Smash Talks: Attachment Anxiety

Ashera is a Marriage and Family Therapist with an extensive background in sexual health education. You can ask her stuff anonymously and she won’t get weirded out. Seriously, try her. Send your queries through our anonymous contact form here.

Dear Smashera,

In every relationship I’ve been in (or try to get into), I end up coming on too strong and scaring them off. I try not to, but after a few weeks I get so invested and I pour everything I can into it and then I end up getting hurt. I want to find someone that is as invested as I am, and at first they seem to be. For some reason, though, as soon as I really get attached to them, they end up pulling away and I’m left heartbroken. Sometimes they just plain ghost me. Other times they’ve just ended it saying that they can’t meet my needs. Is there anyone out there for me? How can I find someone that actually wants to be in a relationship with me?


Forever Alone

Dear Forever Alone,

While it doesn’t feel like good news, ending relationships that are not mutually respectful and beneficial is actually a huge favor. Instead of stringing you along for years on end, at least these people had the chutzpah to actually say, “no, this isn’t working.” Albeit, a few of them ghosted, which is 100% a Dick Move, but it’s still better than being stuck in something that’s actually loveless.

From what you’ve reported, it sounds like you are an anxiously attached person. How we attach, or our “attachment style” dictates how we like being in relation with others. It’s an evolutionary trait that people developed to make sure that our needs would be met throughout our lives—first as babies not being eaten by predators, and later as adults who need to make sure our mates and tribemates share food and shelter with us.

Securely attached people are able to give and receive affection with other people. They will worry when their kids wander away in the grocery store or if their friends are in the path of a hurricane, but once the situation has smoothed over they’re chill again. These people are most likely to be in healthy relationships because they’re able to be with their partner, and then leave without freaking out about it. They don’t need constant reassurance about the relationship and are comfortable having their own lives coalescing within that of their partnership.

Avoidant people are a whole other ballpark. They are masters of pushing people away and tend to fear emotional intimacy. It’s easy for them to make acquaintances, but to deepen relationships would require them to open up and be vulnerable, to which they respond with a hearty, “FUCK THAT.”

Which leaves us with the anxiously attached. Anxiously attached people desperately crave emotional fulfillment, yet they end up coming on a little strong. Are you always the first to say “I love you”? Do you fantasize about the rest of your lives together after the third date? Do you ignore red flags from your partner and sacrifice your needs for the sake of the relationship? Have you ever been called “clingy”? You may be anxiously attached.

One of the cruelest facets of this is the anxiously attached’s perpetual attraction to the avoidant. Anxiously attached people are people pleasers and the avoidant can never really be pleased. The avoidant’s distance feels intense and activates the anxious person’s anxiety, which they will often mistake for love. From what you said, dear writer, you seem to keep pursuing avoidant partners who will use your pursuance to embolden their own self-worth. This is comfortable for everyone until you want emotional intimacy, which freaks them out and then they ghost or suddenly end the relationship.

Anxiously and avoidantly attached people are less likely to be in healthy relationships than the securely attached, so in the singles market, it’s more often than not that these two will encounter one another. Their whack dynamic gets repeated over and over again in the dysfunctional attachment do-si-do, which ends up making everyone a little more jaded at the end of the day.

But there’s hope for you yet.

Attachment styles can be modified with a lot of hard work and diligence. It’s helpful to find a therapist you gel with to help you sort out your own emotional triggers and to begin healing from your disappointing romantic encounters. This repeated pattern of pursuit/withdrawal/abandonment has probably left some emotional scars there that need to be dealt with before you can pursue a healthy relationship. It will be doubly important for you to work on your self-esteem.

If you’ve been caught up in the mess with a bunch of avoidant partners, it’s time to start actively working on unlearning that. Boundary setting and assertiveness are important skill sets to cultivate in your life. If your partners are pulling away and neglecting your needs, it’s important to bring that up, and if they can’t meet you where you’re at, then end the relationship. You don’t need to hold onto someone just for the sake of being in a relationship. As Ask Polly advises, don’t settle for water when you really want wine.