Five months into your relationship and your once passionate new partner inexplicably suddenly starts to back off. You notice their texts and calls aren’t as frequent, or that they only respond to yours-never initiate.  Then they start pulling back sexually or their style suddenly changes.  This is the sister who has been Ms. Propriety who suddenly becomes Ms. Hanging from the Chandeliers or the brother who now perpetually has a headache.  When you first got together there weren’t enough hours in the day for you to spend together. Now she has dozens of excuses why she can’t see you as frequently.  And then one day it’s suddenly over and you’re left wondering to yourself, “Was this whole thing just a game or fantasy?”

In a nutshell yes, if they were unavailable. As a matter of fact, if they’re truly unavailable they were never really there in the first place.

Because emotionally unavailable people often behave (at least in the beginning) as if they want to be in a relationship, it’s important to be able to recognize the red flags early on while dating–before you get your heart broken.  Be forewarned: a Mr. or Ms. Unavailable typically actively seeks out relationships.  They can be the most romantic and or considerate people in the universe, that is until there is the perceived or actual expectation of some form of commitment.

So, what are some of the warning signs that someone isn’t really available?

  1. They’re circumstantially unavailable.  As in married, separated, cohabiting or even divorced but still hanging on in some way to their ex. They’re incarcerated. Living in another city with no intention of ever permanently residing in the same zip code.  Their work keeps them on the road 9 months of the year. They are on permanent military deployment. They live with their ex.
  2. They’re addicts.  Someone who is addicted in any way is already in a relationship – with their substance or activity of choice. Until they get help, you’ll always run a second or third or tenth in line to their next fix.
  3. They’re secretive.  Unavailable people often have big secrets or even secret lives, therefore they tend to give you as little access to their world as possible.  For instance, you don’t know the number to their office or you’ve never been to their home.  In this way, you’re less likely to get a clear picture of what you’re really dealing with, thus keeping you off balance and them in control of the (lack of) direction of your non-relationship.
  4. They’re walled off.  For example, they won’t take calls too early or too late or they manage you by text. Or they have children whom you’ve never met or refuse to spend major holidays with you.  Unavailable people keep rigid boundaries around their personal life that they’re unwilling to change.
  5. They’re speed freaks.  Unavailable people are the kings and queens of “Hurry up and wait.” They’re in a rush in the beginning of the relationship, but once they’re in it they spend their time trying to keep it going while sitting in neutral.

The number one way you can tell that someone is unavailable is that there is always a disconnect between their actions and their words.  For example, they say they aren’t ready for a relationship, but regularly sleep with you anyway and refuse to define what you share.  The reality is that for some people, fantasy will always be more appealing to them than reality.  Some people simply don’t/can’t deal with reality. They are in love with the chase or the feeling of being chased.

Emotionally unavailable people are the moths of the relationship kingdom.  Let a person like this stay in your life for too long and they’ll eat away at your emotional well being just as surely as a clothing moth will consume your favorite wool sweater.  Whenever there is a marked discrepancy between two people in terms of how much of their emotional/physical life they make available to the other there is going to be drama.  If you feel the person that your dating is a Ms./Mr. Unavailable, the best thing you can do is walk away-before you get emotionally involved.  Don’t think that if you hang on a little longer, love them a little harder, or sex them a little freakier that you’ll be able to convince them that you’re the one who’ll help them get over their availability issues.  The truth is, unless they a. recognize they have a problem, b. want help for it and c. proactively seek help and do the work to change, they’re never going to be truly available – for anyone.

Sil Lai Abrams is’s Relationship Expert and the author of No More Drama: 9 Simple Steps to Transforming a Breakdown into a Breakthrough and a board member of the National Domestic Violence Hotline.  Follow her on Twitter: @sil_lai and connect with her on Facebook. Want Sil Lai’s advice? Email [email protected] to have your love questions answered in a future column!