The Real Reason Why You Keep Dating Unavailable People

Written by Margaret Paul, Ph.D.
Margaret Paul, Ph.D., is a best-selling author, relationship expert, and Inner Bonding® facilitator.

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Here’s a question I recently received from a client:

“How do I stop attracting bad boys, cheaters, unavailable guys—guys that are like my father? I’m doing lots of inner work and healing, but still, I've not yet been able to attract the right partner. I am a very caring and empathic person, and I don’t understand why I don’t attract a caring and empathic man. What I am doing wrong?”

It’s actually very common sentiment, one that I hear all the time as a relationship counselor. Oftentimes people are convinced they really want to attract an open and caring partner, yet over and over they discover the people they end up dating are not only “unavailable” but sometimes even dishonest and cruel.

There are three major reasons for this:

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1. You believe loving someone will make them a loving person.

There is a subconscious part of you that believes if you can just be loving enough and empathic enough, you can get a person—even someone who reminds you of a destructive parent or former partner—to become open, loving, and available. Part of that may very well stem from wanting to “rewrite the past,” hoping to change an old story of someone who mistreated you into a new one in which you can get such a person to treat you well.

It’s important to recognize there is no way to get an unloving person to be loving. Nobody has that kind of control over other people. If you want to be with a loving person, they have to already be loving.

2. You believe getting someone to love you will make you feel loved.

The wounded part of you believes that you are okay only if you can get someone to love you. If you can do that, then you finally will feel loved, safe, and complete.

These are totally false beliefs. The truth is, no one else can make you feel safe, lovable, and complete. Only you can make yourself feel this way. Trying to find a person to love and fill in the parts of you that feel unsafe or unworthy is a form of self-rejection—it’s a way of telling yourself that you are not okay as you are, and you won’t be until you can find someone who loves you. As long as you keep rejecting yourself this way, you will continue to feel unlovable, unsafe, and inadequate.

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3. You’re unavailable, too.

This is often hard for people to recognize, but when you keep attracting people who aren’t ready for a real relationship or who don’t want one, it’s usually because you yourself aren’t ready or don’t truly want one. You likely have two underlying fears of being in a committed relationship: the fear of engulfment (losing yourself) and the fear of rejection (losing the other). These fears keep you from being “available.”

By picking less-than-ideal people to date, you feel safe from these fears because you know you won’t end up in a committed relationship with them. If you met a caring and available person, there is a good possibility you wouldn’t be attracted to them due to your fears of engulfment and rejection. The wounded part of you believes there is safety from these fears in being with a person you know you won’t end up with in a committed relationship.

How to stop ending up with the wrong people.

If you want to stop attracting unavailable people, you need to do the inner work first. That means developing a strong, loving adult part of yourself—the adult you perhaps lacked and craved growing up.

Part of this involves developing a deeper and more authentic self-love. You need to be able to see your own value regardless of how people treat you. As long as you’re trying to get love from others, you’ll continue to attract “fixer-uppers.” We attract at our core level of self-abandonment, which means that a person who rejects themselves will attract people who are also rejecting themselves.

When you love yourself fully, you’ll stop self-sacrificing in an effort to get people to love you, and you’ll stop measuring your own worth based on your ability to do so. Because we also attract at our common level of self-love, the more you love yourself, the more you will be attracted to people who share that sense of self-love—and thus are able to share that love with others.

In addition, it’s self-abandonment that causes the underlying fears that lead you to be unavailable. Until you become strong enough to set limits against being controlled by another (the solution to the fear of engulfment) and loving enough toward yourself to not take rejection personally (the solution to the fear of rejection), you will feel too afraid to connect with an open, caring, available person. You’ll continue to subconsciously seek out people with whom you know there is no future because you feel safer that way. Becoming strong enough to love means you are no longer fearful of getting hurt because you have a strong sense of self-worth and know you can lovingly manage your painful feelings. That’s what it takes to keep your heart open to love (i.e. being “available”). Until then, fear will keep your heart closed to loving, and only unloving people will seem safe to you.

I know it seems paradoxical, because you likely keep getting hurt by these unavailable people, but the underlying source of that hurt isn’t about what they do—it’s about what you do. You hurt yourself deeply when you give yourself up to get love, and you're far more likely to do this with an unavailable partner than an available partner. You’ll likely keep attracting these uncommitted types of partners until you do the inner work of becoming strong enough to love from a place of self-love.

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