The allure of the unavailable man

What you need to know:

  • If you find yourself constantly attracting emotionally distant men, the problem may be you. How is this so, and what can you do to change it? Joan Thatiah investigates.

29-year-old Mark Bunei is puzzled by the sudden show of interest from a woman he unsuccessfully pursued for almost a year.

When she recently found out that he had gotten into a serious relationship and was officially off the market, she instantly seemed to warm up to him. “It’s obvious that she wants to be with me. What puzzles me is that her interest appears to have been triggered by my getting together with someone else,” he observes.

Apparently, the phenomenon of women being drawn to or men who are attached to others is not alien.

There are women who, for various reasons, primarily seek out men who are either emotionally distant or who they shouldn’t have because he is married or engaged to be married.

Some are genuinely attracted to and unknowingly get intimately involved with men that they can’t have. This woman only finds out about his unavailability when she is too dependent on him and, often because of lack of belief in her ability to break free, decides to just go with it.

On the flip side, there are those who are drawn to these men by their sense of unavailability. They will not be attracted to a man unless he is taken or otherwise clearly unavailable.

Commitment phobia

Though she may be unaware of it, a woman who finds herself repeatedly singling out unavailable men could have issues with intimacy. Driven by her own fear of commitment and discomfort with intimacy, she will settle for a man that she can’t have exclusively. This way, she is able to enjoy a superficial form of companionship while at the same time avoiding the reality of a relationship and the risk of abandonment that comes with it.

A 30-year-old woman who we will call Celestine for the purpose of this story admitted to having had a series of relationships with unavailable men. Her longest lasting relationships, she says, were the ones she had with men who were permanently committed to others, either emotionally or financially.”

My last boyfriend had a live in girlfriend and when he revealed his intention to leave her and put up with me permanently, I broke off our relationship. When he made up with his girlfriend and their relationship seemed somewhat stable, I wanted him back,” she says.


The quality of the relationship a woman’s parents had and how her first love turned out could have significantly dented her attitude towards intimacy.

Consequently, she will be constantly attracted to men that she can’t have because they reflect certain beliefs that she has regarding love and relationships, and because this is the scenario she feels comfortable in.

Counselling psychologist Mathias Mbuvi is of the view that by getting involved with an unavailable man, a woman may be trying to recreate the past and hoping to change the unhappy ending.

Rachael Akoth, a 33-year-old woman from Kitengela, describes this experience as frustrating. She speaks about investing a little under two years in a relationship with a man who was not quite over a previous relationship, and who strung her along though they both knew that he couldn’t commit. Looking back, she admits that this wasn’t her first relationship with a man she obviously couldn’t have and she traces this predicament back to the relationship she had with her father.

She was raised by her step-mother and throughout her childhood, she felt as if she was competing for her father’s attention with this new family. When she began dating, she found herself in situations where she had to compete with man’s career, other women or his emotional immaturity, and when this kind of man gave her enough attention, she felt validated.

Addicted to the chase

Chasing a man who is clearly unavailable can be thrilling for a woman who is a romance addict. This woman thrives on romance and drama, and often confuses the thrill of the chase with love.

A woman with a negative self-image can also easily fall into addiction to the chase. She will derive satisfaction and some sort of self-affirmation from a repeated triumph over the other woman. Once the man shows signs of a commitment and the woman knows that she can have him, she no longer wants him, which leads her to sabotage one relationship after another.


Because of the influence of romanticised soaps, movies and books, there are women who cannot separate fantasy from reality. This woman will have an idealistic mental picture of the man that she wants to be with which she projects onto any man that she meets.

According to Mbuvi, the unavailable man becomes a great catch for this woman because she never really gets to know him and she thus sees in him only what she wants to see in him.

The way forward

Trying to tame an unavailable man is near impossible and the woman instead reaps hurt and disappointment. While she might be able to bond with him to some degree, she cannot achieve intimacy that is whole and real, and this only leaves her dissatisfied and sometimes empty.

Often, a woman who is involved with an unavailable man makes the mistake of assuming that a man will change and works even harder at winning him over. While this may work for a while, the relationship inevitably goes back to the old routine.

Rather than blame the man for her sense of unfulfillment, Mbuvi’s advice to the woman who finds herself repeatedly attracted to the man she can’t have is to pay attention to the kind of man who she attracts, then look within herself to find out what she can learn about herself.

Take sometime to explore your beliefs and fears with the aim of unearthing your reasons for avoiding a more intimate connection. Only then can you be open to the prospect of a relationship with someone who will love you as much as you love him.