When it comes to relationships, a lot of us want different things - some people happily admit they’re needy and want constant attention, whereas others feel claustrophobic if they’re not given space to breathe.
It turns out there are actually three different types of people when it comes to attachment - anxious, secure and avoidant - and this is one of the first things I learnt in a recent one-on-one dating coaching session with Dating & Relationship Psychologist Madeleine Mason of PassionSmiths.
As a perpetual singleton - but happily so - and having already transformed my online dating app profile with professional pictures, I was keen to see what light Madeleine could shed on why I’ve never quite managed to settle into a serious relationship.
Sure, I have my theories - as I know my mother does too - but what would an outsider and expert make of it all?
After chatting through a bit of my dating history, the problems I’ve had and what I’m looking for in a relationship, one of the first things Madeleine explained to me was the three main personality types when it comes to relationships:
- Anxious - these people have no problem with intimacy or commitment but are constantly worried about being abandoned. They’re paranoid their partner doesn’t love them enough and will leave them.
- Secure - most of us are secure, Madeleine tells me, and these people are fine with intimacy, closeness and being vulnerable. They’re happy to receive love and are on the whole confident that their partner isn’t going to go anywhere. How nice for them.
- Avoidant - the avoidants amongst us feel uncomfortable with intimacy, don’t like showing vulnerability and are afraid of commitment. However they don’t really worry about the other person being around.
OK, wow. Madeleine had just described the main issue of my romantic life so far in a nutshell. Turns out I’m a total avoidant, and it felt good to know there was a name for it.
The theory is that which type you are is down to your childhood and your relationship with your parents - isn’t it always?
Most anxious people, for example, had unpredictable parents who were sometimes around but sometimes not. As a result of that support system not always being available, they become hyper-vigilant.
Avoidants usually develop the relationship issues we do, however, if our primary caregiver was absent or unreliable and as such we had to be independent from a young age.
Whilst that definitely wasn’t the case in my childhood, I did have the struggle of being a middle child to contend with which I do believe has made me more independent.
(So parents, next time you ask me when I’m going to get a boyfriend, remember it’s your fault.)
“Avoidants are tricky to date,” Madeleine tells me. But I already knew that. Whilst two avoidants rarely get together, an avoidant and an anxious is an even worse combination, as the latter becomes needy when the former doesn’t give them enough attention and time.
Yup, been there. And when men get needy it just makes me push them further away, which makes them become even more anxious and needy. Told you we’re hard to date.
Note to self: must avoid anxious types.
The trouble is, how do you know what type someone is before you give them a try? The answer is you don’t.
At 24, I feel no real social pressure to have a boyfriend, but give me five years or so and I know the stigma attached to being single will have grown immensely.
Whilst not in the slightest bit desperate for a boyfriend (because hey, single life is fab), I would like a relationship if I were to meet someone I liked enough. But Madeleine explains to me that I should be asking myself what kind of relationship I want, rather than what kind of guy I’m after.
According to Madeleine, all humans - except psychopaths - have a need for affiliation, but some need it more than others.
In fact, we need three things (discovered by David McLelland in his Needs Theory): power, achievement and affiliation, but not everybody needs all three to the same degree. When it comes to relationships, you need to work out how important affiliation is to you.
I’d always thought I was an extrovert - and there’s no denying I am more extroverted than most - but it turns out there’s a real introvert side to me. I need time by myself and am incredibly happy in my own company.
So the challenge comes in finding someone who wants the same level of attachment that I do, who’ll respect my space and has enough stuff going on in their own life that they won’t cling on to me.
Madeleine suggested being open about my relationship expectations in my dating app bios or early on when chatting to guys (“It's like a recruitment process - you need to be specific about what you want to fill your vacancy”), but I recoiled at this prospect.
My reaction, however, was yet more evidence that I feel highly uncomfortable at the prospect of exposing vulnerability.
As an avoidant, when I’m on guard (which is basically always because I’m not going to let any guy get close to me, am I?) I’ll apparently attract anxious men, which as we’ve already established is a recipe for disaster.
Madeleine believes I might benefit from being more proactive and taking the lead with men - sure, opening myself up like that will make me more vulnerable and scare off some guys, but she points out that that’s actually just helping whittle down my options.
I ask Madeleine whether once I meet the perfect person it’ll all just fall into place and be easy. Alas, apparently that’s not going to happen. Gutted.
The trick is to find someone who’s good enough and then negotiate on the little issues, she says, and having learnt new things about myself and also confirmed the traits I already suspected, I feel more confident about diving into the wild waters that are the dating pool.
Men of London, come at me. Just not too strongly or else I’ll push you away.
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