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Ashley Kelsch Encourages You to Avoid the Unavailable When Looking for a Partner

The podcast host and dating coach says relationships require attention and respect, but not everyone can offer that

Last week, I was enjoying dinner with one of my guy friends at June’s when we started discussing the early stages of being divorced and the effects it has on your life. The adjustments of not seeing your kids on the daily, the ebb and flow in how you converse with your ex, the learning to be alone and the inevitable of starting to date again.

While listening to him talk and describe his current romantic experience, I was reminded — and made a point to tell him — this is why I try to not date people who are in their first year of divorce. They’re trying to figure out a whole new way of being, while simultaneously navigating some deep emotions. All of which, I believe, require one’s attention. I don’t know many who wouldn’t describe this time as a rocky road to navigate.

To add exploring a new relationship to that, which will bring with it a whole new set of emotions, requires more attention.

Certified relationship coach and podcast host, Ashley Kelsch.

You’ve heard me lament over the last few columns about dating someone who was not available. I’m using “not available” or “unavailable” in the most basic sense of the meaning. He was preoccupied with work, kid hand-offs, calls with the ex, business partners, employees, health matters and then some. He literally didn’t have the time.

To top it off, he didn’t have anything left emotionally to give at the end of each day. Who could blame him?

My friend’s current circumstances didn’t sound much different, nor did his story about the woman he was spending time with.

Hearing my friend talk was good for me. He described the relationship as something and someone he cares for deeply. He said that when they’re together, he really enjoys her, but he is in absolutely no place to offer more.

She is ready for more, not much more, but enough for him to say, “I’m not there.”

I sat there thinking about what my friend told me. How I could totally see the unavailable man I dated saying the same to his gal pals. I could hear how much he cares for this woman and loves to be with her but … I paused, and before I spoke it, I felt a sense of “It kills me to say this,” but I said it anyway:

She is ready for more, not much more, but enough for him to say, “I’m not there.”

“You have to let her go. You’re wasting her time. Maybe you’ll be ready in the future, but you’re not right now and she wants more. I imagine if you keep the door open though, she’ll continue to pursue you. She thinks you’ll come around, that you’ll arrive in time. Letting her go is the most considerate, thoughtful act you can do for her.”

I felt guilty saying all of this because I know the pain and heartache of that door being shut.

I also know the freedom that follows.

I can’t speak for my friend or the man I previously dated, but I have to believe they too find themselves feeling emotional discomfort knowing they can’t offer more while still showing up. I know I did when I was on the other side. They’re dating someone with the preface of “I can’t offer more,” while acting and treating it as if it was a relationship, but it had an exit attached.

I would find myself feeling like I was disappointing this person, questioning why they would want to keep showing up after I would decline their offer of more and navigating setting the wrong expectations.

In hindsight, I wish I would have honored my boundaries and both of us because all I did was take this person on an emotional roller coaster of “I love you, but don’t want you.” In the accent of Anna Delvey, it was lame-ass.

I believe there are people out there who don’t want more and honor that for themselves. I’ve dated them and can tell you that the boundaries and expectations that they set ahead of time are so firm and non-negotiable that your brain never goes there.

I also believe there is a certain level of responsibility that the person on the receiving end has to take if they continue to pursue this person.

But the examples above are not that. The unavailable persons (myself included) are not setting clear boundaries, nor are they holding them, and it’s not up to other people to respect your boundaries. It’s up to you to hold them. If you don’t want more, don’t behave like it.

I’m not sure what my friend will choose to do, but at the very least, I feel like I’m advocating for the voice on the other side.

Ashley Kelsch, former owner of Teddies for Bettys, a lingerie and well-being store, is a top-certified coach who works with parents and caregivers of teenagers and young adults who are struggling to understand their child’s gender identity and sexual preferences. She helps guide her clients from confusion and conflict to curiosity and connection by teaching them how to manage their thoughts and emotions. She also has a weekly podcast called House of Other: a modern update and sex-positive education about human sexuality, gender sexual diversity, intimate justice, trauma healing, consent and loving relationships. Ashley continues to explore “your brain on dating, love and relationships” through her writing and with her private clients. You can follow her on Instagram @house_of_other and read more of her Tribeza columns here.