At one period or another, I think most of us have fallen for somebody who is completely emotionally stunted.
For me, I'll call the guy Nico. The first two weeks of hanging out were amazing. We went to three movies a week and called each other on the nights we didn't see each other.
After that? Nico became, well... kind of lame. The funny, charismatic person I met disappeared, replaced by somebody who called me "dude," and didn't even bother to learn my friends' names. But for some reason — probably because I am obstinate in my emotions — I set out to change him.
As time went on, it became clear that Nico was actually showing me his true self. Something was wrong with one of us, and I don't think it was me. After three months of wishy-washy behavior, I ended it and became immediately happy.
Was there any way I could have known Nico was emotionally unavailable sooner, so I didn't waste three months of my life? I asked dating coach and relationship expert Chris Armstrong how to tell whether a guy is emotionally available or unavailable.
1. Is He Consistent?
"I always go back to consistency, active listening, and awareness," says Armstrong.
He says that there are three parts to a healthy relationship: physical, intellectual, and emotional. While the emotional connection might be instantaneous for women — and it might even seem like it's lasting during the honeymoon phase — it can disappear when a relationship continues. If it does, that is a sign the guy you're seeing is probably emotionally unavailable.
When everything is new and amazing, it's normal for a guy to be completely attentive. He's caught up in you, too. What matters is whether or not he continues to stay caught up, and show it with his actions.
For me, the honeymoon phase was when Nico and I were texting all day, probably jeopardizing my employment -- but he was so studly.
After two weeks, though, I was lucky if I got more from Nico than a "Hey, dude, sup?"
Was this a red flag, or was I being overly sensitive? According to Armstrong, it was a sign. If a guy is emotionally available, he will continue to show that care and devotion after that first spell of time together.
"Real emotions are authentic and habitual and someone's real side will come out when they feel secure in the relationship," he continues. "Just pay attention."
2. Does He Actively Listen?
Armstrong says that active listening refers to the act of someone not just listening to you, but also hearing you. When someone is listening actively, their complete attention will be on you. They will be present in the moment, listening to understand what you are saying.
If they're not, then they aren't totally emotionally invested.
That's why Nico was always nodding away with an expression as vacant as one of those Easter Island statues. I thought he just came off as mysteriously reserved and dignified -- I mean, those statues are hunky -- and while he was always checking his phone, he did have an important job as a roboticist. Work was demanding!
These were just excuses, though, as Armstrong makes clear. My emotional needs weren't being met at all.
"Your words and emotions should matter enough to them that it warrants active listening on their part," says Armstrong. "Period."
3. Is He Aware Of You And The Aspects Of Your Life?
Awareness is the biggest indicator of whether somebody is emotionally available or not, according to Armstrong.
In addition to being a poor listener, Nico also didn't even seem to have a real concept of who I was, where I came from, or what my friends and family were like. He referred to everybody I hung out with as "Anna," rather than learning their names.
When I told him my plans for my weekend, he would often respond with, "That's cool." I took it as him playing aloof because he was afraid of the seriousness of his feelings. (We had a good two weeks! What went wrong?)
But Armstrong makes it clear that these were other signs of emotional vacancy.
To find out whether a guy is emotionally available, Armstrong recommends asking yourself some questions: "How aware is your partner of you, the real you? Your feelings? Your hopes and dreams? Those things that scare you?"
He says that whether or not somebody is aware will be demonstrated by the things he does for you, his reactions, and his general words.
All of this seems a little bit obvious in retrospect, and after talking to Armstrong, I began to remember that I had, deep down, known that Nico was emotionally unavailable after all, but I had taken it as fear. I had even asked him to change!
Bonus: Is He Willing To Change His Actions?
Given the rush of our first weeks of dating, I thought if I told Nico things weren't working out, he would be open to making some adjustments. When I confronted Nico, though, he responded with "I am who I am."
"If he has an 'I am who I am' mentality, run!" Armstrong says. "Seriously."
While I thought that maybe Nico could learn how to treat me better, Armstrong says that what women are willing to accept in a relationship is the strongest lesson of all.
"Women do not do a good job of teaching people how to treat them," he says. "We teach people how to treat us by virtue of what we expect (emotional availability) and what we accept (lack thereof)."
What that means is, because I was willing to accept less emotional availability than I wanted, I set the standard for myself. And, because I was so emotionally invested in changing Nico, it was harder to leave than it should have been.
At least next time, I'll know what emotional availability actually looks like: someone who is an active listener, consistent in their attention, and aware of who I am as a person.
If they aren't these things, then following Armstrong's advice, I'll make sure he not only says he's willing to change, but also shows it with concrete actions.