Recently, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the term “emotional availability.” In the self-help world, it’s a term that gets thrown around quite a bit. In the brunch with girlfriends world, it’s a blanket statement used to rationalize not working on yourself. Let me explain-
“Tina” is a bright, attractive, caring woman in her mid 30s who can’t help but self-sabotage her romantic relationships. I feel for her. In the past, I was guilty of many of the same mistakes:
- Calling/texting a guy, expecting him to take care of my every need (ranging from boredom to loneliness to hunger).
- Questioning EVERYTHING in a rapid fire of escalating thoughts (from what I said, to his motivations, to my desire to be in a relationship at all).
- Impulsively behaving or saying things out of my insecurities rather than reality.
- Or, my personal favorite, accepting partners and sticking around, conveniently ignoring the jumbotron-like signs in favor of who I hope my partner will one day become.
Listening to Tina’s story, I wanted to be a supportive friend. That’s where the trouble set in. I could a) listen, validate, and agree with how Mark was indeed emotionally unavailable since he couldn’t meet her incessant needs; or b) tell her the truth: no partner can be her everything. She needed to own her side of the street.
FYI: Being friends with a coach/soon-to-be therapist often means hearing things you don’t like because 1) we don't have the patience or desire to play therapist for our friends 2) we genuinely want you to get the support you deserve.
Choosing option "B," went something like this:
Amita: Tina, ever notice how you describe every guy you date as ‘emotionally unavailable?’ what’s that about?
Tina: Dating in NYC sucks. The good guys are all taken. And the ones that are left aren't emotionally ready to be with me.
Amita: So, you’re telling me that every single guy in NYC is emotionally unavailable or undateable? If that's true, then shoot me now.
Tina: No, just the ones I meet...(insert montage of her recent dates and relationships.)
Amita: Those do seem pretty similar. So what’s the common denominator?...(praying she can take a hint so I don't have to say it)... Maybe YOU'RE not as emotionally available as you think.
Tina: (grumbling…cursing at me under her breath…some random comment about how the ratio of single women to men is better in San Francisco…)
Arguably, I could have been more tactful. But support comes in many forms. And if there’s one lesson I wish I'd learned earlier in life, it’s this:
Blaming others, blaming situations, blaming the female: male ratio only provides temporary relief.
It's a lot like hitting your head against a wall and then blaming the wall for your massive egg-shaped bruise.
Taking others' inventory without examining how you attract or allow it only works until it doesn't work. In the long run, it simply keeps you stuck.
I don’t deny that Tina meets jerks, I certainly wouldn’t date any of them. So after a large gulp of coffee (me) and a swig of a mimosa (her), we jumped in on the fix:
- She’d start seeing a therapist again.
- She’d identify her must haves, won’t haves, and would like to haves in a relationship.
- She’d assess for red flags by date 2 by asking things like “How long was your last relationship and when did it end?” and “What did you learn from that experience?”
- She’d act on the data gathered BEFORE she developed strong feelings since our non-negotiables for a partner go right out the window as soon as our hormones kick in.
- She’d try new ways of meeting guys (trading swiping on apps for new hobbies and meetups.)
- When she wasn’t matching a guy’s energy and/or rate of communication, she'd assess what need she’s trying to meet and a) find a suitable alternative b) go back to steps 2-5.
None of us were born with relationship skills. And if our strategy is to “figure it out as we go,” repeat, or avoid our parents’ mistakes… we’re screwed. That’s why the key to happiness in relationships lies in our ability to identify our role in current and past situations, reflect on these patterns, and recognize that our ability to change our trajectory is only as strong as our commitment to growth.
Or you can keep banging your head on a wall. The choice is yours.