Dear Neil: I have recently been involved with a 29 year old man. We got along really well. Although he doesn’t live in the same city as I do, he visited frequently, we talked on the phone every couple of days and we maintained something of a relationship over a couple of months. Suddenly, however, he became quite cold and distant—and finally told me that while he loved spending time with me, felt he could talk with me, was attracted to me physically and although we shared lots of laughs, he didn’t feel it was “special” enough to want to pursue it any further.
He has never had a girlfriend, and said he has only felt that “special” feeling for a woman who wasn’t interested in him. He was also abandoned by his father as a baby, and while he says it hasn’t affected him, I do wonder what impact it may have had on his ability to form close relationships. Does this sound like someone who has problems with intimacy? I can accept it if I just don’t do it for him, but I find it strange because he appeared to love being with me.
Sleepless in Seattle
Dear Seattle: Given that he has never been in a heartful love relationship, and that the only woman he has wanted didn’t want him, then yes, it does sound as if he has trouble allowing himself to become vulnerable enough to be in a close relationship. This is assuming he was not involved with someone else back at home, and that he was telling the truth when he said he loved being with you and found you physically attractive.
People who have problems with being in an intimate relationship are typically protecting themselves from being hurt, rejected, betrayed or abused—or they just don’t feel worthy of a love relationship. But if I protect myself by being emotionally withdrawn and not letting my heart become emotionally invested in another, I will approach all my potential intimate relationships with a “guarded heart.” And if I have a guarded heart, I won’t be able to love—except from a distance—which is why I may be interested in someone who isn’t actually emotionally available for me, someone who isn’t very interested in me, someone who is already married or taken, or someone who is only available for a part-time relationship, such as a long-distance one.
People who are emotionally available, who are open to falling in love, are also able to bond and commit. They are able to express tender emotions and show their vulnerability. They are comfortable with both giving and receiving love, and they have high enough self-esteem that they feel more or less worthy of love. They are givers, not just takers. They feel comfortable with both giving and receiving affection, and eventually giving and receiving love.
People who do not have problems with intimacy tend to be in touch with their feelings and are able to verbalize their needs and wants. They tend to be good listeners, and not just good talkers. They have the capacity and they display the willingness to be there for someone else, to offer empathy, compassion and nurturing to others. Such people are essentially over previous romantic involvements, are not grieving previous losses and are romantically unencumbered—and are therefore available for you.
And emotionally available people (who are interested in creating and keeping an intimate relationship) have time for you. They have the availability for you to become an important priority in their lives. They’re not dishonest, deceptive or misleading, they respect other people’s boundaries and they don’t feel the need to pull away when the two of you begin to feel close and intimate.
Look for someone who fits this description—and avoid those that don’t. But of course that is easier said than done, because a large number of people are very available for a relatively superficial and/or sexual relationship, and they don’t give you reason to doubt their long-term emotional availability, so you’re never going to know until you are already in relationship with them. That’s why it’s wise to keep your heart out of a beginning relationship for awhile, so you can develop cleaner and clearer vision of the person and whether s/he is a wise longer-term choice for you.