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Why do we stan emotionally unavailable men?

Why do we stan emotionally unavailable men?

I don’t know about you. But, I love reading young adult novels. However, recently I find it disturbing – especially with the portrayal of relationships in them. And, how everyone is okay with it. Like, what message are we supposed to be passing on to the readers of these kinds of novels? Most of these books have male leads that remain unnecessarily possessive, jealous, overly manly, and borderline abusive. Then, female leads center around becoming these emotionally unavailable men’s rehabilitation centers, aiming to fix them for the better. 

Bad boys in these books wreak havoc on our protagonists’ lives, bodies, and brains. These emotionally unavailable men are not just emotional and psychological — they are downright biochemical. Protagonists become addicted to the highs and lows of these dangerous romantic relationships in a way that makes a break-up similar to rehab from destructive drug addiction. These men bring up the protagonists’ worst insecurities while simultaneously subjecting them to sweet talking and gestures.

The story starts with the protagonist meeting this toxic and emotionally unavailable male lead.

Their bond with him becomes cemented through their excessive attention combined with their emotional withdrawal and withholding throughout the relationship. By the way, there is a line between enemies to lovers and a toxic relationship. And, I think it’s a line that gets crossed way too often. 

Enemies to lovers’ dynamic remain interesting to readers because they are either great or terrible. Sometimes, you will get a really cute story about two friends who always bicker. Then, they realize that they love each other. Or, a drama comes about lovers being caught on opposing sides of a larger conflict.

However, often, we just get weird, toxic, and poorly-written relationships that aren’t realistic, believable, or even healthy. 

Enemies to lovers and bad-boy-good-girl are famous fictional tropes that feature these emotionally unavailable leads. However, that’s the case. Tropes and fiction are that they are exactly that — it’s fiction. It is escapism in one of its purest forms. Although we acknowledge these tropes’ toxicity, it doesn’t all revolve around manipulation. 

As a reader, I think there needs to be mutual respect to have a real love — kindness, trust, and empathy. Not these cruel, angry, apathetic, cold, and emotionally unavailable male leads. It’s like young adult novels are really just obsession, possessiveness, and lust. 

Psychologists say that the frustration-attraction experience of obstacles in a romantic relationship heightens these protagonists’ feelings of love, rather than hindering them. They also discuss how the brains of those in adversity-ridden relationships become activated in an eerily similar way to the brains of drug addicts.

Emotionally unavailable leads are masters of intermittent reinforcement. Reading these kinds of men in young adult novels just makes me drop the book and never grab it back up again. A possessive male love interest that needs the love of a woman to be redeemed? I just don’t get the appeal. 

As a reader, these fictional characters live and thrive inside my head. I want to be some of them, I want to be with them. However, others are absolutely vile and truly toxic. And, to be honest, it’s the romanticizing of the type of relationship that is the problem.

I would rather see books that portray this kind of relationship honestly rather than romanticizing them. Especially since the general audience reading them is mostly teenagers! How would that affect them? Male leads disrespect the protagonists, lie to them, and sometimes abuse them. But, the protagonist just can’t hate them — because, what — because, they’re attractive?! Some of them don’t even look fucking good.

Personally, I hate these kinds of emotionally unavailable men and here are a few characters that I learned to hate:

Christian Grey | 50 Shades of Grey

He’s brooding, possessive, and a game-playing fuckboy. First of all, he stalked her. He showed up unannounced at Ana’s job at the hardware store, he found her at the club during her graduation party and even knew where she lived even though she literally never told him. There is nothing cute about that. Then, he takes her back to his place after she was too drunk to even give consent. Don’t even get me started with the way he asked her to sign a non-disclosure agreement. He literally forbids her from telling any of her friends and family about what transpires in their relationship. 

Humbert | Lolita

What a fucking creep this man. He kidnapped and abused his twelve-year-old stepdaughter and frames this entire fucking thing as the most beautiful love story in history. He isn’t just toxic. She is literally twelve. Actual predatory relationships depicted in the book opened the door for an audience to misinterpret the true danger of the type of situations that Lolita was actually in. It promoted grooming, the building of false trust between a predator and a victim, and the sexual exploitation of young girls. 

See Also

Heathcliff | Wuthering Heights

I have not read this in an entire decade. However, I only recently realized how toxic is Heathcliff’s relationship with Catherine. What man would force a marriage for the sake of revenge? He’s surly, sulky, violent, abusive, and needy. He grins, he growls, and he sneers. Aside from that, Heathcliff and Catherine were raised as siblings and their infatuation is laced with a queasy tug of incest. Like, ew?! Although this was not dubbed as a young adult novel, this classic is one of those books that feature this emotionally unavailable male lead. 

Edward Cullen | Twilight

Criticized for many reasons, Edward’s relationship with Bella is actually toxic. It raises so many red flags as he would claim he is protecting her and caring about her even when he has actually stalked her and watched her sleep. Once she started dating him, she distanced herself from her friends and family. Although she reconnected with them when he left, she began to distance herself again when he returned. Despite Bella being a feminist character, he had a lot of control over her and it shouldn’t be overseen when taking a deep look at the book. 

Severus Snape | Harry Potter

Don’t even get me started on why I don’t like Severus Snape. He obsessed over Lily Evans, a Muggle woman, for almost his entire life. Then, he devoted his loyalty to a man who kills Muggles and only changed sides because of her death. Plus, he didn’t even care if her husband and her child died as long as she would live. He doesn’t care about her happiness, he just wants to own her. That is not love. He bullies children and somehow continues to remain a professor at Hogwarts. So, yeah, no – I don’t like him despite having that shitty redemption arc and Harry naming his second child after him. 


Voted as the worst boyfriend in teen movie history in The Tab’s poll, Noah actively participates in rape culture. Ten minutes into the first film he literally uttered the sentence that almost every woman hates to hear: Wearing a skirt like that is asking for it. He is controlling and possessive, threatening all the boys in their school not to ask Elle out. And, by the way, he has some intense anger issues. He fights and exhibits aggressive behavior that he even slammed on the hood of his car and shouted for her to get in the vehicle. Then, what? After a small drive, she loses her virginity to him under the Hollywood sign as if everything was okay ten minutes earlier. 

Let’s stop romanticizing these toxic and emotionally unavailable men and hinder the spread of stanning them to a younger generation that has begun reading these books.

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