“Here’s what happened,” my client says to me in a breathless rush of words. “He connected with me before the holiday but said he was too busy to meet up and to reach out after. So I reached out to him the following week and he took a few days to respond. But said he really wanted to meet however, had to work late that night so could we meet out for coffee the next day? We met for coffee and on the date we started trading bad dating stories. He started telling me one and then added- ‘yeah and that was just last night!’. Well I was a little thrown because he had told me he had to work late but apparently he actually had a date. So then I asked him when he had connected with that woman online and he told me - the day before… I mean, what the heck? He had connected with me a week and a half before that! I felt like I was second string at hearing that but I know we are all out there dating around so I let it go. Then he asked me if I could go out with him the next night but I told him I had my kids and asked him was there another night later in the week that would work. He told me he’d get back to me and that was two days ago. What should I do? Should I text him or maybe even just pick up the phone and call him? I feel like I really like this one…”
Before I tell you how I responded- let’s just break this down a bit. First and foremost, why lie, buddy? The guy already concocted a fiction before they even met up. "I have to work late," he says, only to spill the beans later that he actually had another date?!? Seriously, what's the point of lying about work when he could have just said he had plans? Clearly, honesty wasn't his strong suit. And if he is lying early, he will lie later on too.
Second- let’s make this story a where’s Waldo of red flags for emotional unavailability shall we? He starts out by putting her off for a week, then puts it on her to reach out to him, which he doesn’t respond to for a few days, followed by blowing her off when she wasn’t able to jump to his one offering of an evening date time for her.
Now I know read this you might be thinking to yourself- why on earth was she even considering reaching out to this guy again?? It’s so easy to see glaring red flags in someone else’s story and SO hard to see in our own isn’t it?
But the question remains - why? Why would she pursue this man? Why have we all fallen victim to pursuing and even at times becoming obsessed with, an unhealthy partner?
Part of the answer is that she had clearly created a whole story about this man already just based on his dating profile and projected that it onto him, weaving a golden narrative in her mind about who he was and how rare of a find. She said she felt like she ‘really liked this one” but how well could she have even known him this early on? She had barely talked to him.
This is an all too easy trap to fall into with online dating. After swiping through dozens and dozens of profiles that are disappointing, your mind will lock onto the few that stand out above the rest and create feelings of urgency followed by stress. Making you believe that there are so few matches you would be interested in, that you MUST make this one work. Therefore, you convince yourself that this person is who you would like him to be right out of the gate.
The other part of the answer comes to us from brain science. There is this sneaky neurotransmitter playing puppet master with our brains in these scenarios - dopamine, a hormone that acts on the areas of the brain that give you feelings of pleasure, satisfaction and motivation. It turns out, the more emotionally unavailable a partner, the more our brains light up like the night sky on the 4th of July.
It is precisely because these partners are unpredictable in responding to us (the thing we think we hate) that we become super hooked on wanting to be with that person! The unpredictability becomes an intermittent reinforcer which is the most powerful form of reinforcement in behavioral science. If we are paid once a week (fixed interval reinforcer), sure, we are likely to continue showing up to our job to get the pay check BUT if we put a quarter in the slot machine and get $50 back… we get excited! Then we might have to put 10 more quarters in before we hit again, next time maybe 23 times or maybe 3- we don’t know, and the suspense of not knowing is what hooks us!
A partner who is consistent and predictable can feel good like the steady paycheck but a partner who offers us the thrill of the chase, creating a wild rollercoaster of emotions? That makes the relationship really exciting. Research has shown that obstacles in a relationship can turn our brains into something resembling a cocaine addict's. Yes, you read that right. The more drama, the more our brains go, "Yes, please, more!" It's like the dating version of candy crush. Unfortunately, the higher the emotional unavailability of a partner, the more exciting he appears to us – at least, to the reward center of our brains.
This same client told me all about a guy she had met at around the time she met coffee/date/liar guy. Only this other man was super consistent and attentive to her since from the get go. She said she was attracted to him and thought he seemed like a good guy but she felt like he was ‘too into her’. She couldn’t understand why he would be so into her so fast and that he wanted to get off the dating apps and have her be his girlfriend right away which was a turn off to her. She proclaimed to want a boyfriend but when the healthy guy showed up wanting to be her boyfriend she rejected him for the emotionally unavailable guy above.
Steady, consistent partners feel ‘boring’ by comparison. We begin to think the exciting rush feeling we associate with the hot and cold guy is ‘love’ while the mildly pleasant feelings we have with a steady admirer must mean we are not that into him and therefore we must keep looking. Also, if we have deep seated feelings of unworthiness or feel unlovable in anyway, we can feel highly suspect of a potential partner who seems to want to love on us deeply. Our subconscious mind is basically doing something along the lines of - ‘ummm this guy thinks we are awesome and we know for sure that’s not true, so there has got to be something wrong with him.’ So we push the steady guy away and return to seeking love for those who will never be able to fully give it to us.
And that my dear is a recipe for growing old alone… or worse, in a chronic dysfunctional relationship with a man who will never meet your emotional needs.
By now you may be wondering, what advice did I give my client about reaching out to the red flag guy? Well, I didn’t. I did not have to give her any advice, I simply suggested we tap on the emotions she was feelings about reaching out to this man and then once we cleared the intensity, we would check in with the wisest part of herself and see what she wanted to do. A few mere rounds into the tapping she stopped and said. “I don’t even know what I was thinking, I do not ever want to go out with that guy again. But actually, I am kind of feeling like I might call that nice guy back and see if he’ll give me another chance”.
And that my friends, is the power and the magic of EFT tapping to clear your subconscious blocks to find healthy, available love!