Google Answers Logo
View Question
Q: Etymology "Emotionally Unavailable" ( Answered 4 out of 5 stars,   3 Comments )
Subject: Etymology "Emotionally Unavailable"
Category: Relationships and Society > Relationships
Asked by: jojotheclown-ga
List Price: $25.00
Posted: 07 Jan 2006 00:33 PST
Expires: 06 Feb 2006 00:33 PST
Question ID: 430275
Where did the phrase "emotionally unavailable" originate?
What does it mean?  Is it more often used in context of women
referring to men? or vice versa? or no real gender bias?

Clarification of Question by jojotheclown-ga on 07 Jan 2006 00:35 PST
My guess is that this was originally used by a psychologist and the
psychologist first using the phrase and that psychologist's original
definition is what is desired...and then of course the other questions
as well.
Subject: Re: Etymology "Emotionally Unavailable"
Answered By: pafalafa-ga on 08 Jan 2006 10:21 PST
Rated:4 out of 5 stars

From a search of a number of full-text databases, the phrase seems to
have arisen in the early 1970's.

The first reference I found was this one:

Mental Retardation: Readings and Resources
Book by Jerome H. Rothstein; Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971 

pg 49...There are many "unavailable mothers" ? not only working
mothers, but also those who are unable to supply the needs of their
children because of difficulties of their own: they are *emotionally*
unavailable. Among them are those who cannot arouse themselves
sufficiently from their passivity or lethargy to show affection for
their children. Others are deeply depressed or mentally ill and reject
their children for any of a multitude of reasons.

[NOTE:  the word 'emotionally' is italicized in the original]

I think from the context and the use of italics, it seems as if the
author is specifically attempting to coin a phrase to refer to the
model of the detached parent.

The definition provided has also been used fairly consistently over
the years, but in a somewhat expanded framework, as it is applied not
only to parent-child relations, but to any sort of relationship.  It
is also used casually to simply mean emotionally distant,
unresponsive, or cold.

As for gender breakdowns, it seems to find equal use in referring to
men or women.

Here is the result of a Google search on phrases having to do with
emotionally unavailable men:

"emotionally unavailable man OR men OR father OR fathers OR dad OR
dads OR husband OR husbands"

which leads to 621 results.  

A similar result for women:

"emotionally unavailable woman OR women OR mother OR mothers OR mom OR
moms OR wife OR wives"

leads to 646 results, which I would say is pretty much a dead heat.

I trust this is the information you were seeking.

However, please don't rate this answer until you have everything you
need.  If there's anything more I can do for you, just post a Reqeust
for Clarification, and I'm at your service.



Request for Answer Clarification by jojotheclown-ga on 08 Jan 2006 15:10 PST

Thanks so much for the answer.  The only thing that would make me more
satisfied is if you could give me some idea as to whether or not
colloquially another common definition seems to have arisen, or does
it seem as though this somewhat clinical usage is in fact what most
people have in mind when they use the phrase?


Clarification of Answer by pafalafa-ga on 08 Jan 2006 15:53 PST

I'd be glad to look into this in more detail for you.

But I just wanted to make sure you noticed my earlier remark that the
phrase "emotionally unavailable", in addition to its formal use, "is
also used casually to simply mean emotionally distant, unresponsive,
or cold."

Please help me to understand what more you want you to know -- beyond
that simple generalization -- about the use of the phrase, and I'll
see if I can find out for you.


jojotheclown-ga rated this answer:4 out of 5 stars
Thanks for a great answer!

Subject: Re: Etymology "Emotionally Unavailable"
From: ansel001-ga on 07 Jan 2006 01:20 PST
I think the phrase "emotionally unavailable" is only used by women
referring to men.  I've never heard it used the other way.
Subject: Re: Etymology "Emotionally Unavailable"
From: geof-ga on 08 Jan 2006 02:29 PST
If you do a Google search on the term "emotionally unavailable", you
will certainly find that the vast majority of the references are by
women referring to men; but there are a few cases where the converse
applies. Also, the term is sometimes used about the attitude of
parents (including mothers) to their children.

I would be surprised if the term was originally coined by a
professional psychologist or psychiatrist - it sounds more as though
it originated from a writer on personal relationships. As to what it
means, again a Google search will refer you to many definitions -
though in fact the term is fairly self-explanatory.
Subject: Re: Etymology "Emotionally Unavailable"
From: jojotheclown-ga on 08 Jan 2006 08:15 PST

Thanks for the info and advice.  I had done a google search before
posting the question.  And you may be correct in that it was a writer
rather than a psychologist, however this is actually what I am
interested in knowing since it's use is prevalent.  Also, the notion
that this is a sekf-explanatory term is exactly why I posted the
question; to wit, many of the women I know have complained about men
in this light however each and EVERY one had a different definition
for it.  When I called for clarifications as to whether it had to do
with fidelity, or whether it was just a repackaging of the same old
rant re: men being commitment-phobic their own understanding of the
term fell apart.  Because it is generally a term used by women
referring to men, I have a tendency to believe it is actually a term
of misandry, however the etymology (feminist writer?) would be very
interesting to know because I'd like to know the...uhhh..."seminal"
argument and characteristics.  THAT is the most important thing to me
and not to be whisked away.  But thanks for your input anyway.

Important Disclaimer: Answers and comments provided on Google Answers are general information, and are not intended to substitute for informed professional medical, psychiatric, psychological, tax, legal, investment, accounting, or other professional advice. Google does not endorse, and expressly disclaims liability for any product, manufacturer, distributor, service or service provider mentioned or any opinion expressed in answers or comments. Please read carefully the Google Answers Terms of Service.

If you feel that you have found inappropriate content, please let us know by emailing us at with the question ID listed above. Thank you.
Search Google Answers for
Google Answers  

Google Home - Answers FAQ - Terms of Service - Privacy Policy