Have you ever wondered why some people get attached so easily – to the point where they’re borderline in love with someone they’re newly dating and they’re super clingy – while others avoid intimacy at all costs? And why are some people the insanely jealous type – always insecure and anxious – while still others are incredibly secure and carefree in relationships? Much of this can be explained by the Attachment Theory.
Popular TV shows such as Sex and the City seemed to perpetuate the myth that there are two types of guys: the Aidans and the Bigs. Carrie noticed that Big seemed to avoid intimacy and didn’t get attached, while Aidan sought out intimacy. According to psychologists, there’s actually three styles of attachment known as secure, anxious and avoidant.
Everyone falls into an attachment category, though it falls along a spectrum. For example, you may be secure with anxious tendencies. Regardless of what your attachment style is, finding out and understanding what your attachment type means is the first step to understanding the patterns you’re likely to follow. Once you become aware of your patterns, you can become more cognizant of what you need to work on within relationships. This awareness can also help explain much of your past actions, so you’re likely to learn a lot about yourself once you decipher your attachment style.
There are multiple factors that go into determining your attachment style, but the bulk of it comes from the way you were raised and the relationship you had with the people closest to you – namely, your parents. Significant events from adolescence and adulthood can affect your attachment type as well.
If an unanswered text drives you crazy
This is a sign that your attachment style is anxious, and you’re definitely not alone. Consider that friend everyone has who’s always blowing up your phone with screenshots of text messages and enlisting your help to over-analyze a guy’s texts (or to analyze his lack of texts).
Anxious attachment types often struggle with self-doubt, insecurity and are self-critical. They rely too much on their partner to validate them. It takes time and effort to work on yourself and start to love yourself, but when you do, you’ll notice that anxious tendencies start to dissipate.
Anxious people would rather be in a relationship than be single and worry that they won’t be able to find an appropriate partner. They can be what the guys in Wedding Crashers (likely avoidant dudes, by the way) referred to as a “stage 5 clingers”.
Those with an anxious attachment style often assume the role of the pursuer in new relationships, because they’re too anxious to sit back and wait to be texted first, called first, or asked out. This, unfortunately, can lead to the downfall of the relationship if you’re not aware of it.
When anxious types feel that their partner isn’t meeting their needs, they may exhibit what’s known as “protest behavior” – waiting days to text back to “get back at” someone who upset them or flirting with other to make their partner jealous. The reason for this is that they fear expressing their dissatisfaction in words will cause their partner to leave them.
Ross’s character in Friends is probably one of the more notable anxiously attached men in popular culture. Consider the time he was jealous about Rachel’s male coworker. It brought out his insecurities (remember, he spent years thinking Rachel was out of his league) and caused him to throw Rachel an over-the-top anniversary evening that resulted in her breaking up with him. Post-breakup, anxious people are likely to blame their perceived imperfections for the end of the relationship instead of realizing that it just wasn’t a good fit.
If the only thing you can commit to is a favorite pizza place
You could be avoidant. You value your free time and consider yourself an independent person. The last thing you need is a significant other who wants to be together all the time and constantly checks in on you. Avoidants only make up about 20 percent of the population but you’re very likely to encounter them in the dating pool because they’re single more often than anxious or secure types.
These are the types who inspire books like He’s Just Not That Into You. Avoidant people are likely to push you away just as you’re getting close, then drop a text two months later once they’ve gotten their space. They’ll serve up mixed signals for years if you don’t put up boundaries.
Oftentimes, the reason one is avoidant is due to their own fears and insecurities.
If you feel you may be avoidant, consider the things that you do to sabotage relationships once they begin to get serious. Ignoring texts, cheating and making up excuses to get out of hanging out with someone you’re dating can all be part of the tool set avoidants use to keep others at a distance.
It’s not that avoidants don’t need affection or intimacy. They’ve mastered suppressing their feelings and being independent, and they’ve convinced themselves that it’s not that important. This could have been a potential survival tactic they developed as children if they grew up with parents who were cold or unavailable. Don Draper from Mad Men, Daniel Cleaver from Bridget Jones’ Diary and Barney Stinson from How I Met Your Mother are examples of classic avoidants.
If your dating life is drama-free and happily boring
You’re likely the secure type. Two examples of secure couples are the Taylors on Friday Night Lights and Marshall and Lily on How I Met Your Mother, but they’re ultimately too boring to get much screen time.
Secure couples make it seem like dating is so effortless and easy – because for them, it is. Nobody feels the need to pull away or act out due to anxiety.
When two secure people meet, they’re probably not going to engage in the “relationship dance” where one party backs away when the other wants to be close, then switch – the way every romantic comedy ever goes. They have fewer problems with being vulnerable and getting emotionally intimate.
They’re attentive listeners who are good at defusing conflicts and accommodating their partner’s needs. They aren’t typically needy, so they don’t sweat the small stuff (such as an unanswered text) which makes the relationship continue on without issues – smooth sailing.
If a secure type is dating an avoidant, it works well because they’ll give their avoidant partner the space they need to not feel suffocated, thus not pushing them away further. Secure types also have the patience to reassure anxious partners that they care about them, so secure types make great partners for anxious types as well.
Sex and the City actually had a number of secure male characters, like Miranda’s eventual husband Steve Brady and Samantha’s long-term boyfriend Smith Jerrod.
Understanding your attachment type is the first step to understanding the patterns you’re likely to follow. From here, you can educate yourself about healthier practices in relationships and healthier ways to pursue a prospect. Knowledge truly is power here. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but it beats playing cat and mouse with the wrong people.
Perhaps by reading this, all you’ve learned is that the next person you date needs to be a ‘secure’ type, and that’s a fantastic goal to have when it comes to dating.
A successful relationship is difficult if one of you is ‘anxious’ or ‘avoidant’ – not impossible, but difficult.
Changing your attachment style isn’t easy, but it can be done – here’s some information on how to work towards changing your attachment style.
If you have an idea of what kind of attachment type you might be but want to take a quiz to be sure, this is a great quiz to determine your attachment style from Psychology Today.
If you’re interested in reading more about attachment theory and seeing some examples about how relationships between different attachment types often play out, Attached by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller and Wired for Dating by Stan Tatkin are two excellent resources.