Dr Judith Orloff's Blog

Are You Attracted to Unavailable People?

Judith Orloff - Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Adapted from Dr. Judith Orloff’s book,“The Empath's Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People” (Sounds True, 2017)

In my books, The Empath's Survival Guide and The Power of Surrender I discuss how a soul mate must be willing and available to have a relationship with you. If he or she is unavailable this is not your soul mate at the present time. A confusing part of being attracted to unavailable, commitment-phobic people is that the emotional or sexual chemistry can feel so strong. You accept behavior that you’d never tolerate in friends. Why? The electricity can feel so incredible and rare, you mistake intensity for intimacy. You make compromises you wouldn’t typically consider in order to give the relationship a chance. Still, connection or not, you must take a sober look to determine if someone is truly available for intimacy. Hear this: Not everyone you feel a connection with, no matter how mind-blowing, is your soul mate. You can fall for someone who is totally wrong for you, as unfair and confounding as that reality can be.

For a relationship to work, a soul connection must go both ways. Even if the intuitive bond you feel is authentic, it can remain unrealized. Just because someone might’ve been your soul mate in previous eras, it doesn’t mean he or she is right for you today. Perhaps the person can’t or won’t reciprocate or is simply oblivious, a frustrating irony you must accept. Don’t put your life on hold for unrequited longing. Love that is destined can never be stopped. Meanwhile, keep your options open. How do you avoid getting entangled in dead-end or delusional relationships where you see someone in terms of how you wish them to be, not who they are? To start, here are some red flags to watch for. Even one sign warns you to be careful. The more that are present, the more danger exists.

12 Signs You're Involved with Emotionally Unavailable People (EUP)

  • They are married or in a relationship with someone else
  • They can’t commit to you or have feared commitment in past relationships
  • They have one foot on the gas pedal, one foot on the break
  • They are emotionally distant, shut down, or can’t deal with conflict
  • They’re mainly interested in sex, not relating emotionally or spiritually
  • They are practicing alcoholics, sex addicts, or substance abusers
  • They prefer long distance relationships, emails, texting, or don’t introduce you to their friends and family
  • They are elusive, sneaky, frequently working or tired, and may disappear for periods
  • They are seductive with you but make empty promises--their behavior and words don’t match
  • They send mixed messages, flirt with others, or don’t give a straight answer--you’re always trying to “de-code” what they really mean
  • They’re narcissistic, only consider themselves, not your needs
  • They throw you emotional crumbs or enticing hints of their potential to be loving, then withdraw
  • At first, some of these signs may be more obvious than others. It’s tricky: we tend to show our best selves in the honeymoon stage of a romance. It can take time for a person’s unavailability to emerge. One patient lamented, “I need a crystal ball. The first few months of a courtship, a man is so attentive, caring, passionate.” Partially, she’s right, but it’s also true that we tend to see what we want to see. That’s why it’s eye-opening to look at a partner’s relationship history. Who he or she was previously with reveals volumes about their capacity for intimacy now. Beware of rationalizing, “I’m different. This person would never be that way with me.”

    I don’t care how mightily someone blames the blood curdling horrors of an ex for a relationship’s demise, this person played a role too. Being able to admit that or trying to understand the reasons for making such a terrible choice is a positive sign. Playing the victim is not.

    Over the years, I’ve worked with many perplexed, lonely patients to uncover why they keep holding a torch for unavailable, commitment-phobic partners and how to surrender this sabotaging pattern. Most of us aren’t purposely drawn to these kinds of people--their mixed messages combined with our particular susceptibilities, conscious or unconscious, can lure us in. Also, it helps to understand that unavailable people rarely choose to be this way. It’s an unconscious defense against trauma or some emotional wounding of the past. Research has shown that many are afraid of being clung to or smothered which stems from having had a controlling, engulfing, or abusive parent. Commitment-phobic men, in particular, may just prefer sex without love. They are afraid of being controlled by feminine energy, though they don’t know it or couldn’t admit it. Rather, they see themselves as macho dudes who think women always need more than they can give. Thus, they prefer to play in shallow water, not go deep. If being in a relationship with an unavailable person feels like love to you, I urge you to look closer. Commitment phobic women also fear intimacy and want to keep a distance.

    To find true love, ideally you want to avoid getting involved with anyone who can’t reciprocate your affections. If you are in a toxic, abusive, or non-reciprocal relationship, withdraw even when your passion is strong and says “stay.” It may feel excruciating to let go when you don’t want to or if you’re still hoping against hope that the person will change, but, as my Daoist teacher once told me, “The heart knows when it’s enough.”



    Judith Orloff, MD is author of The Empath's Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People, upon which her articles are based. Dr. Orloff is a psychiatrist, an empath, and is on the UCLA Psychiatric Clinical Faculty. She synthesizes the pearls of traditional medicine with cutting edge knowledge of intuition, energy, and spirituality. Dr. Orloff also specializes in treating empaths and highly sensitive people in her private practice. Dr. Orloff’s work has been featured on The Today Show, CNN, the Oprah Magazine and USA Today. She is a New York Times best-selling author of Emotional Freedom, The Power of Surrender, Second Sight, Positive Energy, and Guide to Intuitive Healing. Connect with Judith on  Facebook and  Twitter. To learn more about empaths and her free empath support newsletter as well as Dr. Orloff's books and workshop schedule, visit her website.

    Lynn Fisken commented on 19-Aug-2014 03:47 PM
    Thank you Judith I love your work & this arrived in perfect timing for me today. Much Arohanui to you xxx
    Bren commented on 19-Aug-2014 05:31 PM
    Brilliant...discovered I am an intuitive empath.. Now I understand why about things about myself. I want to ask..in desiring a partner, I find few people who are on the same wavelength. I just can't spend unnecessary time on men who just don't get it, so don't date...help where do I stumble on them? Love your work. Thanks B
    Lisa commented on 29-Dec-2014 04:46 AM
    I had a very disfunctional childhood, alcoholic father who would go into blackouts and do terrible things he wouldn't remember doing and of course the enabling mother. I have come to realize that I am attracted to unavailable men, and have come to the conclusion that I am attracted to men like these because as a child I always wanted my mother to choose
    What is best for her children , choose me over my dad! I am also an empath and have the want to heal people emotionally as well as physically. Not a good combination. I am working on it , but it has taken its tole on me I have been diagnosed with lupus and fatigue is a constant battle. I know I need to take care of myself and stay away from unavailable men! How do I help those I know need help without depleting my own energy?


    anon commented on 27-Jul-2015 06:37 PM
    I came here because I was actually interested in getting rid of my occasional obsessions with complete fantasy partners (not people I actually know in real life). I think it's a reaction I have to difficulties in my life, but I find I stay awake thinking about a character I've completely made up and can end up spending long periods of my day wanting to fantasise about them and even find it difficult to sleep just lying there daydreaming about someone who doesn't exist...I often base them on a celebrity, but sometimes they're just completely made up.

    I used to be anorexic and I'm told the fantasies and the anorexia are linked through attachment difficulties but I am unsure how? My 'attachment difficulties' in real relationships have ranged from once being in love with someone unavailable, but mostly just staying in extremely distant relationships and not asking for more (and not being particularly unhappy with my lot either); or just not wanting relationships with anyone (friendships, either). In hindsight, I've never felt very comfortable with emotional closeness and the thought of it does make me want to back off quite a bit, but I'm not worried about being smothered or controlled, I'm more worried about somehow being subsumed or losing my separateness in some way...or sometimes I'm worried about the pressure of 'keeping up performances' for other people, which I do to avoid criticism/punishment.

    I've tried to read into attachment but I don't understand where I fit and I find obsessions with fantasy men time consuming and bothersome. Had tons of therapy but appreciate any ideas.
    Me commented on 03-Aug-2015 03:33 AM
    Anon above! Usually I don't write on these forums I just read but your post really spoke to me! I do this exact same thing, to the point where j can just sit around for hours fantasising about an imaginary man and all the amazing things they do for me! I literally thought I was the only person in the world that did thIs. I've had no issues w/ anorexia however but I will look into the attachment difficulties theories. I keep everyone (friends, family etc) at arms length & even my best friends in the whole world may not answer a phone call in a time of need. I seem to pick people like this to have as my closest friends so I can always keep distance from people. I go through periods of not wanting any friends at all. Anyway I will look into attachment difficulties but just wanted to say thank you to anon for making me not feel so alone :) x
    Sucker commented on 13-Jan-2016 03:23 PM
    My heart is once again broken...ripped in to tiny pieces. I'm definitely an empath..with all the main traits and how I became one. A lifetime of serious, violent, blood curdling abuse of myself and my mother, whom I always tried to protect. I have never had a companion that wasn't emotionally unavailable. I'm 57, and I still do it? I'm so guilty of magical thinking.....and I get sucked in to that vortex before I know what's going on...Even when I see the flags, I think I wish to deny them? I have never known true love, am chronically ill w/many ails, and as I age I indeed become more sensitive. I'm a hermit....but even staying in, they find me like some empath seeking missiles of misfit men! God has protected me....and though I use that shield, I am more and more shocked at how the narcs do it too? They use God to get close to you, to win your trust, to love bomb.....No. I didn't sleep with this one....but did all but, believing he was really a potential mate? Even his tattoos are of Christian origin!! His stage IV cancer? Was that even true? For 2 years I've withdrawn from life, from illness and from stress which makes me deadly ill......Lyme, etc. There's something I do now....that I didn't used to do. I used to be really cute, skinny and kind......Now when I get hurt like this, I mutilate my face. Don't have to look hard for the symbolism of that....but feel like if I had been plain and seen for my heart only, I may have known love in this life. Instead, I've been raped, shot at, robbed, married 2 psychopaths whom used me to commit fraud, steal, whatever..., dated countless narcs,,,,,,,I literally am so fragile now, I can hardly handle going anywhere. My heart feels like an ocean of tears.....NOT able to stop loving every living thing...and wishing to empty my love and healing energies until they're completely gone........so that then, maybe, just maybe, I won't feel the pain anymore.
    Kate commented on 23-Aug-2017 04:07 AM
    I believe I'm attracted to emotionally unavailable people because it's way more soothing than being attracted to people who express emotion. It's a calming relief that gives me space to feel my own emotions. The downside being, of course, no development of intimacy.

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