I have a dirty dating secret: I’ve been single for 2.5 years, and for some reason, I’ve been the one to walk away in nearly every single dating interaction I’ve had in that time span. I felt like I was always the one sending the text saying “it’s been nice, but I can’t/don’t want to do this.”
In every serious relationship I’ve been in, I’ve been the one to drive it into the ground at the end (with a healthy dose of self-sabotage) then call it quits.
I would be fine being single for a while, but then the craving for connection and touch would come back. The shit thing is, once I got it I immediately wanted to run. I always had intense fear when things started getting even slightly more serious, even though nothing had seemingly changed. One minute I’d be happy cuddling with someone and telling them my secrets, then they’d walk out of my apartment and I’d start spiraling and thinking I was better off alone. I was giving myself romantic whiplash.
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Why was I like this?
I always wanted to be in a successful relationship, but I couldn’t break the pattern no matter how awesome the person was and how much potential was there. I felt ashamed I was like this. Even after I quit drinking nothing changed.
No advice seemed to help and no self-improvement work I did seemed to change the oucomes. I couldn’t chalk it up to not meeting the right people because even when I met someone and started to get to know them I didn’t know how to manage my feelings or express my needs. It got easy to put it on other people, but after I stopped drinking I knew deep down that I had some real work to do.
I had just finished telling my therapist about the guy I had ended things with who had the AUDACITY to call me “hot and cold,” when my therapist gave me some homework. She knows I love a good self-help book, so she tasked me with reading Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find—and Keep—Love by Amir Levine and Rachel S.F. Heller.
Since she’s smart, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say she suggested the book because I seemed ready for a healthy dose of humility and self-awareness around how I am in relationships. At that time, I had recently become aware codependency was an issue for me, but I didn’t know I was about to find out that I am also part of 1% of people that fall into the most troubled attachment style.
Turns out, my whole ‘come here, go away’ act makes a lot of sense based on my attachment type.
Basically, there are four attachment types: secure, anxious, avoidant and disorganized/dismissive.
Here’s a really basic breakdown of all four that I pulled from this website (if you want more info).
Secure: Low on avoidance, low on anxiety. Comfortable with intimacy; not worried about rejection or preoccupied with the relationship. “It is easy for me to get close to others, and I am comfortable depending on them and having them depend on me. I don’t worry about being abandoned or about someone getting too close to me.”
Avoidant: High on avoidance, low on anxiety. Uncomfortable with closeness and primarily values independence and freedom; not worried about partner’s availability. “I am uncomfortable being close to others. I find it difficult to trust and depend on others and prefer that others do not depend on me. It is very important that I feel independent and self-sufficient. My partner wants me to be more intimate than I am comfortable being.”
Anxious: Low on avoidance, high on anxiety. Crave closeness and intimacy, very insecure about the relationship. “I want to be extremely emotionally close (merge) with others, but others are reluctant to get as close as I would like. I often worry that my partner doesn’t love or value me and will abandon me. My inordinate need for closeness scares people away.”
Anxious and Avoidant: High on avoidance, high on anxiety. Uncomfortable with intimacy, and worried about partner’s commitment and love. “I am uncomfortable getting close to others, and find it difficult to trust and depend on them. I worry I will be hurt if I get close to my partner.”
About 56 per cent of people in the world are secure. Around 20 per cent are anxious. Twenty-three per cent are avoidant, and the remaining 1 per cent are a combination of anxious and avoidant (according to this article by Elite Daily).
I don’t know about you, but I always wished I had a rare blood type so I could feel special. Turns out since I’m fearfully/avoidantly attached, also referred to as disorganized or anxious-avoidant, so I can still feel statistically special based on the fact that I absolutely run my relationships into the ground as soon as they seem like they’re going somewhere. Or as Mark Manson puts it, this attachment style is “the worst of both worlds.”
Thanks, Mark. You know how to humble us one percenters.
Excuse my french, but this revelation sacré blew my fucking mind. First of all, I wasn’t the only one who was like me. Second, it made me feel less alone to know that a little less than half the population is gonna ride the struggle bus when it comes to relationships because of something they learned in infancy.
Last: I was relieved to have a label and explanation.
A fearful-avoidant type both desires close relationships and finds it difficult to be truly open to intimacy with others out of fear of rejection and loss, since that is what he or she have received from their caregivers. Instead of the dismissive’s defense mechanism of going it alone and covering up feelings of need for others by developing high self-esteem, the fearful-avoidant subconsciously believe there is something unacceptable about them that makes anyone who knows them deeply more likely to reject or betray them, so they will find reasons to relieve this fear by distancing anyone who gets too close. As with the dismissive, the fearful-avoidant will have difficulty understanding the emotional lives of others, and empathy, while present, is not very strong—thus there will be poor communication of feelings with his partner.
I always had thought I was just a mess romantically because….well just because I had baggage and trauma. But then why was I still single after I stopped hating myself?
To add to the slap in the face attachment theory served it, apparently, if you put certain attachment styles together it’s more or less destined to be a hot garbage fire. Like for example, avoidant people and anxious people are like magnets to each other romantically but it makes for a problematic partnership. It’s shit, because it’s really not the fault of either people, but more a perfect storm based on their desire for intimacy and tolerance for closeness in relationships.
Since I’ve found out what attachment style I am, it’s helped me come to peace with my patterns and start challenging them with clear communication and different thought processes. It’s also helped me pick people who are better for me (*cough* where all the securely attached men at? *cough cough*). I’m shedding the shame when it comes to my dating dirty secret because I now see my behavior when it comes to men as a totally subconscious protection mechanism. I learned it before I even knew I learned it, and I can also unlearn it. I finally have some hope that romantically, I’m not going to keep reliving groundhog day of the same dating scenarios. I have a shot at being secure.
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What would it be like to frame rejection as a journey of self? As an opportunity to know the walls of your thoughts with added depth? An opportunity for a journey of self-discovery. . Yesterday I shared six steps to take after experiencing feelings of rejection (in no particular order). We don’t have to dismiss our emotions—pain, sadness, guilt, frustration, anger—in fact, we shouldn’t dismiss our feelings. . By confronting our feelings, addressing them, and working through them, we can move into a phase of self-discovery. . Our self-discovery can be enhanced through connection. Connection through our relationships (friends, family, dating, & even professional colleagues), but most importantly, through reflection and acceptance of the self. . When was the last time you invested in self-discovery? #SexELD #SexELDucation . . . [Image description: Light mauve background with white text that reads, “Rejection is a form of self-discovery.”]
Like with everything else related to self-improvement, awareness is the first step.
As one writer for Elite Daily puts it: “none of these attachment styles are labeled ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy.’ They’re simply descriptions of the way you act in romantic relationships. They’re not forms of judgment.”
Unless you’re Mark Manson, then you can be a judgmental asshole, apparently.
If you’re looking for a more detailed crash course in attachment theory that includes more actionable steps to take to becoming secure, your best bet is to read this book or this book. Yes, reading a self-help book to fix your love life is probably going to feel like a move pulled directly out of a rom com, but once you get over yourself it’s really not that bad. For more basic info, you can also watch this video or pay a little bit of coin to take a quiz to see what category you fall into.