The Real, Scientific Reason You Keep Dating Unavailable Partners

I was the queen of dating emotionally unavailable people, and sometimes, straight up scrubs (financial wrecks, guys that lived with their parents, a couple alcoholics, and a couple other with mental health issues that they were not dealing with. It’s been an adventure.) I’ve pined. I’ve wept. I’ve gone back to therapy.

I also pushed away guys I later realized were secure, available, loving, who had their shit together because I just “didn’t feel that spark.” That spark, though, is sometimes your childhood trauma talking.

Here’s the thing. If you relate to this, and you keep asking yourself, friends, the universe and your therapist “are there any good ones out there?” it’s time to face the facts. You are the common denominator in your relationships.

You are a person with agency. You have power. You have choice. You are beautiful, brilliant, and oh so lovable. So the real question is… why are you continuing to choose unavailable partners?

And the answer is: it’s probably your childhood. Even if you think it’s not, it probably is.

Attachment theory tells us that our earliest caregivers set the tone for our relationships for the rest of our lives.

I highly recommend doing a little research on attachment theory, but the jist of it is this: People with secure attachments were raised in a home where their physical and emotional needs were consistently met. If you cried or got upset, you knew you could consistently go to your parent figures for comfort.

People with insecure attachments were raised in households where their physical and emotional needs were met some of the time, or in some cases, not at all. Perhaps you didn’t always know which version of your parent you were going to get (if there was mental illness or addiction present, for example) or you learned to stuff down difficult emotions.

There’s many scenarios that can create insecure attachment styles, and about half the population has insecure attachment styles.

When two people with insecure attachment styles try to date… it doesn’t turn out well.

So, if you find yourself repeatedly dating emotionally unavailable (aka insecurely attached) partners, that means something, or more likely, someone, (or someones) from your childhood created circumstances that made emotionally unavailable love feel like home and feel like “sparks.”

Somewhere along the way, in your moldable, sweet little kid brain, you learned that love was hard, love was dramatic, and that you couldn’t always access it when you needed it. You might have learned to stuff down your emotional needs if they caused your parents distress. Maybe you tried to convince yourself you didn’t need love, because the pain of being alone was easier than the pain of being rejected. In turn, you might have internalized the subconscious (and oh so limiting) beliefs that you were unworthy of having your needs met. You may have convinced yourself you were the problem, that you were unlovable.

Kids literally need their parents love to survive. Kids can’t go out and get jobs, groceries, and apartments. They need adults to care for them. When you need someone to survive, it is safer to believe you are the problem, and not your caregiver. To believe that the problem was your parent figure would be too scary, because you are relying on them to survive. So, we protect ourselves from that scary reality by convincing ourselves we’re the problem. At the time, it is easier to swallow, and it is our brains way of keeping us safe, and helping us survive.

Then we try to clean up the mess as adults, and undo the tricks we played on ourselves.

People who feel worthy and enough don’t put up with emotional unavailability in dating.

Even if you feel confident and good in your skin, and you’re practicing self love, self care, serving others, and working on becoming a better version of yourself, these beliefs can be hidden in the depths of your subconscious, barely visible and yet affecting your choices daily. Since we develop these beliefs early in life within our most influential relationships, it also means that they are difficult, but not impossible, to get rid of.

You might be saying, “but my parents didn’t beat me! They put food on the table. I was taken to school every day. We went on vacations,” etc. and while those things are great, and I’m happy you got to go on vacation, the research says that the emotional nourishing we did (or didn’t) receive as children has massive influence on our relationships to come for the rest of our lives. We don’t also need to be the victims of severe trauma to feel the lifelong effects. Having your feelings minimized, or seeing your parent regularly become distressed when you were upset, witnessing mental health issues or addiction, or even just a culture of stuffing down emotions can create insecure attachment styles.

Our parents are often the victims of their own imperfect, and sometimes, traumatizing childhoods, and when they are focused on survival, putting food on the table, and dealing with their own demons, your future romantic attachment style might not be the first thing on their mind. Mental health is still stigmatized and only just starting to become mainstream, so cut them some slack. They didn’t have BetterHelp and Brene Brown.

Resenting your caregivers for your insecure attachment style doesn’t help them or you. This doesn’t mean you have to tolerate emotional or physical abuse, and all of our family relationships and dynamics will play out and look differently.

If you are in a cycle of dating emotionally unavailable partners, it’s not because they are tall, dark and handsome, it’s because something about their unavailability feels familiar, like home, and there is a primordial, subconscious response in you that reacts to this familiarity and sounds kind of like, “mama?…. daddy?” and fills you with all kinds of exciting chemicals that feel like “sparks.”

And maybe you’re thinking, ew, romance has nothing to do with my parents, but it does. They were the first romantic relationship you saw modeled, and they were your first loves. Babies literally need love to survive. Babies need to love and be loved so they are fed, sheltered, and cared for. Our early caregivers were our first love.

In fact, Oxytocin, deemed “the love hormone,” is primarily released during childbirth and breast feeding. It is also released during sex, hugging, and in the early stages of romantic relationships. So the very same “love hormone” that bonds us to our mothers for the purpose of survival is the same one we feel when in a new relationship or tangled between the sheets with someone. So, yes, your romantic relationships are directly and chemically related to the relationships you had with your primary caregivers.

So while you can understand on a conscious level that you have an insecure attachment style for many years, it’s very hard (but not impossible) to apply this to your dating life because those early relationships are ingrained so deep.

So, what can you do about it? Own up to and take responsibility for your part in picking unavailable partners. Learn about attachment theory, and what makes a secure, safe person to date, and to recognize and honor red flags. Work with a trusted therapist, and ideally, spend some time being single to nurture the relationship you have with yourself.

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