Why Is He Pulling Away? What To Do When Someone Runs Away From Commitment

We’re always hearing that we could be having better sex, a better orgasm, or a better relationship. But how often do we hear the nitty-gritty of how we can actually better understand our deepest desires and most embarrassing questions? Bustle has enlisted Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist, to help us out with the details. No gender, sexual orientation, or question is off limits, and all questions will remain anonymous. Now, onto this week’s topic: what to do when someone you love starts puliing away.

Q: “I recently started seeing an old flame. Everything seemed to be going well, but the more attached I became, the more he seemed to pull away. Each big step forward (sleep over, get away, meeting his kids) he'd take a few backwards. All these steps were his idea initially, so it confused me to feel him putting on the brakes afterwards. A bit of background on him — he's had quite a few horribly bad relationships and people take advantage of him. He's very guarded now of anyone getting close to him or his kids. He recently told me he's not ready for a true relationship. He says he needs to just focus on his kids, which I agree is most important. I told him I want to help him but he says he just needs a friend not a girlfriend. I told him I would wait for him to be ready and that I will be his friend no matter what. In the past, the feelings he's shared with me and his wants for the future for us were very strong. But now he's saying he only wanted casual and no-strings. I think he may be self sabotaging things to avoid him or his kids being subjected to any more pain. He still says how much he misses me but is keeping his distance. I don't want to give up on him, but he seems to be telling me to walk away. I don’t understand why he's pulling away. What do I do?”

A: Thanks for the question. I’m so sorry that you’re in this difficult situation. It sounds like you really care about him and want to be the type of supportive partner he and his kids need, which makes it all the more difficult to feel him creating distance between the two of you. Here’s my best advice for what to do when someone you care about is pushing you away.

Remember That Fear Can Make Sense

Given the brief history that you shared about this guy’s background, it makes sense to me that he’s hesitant to jump into another relationship. Not only does he have his own heart to worry about, but he has his kids to protect too. When you become a parent, your kids become your primary responsibility. They take precedence over your love life. If his kids have been exposed to anything traumatic in his past relationships, it’s even more important for him to be cautious in choosing his next partner. I know it’s hurtful for you to feel him pulling away, but it’s important for you to recognize that his actions make a lot of sense.

Listen To What He’s Saying

You’re right that this guy has been giving you a lot of mixed messages by doing things like inviting you for getaways, then creating distance between the two of you. But it also sounds like he’s been pretty firm in saying that he’s not ready for a relationship at this point in his life. I know it’s confusing since he is still saying that he cares about you and misses you. Those messages are hard not to interpret as him saying he wants a relationship. But I think what those comments mean are that he does care about you, and that makes it even harder for him to close the door on a relationship. In simplified form, it sounds like he’s saying, “No. This is really hard for me because I care about you, but no.”

Respect Both Of Your Needs

I think it’s really important for you to respect the fact that this guy can’t be in a relationship right now. Of course it’s really painful to you because you care about him. And of course it must be frustrating knowing that you could be the kind of partner that he and his kids really need right now. But he’s an adult, it’s his responsibility to say what he needs, and it’s your responsibility to respect those needs.

It’s also your responsibility to stick up for your own needs. You’re clearly ready for a serious relationship, and you deserve to have a partner who wants to be with you as much as you want to be with them. It’s not fair to you to have to convince someone to be with you. You’ll put yourself through so much more pain if you keeping spending time and effort trying to push him into being with you when he's not ready.

Don’t Settle For Less Than What You Want

I wasn’t totally clear from your email, but it sounds like this guy may have made an offer to be in some sort of casual, no-strings-attached type of relationship. If that’s the case, I would encourage you not to take him up on it. If you want a real relationship, you should hold out for a real relationship with someone else. Being intimate with no-strings-attached is only going to complicate your feelings for each other, and lead to more uncertainty.

Think About What You Can Actually Offer

You mentioned that you’ve offered to be in his life as a friend. That’s a really sweet offer, but I would encourage you to spend some time thinking about whether or not you can truly be there for him in that way. Your feelings may be too strong for him at this point for you to be “just a friend.” And you don’t want to hang around pretending to be his friend, while actually trying to win him over. It will just come off as manipulative, and he’ll lose his trust in you. What you could do is tell him, “I really want to be your friend and be a support to you and your family, but my feelings are too strong right now. I need some time to let go, but then I would love to continue being a part of your life.”

Keep Yourself Open

Even if you do stay in his life as his friend, you should try to get back out there and start dating again. Relationships are always scary. Most of us have had horrible breakups, and it’s hard to keep opening ourselves up when we know just how badly it can feel when things go wrong. But like I said above, you deserve to be with a partner who wants to be with you — someone who doesn’t need to be convinced to be with you.

Know That This Isn’t Permanent

I’m guessing that my response is hard to hear. So I want to offer a tiny bit of consolation that “not right now” doesn’t necessarily mean “not ever.” Maybe this guy will get to a place where he’s ready to let someone into his life again. Maybe he’ll realize that he doesn’t have to have his guard up all the time. You don’t want to wait around for him, but it may bring you some small amount of comfort to know that there may be a future for the two of you somewhere down the line — especially once he sees he could lose you.

Wishing you the best!

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