Insight Is 20/20

Exploring the pervasive, and unperceived, patterns that govern our lives

Why Women Love & Lust After Unavailable Men: Traumatic Love

Most women are unaware of why they're attracted to unavailable men.

Most women don’t seek out or sustain interest in unavailable men, but more women than any of us would like to admit do. I actually saw this behavior so frequently in my private practice that I decided to write a book about it, which is called Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome. In a moment, I’ll tell you what’s going on in the minds of these women who seek out—and often stay with—men who will never truly emotionally commit. In my book, I use the term "emotional chasing" because that's exactly what it is: a chase.

First, I’ll give you a sense of what it looks like to fall for an emotionally unavailable man. Women who are attracted to this type of man find themselves in relationships with men who ultimately won’t commit or settle down, are already married or in another relationship, or are unfaithful in a supposedly monogamous relationship. Women who fall for unavailable men usually feel that they are more committed to the relationship than the men are. These women usually feel that the men have all the power and control in the relationship. Women in relationships with unavailable men feel that they have to work hard to keep their partners interested, and often try to shape themselves into being whatever they think their partners are looking for.

Simply put, relationships with unavailable men are frustrating and unsatisfying, yet too many women try-try-try to stick it out and make things work. The important question is…why?

Women who fall for unavailable men have some profound insecurities and self-esteem issues, and they invest so much in pursuing unavailable men with the following unconscious motive: If the unavailable man finally comes around and commits, they’ll—at long last—have proof that they are worthy. Sadly, without such proof, their self-worth is left hanging in the wind. In addition, these women feel that they've invested so much and waited so long for the unavailable man to come around that the thought of leaving without any payoff is almost unthinkable.

Even though their behavior leads to a host of problems and indicates self-esteem issues, these women aren't fools. They actually have a strength that they often don’t stop to think about: perseverance. If a woman sets her mind on getting the attention and affection of an unavailable man, she may go to great lengths to keep giving him chances. At the same time, she’ll often fall into the rut of making excuses for his negligent behavior. Though this approach isn’t ideal, her behavior reflcts the fact that she is patient, hard working, and committed to something she cares about. Those are good qualities!

For women who find themselves in a relationship with an unavailable man, the women don't need to change everything about themslves—they just need to switch their focus. Specifically, they need to switch from focusing their energy into obtaining his affection to focusing on their own emotional needs. If you find yourself stuck in this relationship pattern, working with a therapist or reading a self-help book like Overcome Relationship Repitition Syndrome can give you strategies to move away from the unavailable man and start moving toward a man who's ready for a real, big-boy relationship. If you're willing to do the work to explore your behavior, motivations, and needs, you could find yourself in the near future in a relationship with a man who's actually worth it. Imagine that!

Seth Meyers, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist with the L.A. County Department of Mental Health.

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