How to Recognize an Emotionally Unavailable Person

What's an emotionally unavailable person like? We give you some keys to finding out.
How to Recognize an Emotionally Unavailable Person
Laura Ruiz Mitjana

Written and verified by the psychologist Laura Ruiz Mitjana.

Last update: 25 September, 2022

You meet someone you like and seem to connect with so you share some time together, but they suddenly back off. In fact, they seem fearful or tell you that they don’t want a serious relationship. They say they’re not ready and that they find it difficult to open up to others. If this is the case, you may be dealing with a person who’s emotionally unavailable.

In reality, for a relationship to work, it’s essential that both parties give and receive. That’s because if only one opens up emotionally, it’s not a relationship. It’s as if you’re sailing through the sea in a small boat with someone else, but you’re the only one rowing. What would happen in this scenario? You’d end up going nowhere.

The same thing happens in relationships. Both parties must open their inner world to the other in order to create a common space of intimacy and sharing.

Here, we’re going to give you some keys to recognizing an emotionally unavailable person.

“Emotion is the bravest thing there is. It takes courage.”

-Sergi Rufi-

couple talking
Emotionally unavailable people have a hard time creating a space of intimacy with others.

What’s an emotionally unavailable person like?

Being emotionally available means being open to another person entering your life, wanting to give and receive affection, and maintaining a private space where you can conduct intimate conversations, and show your love and passion, etc.

However, an emotionally unavailable person is the exact opposite.

  • They find it difficult to create spaces of intimacy with others.
  • It’s difficult for them to ask for help and let themselves be helped.
  • They find it hard to express their emotions and be open.
  • Their personal relationships are rather superficial, as they’re not emotionally involved with others.
  • Relationship breakups don’t seem to cause them any suffering.
  • They’re not open to loving and letting themselves be loved.

Keys to identifying an emotionally unavailable person

We’re going to identify and describe some keys to help you identify emotionally unavailable people.

1. They avoid intimacy

These people avoid intimacy, that common, warm, and familiar space that develops as trust between two people increases, as well as shared time. Therefore, although you might share some enjoyable moments with them, there’ll never really be any genuine intimacy.

2. They blow hot and cold

One day, the emotionally unavailable person may be keen to do things with you, want to see you,  and show you affection. However, on the next, they might be serious, withdrawn, and reproachful.

They often do this unconsciously because they don’t even know what they really want. 

3. They find it difficult to talk about their emotions or intimate experiences

Another characteristic of these people is that they find it difficult to talk about their emotions or their most intimate experiences. In fact, you’ll find you can talk about everything with this person, except their emotions. If you try, they’ll withdraw and either use evasiveness or humor to avoid talking.

“Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move the hearts of men.” 


4. They set boundaries

Emotionally unavailable people set boundaries right from the start. For example, they might not want you to always sleep together, have meals with other friends, or meet your family. In addition, they’re usually quite inflexible with these restrictions.

These boundaries allow them to mark their emotional distance and ‘protect’ themselves from everything that implies intimacy, commitment, and, ultimately, the emotional part of the relationship.

5. Their displays of affection are either inconsistent or non-existent

Emotionally unavailable people tend to display a certain pattern of behavior when it comes to giving love and affection. While they might occasionally be loving, this behavior isn’t consistent.

For example, often, for no apparent reason, their affection decreases, changes, or even disappears. In some cases, they never show direct displays of affection.

“An emotion does not cause pain. Resistance or suppression of an emotion causes pain.”

-Frederick Dodson-

6. Many words, few actions

These kinds of people might promise many things, but at the moment of truth, their actions say something else. However, it’s not necessarily done in bad faith. In fact, they may want to open up to you but something prevents them from doing so. Consequently, there are inconsistencies between what they say and what they do. Or, they say a lot but do little.

One recommendation for when this happens is to pay attention to their actions and not so much their words.

7. They cancel plans at the last minute

People who are emotionally unavailable cancel plans at the last minute, when they come up with a better plan. This is because, in reality, they don’t want to commit themselves to you. Hence, they prioritize having fun over consistency or commitment.

8. They avoid commitment

An emotionally unavailable person generally doesn’t want to commit to you. They might verbalize this directly, by being honest, or show it through their actions, like frequently canceling plans.

The fact that they’re not emotionally available makes them ‘run away’ from relationships that imply commitment. That’s because, in reality, what they’re looking for is something else. It might be fun, entertainment, company, or sex, but certainly not something deeper and more emotional.

Man talking to his partner
Emotionally unavailable people avoid commitment and display intermittent emotions.

How to act with emotionally unavailable people

If you’ve met someone you like and have feelings for who isn’t emotionally available (either because they tell you so, or because they show it with their actions), it’s important that you think about what you want.

You must ask yourself if you’re happy with this kind of situation or are looking for more involvement and commitment. Whatever you need, it’s fine. However, you need to listen to yourself and act accordingly. After all, you have the right to want emotionally available people by your side. On the other hand, you’re also totally within your rights not to want commitment.

Make sure you’re consistent and honest in your personal relationships. This shows unmistakable proof of your self-esteem, which will attract people who are looking for the same thing as you.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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  • González, T. T., & García, A. O. (2009). El Compromiso y la Estabilidad en la Pareja: Definición y Dimensiones dentro de la Población Mexicana. Psicología Iberoamericana17(1), 38-47.
  • Torres González, Tamara & Moreira Mayo, Mercedes & Ojeda García, Angélica (2010). ¿Amor y Compromiso en la Pareja?: de la teoría a la práctica. Revista Iberoamericana de Diagnóstico y Evaluación – e Avaliação Psicológica, 2 (30),125-142.[fecha de Consulta 10 de Septiembre de 2022]. ISSN: 1135-3848. Disponible en:

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.