Anxious attachment and dating
Okay, so you have an anxious attachment style. Now what? How do you deal with it when it comes to dating? Are you doomed forever? NO WAY JOSE!
First, I highly recommend taking a break from dating/sex/flirting/intrigue for a period of time depending on where you’re at with your healing journey with your attachment. Yes, you can heal your attachment and move to “earned secure” attachment. However, to do this your brain chemistry needs to fully detox and go into withdrawal from the last activation. Reminder an activation means the last time you met an emotionally unavailable potential partner and your attachment style was activated. Doing this will help you create the space you need to heal and most importantly, change your brain chemistry. I highly recommend working with a coach/therapist/12 step program well versed in attachment theory to move through healing.
Second, once you’ve taken a break and done work to start to heal your attachment and you’re ready to get back out in the dating field again. Again, I would check in with your support system and work through this with them. I do have some strong recommendations for how to move into dating in a new way and find a healthy, emotionally available partner and relationship.
TAKE IT SLOW- Emotionally. The way to move through getting to know someone without speeding through it is to slowly getting to know someone— rocket science I know. However, for anxious attachment moving slowly is actually quite difficult. Anxious attachments tend to jump in with both feet because they are looking for someone to love them they way they were not when they were a child and still aren’t loving themselves. This is why taking time and space to heal and find your patterns is so important BEFORE you begin dating again.
Moving slow emotionally looks like keeping the hangouts during the day in the beginning- first 2-3 weeks— get coffee/tea for a first meet up, visit a museum, walk around the park. check out a talk on a topic that’s interesting to the both of you, go bowling, go rock climbing, go on a bike ride etc. Stick to activities to keep the conversation light as you slowly get to know them and it’s really fun to participate in activities together to see how you work together as a team. Humans with anxious attachment tend to overshare and seek emotional vulnerability very quickly. This isn’t a bad trait but, the rushing the intimate/heavy convos tends to speed everything up and create a false sense of intimacy. We want to slow this down.
TAKE IT SLOW- physically too. Alright, here it is- humans with anxious attachment are incredibly sensitive so casual sex can be actual torture. 99% of the time, casual sex will activate us. When we are activated we no longer in our rational, mature mind and our brain cocktail of chemicals started in our childhood will take over and we behave in ways out of alignment with our more mature selves. Why put ourselves through the suffering?
Sex is obviously off the table for the initial stages of getting to know someone. Lacy always recommends 6 weeks. I recommend waiting until there’s a strong emotional bond and you’re in or nearly in a relationship (both take time). I also strongly recommend to keep all physical “stuff” even hooking up and passionate making out in a bed to a minimum and off the table all together at first. I think a good night kiss by the subway or outside one your houses is a great way to show affection but, anything more can be activating for humans with anxious attachments. There is a lot of pressure to get physical quickly in our dating culture right now so we can prove we are all empowered and sexually liberated. Well you know what feels the most empowering? Having beautiful, connected, hot sex with a man we are in a committed relationship with and we don’t need to pretend otherwise. Taking it slow physically is a way to show up for yourself, take really good care of yourself (and your inner child) and practice loving yourself.
Create boundaries and hold them- this one is hard for those of us with anxious attachment because the thing we fear the most is being abandoned. As babies and kids, one or both of our caregivers abandoned us in some way and this told our small selves there was something wrong with us. In order to survive we learned how to do anything to get the love from our caregiver back and we made no demands. Demands = abandonment.
Boundaries are not demands or games or anything of the sort. Boundaries are how we show people how to treat us in a way that feels good for us and how we show ourselves we love ourselves too. Examples of boundaries: No sex until there is strong emotional intimacy and an emotional bond. No making out laying down (sounds silly but it’s the gateway drug) for the first 3-4 weeks. If a potential partner doesn’t confirm plans with you the night before, then the meet up isn’t happening. Find what works for you and stick to them! Boundaries are another way to not abandon yourself and instead show up for yourself.
You have needs, you are not needy- I want every human with anxious attachment to understand we all have needs and that does not mean we are needy. Humans with anxious attachments worry about being perceived as needy because they did not receive enough care, attention and love when they were little. Their needs were not met. This communicated to their young brains needs are bad and to receive love, we have to shut down our needs.
Humans are tribal creatures. We need community to survive. There is also no normative attachment style so each attachment style has different needs. We are allowed to have needs and we are allowed to share what those needs are with a potential partner or partner. However, we must first and foremost make sure we are meeting our needs first. The way we do that is by following the above steps. We HAVE to show up for ourselves, care for ourselves through strong boundaries and moving slowly in the dating process. We can’t jump into bed with a stranger and expect them to care for our needs. Why? We abandoned ourselves and were not meeting our own first! If one our needs is to feel emotional intimacy before sleeping with someone than it is our job to show up for ourselves by moving slowly, having boundaries and if a potential partner doesn’t respect these than we walk away.
It is important to communicate our needs effectively and clearly. No one is a mind reader. A great example is the way in which you and a potential partner are communicating. I think texting is great for logistical conversations- let’s meet here at this time. here are the directions, etc and that’s about it. I think phone calls are the better way to connect with a potential partner in between seeing them. Does it need to be a 3 hour long conversation? No. Does it need to 4-5 phone calls in between seeing each other? No way. However, I prefer a phone call to say hello, catch up once every couple of days. It keeps communication clear and actually feels like a continuation of the connection we are building. The way I would communicate that is by saying to a potential partner, “I prefer phone calls over texting to chat with each other in between seeing one another. What do you think about that?“.
Know when to walk away— this is the most important process in dating. We need to know when to fold ‘em and walk away. If a potential partner is saying they don’t know what they want, they don’t want anything serious, they aren’t sure what they are looking for but they want to see where this goes, they are just wanting to have fun, they want to sleep around, they want to keep things casual, they want to keep things light— they are telling you they are emotionally unavailable and it is imperative to walk away before your attachment gets activated. You might think, “but, maybe” and this is ALSO a sign you need to walk away. When an anxious gets activated it is VERY hard to walk away because your brain chemistry will be working to keep you attached to the emotionally unavailable person and is is VERY painful to go through withdrawal from the attachment. Of course, if you need to run into the fire over and over to understand how this works for you, I get it. I did run into many a fire before I realized I don’t like getting burned. Walking away from an emotionally unavailable partner is honestly like climbing Everest to an anxious attachment. I’m not being glib either. Our brain chemistry pulls us to emotionally unavailable partners because we learned that was love when we were kids. It isn’t and we have to do the very hard, uncomfortable work of walking away from the very things that pull us in to heal and find the healthy love waiting for us on the other side.
If you’re having trouble navigating your attachment style and dating, I look forward to connecting over a session.