I chase unavailable men

I know what I'm doing but can't seem to stop

Published November 18, 2011 1:00AM (EST)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

They say that the definition of insanity is repeating the same act over and over but expecting a different outcome.  If that is true, than I am the epitome of insanity.  Like everyone, I want love and acceptance, but I find I constantly end up with/am attracted to men who are unavailable – unavailable emotionally, intellectually, geographically, or socially.  (I add the last element, fully expecting to be attacked by the readers for having relationships with men who I knew were otherwise in relationships, but I add it for a complete picture.)  Which means I end up in relationships that can never be truly complete and in which I always end up feeling lacking in some way for not being some version of “enough.”  (Because, presumably, if I were “enough” they would suddenly become available?)  In most cases, I don't know that the men are unavailable until after the attraction grows, but by then, I am truly attracted to them.  It has happened so frequently that it makes me wonder if I have some subconscious radar for the unavailable.

I am not completely self-unaware; I know I have commitment issues – and I have spent time with a therapist both during my divorce and through other issues in my life.  What I wonder is, why is it I cannot respond to relationship red flags like normal people?  Where most people would run away, I stay – or, to continue my theme of trite quotations, in a Thomas Hardy sort of way – I am like the fools who rush in where angels fear to tread.

Let's look at my latest obsession.  I didn't go looking for him or anyone at the time.  I was just recovering from the very recent and very difficult death of my father, when I first encountered Adrian.  I didn't pay much attention to him initially, but through our continued encounters, it started growing on me that he was intelligent, articulate, witty and interesting – and I'm slightly embarrassed to say that because of the environment, I was not expecting him to be any of these things.  We had an obvious chemistry and great conversations – during one of our first times together in a professional interaction, we spent over four hours talking and getting to know each other after we concluded the business that brought us together.  To try to make my story shorter, let me say that I suspected there was a reason he wasn't pursuing me despite our seemingly mutual interest (considering my past experience with unavailable men) so I finally asked him out and after standing me up and much follow-up discussion he essentially told me that he was attracted to me, but wasn't emotionally available because, among other things, he was depressed.  We didn't have a business reason to see each other, so our conversations ended.  My friends called it dodging a bullet; I felt a huge loss, but I went on (but I have to admit I did not give up all hope).   Two months later, we had to see each other again and the chemistry and conversations began again – but so did my attraction and his mixed signals.  We again had frank discussions and he has been clear that he is not ready for a relationship – or even casual sex.  Again, I'm feeling a huge loss and experiencing my own depression.

I have so many other real issues in my life, yet I obsess over this.  I can't even fully grieve over my father's death, but I can feel hopeless over this lost potential opportunity for happiness or love – or even sex.

Which takes me back to my original question.  My friends, who seem to be perfectly normal people, think I'm lucky that I dodged a bullet – because as normal, balanced women, they run away from men like this. I, on the other hand, never even considered it a lucky dodge, and am, instead, feeling a loss.  Yet I realize it is just one more in a line of unavailable men for whom I have lusted.  So why do I continue to be attracted to, rather than repelled by, men who openly tell me that they do not want to be with me?  Why are these normal relationship red flags just green flags for me?  I would like to be in a real relationship, I would like to be pursued by someone and feel that thrill of mutual interest.  It is not that I'm completely unappealing.  I have had a number of men ask me out, but they were all men with whom I was friends, but felt no real attraction or chemistry.   I will tell you that not only do I not have the money nor insurance for a therapist, I'm not very good in therapy.  I've tried several different therapists, but I'm just not that open; I don't do well discussing my feelings. My standard way of dealing with difficult, vulnerable feelings is to repress and distract.  But I'm not sure the system is working that well anymore; I haven't even been in a bad unavailable relationship for several years now.  Can you save me from myself?

Available for the Unavailable

Dear Available for the Unavailable,

You know what is going on. But you have not hit bottom, as we say in the addiction-recovery world. What will bring you to that point?

It can happen in therapy. It can also happen in life. Things can happen to give you that "aha" moment. If you have ever had such a moment, you know what I am talking about. If not, then you are in for a treat. It sounds like you are ripe for such an experience. You are on the edge of something.

But how do you get to it? It is great to realize, as you have, that you "don't do well discussing" your  feelings, that your "standard way of dealing with difficult, vulnerable feelings is to repress and distract." But it's not sufficient to just know this intellectually.

What you need is a visceral, life-changing experience. It has to hit you.

You seem close to some such an experience. You are in pain. You have written to me. You have sought out therapy. It hasn't worked, you say. Not yet, I figure. What we say in the recovery world is that you have to get in enough pain. You get to a point where honest disclosure is preferable to the awful, laboring weight of repression. Then you change.

What to do? Keep going. You are on your way. You haven't gotten there yet. That doesn't mean stop. It means keep going. There are lots of things you can do that might trigger some insight. Read books on this. Go to groups. Do whatever you can do to increase your attention on this. You never know what may put you over the top. It might be a phrase you read in a book or something someone says to you. It might be a childhood memory. Let the answers come to you.

If you and a therapist can agree on a goal, if you are honest with a therapist and ask to be led through this, I think you will eventually have some experience of lasting impact, some insight that will open up your life for you in a way that you cannot possibly now imagine. I think it will come to you what you are doing and why, and you will change.

It sounds like such a cliché until it happens. Then when it happens it seems like duh.

If you're frustrated, thinking that therapy isn't working, share that with your therapist. That may be exactly the conversation you need to have.

I think you're in good shape. You just need to keep chipping away at it until you break through.

By Cary Tennis

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