Do you jump into relationships quickly, avoid labelling them for 8 months or sporadically freak out about not getting a reply to a text from your partner if it’s been longer than 12 minutes? Attachment Theory (as originally developed by John Bowlby & Mary Ainsworth) originates in developmental psychology and was conceptualised around the idea that people can be categorised by three different attachment styles. Defining someone’s attachment type can help provide insight into how they see relationships and gives clues (massive flammable type clues) about how they are likely to behave in one. Amongst other things, Attachment Theory is helpful in providing insight into why some of us dive so quickly in relationships, why others are more cautious of commitment, crazy jealous or completely nonchalant. As always it gets deep, and there’s a bunch of psychological influences both past and present, learnt and innate at play.
I have always been aware of Attachment Types but I recently read “Attached” by Rachel Heller and Amir Levine and it was so incredibly illuminating that I found myself involuntarily traipsing back through every romantic entanglement i’ve ever found myself in. I sent my poor (wonderful) secure ex absolutely insane with my classic yo-yoing “romantic tendencies” for 4 years. One moment I would be ecstatically happy, everything as gorgeous as a scene out of a movie, complete with mise en place settings and the next I would be secretly crying in the shower because there wasn’t enough drama in the promise of marriage and a young family. I wanted to roll around the world living a life less ordinary, you know, like taking pictures of beautiful shit.
And for god’s sake, why would an anxious hot mess like me choose to fall in love with an avoidant? There is no better example of a typical roller coaster nightmare. In fact Universal Studios could have trademarked that experience and made a shit tonne of cash lulling passengers into false hope with subtle romance and juicy lust filled highs offset by the classic dance of push/pull: “I love you but can’t be near you” for the necessary whiplash moments of the ride.
Aside from my personal epiphanies, here’s what I learnt about attachment types; how to ascertain which type you/your partner is and the role attachment types play in compatibility.
Anxious: What does it mean if they don’t reply to my text within 4.5 minutes?
If you fit into the anxious category, chances are you know it and you probably tell everyone because you feel deeply apologetic for simply being the way that you are. Sorry. Anxious partners (bless those little cotton socks) get wound up over analysing everything, and for the most part just can’t help it. They will be worried if your tone seems off, you don’t reply to a text or if the wind blows the wrong way. The anxious types have a naturally strong sense of intuition but it’s what they do with this intuition that can get them into hot water. Anxious types can be prone to self doubt and criticism and they often make the mistake of seeking validation from outside means. Unfortunately being in a relationship with an anxious type is a complex dance of helping them to understand how they can love themselves, without seeming disingenuous or doing it for them and forcing codependence. Funnily enough, with a commitment to self love, and a supportive, gentle partner their anxiety will dissipate.
The anxious subscribe to a masochist way of life and will likely blame every problem in the relationship on themselves .They’re also hardwired with convoluted preservation tactics like the silent treatment or one-upping in the place of articulating their concerns. These are avoidance strategies that avert the root of the problem in the hope they won’t be abandoned when they express their true feelings. Handle with care.
Avoidant: I don’t really like to label things.
Textbook commitment-phobes are pervasive in the cross cultural representation of (men in) romantic relationships in the media. The avoidant is every (wo)man who doesn’t text back, ghosts after 2 great dates, cheats, refuses to partake in monogamy or develops an addiction to transactional sex and false intimacy. They’re classic purveyors of mixed messages and hot and cold treatment and whole storylines are scripted around their manipulative and negligent behaviour. The avoidant will carefully cultivate themselves and their image for optimal aesthetic superiority and use it to foster intensely pleasurable yet false closeness before they resume nonchalance from a safe distance. Don’t be fooled though, the avoidant still craves intimacy and connection but employ stringent measures of control to make sure they maintain their independence and space. Interestingly, there’s enough scientific testing to suggest that many avoidants can be categorized as previously ‘damaged’ anxious types. Instead of healing properly, they have succeeded in wrapping themselves so tightly in impenetrable armour that they can proactively limit their exposure to emotions.
Secure: I understand me, I understand you
No prizes for guessing what the secure type implies, which is rather fitting really. Those with the secure attachment type are easily defined as boring, but these definitions are probably languidly applied by either the anxious or the avoidant who ultimately struggle with the concept of security. Two secure types together are likely to live a drama free, satisfyingly static life with very few bumps out of the ordinary. They do not feel the need to act out, behave erratically or play games. Of course, this doesn’t mean that they will never nose dive into emotions or seek independence, it just means their baseline level of self assurance is solid enough to provide them with stability. In a relationship they’re not needy, don’t catastrophize and provide a solid support for their partner. It’s for this reason that a secure paired with either alternate attachment types can help to neutralise them. With this wrap it seems like the secure are the superheroes of the three attachment types and can do almost no wrong. There’s one (1) problem with secure types and that is that they are of the opinion that a relationship is never hard work. This means that they may need to be reminded to apply effort to the romance making of the relationship and not just coast along being infamously cool, calm and collected because it is dangerously close to appearing apathetic.
Compatibility: Forget zodiac predictions, matchmaking is some serious shit when you consider attachment types. If we applied more diligence to our levels of self awareness, started paying more attention to attachment types and less to our rising signs we’d be more astute at choosing a partner and likely to arrive at happily ever after a whole lot snappier..
The cheat sheet for dating according to your attachment type is simple:
Secure is the only attachment type that is flexible. Secure’s can (relatively) successfully date all three of the attachment types. They bring stability and reassurance to most partners and influence a harmonious relationship.
A relationship with either an anxious or an avoidant will require work from any partner. A secure type will provide the quickest shortcut to harmony because of the reassurance and support that they are able to organically provide their partner without any detriment to themselves.
Anxious and avoidant couples are the worst (most erratic, toxic, unstable) pairing of all. Counterintuitively they are the most frequently attracted to each other. Anxious and Avoidant provide the perfect partner in crime to manufacture as much illicit drama as possible. Their relationships are full of addictively blissful, lusty highs and exquisite visceral feelings but also devastatingly bleak lows and soul racking anxiety and stress.
Avoidant and avoidant rarely make it as a couple and that’s because the avoidant needs a cushion to pad their slightly narcissistic tendencies. Two avoidants would tire of one another almost instantly because neither would bend for the other. Almost comically (but also obviously) the highest proportion of single people are avoidant. Makes damn logical sense right? The secure’s don’t stay single for long as they are quickly snapped up and remain happily co-existing in stable relationships.
Still not sure of your attachment type? The biggest indicators are:
Your comfort with intimacy and closeness (or how much you actively avoid it)
Your preoccupation with the relationship and the anxiety you feel around your partner’s attentiveness and love.