There’s a big difference between dating and dating, like, seriously. You can go on a bunch of dates with one person over a series of months and not really be together—but it can be hard to figure out why, exactly, the relationship isn’t deepening. The other person might simply be emotionally unavailable. Here’s how to figure out if someone is emotionally available or not.
Define what emotional availability is
Here’s what emotional availability is, according to the journal Frontiers in Psychology: “Emotional availability (EA) refers to the ability of two people to share a healthy emotional connection, and it thus elucidates the emotional and dyadic quality of relationships.”
Simply put, someone who is communicative and wants to move forward in a relationship has emotional availability. Someone who is vague or deceptive, or who won’t commit but doesn’t want to explain why, does not have emotional availability.
Knowing the by-the-book definition is only half the battle, though. You also need to define emotional availability for yourself and your relationship. Think hard about what you want in a partner and which elements of emotional availability are most important to you before you take a look at the other person and assess whether they are emotionally available in the first place.
If someone is emotionally unavailable, there could be a number of reasons why. They may have been hurt in the past, may have seen the dissolution of their parents’ relationship, may still be hung up on an ex, or may simply just not be ready to give up a freewheeling lifestyle in favor of something committed. There is nothing wrong with being emotionally unavailable; the only real issue is if they lead someone on because of it.
Look for signs in communication
The way the other person acts when you talk to them is indicative of their emotional availability. If they shy away from discussing personal subjects, don’t seem invested in talking to you, or are hard to communicate with, consider that they might be emotionally unavailable.
The other person might be all about physical hookups or might seem to enjoy small talk via text every day, but might not be ready or willing to open up in a serious way and connect on a deeper emotional level.
Check in with yourself about how you feel after a dinner or long talk with the other person. Do you feel heard? Do you feel respected? Do you feel like you both shared equally and honestly? If their communication skills are good, you should feel like the conversation was productive, at least. If not, know that they could be emotionally unavailable.
It’s totally fine to ask the other person if they see the relationship getting more serious or if they have some reason they want to prevent that. Ask them if they feel emotionally available, if they’re ready to have a genuine relationship, and if they are prepared to open up to you and be opened up to in return.
If they pull away, they might be emotionally unavailable. They could also be more direct and respond to your questions by telling you they really aren’t looking for anything serious and are, in fact, emotionally unavailable by their own determination.
No matter how it works out, having a frank and open conversation with them is bound to help you figure out if you’re dealing with someone who is emotionally available or not.
Decide what to do
If you—and the other person—decide they’re not emotionally available or equipped for a serious relationship, you don’t have to call it quits right away. Just as you assessed what parts of emotional availability matter the most to you in a relationship, assess what parts of a relationship itself are important to you.
If you want stability, dependability, and exclusivity, that person may not be for you, but if you want to keep hanging out and having fun, you could stick it out with the emotionally unavailable person.
Remember that they may not be emotionally unavailable forever, either. Maybe they need a little encouragement to open up, some affection, or a feeling of safety. Sticking it out could work for you in the long run, though you should also remain aware that it isn’t your responsibility to comfort or change the other person, and they may never become the partner you want them to be. Take things day by day and see how it goes.