Skip to main content

We have all been there. One minute everything is hot and heavy and texty-texty, and the next the messages, calls, and date nights are fewer and farther between, and you get the distinct sense your new guy is taking a few steps back.

According to Dr. John Gray, author of Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, men often pull away because of something you said, typically when you talk about your feelings. But according to Dr. Gray, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just a martian thing.

Dr. Gray uses the metaphor of a rubber band to explain a man’s threshold of emotional intimacy. "A rubber band is the perfect metaphor to understand the male intimacy cycle," he says. "This cycle involves getting close, pulling away, and then getting close again." Dr. Gray explains in his book that men pull away to fulfill a need for independence and autonomy, typically after feeling emotionally fulfilled.

Obviously, not all guys respond this way when faced with their emotions, but a lot of them do. In fact, I asked men why they might pull away emotionally from a relationship, and this is what they said.

01. If He Really Has Lost Interest

Dr. Gray reassures women in his book that men automatically alternate between intimacy and autonomy. When allowed to pull back, men will naturally return to whatever level of intimacy was there when he stretched away. This is an interesting theory and less discouraging than thinking your guy just doesn’t want to be close. But, it’s also important to be aware that sometimes men do pull away and don’t come back—like when he realizes he doesn’t want to be in the relationship anymore. There is no way around that.

Kevin tells Verily that he has certainly pulled away from a relationship because he had doubts. “One reason I have pulled back in the past is because I saw several red flags, and I needed time to process and think about them,” he says. Kevin explains that this distance provided him space to think about the relationship and make the decision to end it, which was a good thing.

02. If He Feels Emotionally Vulnerable

“To a certain extent, a man loses himself through connecting with his partner,” Dr. Gray writes. “By feeling her needs, problems, wants, and emotions, he may lose touch with his own sense of self. Pulling away allows him to reestablish his personal boundaries and fulfill his need to feel autonomous.” Dr. Gray explains that many men experience this, despite the fact that intimacy is fulfilling to him.

Jack tells Verily that sometimes intimacy can take him by surprise or feel like too much too soon, and this makes him feel the need to draw back a little bit to recalibrate. “The need to emotionally pull back usually comes after just giving in to a moment of emotional connection,” Jack says. “When that happens too quickly, I find that I need to pull back and give myself a reality check.” 

03. If He Needs to Test His Emotional Boundaries

As Dr. Gray explains, a big part of a man’s urge to pull away is to experience a sense of longing and desire that comes with distance. Feeling the tension that comes with stretching away is precisely what makes him spring back into place. Sometimes women will say or do something to send the message that they are super into it, and that’s not a bad thing. But if your guy hasn’t already felt that pull toward you and that feeling of longing, he may instinctively draw back to make sure it’s there for him, too.

Testing emotional boundaries often has a lot to do with concern that perhaps you feel more strongly than he does. Isaac admits, “If you realize she is significantly more into it than you are, or you realize things are getting serious and you aren’t sure you want to get serious, it can all be a little much, and you just need some alone time.” It’s not that this feeling of imbalance necessarily means your guy wants to end things though. Isaac explains that feeling the freedom to talk frankly about feelings of uncertainty without fear of repercussion would help make springing back a little easier. Kevin agrees, explaining that he thinks most mature adults understand that doubts are normal and not necessarily the end of a romantic relationship.

Sometimes, however, a guy might pull away just to see if he can and what will happen when he does. For example, Paul told Verily that he used to always call his girlfriend at the same time every night to talk for hours, but one night he decided not to call simply because he wanted to know how that would make him feel. “Needless to say, my girlfriend was really hurt that I didn’t call,” Paul says. “But I just wanted to see if not talking to her would make me miss her. It definitely did, and I never did that again.”

Photo Credit: Taylor McCutchan