You could be attracting the wrong partner.
A year ago, I took on a client who was single and had the common complaint that she was always going for the wrong kind of guy. A friend gave her a book, The Complete Book of Rules: Time-tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right. It made some pretty big promises. All a girl needed to do is lay back and let the man do the work.
You have to make it clear that you’re too busy to see him on his schedule. Don’t try and call him, and he will soon ache for you. It took her some time to realize that while like most things, there’s a little bit of truth to be found by doing this, but it’s mostly just manipulative self-improvement silliness.
Good point though. If you appear confident and you don’t “need” somebody, that you’ve got lots of opportunities, then you are surely a good catch. The trouble is, though, that if you pretend you’re not interested in having someone in your life, you’re going to only be attractive to guys who don’t want commitment. Or, in developmental psychology jargon, you’ll end up with someone who is avoidant. When you eventually grow comfortable enough to disclose that you would, in fact, really like a full on, intimate relationship, the person with an avoidant attachment style will run for the hills…”head on fire and A#@ catching”…as they say.
Psychologists specializing in infants rather than adults first studied patterns of attachment. The more secure a child is in their emotional bond with a parent, the more they are able to go out into the world with confidence and independence. As it turns out, though, attachment styles continue into adulthood and lead to foreseeable actions in romantic relationships. The most successful pairings are ones with at least one partner securely attached, because “secures” aren’t afraid of commitment. They are usually good at communication and compromise, making a relationship with them so much easier. The rest of us are insecurely attached, or anxiously, meaning that we tend to overthink our relationships. By that I am referring to worrying about whether or not our partner loves us, constantly playing games to test the relationship, or simply being avoidant. By “being avoidant,” I mean that we worry about losing our independence and keep the potential partner at arm’s length.
There is a bit of a gender difference,
with insecure ladies
being a bit more inclined to
be “anxiously attached,”
while insecure men
are usually more likely to be avoidant.
It makes really good sense. We’re simply adapting to what our relationship is telling us about how much we can trust the other person, and then acting appropriately with our newfound knowledge. If experience teaches us that we can’t rely on people to care about us, then we either work like hell to make sure new candidates do care, or we renounce the whole experience and look after ourselves.
There is a bit of a gender difference, with insecure ladies being a bit more inclined to be “anxiously attached,” while insecure men are usually more likely to be avoidant. That partially explains the stereotype of clingy females trying to pin down commitment-phobic men.
Amir Levine, psychiatrist and neuroscientist at Columbia University, and one of the authors of Attached: Identify Your Attachment Style and Find Your Perfect Match, says, “The trouble is, ‘anxiously attached’ people have a habit of getting together with avoidant people,”
They rarely recognize that this is exactly the wrong thing for them to do. Avoidant people just aggravate their anxiety, happening partly because avoidant people circle around again more rapidly in the dating pool. Like predators, I think. Securely attached people tend to stay for the long term, while the avoidant folk have shorter partnerships and become available again more quickly. Predators.
It isn’t that avoidant people don’t want relationships; it’s just that they’re not comfortable with too much closeness. They have a lot of what Levine calls “attachment deactivation strategies,” i.e., skillful ways to maintain their distance. Things like not saying, “I love you,” being vague about a future together, or walking a couple of steps ahead of you in public are things to watch for.
Securely attached people tend to
stay for the long term,
while the avoidant folk have
shorter partnerships and
become available again more quickly.
I am frequently asked how people who are a little anxious make better choices. It’s obvious who the secure people are, but I am told that they never seem quite interesting enough. That’s partially because they won’t play games and you don’t get that almost primitive emotional roller coaster. Levine says that if you give the secure ones a chance, you get a very different, much more rewarding experience than the other type. Levine opines, “People who are anxious have a very reactive attachment system… they get attached very quickly, even after just one night.”
So here is the trick. Maintain a bit of distance when you first start seeing someone, making a judgment about whether they are right for you. Rule out as quickly as you realize it the avoidant types by checking out how interested they are in emotional intimacy. If they don’t like it when you ask what they want from a relationship, say “NEXT!”
Being now armed with knowledge about attachment styles, Levine says, it’s not so much like, “Is this person going to like me?” It’s more like, “Has this person got what it takes to be in a relationship with me?” Much better question isn’t it.
So if you are with someone who blows hot and cold, then it’s not you, it really is them. Outstanding, right? Some more good news is that we don’t have to be stuck with our present attachment styles. One of the best ways to change if you’re anxious or avoidant is to get involved with someone secure, or at least copy them. You can change your habits. I have written about this quite a lot and helped many people do just that.
It works. “That’s because with a secure person, you’ve got a built-in relationship coach who teaches you how to communicate effectively,” Levine said. “These people, and they account for more than 50% of men and women, have an innate talent for being better partners.” (Read that last sentence again).
Here is an example. Let’s say your partner is going to the airport to catch a flight. If you’re anxious, you’ll be unsettled by the separation and want to hear from them. If you’re with someone secure, they know all about this and they’ll text you from the plane before they take off, and then again as soon as they land, so you never really get a chance to be anxious. But if your partner is avoidant, it will be altogether different. They’re not calling so you call them, and they get sick of you always calling them so they hit the ignore button. You may even know they’re hitting ignore, so by the time you finally get to talk to them you’re upset, and you have an ugly fight. It was completely avoidable, if only they’d just texted before they took off…. Right?
That’s one of the things I tell avoidant style people. If you understand that your partner’s well-being is your responsibility and you take care of it early on, you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble and you’ll both be happier. And didn’t you actually want to take good care of your partner in the first place?
Well, didn’t you?
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Frank Hopkins is a life coach in Baton Rouge who is certified as a Professional Coach (CPC) by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC). Frank has helped numerous people to go through emotional change in a way that is positively transformative.