Whether it be constant clinginess, emotional unavailability, or the classical Oedipus complex, what we bring to the dating table ultimately determines the success — or lack thereof — of our future relationships. But is there a way to pinpoint where we could improve ourselves without resorting to “objective” feedback given by our friends, dating coaches, the Internet, and moms? The answer is yes, by figuring out our attachment style.
What is an attachment style? According to the creator of attachment theory, John Bowlby, and expressed in an article on verywellmind.com, it is “the lasting psychological connectedness between human beings”; in other words, it’s how we interact with those we bond with.
Learning your style is not on par with reading a horoscope, nor is it as good as actual introspective counselling, but it does enter a space heavily focused on by experts in behavioural psychology. In a simplypsychology.org article, it explains how Bowlby, a well-known psychologist, theorized that how a child was raised determined specific emotional responses to their caregivers. The less time infants spent with their mothers, the more they developed a physiological disposition to separation anxiety.
With the growth of the behavioural discipline, attachment theory has been expanded by researchers such as Kim Bartholomew and Leonard Horowitz to cover adult relationships. They divided said theory into categories such as anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant, fearful-avoidant, and secure. According to these experts, the nature of the interaction between a baby and its caregiver determined which category the infant fell into, which later determined how they would act as an adult with future romantic partners.
How this translates into the dating scene is clarified by Dr. Lisa Firestone, PhD, in her book Knowing Your Critical Self. As she explains, each style comes with its own dating characteristics.
This deals with those who constantly feel “emotional” hunger, that is to say, they desire constant validation from their partner and live in what Firestone describes as a “fantasy” of their actual relationship. With this group, dating terms such as “clingy” and “paranoid” become commonplace. An anxious preoccupied will tend to bombard a partner with texts, experience anxiety when apart and even suspect the worst (breakups, love lost, cheating).
Unlike the anxious style, dismissive avoidants seek more distance from their partner. The word association in this regard would be “unavailable,” since avoidants, well, avoid active conversations, remain emotionally introverted and gain limited satisfaction from the presence of others. All this is detrimental to dating, as communication and 50/50 effort are key to a healthy and long-lasting relationship. Furthermore, avoidants would view any argument as an overreaction on their partner’s part.
The “best” of both worlds, a fearfully avoidant alternates between worrying that they are too close to someone or that they’re too far. So, as Katy Perry says, they’re hot then they’re cold, they’re yes then they’re no, they’re in then they’re out, they’re up then they’re down. Generally indecisive, these individuals are kind of the “Ross Gellers” of dating; always wanting to be in a relationship, ultimately sabotaging it, and then wanting to be in one again.
In contrast to the styles mentioned so far, secure individuals feel comfortable both in a relationship or alone. With words such as honest, realistic and caring describing them, they are capable of remaining invested with their partners but not dependent. Moreover, they act as a support base for those who date them and will reciprocate that support to those who need them. In other words, they are the closest thing to the perfect partner.
Ultimately, most of us seek to gravitate towards a more secure personality. We do not want to come off as too attached, emotionally unavailable, and/or all over the place. Barring professional counselling, we should identify and work on our own attachment styles so that we may better support others, potential partners and most importantly, ourselves.
Graphic by @sundaeghost