They love me, they love me not. Working out which one it is at the beginning of any kind of sexual or romantic relationship is hard enough with all the mixed signals and nervous energy flying about, but it's going to be a lot harder if the person you're interested in is, ultimately, emotionally unavailable.
Lily*, 23, started a sexual relationship with someone which she hoped would turn more serious and romantic over time, but just ended up constantly disappointing her. "Between the constant pendulum swing between him showing me intense affection and then completely ignoring me, and a complete inability to tell what he was thinking at any given time, it started to become pretty clear he wasn't interested or was just incapable of committing," she says.
But it wasn't an easy realisation to have. "I really liked him, and really wanted to believe that deep down he wanted more. I spent months chasing him, totally infatuated, until I finally had the painful yet necessary revelation — he's either just not that into me, or he just doesn't want a relationship at all." Neither was the answer Lily was hoping for, but looking back and realising how emotionally unavailable he had been was really important for her to move on.
As therapist Maria G. Sosa at @holisticallygrace explains, we often mistake signs of emotional unavailability for excitement, chemistry and mystery. Below, see Sosa's classic signs that the person you're chasing is actually emotionally unavailable. Because even though it can be hard to hear, you'll be grateful in the long run.
You get excited about the slightest bit of affection — because they don't usually show you any
You might be getting unusually excited about the smallest bits of affection they show you (the kind that you wouldn't usually take so seriously with anyone else) because sadly, they're actually "breadcrumbing" you and you're emotionally starved.
In case you're not familiar with the term, "breadcrumbing" is the act of leading someone on by giving them the tiniest, most intermittent bits of attention to keep you interested, but never enough to actually satisfy you. Every time the breadcrumber messages you or asks to hang out, you might be thinking "This is it — they're finally going to pay attention to me," before they just disappear or ignore you all over again.
It's important to remember that if someone is really interested in you and ready for a genuine connection, you're bound to get more than the occasional Instagram Story response every now and again — as you deserve!
You get unusually excited when they reach out and talk to you — because they rarely do
Because their communication is so inconsistent and intermittent, hearing from them can feel like you've won the lottery — even if it's a simple passing, "Hey". And let's face it, we deserve a lot more than getting hung up on a lonely "Hey".
In a relationship like this, you might also find that your attempts to start conversations often end quickly, with them only offering short responses that don't invite further discussion. When we're infatuated with someone, it can be easy to come up with excuses as to why this happens and want to believe they have nothing to do with us. But it's better for us in the long run to realise that if someone wants to talk to us, they probably will.
You drop all your plans to hang out with them when they finally suggest it or aren't "too busy" for you
Because they always seem "super busy" and will only spontaneously suggest that you hang out, often with little to no warning, having them suddenly want to spend time with you can feel amazing. But this spontaneity can sometimes be a red flag, as it might suggest you're more of a "last resort" than a priority.
This can often lead to us constantly adjusting our schedules to fit theirs in the vague hope they align, and spending a lot of wasted time hoping they turn up at our door. But take it from us — you'll feel a lot better if you start carrying on with your plans, and your life in general, without feeling the need to factor them in.
You feel like you're constantly trying to figure them out or navigate their changing moods
Because they often come across as ambiguous and don't give you a lot of information to work with, they can feel like a constant mystery to you — which makes them feel really exciting. And while a bit of mystery is harmless and intriguing, if you constantly feel like you can never quite understand them or don't know how they feel about you, it can be a pretty nasty emotional rollercoaster of uncertainty.
It's likely that they're actually quite unclear about what they want and how they really feel, and it's not going to help either of you if you waste too much time trying to figure them out — take a step back and leave them to work out what it is they really want. And if it's not you, then it's their loss.
You have dreams about what your life with them will look like but they're super unrealistic
Because they're keeping their options open but haven't settled on where you fit in, you're probably spending a lot of time daydreaming about the day they finally turn around and choose you — but these dreams are probably vague and a bit messy because you don't have much to go off in reality.
While our daydreams can be safe and fun, be careful not to get too caught up in ones that involve people who dangle a shared future in front of you from time to time before yanking it away. Instead of daydreaming about unrealistic possibilities and being upset that they probably won't come true, try putting that energy into planning a real and genuine future, whether that involves this person or not.
You're constantly asking your friends and family to help decipher their behaviour or intentions
Because you can't quite make sense of their actions and how they don't always match their words, you're probably sending a lot of screenshots to your friends and family asking them, "What do you think this means?". When their responses range from engaging to avoidant and constantly swing back and forth, every little thing they do becomes open to interpretation. And this can get really exhausting.
When we're combing through every message and replaying every interaction looking for things we can be sure of, it might be a sign that this person isn't ready or willing to be honest or committed — and perhaps your time is best spent with others whose devotion to you never requires second guessing.