(And I’ve read so many…)
Y’all have been reading this blog for a while. Y’all know that I’ve had such miserable and painful experiences in the love and relationships department that I decided to bow out, throw in the towel and resign myself to the fact that I am doomed to walk this planet alone. But what if I told you I have read a book that has literally made me rethink my I Am Doomed to Be Single Forever And Will Just Be A Crazy Cat Lady relationship status? That I am not crazy-mad-stupid for how I have previously tackled love? That it’s no wonder I have been disappointed thus far? That there is, in fact, hope—great hope—for me to find love? No? You don’t believe me? You don’t think it’s possible? Well, dear reader, gird your loins.
First some context.
In the wake of the devastation left by the Italian, it’s only been in the last couple of years that I felt ready to test the dating water. I dipped my toe in, and found that the dating water was not what I thought it was. From Mr Nonsense to Mr Fucktard to Mr Christmas Shenanigans to Mr I Can Totally See A Future With You, all were encounters which ended with me asking what the? Why are there so many men out there who are dog salmon—the fish that John West rejects? I assumed it was where I lived and the demographic I was dealing with. I assumed that the men crossing my path were emotionally deficient somehow—I thought it was them not me. After all, I’m a fabulous catch: independent, self-reliant, emotionally intelligent, smart. I’m financially stable, attractive, fit and healthy. I’m well-travelled, educated and interesting. Who wouldn’t want to share in a piece of this?
Well, as it turns out, the wrong kind of man.
When I was trying to figure out what the deal was with Mr Christmas Shenanigans, I read everything I could about what was going on that I could find on my Agony Aunt Google. I discovered that texting—along with flat-pack furniture—is the work of the devil, and that disappearing men are more common than men who stay. I learned that my libido is a poor judge of character—well, duh—and that a “maybe” is a more powerful aphrodisiac than oysters. I condensed all this knowledge into a couple of helpful posts: My Five Simple Rules for Dating, followed by Not Hard to Shine.
The men that entered my life and who I viewed as potential partners were, for the most part, intelligent, educated, seemingly normal—or, as normal as anyone can be—people. They weren’t psychotic, or narcissistic, or psychopaths.
I also stumbled onto a little known concept—well, little known to me—called adult attachment style. It turns out there are three styles: secure, anxious and avoidant (and this is true irrespective of whether you are gay, straight, bi or pink with purple spots). I did the quiz, and lo and behold, I discovered I had an anxious/preoccupied style. It certainly explained why relationships—and potential relationships—caused me all kinds of grief in the He’s Going to Leave Me Because Of Something I’ve Done Or Didn’t Do Or I Am Or I’m Not And I’m Not Good Enough And I’ll Never Find Love department, which has been my relationship pattern for most of my adult life. I thought it was that I just kept making Bad Man Choices, but I didn’t see how, and I tried to rectify this with The List, because everyone knows that a list guarantees that you’ll meet The One. The men that entered my life and who I viewed as potential partners were, for the most part, intelligent, educated, seemingly normal—or, as normal as anyone can be—people. They weren’t psychotic, or narcissistic, or psychopaths. Most of them were nice, kind, decent human beings, at least in the beginning. So why did they turn into dog salmon once a relationship—or potential relationship—was on the cards?
Turns out it was me, not them.
And by me, I mean my adult attachment style was having a direct influence on the kinds of men I’m attracted to, and the washing machine spiral of anxiety that has permanently characterised my romantic attachments. Except I didn’t know what to do about it.
Enter Attached, also known as the book that has changed my life.
To cut a long story short, Attached explains the science behind adult attachment styles, and it is true that there are the three styles I mentioned earlier: secure, anxious and avoidant, and that I have an anxious style. What I found fascinating is that attachment styles are a combination of nature, nurture and lived experience, and they are plastic. With my attachment style, I am genetically programmed to attach early and quickly, and anything that threatens—or is perceived to threaten—the attachment sends my attachment system into overdrive, and I start using protest behaviour. When I read the chapter about my style (anxious), it was like Dr Levine was in my head, reading my mind. It was EXACTLY what I thought and how I acted in ALL my relationships, including the potential ones, and the ones that didn’t even make it to potential. Oh, thank GOD! I thought, I’m not nuts! It’s my anxious attachment style!
The only thing that can save anxious and avoidants from themselves (and a lifetime of unhappiness) is being with someone who has a secure attachment style.
What Attached has taken great pains to explain is that I (and other anxious attachment types) are unfortunately, and usually, drawn to the avoidant attachment style, which sends our the anxious attachment system into overdrive. Where avoidants are genetically programmed to avoid intimacy (and their attachment system goes into withdrawal when they get too close to their mates) the anxious types need it. What you have then, is a clash of intimacy needs: anxious types need closeness (and will do anything to maintain it) and avoidants don’t (and will do anything to avoid it). The only thing that can save anxious and avoidants from themselves (and a lifetime of unhappiness) is being with someone who has a secure attachment style.
Avoidants and anxious attachment types are drawn to each other for a number of reasons: there are more avoidants in the dating pool than secures and society (i.e. dating experts) advises anxious types to attract partners by playing it cool (or insouciant, in my case!). A playing it cool partner is exactly what the avoidant is seeking, but unfortunately, the person who is playing it cool is likely to be an anxious type, and their differing intimacy needs send the relationship—or potential relationship—into a tailspin of crazy (he’s so distant or she’s so emotional or she seemed so keen or he’s too needy or we never do anything together or we are too much in each other’s pockets etc.). And that all-important chemistry or spark in the beginning? It’s your attachment system honing in on someone who will send it into overdrive, because in my case—as anxious—that’s exactly what it’s primed to do. Avoidant equals sexy chemistry… secure equals unsexy boring.
While Attached explains the why and the what of attachment theory, the BEST thing about this book is that it explains HOW you can use your attachment style to find a more suitable i.e. secure partner. Contrary to every other book I have ever read on the subject, Dr Levine says that wearing your heart on your sleeve (if you are anxious) and telling potential partners up front what it is you need (closeness and intimacy) and screening people out early (i.e. avoidants, because their distancing strategies will only make you unhappy) is THE best tactic for finding love. What? Wearing my heart on my sleeve is actually a good thing? And it won’t get me hurt? Holy empowerment, Batman!
Every other man I have dated from my mid twenties to present day—the last thirty years—have been men with avoidant styles. My ex-files are a litany of misery and unhappiness and me wondering how I could have gotten it so wrong and, for a smart lady, been so stupid.
I see myself and my thinking and my behaviour in a completely new light after reading Attached. I can see that I have only ever had two, possibly three relationships with men with a secure attachment style, and they were in my late teens and early twenties, and I ended all three. Every other man I have dated from my mid twenties to present day—the last thirty years—have been men with avoidant styles. My ex-files are a litany of misery and unhappiness and me wondering how I could have gotten it so wrong and, for a smart lady, been so stupid. Interestingly, I feel that I am better equipped to look for love now—after reading Attached—because I know what I have to keep an eye out for, and what I have to screen for. I’m now seriously considering dipping my toe back into the dating sea and seeing what sorts of secure fish are out there, and I NEVER thought I’d say that, given that I’d resigned myself to the I Am Doomed to Be Single Forever And Will Just Be A Crazy Cat Lady relationship status.
I’ve even reactivated my Oasis Active profile…
I would urge anyone who is dating or thinking about dating to read this book. I would urge anyone who is a relationship and is unhappy or miserable to read this book. I would urge anyone who is in a relationship and is thinking about breaking up or leaving their partner to read this book.
Just read the damn book.
Then how about buying me a glass of wine — or even two! — for writing such an awesome essay?