Women: Being Unavailable Vs. Playing a Game?

by Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.

Copyright © Susan J. Elliott All Rights Reserved

Is it a game or just a good idea?

I just wrote a post for the Facebook group that I included a reference to this article and many have asked me for it, so I’m rerunning it here.

I wrote this article as a chapter for Getting Back Out There and my editor at Da Capo (now Hachette Books) refused to include it in the book.  I was REALLY upset that she rejected this chapter.  Based on the responses I always get to this article, she was wrong.

It is one of the most popular posts on here and was VERY popular when it ran on Psychology Today.  Not only that, but I had a client who seemed to be lost in the morass of on-line dating. When she read this article as a draft of that chapter, she said a light bulb went on and she changed DRAMATICALLY.  She never stopped referencing this article as making ALL the difference.  When it was on PT and on the blog, I got a TON of mail from women thanking me for this.  If you disagree, let me know, but so far – except for that editor (and her assistant who weighed in – not sure why) – every other woman loves it.

I don’t know why my editor did not want this as part of the book and I disagree with that decision (and other ones that were made about that book.)  So I run this every few months. It has had a VERY positive response from women.  My apologies that it was not in the book. It should have been.  Anyone who knows me for longer than 5 minutes knows I’m a feminist and would never put women-only tripe out to the world if it were not true and solid advice to HELP women, not to hurt them. And this information – to a woman who has contacted me after using these strategies in her own life – HELPS.

If I hadn’t received such a positive response to this, I wouldn’t keep re-running it.  But I have and I do. This is not the full chapter that I wrote for the book, but is more than the article I wrote for Psychology Today. I hope you enjoy it!

Women: Being Unavailable

v. Playing a Game

or

10 11! Reasons Why Living Your Life

Makes You More Attractive to Healthy Men!

My books are gender and sexual orientation neutral. I rarely write posts for just one gender, but this one is mostly for women dating men but portions of it apply to everyone.

I’ve been a practicing therapist for over 25 years. When I am working with women moving on from a relationship and getting ready to date again, I encourage them to be a little less available than they had been in their last relationship. Women, inevitably, will say to me, “I don’t want to play games. I want to be who I am.”

Okay, well why are you an always available person? Why would anyone in his or her right mind find that attractive? (Women, believe it or not, tend to be more forgiving of no-life men even though they shouldn’t be…everyone should have a life…if you are looking for a no-life person, it’s insecurity on your part).

BUT more importantly, in pursuing this person or making sure this person likes/is attracted to YOU, you are missing all the signs that he might be a problem later on.

To break that down:

  1. Having your own life and your own interests makes you an attractive person. This is true when you’re dating or when you’re married 10 years. You do not want to advertise a person with a great life who isn’t ever going to be a burden or a weepy “you never pay attention to me” girlfriend and then give it all up for a relationship. That’s bait and switch and not fair to the relationship or to you.

I am telling you that a man will hardly ever say, “What happened to the vibrant, interesting woman I met?” but he’s thinking it. Even if he seems to WANT you around all the time, the bottom line is that he really doesn’t. No healthy person wants their partner around all the time. No one. If you do, guess what that means?  It means you have no life and your emotional health is in question.

If a man is going to be there for you when you really need him, you have to choose your needing him times. Do you need him when you broke a nail? When your mother said something nasty to you? When you perceived that he gave you “a look”? If you are going to your guy with all these little niggling things, what do you do when you have an actual crisis like losing your job? If he’s been putting out all the small fires, he’s going to bolt when the big inferno comes along.  And you’ll be sitting there, thinking, “He left me when I needed him most!”  No, he left you when you wore him out with stupid little things that didn’t need to be shared.

Also, it is in YOUR best interest to not go to him with all these little annoyances. It will be  hard, if not impossible, to figure out if someone is going to be a good and solid partner  if you’re always going on about something. You need to be in OBSERVATION mode as the GPYB and GBOT books tell you to be. Observe, observe, observe.

If you are not observing because you’re in “reacting to every little thing” mode, a new boyfriend might be understanding (just BECAUSE he’s a new boyfriend), but a healthy guy is going to move along as soon as he can. If you start with the drama and waterworks right away, over practically nothing, he might say “there there” but he’s thinking “not here, not here.” Healthy men do not want emotionally fragile women. Unhealthy men don’t either but you’re not giving him the chance to “show his face” as one or the other if you’re always going on about something.  You’ll never know whether he was healthy or unhealthy because, either way,  he’s running down the street.

  1. If it doesn’t work out, whether next week, next year or 5 years from now, you have a life and friends and good things to go back to. So many women are left at the end of a relationship wondering what the HELL to do with herself. “I gave up my friends, my family, my classes, my hobbies to nest with Mr. Wonderful. Now Mr. Wonderful is gone and my nest is empty and so is my life.”

Yes, women want to nest but your man can fly the coop. Especially if the coop is boring and engulfing. Biologically and historically women are the nesters and men are the hunters. But women in 2018 should be spending time outside the nest and not acting like Ms. Cave Lady waiting for Grog to bring home the bronto burgers.

  1. In general, men and women bond at very different places on the bonding spectrum. This is biological and innate and nothing you can do about it. It has to do with closeness hormones like oxytocin and anti-closeness hormones like testosterone                                                                          M                                           W

______________________________________________________________

0                                                                          50                                                                            100

0 = complete abandonment

100 = complete enmeshment/engulfment

Based on evolutionary biology and bonding hormones, the bonding spectrum is created. The bonding spectrum goes from complete attachment to complete separation. Think of it as line that goes to 100 with 0 percent being complete separation and 100 percent being complete attachment.

In general (there are always exceptions, but this is the biological and evolutionary DEFAULT), men desire attachment around the 50 percent mark.  Women at about 80 percent.  See where the issues come from?


Yes, it’s that pesky 30 percent difference that leads to 90 percent of the issues.


Women, full of oxytocin and loving attachment, feel most bonded at about 80-90 percent on the bonding spectrum.  This is when they have just made love – and it has NOTHING to do with orgasm…it’s just being close…they are full of oxytocin and they want to SNUGGLE.

New moms are flooded with oxytocin after giving birth and they bond with their baby.  It’s innate.  It’s evolutionary.  It’s physiological.  Men don’t have this.  They don’t give birth. They aren’t pregnant (so stop with the “we’re pregnant” – only one of you is pregnant).  I’m sorry that it’s true, but it is. The hormones in new mom are there for a special reason – to make her close to her baby.  A woman feels the same way – full of oxytocin and wanting to bond, after lovemaking.

The closer women can get to complete attachment, the better they feel (nesting).  Just for one second, stop and think about the fact that this does not happen to men. Just think about it. And you will take their perceived “abandonment” less personally.

What’s Going on For Men?

Men – not rocking the oxytocin…and not needing to bond with baby or with mother or with anyone…either after his partner gives birth or after he makes love to a woman….is much lower in oxytocin and much higher in testosterone and biologically wired – to bond at about 50 percent on the bonding spectrum.

4. Men fear engulfment and enmeshment any higher than 50 percent. But this is the part women fail to understand:  men also fear abandonment and insignificance any lower than 50 percent.  After love making they have pretty much depleted their testosterone and they feel unprotected.  They pretty much want to move away, regroup and re-testosteroneize (Not a word, but okay).  Most modern guys are not stupid enough to bound out of bed, but they don’t have the snuggle bug that their female counterpart has.  Remember, ladies, he is depleted after making love and biologically feels as if his defenses are down (no, these are not conscious thoughts – it has NOTHING to do with whether or not he loves you – it has to do with the fact he feels vulnerable and they don’t like that feeling.)

Women need to understand that when a man is regrouping, it’s about him, it’s not about her. If you stopped chasing him long enough to realize that he doesn’t want to be very far from you, you would be winning at this.

Remember – any LOWER THAN 50 percent is uncomfortable for him. Even if he needs to regroup after love-making or any other time, he still needs to maintain the equilibrium of not much lower than 50 percent. Let him adjust the knobs.  Don’t go chasing him to do it for him.

5. A man who is in love will never feel OKAY bolting completely away from you.  He will get anxious.  His jealousy and fantasies that some guy is chatting you up will kick in.  LOW or NO attachment is not a place any man who cares about his lady wants to be.  Don’t be afraid that if you LET HIM GO he won’t come back.  Only guys who don’t really care about you won’t come back.  And those are the ones we don’t want anyway.  So if you stop hanging on, you might get to get whether he’s a keeper or not. Let him do what he do and you can tell a GREAT DEAL about how he really feels.  The only way you’re going to know if he cares or not is if you stop chasing him around.

Ladies, men- real men, strong men, healthy men (not those who are dysfunctional or disordered) do want connection and attachment.  They just want it in a different zone.

Do You Want To Starve?????

If you think about evolution, you have to remember that men were hunters and if they were just lazing around the nest, nothing would get hunted and no one would get fed and everyone would die.  Everyone NOT DYING was his gig.  So biologically men are designed to be out and about to get stuff done.

So GENERALLY women and men just innately bond at different places (yes, there are exceptions but the average is this).  Guys who were abandoned at an early age, guys who are personality disordered, guys who are wrestling with other things might be different, but this is the average guy.

So What Is The Answer?

6. HOBBIES / INTERESTS / FRIENDS!!! 

Is the problem going to be that men and women will be in complete conflict forever and ever over where on the bonding spectrum they should fall…therefore never bonding? Will men forever be commitment-phobes? Will women forever feel abandoned?

No!

In Getting Back Out There, I write about what – almost universally – makes a happy couple and part of it is: having separate hobbies, interests, friends and time apart.

There are plenty of couples who just naturally fall into the “come here/go away” rhythm that makes for a happy relationship. People who know, just know, that to be a happy person they need to have a happy, whole identity separate and apart from the relationship. Even if there’s marriage and kids. A happy and whole person has SOMETHING TO DO that involves her and only her outside the family unit.

But these women are not the ones that have engulfment/abandonment issues. This is for those who do: I don’t know how else to explain it but when a man is secure that he will not be engulfed if he goes higher than 50 percent, he WILL go higher than 50 percent…even to 80 or 90 percent…but it has to be for a finite period of time and it helps (A LOT) if the woman breaks the bond and goes back to separation than if he feels as if he’s running away or needs to pull himself away in the face of tears and recriminations.

Has this ugly scene below ever happened to you? The one where you want him closer and he’s trying to get away?  Do you want to know WHY that happens? Well here is why:

When his visit to the higher end of the spectrum turns ugly because he tried to move back to his 50 percent, he’s going to be less inclined, next time, to visit you at 80 percent and hang around the nest snuggling and cuddling on Sunday morning. If he feels warm and loving and you are getting the affection (not sex but affection) you so dearly want, it helps A LOT to appreciate it and even be the first to jump out of bed and get on with the day.  Yes, I know how hard that is, but trust me, it helps a great deal.  A man will understand that you, dear lady, have a life to get to and if he snuggles with you and goes to the 80 percent you enjoy – you won’t make him STAY there until he’s hyperventilating – he will go to 80 percent more often.  HELLO.

Instead this is what a lot of couples do and get deadlocked on…When he is feeling less inclined, you do the one wrong thing you can do: chase him. And he will run FURTHER away…You will feel abandoned and unloved and run down to get him and try to DRAG him up to 80 but now he is running toward 30 and eventually to 0, trying to get away from this engulfing crazy person. And you’ll either breakup or be doing this dance forever.

Is There a Payoff for Women In All This? YES!

7. There is a HUGE payoff for you orchestrating all this!

I know women who say, “Well why do I have to orchestrate all this? Why can’t he move closer to me?” Well, dear, he WILL move closer to you as long as he knows he can move away when the time comes. Even better, if he knows you will get bored with intimacy first, he’ll be back for more in no time. And women pout and ask, “So how is this NOT a game?” It’s NOT A GAME because it recognizes that the different bonding zones are biological and there is really no reason to try to fight it. We can march in protest, write treatises, scream from the rooftops and hope for an evolution of the not-fairer-sex, but chances are it won’t happen tomorrow because you can’t overcome biological bonding zones with laws and treatises.

So why do women have to work on separation? Why can’t men work more on attachment? Because there’s really no payoff for men to be more attached, but there is a lot of payoff for women  to   be LESS attached.

8. Why don’t the guys move closer to me??? Huh? WHY?

Why? Because there’s nothing THERE for men on the higher end of the bonding spectrum. Even if you get them to sit around the nest, they’re going to play video games and watch football. For them “nesting”  involves checking out to some degree. Nesting to him is not the same as nesting to you. To you, nesting is making a home and hanging out in total adoration of each other and perhaps the children and the dog.  You can do that all day long. After about 10 minutes of that for him, he’s going to reach for the remote or the game controller. He’s not going to sit there smiling at the bunch of you, thinking about how darsh gone lucky he is to have all of you. Not. Going. To. Happen.

What is love and intimacy to you is laziness to him. And do you want Mr. Lazy hanging out playing Madden video games and fantasy baseball? No, you do not.

Even though women say they want men closer and at 80 percent, I can assure you that you do not. Ask any woman whose husband retired early and is now driving her bananas. Even if you, as a woman, wanted to be bonded and attached at 80 percent all the time, what exactly do you do and how does it remain special? Answer: it doesn’t. You’ll both get bored and/or dysfunctional and it will be a mess.

So what is the payoff for women to work harder on being on the separation end of the spectrum?

First, when  you “hang back” during dating, you get to observe this guy. Who is he? What is he all about? If you’re chasing him or trying to get him to chase you or you’re hyperventilating because he hasn’t called in the past 15 minutes, you’re never going to be able to collect objective data. Objective Data?!?! That’s not romantic!?!? No, it’s not. But being without it has led you to disaster, hasn’t it? SO COLLECT THE OBJECTIVE DATA!

Second, when you are not always trying to DRAG your guy to the closer end of the spectrum, he won’t rebel against it…and then he will WANT to be intimate and will want to get closer when you are on the higher end. So your bonding will be deeper and richer and nicer and better.

Now a caveat to this is men who purposely keep women (or several women) at arm’s length. They orchestrate this by having more than one woman or never committing fully to one woman (even if they’re married) and they dabble in the 80 percent with each woman knowing they can separate at any time. But again, HE’S orchestrating this because he doesn’t trust women and he doesn’t want to be tied to one woman. That’s a cheater. (Stop calling them players and start calling them what they are–CHEATING LIARS, players makes it sound fun).

If he’s the one playing “come here/go away” you know there’s a problem. He should not be dictating YOUR availability. You should. And that includes “call me” or “we’ll go out…” blah blah. DO NOT get sucked into this early on. Do not let him call the communication shots. Do not do it. Get a grip early on otherwise you’ll be on the crappy end of a carrot on a stick.

9. MOST IMPORTANTLY: Whole people have whole relationships. Healthy people have healthy relationships. Having separate issues and your own friends and time apart is HEALTHY. So if you both separate and go do your thing and have your own interests and friends, you are healthy people and whole people and when you come back together it will be BLAM! Seriously.

And this starts when you’re dating and continues until you’re married 50 years. ALWAYS have your own friends,ALWAYS have your own interests,ALWAYS take time for you: alone time and time to be good to yourself,ALWAYS take some time away from the guy and the relationship that he isn’t totally crazy about (they’ll learn that it’s okay and you and him will still be okay), andALWAYS work on yourself and the things in you that need attention. (If you have trouble being alone, you can start there).

So the idea is to not always be available when you are dating. Do not answer every call, text or email. Do not accept every invitation to every date. And do not EVER ask him out first in the early days.  DO NOT MAKE THE FIRST MOVE NO MATTER WHAT. And do not act like this person is the be all end all of all time. Pull back a bit, physically, mentally and emotionally. Hang up the phone when you don’t want to. Break off the texting conversation long before he does.  LEAVE HIM WANTING MORE.

10. In the meantime, Go live your life.

When you do bond and things are good, leave sooner than you would like. Leave it good. Leave when you really want to stay longer. Don’t linger. Be upbeat about leaving and think of it in a positive way. It’s important to not leave too early and not leave too late. It’s important to leave them wanting more.

Also if YOU leave before the guy or you start to pull away first, YOU won’t feel abandoned. If he starts to end a great evening or weekend or event earlier than you’re ready to end it, your first instinct is to get him to stay longer because you’re feeling insecure and/or abandoned. He senses your tugging and it makes him want to RUN, not walk, to his nice little “not engulfed” corner and when he’s nervous, it’s not about getting back to his 50 percent…it’s about getting to 30 or 20 or 10 percent. This is when guys disappear and women panic.

It’s very preventable unless he has BIG issues and if he does, you need to know it’s not something YOU caused. Again, another payoff to leaving early. You’ll KNOW you did nothing wrong to cause this running off craziness. It’s also important to go for 50 percent most of the time. You don’t want to make a man SO insecure that he loses his mind because they tend to do that on the lower end of the spectrum. You don’t want him to feel engulfed OR insignificant.

Remember, he does not want to feel abandoned or insignificant. So you can’t just disappear completely for a long period of time…but don’t be always available either. It takes practice but you begin to know what makes a guy feel at 50 percent.

Some romantic, truly into you guys will want you all the time, but you have to keep your own life.  But not to the point where they start to feel abandoned and unimportant (dipping below that 50 percent line toward 40 and then 30 and maybe even 20! Men start to miss you and want you at 45-25, but start to think, “Screw her.” about 20 so 20 isn’t good.) If you’re out having dinner with friends, bring him home some food.  If you’re out and about, let him know you’re thinking of him, but still be out and about.

This is not a game. And you ask WHY? Because to you it SOUNDS like a game. It’s not. Although the idea is to spark desire in someone else, it also gives you the bonus of having your own life (because you don’t want to pretend to go out with your friends, you want to go out with your friend) and of being able to gauge someone’s reaction to this. If a guy doesn’t want you to leave and shows signs of controlling or being a big baby, you want to know that too. If a guy has objections about you retaining your friends and your interests, you want to know that. If a guy wants you to be a no-life nobody who is only interested in you being available to him, you want to know that. If a guy runs off to do inappropriate things when you’re not together, you want to know that. If there are red flags, you want to know that (and again, OBJECTIVE DATA GATHERING).

If you pull away or are unavailable and he never tries to pull you closer, you want to know that. You want to step back and give him the chance to show you what you mean to him. How does he respond if you’re not there? Does he turn into a demanding idiot? a control freak? or does he not give a damn? Again, you want someone in the middle…gives you the space but then says, “I miss you.” and asks, in a healthy way, for some “us” time. So the payoff for women is HUGE. Being unavailable sometimes and being in control of your time actually works MORE for women than for men.

Although it seems like capitulating to the way men naturally like things, it isn’t. There is a HUGE payoff for women. A better life. More interested men. Healthier men.

11. BONUS !

I’ve shared with women who do my women’s bootcamps and retreats that my husband chased me for the entire time we were married.  I wasn’t playing a game.  I was living my life….and he knew I was never, ever going to engulf him. I was never, ever going to lose my interesting life.  I was never ever going to sit around and wait, with bated breath, for him to sprinkle me with attention.  NEVER.  He chased me and he loved it.  He set up our Saturday night dates, he asked me about them by Thursday.  He made a date with me every Saturday night for the whole of our marriage.  I never once orchestrated it. 

When we lived in California and had a jacuzzi on the deck, he would ask about dinner and a movie for Saturday and then, doing Groucho Marx eyebrows, say, “And a jacuzzi???”  And I would just laugh.  We did the jacuzzi late at night – after the dinner and movie – and would then tear ass through the house to our warm bed for snuggling and other stuff.  Hence, the eyebrows. But there would have been NO jacuzzi without the dinner/movie date and we dated our entire marriage.  I insisted on being courted from the day we met until the day he got sick.

Why?  Because I had my own life and he HAD to make a date on my dance card.  And he did. Why?  Because he loved me.  He also loved his alone time, his fishing time, his NASCAR times … nothing I had the least bit interest in….and he knew I was never going to engulf him when his race was on or the fish were biting.

After our Saturday night date that lasted well into the night, he got to sprawl out on the couch all day Sunday and watch his silly race and then all the post-race shows (of which there are SO many!)…and he could ignore me while chowing down on junk food and making a mess of the coffee table and do nothing but laze around the house.  What guy wouldn’t LOVE that????  He got to do it and he LOVED it!  Why did he get to do that?  Because I had been courted on Saturday night. And neither of us ever voiced this is how it went, but this is how it went.  It worked.  Nicely.  But it began with two people who had their own lives.

The ability to pull back and see your own life as well as your budding relationship leads to nicer and deeper intimacy.

This is NOT about playing a game.

It’s about understanding the innate and biological differences between men and women and capitalizing on that instead of being a victim complaining about men who won’t commit.

Take Charge Today. And don’t stop doing these things no matter how committed or how long-term the relationship is.



Copyright © Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.

All Rights Reserved No Duplication is Allowed Without Explicit Permission of the Author

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About Susan J. Elliott

Author, Attorney, Grief Counselor, Media Commentator, Motivational Speaker, Relationship Expert, Breakup Coach BA English Mount Holyoke College, magna cum laude, High Honors, Phi Beta Kappa M.Ed., Counseling Psychology, Cambridge College J.D. University of California, Berkeley Licensed to practice law in federal and state courts in NY. Licensed but Inactive in Texas and District of Columbia Creator of the Getting Past Your Past and Getting Past Your Breakup programs, seminars, workshops, bootcamps, videos, blogs and podcasts Author of Getting Past Your Breakup, Getting Back Out There and the GPYP Workbook
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