There’s something undeniably alluring about an aloof man. As with the suave James Bond or the sophisticated Mr. Darcy, we often liken standoffishness to confidence.
But when we’re looking for something real, what might have once seemed like an attractive attribute can actually become a warning sign.
The problem starts when the relationship begins progressing. At that point, it’s natural—and expected—for the shroud of mystery to fade and the thrill of getting to know another person to be replaced with the intimacy of knowing him. But if the man you are dating still feels like a stranger despite your efforts to get closer, take note.
“Being in a relationship takes vulnerability,” explains Laurie Davis, founder and CEO of eFlirt. “And being vulnerable means really letting someone into your world. If you’ve gone beyond the first few dates . . . and it still feels like he’s a mystery . . . it’s a red flag.”
The truth is, just because a guy is single and ready to mingle doesn’t mean he is ready to be emotionally invested. Your man may be all set to take you on dates or stop seeing other people, but sometimes there are mental or environmental factors that can prevent him from getting emotionally involved. Here, Davis and relationship specialist Rachel Sussman, LCSW, share four dating situations that could point to emotional unavailability.
01. He is better online.
I, for one, can sympathize with those who feel more comfortable communicating via keyboard than with their mouths. But if it seems like a man is an entirely different person via text than in person, and you would rather talk to him digitally than in person, this could be a tip-off that he’s not ready or able to emotionally connect.
When you’re in a relationship, face-to-face communication is vital because real emotional intimacy requires in-person contact in order to develop and flourish. “It’s far easier to express ourselves when we’re not limited to a character count,” Davis says. “If you can’t connect in person, you’re not going to be able to develop the relationship.”
To get your digital beau to open up, try merging both the digital and physical worlds by bringing up text conversations when you’re face-to-face. “Mention something he said in a text, ask him to expand upon it . . . and see how he communicates,” Davis says. “Sometimes people need some prompting to make them feel more familiar.” If he still can’t seem to hold a conversation outside of his texting or online persona, or if he doesn’t seem all too excited to see you in person, he may be beyond your help.
02. He just got out of a relationship.
It may seem a bit harsh to be wary of the brokenhearted, but the biggest roadblock to emotional availability is a broken heart. “A big part of dating simply has to do with timing,” Sussman says. “If he has just gotten out of a serious relationship and is already pursuing you, it may be a sign that he is uncomfortable dealing with his emotions.”
When a bad breakup happens, people usually need time to grieve, forgive, acknowledge their pain, and heal, which can include taking space and time away from the dating scene. “However, even this rule has its caveats,” Davis explains. “Sometimes people might be just ending a relationship, but they have been emotionally out of the relationship for years.”
If you want to be this man’s girlfriend and not just a rebound, don’t be afraid to ask if he’s been in a previous relationship and how recent it was. If it has been only a couple months, be cautious. If he seems to be dealing with anger, pain, or regret from his past as you continue to date, try asking him about it to see if he is willing to open up.
03. He enjoys talking about himself—a lot.
There are a lot of perks to dating a talker. He can be entertaining, he’s full of stories, and you rarely have to worry about awkward silences. But, if being with him seems more like a 24-hour lecture series than a series of conversations—and you still don’t feel like you know the real him—it may be that he is using all that talk to put up a front.
Davis explains that if your man won’t let you get a word in edgewise, it could be that he is trying to temper the relationship’s expectations and not get too deep. A man who is willing to emotionally invest will want to know about you. He’ll be interested in your opinions and will want to relate to your life.
If your guy is a talker, and you are curious about his emotional availability, Davis suggests asking him about his family and close friends or sharing a personal story about yourself to see how he responds. According to Davis, this will help you determine if he’s capable of sharing emotional intimacy. If he continues to just talk about himself and not ask you questions, regardless of the reason, why would you even want to go on another date?
04. He lacks direction.
At first glance, this may seem like an unrelated problem. But Sussman says that when a man is unsure about his goals, he may struggle to emotionally invest. “When he lacks direction, it puts the relationship on hold,” Sussman says.
While no one knows exactly what’s in the cards, Sussman has found that men—more so than women—tend to determine their self-worth (and identity) in relation to where they are career-wise. “I’ve seen it over and over again,” she says. “With women, it’s a bit different—women often can commit to relationships without necessarily knowing what’s in store for our career. In general . . . if [men] don’t feel comfortable in their career, they often struggle to move forward in a relationship.”
If you’ve just started dating someone, and you realize he lacks direction, it might be that he’s not at a point in his life where he can be as emotionally available as is necessary for the foundation of a strong relationship.