Relationships

Leona’s Love Quest: Is Your Attachment Style Hindering Your Chance at Love?

interracial couple relaxing in lounge

Attached. 

I’ve become slightly obsessed with the song “Latch” by Disclosure featuring Sam Smith .  OK, maybe seriously obsessed. I listening to it at least once a day and it constantly plays in my head, especially at night when I’m trying to go to sleep. I think there’s something about the sparkling, dream-like music combined with Smith’s soulful voice and the semi-stalker like lyrics that really speaks to me:

Now I’ve got you in my space
I won’t let go of you (never)
Got you shackled in my embrace
I’m latching on to you (never)

While I would never express these sentiments outright to a potential partner, the infatuation period of a relationship can be a real danger zone for me, as I tend to latch onto some pretty quickly. There have been quite a few studies about the science of love and bonding effects of hormones like oxytocin, but nothing explains the powerful impulse to get close to (or away from) someone quite like Attached. The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find–And Keep—Love written by Amir Levine and Rachel S. F. Heller, M.A.

Attached theorizes that most people adhere to one of three basic attachment styles that define the way they perceive and respond to intimacy in romantic relationships. The ANXIOUS crave intimacy but they frequently feel insecure about their relationships. The AVOIDANT shy away from intimacy which they equate with a loss of freedom or independence. The SECURE feel comfortable with intimacy and are good at making partners feel accepted and loved. (There is also a very small percentage of the population that has a disorganized attachment style that fluctuates between ANXIOUS and AVOIDANT.) Apparently a little over 50% of the population has SECURE attachment styles. They typically don’t endure great difficulties committing to a partner particularly if that person also happens to be SECURE. Moreover, SECURE people have a tendency to attract each other. This could explain how my friend who is getting married this month found a husband online in just a few weeks when I’ve been working at it for half of my lifetime. Come to think of it, even before she started online dating, I never saw her sweat over a guy who wasn’t really interested or ditch a guy once he started getting too close.

I didn’t need to take the quiz provided in the book and at the website to recognize myself as a person with an ANXIOUS attachment system. These people:

  • Want a lot of closeness in the relationship
  • Are unhappy when not in a relationship
  • Allow relationships to consume a large part of their emotional energy
  • Tend to be very sensitive to small fluctuations in a partner’s moods and actions
  • Let their partner set the tone for the relationship to avoid “rocking the boat”
  • Act out and say things they later regret
  • Feel that he or she must work hard to keep their partner’s interest
  • Believe their current relationship may be their last chance at love

I wasn’t happy to learn I had an ANXIOUS attachment system, but at least it made me feel a little bit less like a crazy person. I can’t explain to you how much of a weight was lifted just to feel understood. Only 20% of the population is ANXIOUS, so I’m sure most of you have been scratching your heads over some of my more questionable antics. The good news is that ANXIOUS people thrive on stable, supportive relationships; it’s only the uncertainty of emotional unavailability that makes us miserable.  The problem is that I most often get involved with men who have an AVOIDANT attachment style. These people:

  • Send mix signals
  • Value independence greatly
  • Devalue their partner or previous partners
  • Keep themselves emotionally or physically distant from their partner
  • Emphasize boundaries in the relationship
  • Have an unrealistically romantic view of how a relationship should be
  • Have rigid views and uncompromising rules
  • Have difficulty talking about or defining their relationships
  • Walk out or explodes during arguments

Now would you believe that the research proves that AVOIDANTS actually prefer people with ANXIOUS attachment styles? Moreover, ANXIOUS women are more likely to date AVOIDANT men! (Attachment styles apply to any gender. I’ve met plenty of ANXIOUS men and AVOIDANT women.) The researchers suppose that these opposites attract because each reaffirms the other’s beliefs about themselves and about relationships –that the ANXIOUS partner is too emotionally needy and it bound to be continually disappointed or that the AVOIDANT partner is too independent and their partner will always try to deprive them of their freedom. I like to think that we are naturally drawn to qualities that we admire in other but lack in ourselves. As an ANXIOUS, I often wish I was more emotionally self-sufficient. I imagine most AVOIDANTS in turn wish they could open up and be more comfortable connecting on a deeper level. At best, both partners in an ANXIOUS-AVOIDANT are willing to make compromises and be sympathetic towards their partner’s well-being and respective needs for intimacy.  At worst, that ANXIOUS partner will be blowing up your cell phone after the first date and that AVOIDANT person will string you along for years with no commitment.

Attachment styles are formed through a combination of a person’s upbringing, genes and their life experiences although they may change after a traumatic life experience such as the death of a spouse or a very bitter divorce. The impulse to connect with others on an intimate level, however, is apparently part of our genetic makeup and your attachment system will kick in regardless of your conscious will. I’m basically hard-wired to latch on to those who reject me and I find it incredibly difficult let go of someone even after a break-up. An ANXIOUS-AVOIDANT coupling hardly seems ideal to me, but I have to wonder if there are really enough SECURES out there left to go around. Only 25% of the population is AVOIDANT and yet I honestly don’t believe I’ve had a relationship with a SECURE person in my entire life.

I’m curious to know, what is your attachment style and how has it affected your relationships?

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