'Why am I with an emotionally unavailable person? Picture of a race track.Photo by Austris Augusts on Unsplash

While some people openly admit to being competitive, I’ve often found that many people who are, don’t see themselves in that way. Because they’re perfectionists, people pleasers and often prone to comparison, self-criticism and highlighting how they’re not ‘good enough’, they don’t regard themselves as having or showing a strong desire to be more successful than others. It’s like, I’m not getting what I want so how can I be competitive? This couldn’t be further from the truth. If you’ve wondered, Why am I with an emotionally unavailable person?, the answer to this lies in acknowledging that you’re competing with someone or something.

In my first book Mr Unavailable and the Fallback Girl, I explain that the ‘fallback’ is the person who takes the passenger role in the relationship and who allows the other party to default to or fall back on them for sex, a shoulder to lean on, an ego stroke and basically anything else that involves sacrificing their needs. Which role we take up and the type of unavailable relationship, provide clues about who/what we’re competing with. Note: while the book was originally for women, men can be in any of these roles plus these dynamics apply in same-sex relationships.

The Yo-Yo Girl competes with the next partner.

Going back and forth with someone who cant break, won’t break but also isn’t committing to a relationship, is about competing to see if we still have the power to draw the person back. Even if it means remaining in an unworkable situation, we want to be the best at it.

The Buffer competes with the ex(es).

We strive to be better than their ex so that they will choose us to move their affections to. We make ourselves indispensable, try to figure out how to be different to the ex in the areas where we think they went wrong, or we try to be as good as or better in areas where we compare ourselves. Sometimes we choose someone whose ex represents what we feel insecure about. We then try to feel superior with something we value ourselves for (e.g. intelligence, success) while also wanting validation about what we criticise or doubt ourselves for. Yeah, messy.

The Other Woman competes with the existing partner or spouse (and possibly other affair partners).

In an affair, we’re validating ourselves on the notion that we’re ‘the best’. We think we’re giving them something that someone who’s inferior (they’re not) isn’t. We want to be chosen. I’m the best at letting you be as bad as you like. I’m the best at understanding and giving you what you need. There’s also another competition: We’re trying to right the wrongs of feeling deprioritised, relegated or even replaced by someone else in our earlier life. Or… we’re continuing a competition. If, for example, a parent deprioritised, relegated or even replaced others, we might be inadvertently recreating that dynamic to feel special.

Florence Nightingale competes with the past and whatever a partner’s dependent on.

When we attempt to make ourselves the solution to someone else’s problems, we have plenty to compete with. From exes they didn’t do ‘better’ with, to family who’ve contributed to the issue, we’re trying to be the best at being needed by them. We also compete to be chosen over, for instance, alcohol, drugs, workaholism or gambling.

A Renovator also competes with the past and future ‘replacements’.

With a ‘fixer-upper’, we think we can make him/her into what we want. We’re competing with, for example, the family who we think didn’t raise ’em right or the exes who didn’t demand more realisation of potential out of them. We also reason that if we’re giving everything to someone who we don’t think could have been with someone like us or achieved their potential without our input, they have no reason to leave. We live in fear of being replaced by someone who will reap the reward of our investment. Our efforts are then about demonstrating why we’re the best and why they should stay (even if we’re miserable).

The Flogger competes with the past, present and future.

We figure that we’ve suffered the most hence earned the right to the relationship we want. Investment, titles and history matter to us. We try to outstrip all the people in our partner’s past, present and future who either didn’t do as good a job as us or who might try to have a go at being better. We’re also, however, competing with someone or even a number of people in our own past. We’re proving that we can do [long-standing suffering] better than them. I will handle a man like daddy better than mom. I might be miserable but I’m the only person in my family who’s stayed married.

Miss Independent, Miss Self-Sufficient competes with all women. 

Women are socialised to fight over this tiny-ass bucket with its limited supply of decent partners, jobs, opportunities etc. This zero-sum game feeds insecurity and a scarcity mindset. We figure it’s safest to pretend that we have less needs than we do. We act as if things don’t bother us when they do. There’s a fear of being like those ‘other’ women – too needy/dramatic/demanding/weak etc. What if we wind up trapped, lost, overwhelmed and having to sacrifice too much? Some of those women might be our own family members or just people we’ve come across that scare the beejaysus out of us with their life choices [that we don’t have to have or we can but don’t have to do it their way]. We try to enjoy the fringe benefits of a relationship without commitment.

The Dreamer competes with everyone in their imagination.

Sometimes our way of competing (while secretly accepting failure from the outset – the long-shot mentality) is to be in a fantasy. Any of the above roles can exist within a fantasy relationship but sometimes a relationship is attractive because it’s not real. We can be whatever we want in our imagination and feel like The Best. We’re putting us in an impossible situation because if the fantasy came true, it would allow us to meet an unmet need.

‘Why am I with an emotionally unavailable person?’, we wonder. It’s because we’re unwittingly trying to make ourselves worthy by competing with someone or something.

Sometimes it’s difficult to see the wood for the trees when you’re in an unavailable relationship. Acknowledging who or what you’re competing with removes a blind spot that you may not have known you had. Shining a light of awareness on your pattern helps you recognise how unresolved pain, fear and guilt is calling on your attention for you to address and heal it.

There wouldn’t be a need to compete in unavailable relationships if you weren’t, on some level, trying to finally be made the best or the priority to make up for someone else not doing it in your past.

If you hadn’t blamed and shamed you for their inadequacy and/or based your self-worth on being the favourite, you wouldn’t be in this relationship.

You can decide if the basis for you competing is something that’s true and important.

You can decide if it’s worth the pain or worth giving up your true desires and who you are.

It’s not necessary for you to prove your worth by validating it on the destruction or bettering of someone else. That’s a path to pain, insecurity and missing out on genuine, loving relationships. When you stop competing, you lose the agenda of fixing a past that you never needed to fix in the first place.

Your thoughts?

Check out 48 Ideas For Increasing Emotional Availability and We’ve Got To Stop Procrastinating In Unavailable Relationships.

If you want to go deeper with tackling your pattern, check out my Break The Cycle course.

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