Attachment Styles and Dating: How Your Attachment Style is Influencing Your Dating Life
By Rachel Parodneck, LMSW
The dating game in NYC is no joke. Like everything else in NYC, this too can be competitive, often cutthroat, and can take a lot of determination to be a success. Not only that, but open-mindedness and vulnerability are key elements in the search for love. In terms of vulnerability, it can be hard to open up.
Our upbringing influences the way we approach dating and relationships throughout our lives. We are all preconditioned to different patterns of dating based on our attachment styles, which develop from the time we are born.
Attachment styles are based in attachment theory, a psychological, evolutionary, and ethological theory concerning relationships between humans. The most important tenet is that young children need to develop a relationship with at least one primary caregiver for normal social and emotional development.
From the time we are born, we start to form our first social bond with our caregivers. The security of that bond can inform our relationships throughout our lives. If a child is brought up in a warm, loving environment, a secure bond or “secure attachment” is developed. The child is taught that their needs matter, that they will be loved and supported, and that people, in general, can be trusted.
On the contrary, when a child perceives that their needs are not met, the child is not able to build a secure and stable bond with their caregivers. This leads to a distorted perception of how relationships work.
Dr. Wu breaks it down in an article for The Quick and Dirty:
Attachment styles are patterns of how we think, feel, and act in close relationships. They form early in life based on the way we bond (or don’t bond) with our primary caregivers. The four attachment styles are:
Secure: trusting, independent but close, and open to expressing affection in confident ways with their partners.
Anxious-preoccupied: needing reassurance from their partners, seeking closeness and intimacy more intensely and often more quickly than their partner is ready.
Dismissive-avoidant: aloof, do not feel comfortable with emotional intimacy, and tend to pull away from close others if they feel hurt or rejected.
Fearful-avoidant: a combination of avoidant and anxious, often confused and giving mixed signals of pushing away and craving more connection.
How do the attachment styles manifest in adult relationships?
Secure: A secure attachment style is demonstrated by those possessing a positive view of self and a positive view of others. When a person has a secure attachment style, they feel confident in their relationship and their partner. They feel connected, trusting, and comfortable with having independence and letting their partner have independence. They reach out for support when they need it and offer support when their partner is distressed.
Anxious-preoccupied: An anxious-preoccupied attachment style is demonstrated by those possessing a negative view of self and a positive view of others. People with this attachment style tend to crave emotional intimacy, even when their partner is not yet ready or the situation doesn’t call for it. They need a lot of approval, responsiveness, and reassurance from their partners. They can get anxious when they don’t get it.
Dismissive-avoidant: A dismissive-avoidant attachment style is demonstrated by those possessing a positive view of self and a negative view of others. People who have the dismissive-avoidant attachment style tend to be very emotionally independent—perhaps overly so. They find it uncomfortable to get too emotionally close to others or to trust them fully. In fact, those around them may describe them as actively trying to avoid closeness. They seem to pride themselves on not needing emotional intimacy. When they’re rejected or hurt, they tend to pull away.
Fearful-avoidant: Fearful/unresolved/cannot classify attachment patterns of behavior are demonstrated by those possessing an unstable or fluctuating view of self and others.
People with losses or other trauma, such as sexual abuse in childhood and adolescence may often develop this type of attachment. A person with this attachment style is confused. They essentially have both the dismissive and the anxious styles combined—both wanting emotional closeness and also pushing it away. They’re fearful of fully trusting others and yet they need approval or validation. They often deny their feelings or are reluctant to express them. At the same time, they’re more easily jealous and tend to perceive greater threat from possible romantic rivals.
How might these be influencing your patterns of dating today?
If you have a secure style of attachment, you might find yourself in a happy and healthy relationship with a partner. If you’re single, your dating probably looks pretty positive. You have a good sense of self and are able to bond well with others while maintaining boundaries.
Where does that lead those in the other 3 categories?
Those with anxious-preoccupied attachments can seem to always be in a series of crises in terms of dating. An overwhelming need for closeness and intimacy can result in pushing potential partners away.
People with dismissive-avoidant style of attachment may find they are always single, in denial of wanting or needing a partnership, instead valuing their independence above all else.
If one is fearful-avoidant, their tendency in dating is to crave closeness but at the same time, reject partners who will provide this intimacy. This type combines the anxious and dismissive styles. They also tend to be more jealous.
Dr. Lisa Firestone writes in Psychology Today, “In a sense, we set ourselves up by finding partners that confirm our models. If we grew up with an insecure attachment pattern, we may project or seek to duplicate similar patterns of relating as adults, even when these patterns hurt us and are not in our own self-interest.”
What can you do if your attachment style is insecure?
The first step is being aware of your attachment style and the potential influence it has in your dating life. If you are curious and would like to identify your attachment style, take a quiz. The Attachment Project has a great one:
Working with a therapist on this pattern in your dating life can be the most beneficial way to break those maladaptive patterns and become more able to date in a healthy way. This sets you up for success.
If you prefer to begin your journey towards building a more secure attachment style in your adulthood on your own, there are courses you can take. The Attachment Project has an online course by Harvard Medical School’s Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology, Dr. Daniel P. Brown that can be a helpful resource. The course is based on his award-winning book Attachment Disturbances in Adults and includes a test to define your own attachment style, as well as lectures and experiential exercises for developing a secure attachment.
To learn more, you can visit:
Whether you choose to seek the help of a therapist or a more self-directed path, being aware of your style of attachment and how it affects your relationships is of the utmost importance. Recognizing how this shows up in your life overall can be the key to resolving any childhood styles of attachment that may be negatively influencing your dating patterns today. In short, be aware of your style, realize you are not alone in this (40% of people have insecure attachment styles!), and know that by putting in the work, it is possible to overcome your insecure attachment style and build healthy relationships in adulthood.
Firestone, L., PhD, (July 30, 2013). Psychology Today. How Your Attachment Style Impacts Your Relationship: What is your attachment style?
Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/compassion-matters/201307/how-your-attachment-style-impacts-your-relationship
No Author, (July 2, 2020). The Attachment Project. Anxious Attachment: Causes & Symptoms: Everything you need to know about anxious attachment.
Retrieved From: https://www.attachmentproject.com/blog/anxious-attachment/
Wikipedia. Attachment Theory.
Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attachment_theory
Wu, J., PhD (March 13, 2020). Quick and Dirty Tips. Which of These Four Attachment Styles Is Yours?