feelings and has the capacity to be compassionate and nurturing of others. He has a sense of personal self-worth, is comfortable with giving and receiving affection, and giving and receiving love. He feels worthy of love, is able to bond, commit and be faithful, and is able to express tender emotions and show his vulnerability. He is a giver, not just a taker, and doesn’t easily lose control over his emotions. This is what every heterosexual female on planet Earth says she wants.

If you see an emotionally available man as being weak, do you desire an emotionally unavailable man—a person exceedingly difficult to get close to or stay close to, someone who’s emotionally standoffish, distant or otherwise taken? Another way of asking that question is whether you have a pattern of choosing the wrong men to get involved with—for instance, giving everything to a man who can’t give back to you—and rejecting the ones who are available, caring, responsive and easy to be close to?

If love or approval by one of your parents was conditioned on you having to earn it, then you most likely grew up feeling that you don’t deserve somebody’s emotional devotion in adulthood unless you earn it. So, as an adult, if you’re given a man’s heart without having to do anything to win it, you may not value it. It was too easy to get, so you don’t trust it—and you figure something is wrong with the man for giving it so freely. He’s too needy, or desperate, or weak. So you reject the man who offers it, and then you choose another man who doesn’t offer it, someone who makes you “earn” it—which is a far less emotionally available man.

Why would you be drawn to such men? They feel emotionally safer, and they offer you a challenge, which is another way of saying that you get excited by the possibility of taking an emotionally unavailable man and making him wild about you, totally committed to you, completely yours. But such challenges frequently make you feel hopeless and defeated, because emotionally unavailable people typically remain unavailable no matter what you do, and no matter how caring and loving you may be.

In truth, this issue has nothing to do with whether your guy is too weak a man. It’s about your discomfort being with an emotionally expressive “good guy.” It may be that you don’t feel worthy of a close relationship with a good man, or that you think he will leave you once he knows who you really are. It could be that you just don’t know what to do with someone who’s emotionally available, that it’s so far out of your life experience that you don’t know the rules of engagement or what to do. Or it could be that you want more excitement and stimulation than this man is offering, and therefore it feels like something is missing. But I can assure you that not liking football is a statement of interest, and it is not related to weakness or how manly a man is.

Don’t reject an intimate partner for reasons that actually could be addressed, resolved or negotiated. So before you consider leaving the relationship, be willing to have a very open, honest talk with him. Tell him that it is a turn-off for you when he talks in a baby voice, and ask him if he’d be willing to stop doing that. If you’re wanting more excitement or stimulation, describe for him what you’re wanting, and be very specific. Then see if you can negotiate with him in order to get more of what you’re wanting. If you have other requests of him, make them.

An emotionally available good man doesn’t come around every day. Don’t dump a man you want for small reasons.

Has your relationship turned cold and distant? Neil’s book Love, Sex, and Staying Warm can help you rekindle your passion.

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