Updated: Apr 4
You probably want to find a woman who is attractive and easy to be around. A woman who accepts you. That's a good point to start from, but it’s important to know what else you want in a partner and to have the courage and the character to express it to the women you spend time with. (Of course, women have their own wants, needs, and preferences in mind as well!)
For many men, there is a big growth opportunity in learning how to be emotionally available to their partners. There's not much about growing up male in our culture that has prepared you for this.
One of the biggest challenges men (and the women who want to be with them) face is:
What does it mean to be emotionally available? How exactly do I do that?
That may sound like a simple question, but for anyone who has experienced abandonment, abuse, or neglect in their upbringing, it's not so obvious.
Essentially, emotional availability means two things:
1) It’s about being in tune with your emotions. Aware of them, accepting and unashamed of them, and able to transmute them.
2) It’s about having the capacity to fall in love and be in a committed, emotionally connected, honest, authentic relationship.
Sometimes, men (and women too) lack the self-awareness to know if they are emotionally available in either of these ways. They believe that if there’s an exchange of affection, security, sexuality, and trust, then “Sure, we’re emotionally available to each other!”
Unfortunately, it’s not always that simple. Women find this assumption confusing and painful; to them it’s not enough. They aren’t sure what their expectations "should" be. They question their own feelings and decisions. They feel aggravated. They worry they’ll be taken for granted or they'll waste time.
The right kind of woman can help a man gain access to his emotions. But that man must be open to her influence in this area.
Try to give her clues that you’re willing to try to be more emotionally vulnerable. It’s OK to let her know you’re trying to open up but you’re not always sure how. It's OK to ask for her patience and support. (She can say yes or she can say no -- that's her prerogative. How she answers and what she's willing to give here may give you a lot of information about her!) Here are a few other pointers for increasing your emotional availability – or her perception of it!
1. If she leads by example and “goes first” in sharing, thank her for it. It takes courage to be the first one to say something vulnerable. Rejection can be terrifying! If she tells you something personal, give her some appreciation for entrusting you.
You may need to go inward, withdraw, and get quiet – but do so temporarily Don’t go stony silent and leave her feeling alone and abandoned. If you’re listening but working hard to process what she’s saying or manage your reactions, let her know this.
One thing to remember is that if you’re having a talk about processing feelings with a woman, you might be expecting a purpose to the talk – with a solution at the end! – and she might not be. A woman’s expressions can sometimes feel purposeless to men. This isn’t abnormal or wrong; it’s just an example of how men and women work differently.
2. When you become exclusive, be ready for the possibility that she might want to discuss emotional goals. She may want to have a deeper conversation about Who and what are we becoming inside this relationship? Be prepared for this. She’s looking for you to partner with her -- to share the load of determining the direction of the relationship. She doesn’t want to have to do all the emotional work for you.
3. When you have conflict, fight in a way that supports rather than competes. Men live in a world of competition. Masculine culture imbues a win-lose mentality in most situations. If this approach is brought to your relationship, it will create a roadblock to connection.
4. Find your “guy tribe” and develop quality male friendships. Getting involved in men’s groups and activities will nurture you outside the relationship and women respect this. (Unless they are the super insecure and controlling kind!) Many women also interpret your having a small group of guy friends that you can count on as “social proof” that you’re a good and likable guy.
5. It may take time and patience for you to be more emotionally available to her, but if you feel you just can’t or won’t expose your soul ever – at least not with her – gently but clearly let her know as early as possible. It might be hard for her to hear, but she will resent you more if she feels mislead and like you wasted her time and energy -- the whole while knowing you couldn’t give her what she wanted. If your core truth is that you can’t or won’t “step up and open up” it’s better to come clean before she falls too hard.
6. Have you ever noticed how often when someone cries in front of you, they immediately say, “I’m sorry”? Crying doesn’t require an apology. It is not an action done with the intent to hurt someone else, so no apology necessary. For an enlightened woman, crying isn’t a turn off. As a man, your instinct might be to suppress tears, but an emotionally mature woman will feel her heart soften. (I'm not talking about histrionics here; naturally, emotional extremes are unappealing for both men and women.) So, own your tears. Do not be ashamed of them. You can still be her hero even when you’re upset.
7. In the aftermath of emotion, be real. Many men say to themselves, “If I feel weak, I’ll come across as strong to make up for it” – and then they overdo it on demonstrations of strength. This is what the ego says to do; it may even be what you saw the men around you do when you were younger. Don’t fake or inflate your confidence and certainty simply to overcompensate for having shown a moment of vulnerability.
8. If she cries or makes an uncomfortable emotional expression in front of you, don’t try to distract her, placate her, or shut her down. Some men will even say, “Don’t feel that way” but this makes her feel dismissed and invalidated. Allow her emotion and have the maturity and strength to sit in the discomfort of it. (Trust, it will pass!)
9. Accept that you may be far outside your comfort zone as you do all this!
Know that relationships can provide us a context for growth – if we recognize and seize upon the opportunity to use it as a growth vehicle. Women are attracted to men who either have worked through stuff from their past or who are currently working through stuff from the past. You aren’t less masculine if you admit that you’re confronting beliefs and behaviors that haven’t served you very well in the past and trying to be the best version of yourself you can be!
Relationships provide eternal opportunities for healing, self-acceptance, and owning parts of yourself that you’ve been trained over your lifetime to disown. Discussing these with your partner is at the core of emotional availability.
Women often ask me, “What’s inside this man?” Don’t keep her guessing all the time. Men have a reputation for directness and clarity, so use that superpower to shed light on the mystery of YOU! Sure, striving to become more emotionally available requires some effort, but it’s well worth it, as you’ll attract a kinder, stronger caliber of woman as a result. Women love a man who can inspire them, motivate them, and lead your team of two!