Eight years ago, I knew my love life was finally on the right track. I had found him. The One. I can’t even say that I entirely believed in soulmates, but I did believe that the guy I was with would end up becoming my life partner.
Then, he started to become distant, not confiding in me what he was feeling. He had always had doubts about being able to sustain a long-term relationship. He broke up with me and we only ended up getting back together because I initiated it. We were together off and on for three years, but he never called me his girlfriend?
We had one last and final break-up in an Italian restaurant when I got up and walked out after he couldn’t tell me he loved me.
In the years since I’ve wondered why I didn’t end things over his emotional distance. Why hadn’t I been able to admit that he was never going to commit? Why couldn’t I just get over him after the first break-up and move on?
It’s because of attachment.
If I had known my attachment style then, it would have changed the entire trajectory of my love life.
So, what is attachment style?
Attachment theory was first developed to understand the mother/child relationship: what would happen when a mother left her child alone while the child was playing in a room full of toys?
When the mother returned, the child who came to the mother, allowed themselves to be soothed, and then went happily back to playing was securely attached. The child who wanted to be soothed, but then resisted it, too angry about being left to accept the love from their mother, is anxiously attached. The child who shows almost no reaction when the mother leaves, much less when the mother returns is avoidant.
But what does this have to do with your love life?
Well, scientists now think that attachment doesn’t just affect us in childhood but throughout our lives.
Securely attached people have no issue with intimacy. They can easily express their feelings and are not afraid of commitment.
Anxious people deeply value intimacy, almost over anything else and can become preoccupied with it to the point of mental distraction and may act out when they do not receive intimacy.
Avoidant people see intimacy as a threat to their independence and often have a hard time making and sustaining connections as a result. They can be distant and emotionally unavailable to their partners.
In the book Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find–And Keep–Love, Amir Levine and Rachel Heller argue that knowing your attachment style can completely change your love life.
Knowing your attachment style can help you find the right partner or help you improve the relationship with your current partner. You can accept the person you are and also the person you choose.
I have an anxious attachment style: intimacy over everything. I had picked a partner with an avoidant attachment style: independence over everything.
When I most needed assurance about Us, he couldn’t give that to me. His distancing was what was saving him emotionally and what was destroying me emotionally.
Ever since reading this book, I’ve been mentally computing people’s attachment styles.
In the movie Boomerang, Eddie Murphy is clearly avoidant. So is Robin Givens. Halle Berry is anxious. Eddie Murphy and Robin Givens don’t work out because, in an avoidant match, the commitment is difficult to sustain.
Eddie Murphy and Halle Berry can better sustain a relationship because her need for intimacy will ensure it. But after reading Attached I watched the ending of the movie, Eddie Murphy and Halle Berry having reconciled, with new eyes. All I could see was years of a cycle of her wanting something he may never be able to give.
Ever been in that cycle before?
You so want it to work out. You’re attached to them, heart, mind, and literally your body. Physically, our bodies also enact our attachment style, getting us to stay attached and going through withdrawal when we break off the attachment.
When we recapped The Bachelorette last year, I could see attachment theory in every pairing on that show. Rachel seemed avoidant, wanting intimacy, but also afraid of intimacy. She got rid of many of the secure guys, as most of us do in our dating lives. Maybe she did end up choosing the person who was best for her and could satisfy her emotional needs.
Securely attached people are the best pairings for all of us but can seem boring at first glance. They won’t set off the chase of an anxious/avoidant match.
Instead, securely attached partners can give anxiously attached people all the intimacy they need without feeling threatened. They can give avoidantly attached people all the space they need without worrying that the distance means something.
Only thing is, securely attached people also tend to be snatched up faster, marrying sooner and leaving more avoidant folks in the dating pool. Don’t you have a couple of past relationships you broke off because there just wasn’t enough sizzle? Or maybe that was just the lack of drama because they were securely attached?
Hope isn’t lost though. Knowing what your needs are and how you can meet the needs of a partner can completely alter your love life for the better.
And with your new knowledge of attachment, you can even begin to find ways to be more securely attached in your relationships, tracking behaviors and patterns that don’t work.
After my ex and I broke up, after I stormed out of that Italian restaurant, I got into my car and sobbed onto my steering wheel. I was sure that day that I would never love someone as much.
I was wrong of course. Thinking about attachment theory can get you out of solely romanticized notions of love and get you to start asking the more pertinent question: who can meet my needs?
Now, I have greater clarity about what those needs are and how to ask my partner for them to be met. Knowing your attachment style isn’t some foolproof method to never have your heart broken again, but it will help tell you to know what your heart even wants.
You’ll get invaluable insights and maybe even help change your love life for the better.