Repeating The Familiar

“Why am I attracted to emotionally unavailable men?”, asks Sandra P. from Christchurch, New Zealand. “Time after time, I get involved with men who are emotionally withdrawn and distant, or physically remote, or married, or workaholic, and do not want to be close to me, except sexually. These men do not want me to know a lot about them, and they don’t usually get to know me very well either. They seem to want the companionship and sexuality of a relationship, but not the sharing, closeness, commitment or intimacy. I have been involved with men who had time for T.V., newspapers, sports, their children and their ex-wives, but not for me.”

“What is it about me that repeatedly chooses, bonds with and stays with such men?”

There are several possible reasons. First, emotionally unavailable people are “safe,” and I suspect that has a lot to do with your attraction to them. The person you can’t get very close to may feel “safer,” because they can’t hurt you as badly as the person you do get close to.

People who grow up not having close relationships as a child, or who were emotionally or physically injured by a close person, tend to repeat the familiar in their adult intimate relationships. Therefore, assume that you are repeating what’s familiar—and what you grew up with is really familiar.

You may have missed out on positive role modeling as a child, growing up with parents that taught you forms and variations of “distant intimacy.” Mom and Dad may have had a distant marriage, and one or both might have been emotionally—or physically—unavailable to you. You may not have had the opportunity, as a result, to learn or practice effective intimacy skills when you were younger.

Thus, you wouldn’t have developed the skills that allow you to feel comfortable in the give and take of a relationship—communicating effectively, verbalizing your wants, needs and wishes, giving the other person the benefit of the doubt, the absence of malice, conflict resolution, problem solving, negotiating, endearments, affection, trust and so on—so choosing someone who is emotionally (or physically) absent permits you again to feel “safe” in a relationship.

Your self-esteem plays a factor in who you choose to become involved with as well. People with good self-esteem have a sense of entitlement—the feeling that you have the right to have—and that you’re worthy of having—a good, loving and reciprocal relationship with a caring, nurturing and giving partner. People who have low self-esteem approach mate selection from the attitude that nobody really wonderful would have them.

Lastly, you may be looking for a “challenge.” Looking for a “challenge” is another way of saying that you’re looking to make a emotionally absent or distant person really want you and love you. It stems from childhood, and it replicates the relationship you had with at least one parent. If Mom, as an example, was too busy, pre-occupied, alcoholic, self-absorbed, angry or otherwise emotionally unavailable, without being aware of it, you may be looking for a man similar to Mom in personality and behavior, that you are going to “make” want, love and value you. That would symbolically fulfill the childhood issue that has remained unmet and unfilled all your life. It’s another way of repeating the familiar.

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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