In her reminiscences, great twentieth-century poet Marina Tsvetaeva (1892–1941) wrote of her close friend, actress Sophia Holliday, that Sophia would often be traumatized in relationships by a curious emotional trigger, something she called “love him longer, love him stronger”. This mechanism kicked in whenever Sophia was in danger of falling out of love or in love with the “wrong” kind of person and played on her emotions every little trick to prolong the point of separation.

Known by one or another name, “love them longer, love them stronger” is a scheme many of us had recourse to when faced with emotional unavailability or indecisiveness in a partner. Leading one to emotionally invest more than they receive, it is an attempt to catch that warm gust of air from another’s valley of emotional coldness and chill.

For a time, the scheme may work. But the reason it fails in the long run is the lack of a key relationship element: mutual emotional consent, freely gifted. In consent, there are no “maybes”. In fact, emotional consent is more than a law of respect. It’s also a law of karma. Here’s why.

What we do when we meet with emotional unavailability

“Love them longer, love them stronger” is the emotional equivalent of the feeling you get when on a hot day, you drain the last of the Kool-Aid through the little straw, sucking out the final sweet, cold drops, even though you know the pack is a drop away from empty and cannot be replenished. Translated to emotions, it’s our burning need to squeeze one more moment of happiness, one more emotion, one more embrace from an emotionally “unavailable” partner or a situation where our gut knows that action will at best change nothing and at worst hasten the drying of the whole.

Yet our mind reckons, “Love them longer and a little stronger, and you may just break their shell”. If Gerda could extract the piece of ice from Kai’s eye, symbolizing his frozen heart in H.C.Andersen’s “Snow Queen”, by the strength of her love, why not us? Perhaps by loving them longer, harder, more, against the odds of emotional unavailability and even a lack of our needs being met, something may magically change, everything may yet work out, they too may open up.

In emotions just as in physical relationships, there are boundaries and there is the magic word: consent. The problem with the mending mechanism of “love them longer” when applied to emotional unavailability is, that while seemingly harmless, it pushes the emotional boundaries of another person. Even if it’s technically “their fault” because they’re the ones closed off, any persistence and hopefulness in such relationships both depresses us and violates the sacredness of another’s emotional consent.

What emotional unavailability really stands for

Behind all emotional unavailability, there is in fact a withdrawal of emotional consent; there is a “no” disguised under a “maybe”.

As the most fragile, vulnerable, and traumatized part of ourselves that we are free to give and free to take, emotional consent can be likened to a crystal glass of such fine artifice that by placing it in the hands of another, we understand that person has both the power to break it and the power to catch a ray of sunlight in the crystal and reflect it back into our heart.

Emotional consent is one of the deepest manifestations of a human’s free will. It tells about the depth of a relationship more than physical consent because physical consent can be driven by momentous things like hormonal influences/changes, external circumstances, and momentary emotions. It sometimes happens that we do not want to reveal our deeper self to another, that we pull back on emotional consent while allowing the physical.

Emotional consent is also much more protective of the heart than physical consent is of the body. Physical consent is the ABCs of human interaction, which if another violates, one should not even consider that person for any role — momentous, short, or longterm. But emotional consent is the deeper yardstick of human relations, a level above the rudimentary. It is emotional consent that is basically the “yes” of longterm commitment, partnership, marriage. It is also the stumbling block of all of the above.

Behind all emotional unavailability, there is in fact a withdrawal of emotional consent; there is a “no” disguised under a “maybe”. Which brings us to the next axiom:

In consent, there’s no such thing as “maybe”

Emotional unavailability is a choice. And choices are about consent, which comes down to two words only: “yes” and “no”. When it comes to consent — either physical or emotional — there is no “maybe”.

When someone is “emotionally unavailable”, they’re sending out a lot of mixed signals. But behind that seeming “maybe” hides a scared and often cowardly “no”.

They may not phrase it in words, either due to fear of losing out on some privilege (like sex or just the comfort of a relationship), due to “not wanting to hurt your feelings”, or because deep down, they’re not sure if you’re right for each other. But it will always come across in actions (lack thereof), secrecy around emotions, and avoidance of vulnerability.

Even when their words say “yes”, their actions and body language will shout “no”, leading to all that frustration and pain on another’s side. With emotional consent, just like physical consent, it’s vital to listen to another’s body language and behavior, especially when the words are sending out mixed signals.

If their emotional body language is a “maybe”, “I don’t know”, “I’m not sure yet” of commitment, what it bluntly means is “no”. Just like with physical consent, a “yes” is a “yes” while any vagueness means “no”.

The spirituality of emotional consent

The French philosopher Simone Weil (1909–1943) strongly linked consent in all its forms with spirituality and the free will of human beings. To her, the love of another person reflected and partook in the deepest universal love of God, thus making it love incarnate of spiritual love. And consent played in this love a pivotal role.

“What can be more horrible than not to respect the consent of a being in whom one is seeking, though unconsciously, for an equivalent of God?” she exclaims.

Weil goes on to underline the importance of not only physical but emotional consent.

“It is still a crime, though a less serious one, to be content with consent issuing from a low or superficial region of the soul. Whether there is physical union or not, the exchange of love is unlawful if, on both sides, the consent does not come from that central point in the soul where the yes can be nothing less than eternal.”*

What happens with the concept of emotional unavailability is that while there is physical consent, there is no consent from what Weil terms the “central point in the soul” — in other words, the body consents to being with the person, but the mind and heart hold back. Undoubtedly the painful experiences mostly every person has had with a lack of emotional consent find root in this deeper, spiritual kind of withdrawal.

What links emotional consent further to spirituality is the futility of any attempts to “convert” one to emotional openness and vulnerability. It may be tempting to persuade someone how brilliant, intelligent, or beautiful you are, and how right you are for each other, by revealing more and more of your intelligence, beauty, and love, or by loving “longer and stronger”.

But the reason for their emotional unavailability isn’t a lack of understanding of your strengths. It’s the person themself being at a place in life where they’re not ready for emotional openness. Just like spirituality, that’s a very personal choice and is 100% their choice. And if today they show with their actions that their heart says “no”, we’ve got to take it at face value and believe them.

Final thoughts

Pushing emotional consent is always a path to what we know as “toxic” relationships and ultimately, hate. But on a deeper, karmic level, it is also a violation of the other person’s free will. As human beings, we’ve got to make decisions by ourselves only, otherwise they have no merit.

Emotional unavailability is a choice. And choices are about consent, which comes down to two words only: “yes” and “no”. When it comes to consent — either physical or emotional — there is no “maybe”.

When we understand this, we come a giant step closer to being with someone whose inmost heart will give us a true, lasting “yes”.


*Weil, Simone. Love in the Void: Where God Finds Us (Plough Spiritual Guides: Backpack Classics) (pp. 50–51). Plough Publishing House. Kindle Edition.

Angela Yurchenko is a business journalist and classical musician. In her personal writing, she shares stories of the human experience through the lens of emotional intelligence, philosophy, arts & culture. Find more of Angela’s writing on Medium and on her blog, Birdsong.





Image courtesy of Andrik Langfield.