In Mr. Unavailable and the Fallback Girl, author/blogger Natalie Lue leaves few if any psychological stones unturned in examining the relationship between an emotionally unavailable man and his female equivalent – or partner in crime? – the “fallback girl.”
The end result of this less than perfect union is what Natalie calls an “unavailable relationship”:
“Unavailable relationships arise when you have two people with emotional
unavailability issues. It could be two temporary, two habitual, or one of each,
but either way, it adds up to an unavailable relationship. There’s always one,
more powerful party who dictates the relationship on their terms – the driver –
and the other party who goes along with it – the passenger. The combination of
Mr Unavailable and the Fallback Girl is what happens when you hide your
often unknown unavailability issues behind his somewhat more obvious ones.
You allow him to take you on a messy journey through an unavailable
Mr. Unavailable, is, for a variety of possible reasons – including narcissism, fears about responsibility, intimacy, and commitment – emotionally unavailable for a healthy relationship. His counterpart, the Fallback Girl, suffers from similar relationship drawbacks. Together, they complement each other’s fear of a committed relationship in a symbiotic fashion.
I think it’s worth pointing out that Mr. Unavailable, in Natalie’s lexicon, does not truly mean unawailable in some all-encompassing, Unabomber sense. Senor U. is available, in varying degrees, for companionship, sex, ego-gratification, friendship, and so on, but he tends to shy away from serious commitment of the “let’s plan on spending our lives together in an exclusive relationship” variety. He is not completely emotionally available in the sense of not wishing to share his deepest emotional self and also in not wanting this from his partner.
The Fallback Girl is also not emotionally available in this serious sense – which is why she consciously or unconsciously chooses an emotionally unavailable man – but at some point in the relationship, according to Natalie, she typically desires more.
This is when Mr. Unavailable may deploy a multitude of stratagems to insure the relationship stays on the level that he prefers. Natalie has gone to considerable length to uncover these tactics, which include: “blowing hot and cold” (becoming more aggressive in the relationship when his partners pulls away, then distancing himself when she comes close), “future-faking” (creating a mockup future for the benefit of his partner which he has no intention of fulfilling), “perfection-seeking” (blaming his partner’s lack of certain qualities for his lack of commitment), “fast-forwarding” (a dizzying, passionate-filled rush to intimacy intended to dazzle his partner into going along on a self-serving emotional rollercoaster ride), “sob stories” (he trots out sad stories of failed past romance or other traumas intended to excuse his current relationship behaviors and attitudes), “crumb-giving” (offering strategic concessions to his partner to keep her in a relationship), “timing” (he’s chronically busy, rationing off time to keep the relationship at the desired level), and “wanting to keep it casual” (often saying this upfront, and then pointing this out when his partner becomes more serious).
While the book is mostly a primer for women seeking to identify emotionally unavailable traits in men, Natalie doesn’t spare women. A central theme is that women “dine off the illusions” presented by men, which means that the array of tactics men employ to maintain their favored style of “Relationship Lite” require acceptance from their women partners to work. And often, according to Natalie, the Fallback Girl is an active co-conspirator in keeping a relationship on a less committed and intimate note.
One such tactic is what the author calls “Miss Independent, Miss Self-Sufficient” (or MIMS):
“It’s become patently obvious that not all women want to settle down,
many of us like sex and it doesn’t have to be in a relationship, and shiver me
timbers, we can even hold down careers, businesses, buy homes, take solo
holidays, not want children, solo parent, and basically take care of ourselves.
This is great and quite frankly our right, but our choices are not always
positive. What we don’t often feel comfortable admitting is that we’re either
scared shitless and distrusting, or that we have such distorted ideas about
what having it ‘all’ means and what a man who ticks our boxes should be like,
that our options get closed off to a limited, conflicted man – Mr Unavailable.
Characterised by short dalliances, long spells of singledom or very ambiguous
‘arrangements’ that can run into double-digit years, Miss Independent/Miss Self-Sufficient (MIMS) is resolutely single but “open” to dating. The most ‘similar’ to Mr Unavailable in habits, you also often overvalue your qualities and characteristics. Although you may initially be the ‘driver’, you wind up being the ‘passenger’, which makes you very insecure. Conflicted with trust issues, you secretly hope to be loved and are still in search of that “feeling”.
Other variations of “Ms. Unavailable” are “The Buffer” (she chooses men who aren’t emotionally available because of recent relationship loss – often those who aren’t quite over their exes), “The Renovator” (she takes on unrealistic projects of changing/improving men), “Florence Nightingale” (she chooses wounded men to nurture but who are generally not available for a serious relationship), and “The Yo-Yo Girl” (who has “unfinished business with everyone from exes to dates,” and thus avoids putting herself out there for serious relationships).
I usually find typecasting and labeling to be opposed to truth-seeking because they attempt to reduce extremely complex phenomena – in this case, human psychology – to simplistic formulae and terminology that end up obscuring some fairly important elements. Natalie avoids this to a large extent, I think, because she devotes 367 pages to fleshing out how each avoidance strategy works in considerable detail, thus creating some much-needed dimensionality to her personality types. She also invents a lot of colorful terms like “future faking” and “fast-forwarding” that make remembering them easy and almost fun. Anyone who’s had a less-than-perfect relationship will likely recognize many of the characters and behaviors described in the book.
Having focused on painstakingly identifying types of emotionally unavailable men’s behaviors for most of the book, Natalie devotes her final sixty pages to techniques for improving both one’s view of oneself – a step she quite sensibly regards as critical to being truly available for a healthy relationship – and one’s skills in choosing a partner.
The author’s key steps for a “recovering Fallback Girl” are:
*Desire, willingness, and actual need to feel your emotions.
*Emotionally engaging consistently, not just in short bursts.
*Having fears but addressing and not living by them. Being
emotionally honest and allowing yourself to feel means taking mini, medium,
and sometimes big risks.
*Not relying on newness, drama, or the prospect of losing the relationship
to feel desire.
*Removing the limitations on yourself and actively working to challenge
*Embracing true intimacy and accepting that love and a relationship
*Accepting what results from emotionally engaging with others
instead of sabotaging. No creating drama, disappearing, sprinting from the
scene of the relationship, and putting up walls.
*Being yourself in relationships because it would feel too damn awkward for
you to be anything else.
*Loving yourself and avoiding negative self-talk blame and shame, while
building compassion and understanding.
*A low bullshit diet. No excuses because you don’t lie to yourself.
*Removing your walls and opening up.
*Never apologising for having standards and boundaries.
*Walking instead of hanging around waiting for him to become
The author fleshes out these positive steps in nearly as much detail as her descriptions of unavailable behaviors – there’s even a workbook included for identifying your relationship patterns – and by the time you’re finished you may feel, as I did, that you’ve been taken on a tour de force of relationship rehabilitation.
This final section is chock-full of suggestions for improving your relationship lot, and while many are fairly standard relationship book faire, there are frequent flashes of the originality and creative thinking which typify Natalie’s writing both in her books and on her excellent blog, Baggage Reclaim.
One example among many is her idea, which she calls “elevator pitching your relationship,” of creating a condensed synopsis of your relationship – perhaps even reducing it to a one-liner so beloved of book editors and agents! I think this is a great antidote for those of us over-thinkers who tend to obsessively re-hash past relationships in our heads, hoping to solve every mystery of went wrong and perhaps would’ve gone better if only we’d done something different. I think it likely that while we can pore endlessly over the details, there really are very basic, simple reasons why our relationship failed. Attempting to “elevator pitch” our past relationships forces us to focus on the true essentials of what went wrong. Having actually done this prior to reading Natalie’s book I can attest to both how liberating and insight-producing this can be.
Natalie dedicates her book to “my girls” – probably a reference to her own daughters, though it may also include her many women readers and fans – but I believe this book is for everyone who wants to understand and improve their relationships. As a man, I’ve seen more than a few women employ tactics such as “fast forwarding” or “future faking” or “hot and cold” (particularly the latter!), so this book could prove very helpful indeed to many men. The same suggestions for becoming emotionally available she gives to women apply equally to men. We have the same capacity to learn and improve and to open ourselves emotionally to truly intimate and fulfilling relationships. Sadly, as Natalie herself has noted, men in general do not read relationship books.
I’m not sure what Natalie Lue’s educational background is, but she clearly has a Ph.D. in emotionally unavailable relationships from the School of Romantic Hard Knocks. She has lived and breathed these troubled relationships, not only through personal experience but also through a finely tuned ear for her friends and readers’ testimonies. Many have endured the ecstasies and agonies of emotionally unavailable relationships, but few have devoted the time and energy to understanding their whys and wherefores as the author has, and even fewer have done so with the Natalie’s creative flair and intellectual acuity.
Reminiscent of Steven Carter’s superb meditation on commitment-phobic relationships, HE’S SCARED, SHE’S SCARED, Mr. Unavailable and the Fallback Girl, if lacking Carter’s commercially catchy title, offers a far more comprehensive field guide to emotionally unavailable relationships. For that reason, I strongly recommend this book to anyone who has been in unsatisfying relationships and would like to find that deeply fulfilling relationship at the end of the romantic rainbow.