Pursuing the Unavailable Partner

If you are in the world of dating, then you know it can be difficult to discern who is really compatible with you. It’s all too easy to let old ideas of how you think love is supposed to look and feel guide your process.

You might find yourself dating people who are fun at first, but then when you want to build intimacy, they move away. If you aren’t mindful of what’s happening, an old and tragic love template takes over.  In this template, you notice basic physiological arousal and label it as attraction, but it could just as easily be the stress of pursuing love. This particular kind of stress might feel exciting because, you imagine that with the right effort you will finally find the love you want.

This pursuit of the emotionally unavailable can be very subtle at first and if someone asked you if you were pursuing, you might say no. But if there happened to be a video recording of your date, you might notice the following indications of pursuit:

  1. You are more often physically leaning toward and facing forward and they are more often leaning back and turned sideways.

  2. You let your gaze rest on attractive parts of them longer than they gaze at you.

  3. When they share something, you ask twice as many follow up questions as they ask when you share.

  4. You use feelings words.  They don’t use feeling words.

  5. They are the first to break eye contact almost every time.

  6. Most people would label your questions as more personal than their questions.

  7. When they give an answer you would consider vague, you ask questions until you get the details you want.

  8. You interpret anything they share about their own reactivity or challenges in life as intimacy. If you spent the whole evening empathizing with something difficult for them, you call that intimacy.

  9. You get excited about helping them with their personal growth challenges.

  10. You come up with the specifics for getting together next time.

With the love template that engages in the pursuit of the emotionally unavailable, you believe you have to work to be loved.  This belief may be unconscious, but you find yourself trying to say and do “the right thing” to be loved. With this comes the inevitable enmeshment and painful thoughts that you are ruining the relationship, and if only you would get it right they would love you and everything would be okay. Unfortunately, your dating partner may unconsciously collude with this and blame you for their own reactivity. This kind of dynamic can easily escalate into serious emotional and physical violence.

So why can’t you find someone that is available? Unfortunately, at least two major things get in the way.* First, if your love template says that love is about chasing and efforting, then you might inadvertently label a person who is simply present and available as boring. The excitement of the pursuit is not activated, so you imagine this is an indication of a lack of attraction.

Second, if you had to act a certain way to be loved in your family of origin, then love that is freely given may trigger shame and grief. An old script gets activated that says you aren’t really worthy of love. This shame is extremely painful, you will feel the discomfort of it long before you are able to identify it as shame. You will notice this discomfort as an impulse to pull away. You will hear yourself saying things like, “They were smothering me,” or “I just wasn’t comfortable with them.”

Shame typically blocks the healing power of grief and mourning. Thus, unless you are working with shame directly, this old and tragic script or love template keeps its hold on you.

Working with shame requires a very safe space and the intention to be known fully in groups, friendships, or with a therapist who will gently challenge your defenses and invite you forward into the embrace of love.

Beginning to interrupt the tragic pursuit of the unavailable, can start with mindfulness of your center.  Just noticing when you are leaning off center either physically, energetically, or in what you share can help.  When you have practiced grounding through your center in meditation or in daily life, you will have a reliable place to rest in any circumstance. From this centered place in yourself, you can quietly notice love.  Love might be radiating from you, coming towards you, between others nearby, or perhaps it doesn’t have a place at all, but you can still find it.


Before your next date, set your intention to come back to center many times throughout the evening.  Put a reminder on your phone to ask yourself the next morning about how the practice went.

*With cases of severe trauma and abuse, tragic love templates are held in place through complex physiological systems, which Bessel Van der Kolk talks about in his book, The Body Keeps the Score.