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Why You Keep Attracting Unavailable Partners

Part 1: Why this pattern develops and how to change it.

 Antonis Liokouras/Shutterstock
Source: Antonis Liokouras/Shutterstock

Several days have passed and the person you’ve been dating hasn’t responded to your last message or reached out. You have a feeling something isn’t right, but you’re confused because you thought you guys had a great connection. You may analyze your last interaction with such scrutiny that Sherlock Holmes would be proud. You secretly hope that perhaps their phone was run over or stolen and that you’ll hear from them any day now. I think we’ve all been there; dating can sometimes feel like a prolonged game of mental chess that we didn’t sign up for.

When someone we have feelings for disappears or pulls away unexpectedly, we often personalize it and assume it must have been something we did wrong. It can be helpful to explore your own role in repetitive dating patterns since sometimes you may unintentionally engage in dating behaviors that push others away. But what if you feel at a loss because none of your dating behaviors explain why you keep getting ghosted? There is another possibility that is typically overlooked in such situations: If you consciously want a lasting relationship but keep getting a different result, you may be subconsciously drawn to unavailable partners.

The first step in changing any dating pattern is getting to the root from which the issue stems. Without knowing the reasons why you keep attracting unavailable partners, it will be difficult to attract the right one. Following are several reasons this pattern may be occurring for you:

1. The role models you had for a romantic relationship in childhood mirror your relationship patterns. Research has demonstrated that we are often attracted to partners who seem familiar to us and have similar qualities to our parents. One of the reasons people are drawn to emotionally unavailable partners is due to the role models they had for romantic relationships in childhood. Perhaps your parents were together but emotionally distant from one another, or perhaps one of them appeared to be much more invested in the relationship than the other, creating an imbalance in the partnership.

2. One or more of your caregivers growing up was unavailable. If one parent or both were absent from your life or emotionally unavailable, it’s not uncommon to be drawn to the same type of partner repeatedly because it feels familiar.

People often subconsciously try to heal what happened in the past by repeating the same dynamic they witnessed as children and hold onto the hope that it will work out this time around. You may also have subconscious beliefs that you don’t deserve love, that others aren't capable of meeting your needs, or that love is not real unless you have to earn it. This pattern is often repeated until the wound from the past is brought into conscious awareness and healed.

3. Some part of you is unavailable. This one can be a tough realization that you may feel tempted to deny. Consider that another reason you may be drawn to emotionally unavailable partners is that some part of you is also unavailable. Perhaps you consciously want commitment, but deep down you fear true intimacy, losing your sense of self in the relationship, or getting hurt. As a result, it may feel safer to be with someone who is emotionally unavailable, because you know on some level that you don’t have to fully commit to the other person.

Did your parents maintain their relationship and a healthy sense of self or did you witness an imbalance between the two? If there was an imbalance, you may have an underlying fear of being engulfed by a relationship. Or perhaps you’ve been burned by love in the past and the fear of getting hurt again could be preventing you from dating available partners.

In the next post, Why You Keep Attracting Unavailable Partners Part II, I’ll discuss ways that you can further develop your self-awareness about this pattern and break the cycle.

Previously published in 2019 by The Problem With Dating

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional or psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your mental health professional or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding your condition or well-being.

References

Geher, Glenn. “Perceived and Actual Characteristics of Parents and Partners: A Test of a Freudian Model of Mate Selection.” Current Psychology, vol. 19, no. 3, 2000, pp. 194–214., doi:10.1007/s12144-000-1015-7.

Hazan, Cindy, and Phillip Shaver. “Romantic Love Conceptualized as an Attachment Process.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 52, no. 3, 1987, pp. 511–524., doi:10.1037/0022-3514.52.3.511.

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