I took the test maybe a month after my ex and I broke up. She pleaded with me to take it and I was like, no dude. I'm good. In truth, I wasn't good. Things fell apart in a relatively short amount of time. I had slowly begun to disengage from our relationship, my ex saw it, she knew it, and she tried to do something about it but I shut her down.
I don't usually have a problem saying someone is right. In this case, I hate the fact that I was so, so wrong, and continue to be so. My emotional state is, in a word, unsettled. I'm not okay.
When I got around to taking this test, it noted that I was a Dismissive Avoidant in my attachment style.
I'm secure with my friendships but when it comes to romantic partners, or my mother, I'm a god-damn wreck!
It wasn't a great feeling to see the results. But hold on, what the heck am I even talking about?
You've probably seen it in your feed reader if you're the type who follows dating/relationship content-fodder (at least I have).
What is Attachment Theory?
I'm not going to give you a crash course on Attachment Theory—Google is free, my people.
Attachment theory is focused on the relationships and bonds between people, particularly long-term relationships, including those between a parent and child and between romantic partners.
This area of study has been around for many decades, it's older than me (I think). And I've only begun learning about it this year.
While I can't get into the details of my upbringing here (I don't feel entirely comfortable doing so) but what I can tell you is that I had a traumatic upbringing—a thing I still contend with—and that trauma has informed how I approach my romantic relationships, as well as those with my friends and such.
What is a Dismissive Avoidant?
I'm looking into the mirror (not literally, Sid), as I write this, and I can describe myself (which is also a textbook explanation pretty much). People with a dismissive-avoidant attachment style are afraid to, or avoid, romantic connections. It's not just romantic connections but it can be those connections we have with our parents or with our friends.
When I talk about connection, from my perspective, what I mean is forming a deep bond with someone else, letting your guard down, letting yourself be vulnerable with another; being your true self and all of the baggage that entails (not just yours but your partner's too). When we connect with someone, when we open our world it means we have to let the other person in, open our gates, our borders, if you will. We have to let another person wander the premise, that makes up our mental yard (it's how I understand this anyway, bear with me).
Dismissive Avoidant (DA) attachment styles may initially allow another person to wander the grounds, poke around, etc. However, the DA is keenly aware, maybe hyper-vigilant to what's happening. The DA can perceive intent from any action, question, a pause before replying. Anything. A DA fears threats to their security, losing their independence—it's a lot to unpack.
What I've learned is that my hyper-vigilance about my security, about my finances, things I prided myself on having, are ultimately crutches I lean on when I begin getting close with people romantically. It's messed up.
I don't have this issue with my friendships, though. And that's the thing, we can approach different relationships, well, differently!
What about the other Attachment Types?
I can't talk about Avoidants and not talk about Secures, and Anxious folks. Bear in mind that all of these types exist on a spectrum, people can be multiple attachment types, or they can lean in one area and a little in another. It's complex shit.
The Secure attachment style is where I would like to be. Secures tend to have an easier (not perfect) time in romantic relationships. They tend to not run away from relationships like an Avoidant might. It doesn't mean they're perfect but they tend to be more stable, they probably had a more sane home life than the anxious or avoidant did.
The Anxious person needs validation, they need to know that they're solid with their partner—they see the space a relationship occupies as shared. When their partner begins to let go of their part (space) in the relationship, the Anxious person will fill that space, they'll step forward and try to understand what's going on. The Anxious and Avoidant romantic pairing is a real shit show, the worst dance routine you'll ever witness. You can read more about attachment styles and other info here.
Attachment Types and Online Dating…
In the book Attached the author explains, very generally, what the Online Dating population looks like. She explains that you have secure types, anxious types, and avoidant types mixed into the dating pool. The largest group of people in the dating pool are made of, you guessed it, avoidant types. They don't hold onto their relationships, for reasons, and they end up back out in the dating pool again and again. Anxious types make up the next most populous group, followed by secure types. The secures are a fairly small portion of the dating population, empirically speaking. Secures tend to stay in relationships, so there's not as many out there, the author assumes (likely correctly), and they get snatched up quickly!
Reading that passage in the book didn't sit well with me. It didn't sit well because after I inventoried past relationships, most of them I backed out on, I did the fade, or I sabotaged them! My behavior was laid out before me, on the printed page. I didn't like what I was reading…
I feel like Ramona Flowers from Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World was an avoidant of some sort.
Is there hope for Dismissive Avoidants?
The optimist within says sure, yes, of course! If you work at it you'll improve and repair. I'm trying. I'm a middle-aged guy and all of this is so… deflating and also very new to me! But I've started, so that's good!
Therapy is obviously beneficial. Therapy has helped me to understand the why in why I'm like this and that's provided much-needed perspective and understanding. However, there's still a long way to go. I don't have mechanisms for how to cope with those feelings of flight or fight when I'm in a relationship and I'm still not great at voicing my needs.
Part of being an avoidant is understanding that your needs matter; it's important to recognize your boundaries and when those boundaries have been crossed. Being able to breach that barrier of discomfort is huge.
I'm not there yet. I've had some positive exchanges with women I dated this year. I was able to communicate things that were uncomfortable for me, I was able to speak, to be heard, and to listen and respond. They were small victories and victories nonetheless. It's a small step on a giant wooden staircase (I walk lots of stairs, people). I've since decided that I'm done with dating, at least until the end of the year so I can work some things out.
What I understand about all of this is that we are not a finished work. We're living, breathing, and capable of so much! What I understand is that while the ways that I am are not entirely my fault, they are informed by my environment. However, I am responsible for those I harm in the meantime between just wandering around and reacting to shit and figuring out we need to make a change and atone for what we have done and change my patterns, my behavior.
I'm not a finished work and I'm willing to keep chiseling away at myself to become a better version of me, for the sake of future me. It's possible, it's doable. It's not too late! I believe that. Keep doing the work (current self to future self, you got this).