It seems unlikely, but experiences from as far back as your early childhood can have a big effect on the way you date and behave in relationships.
It’s called your attachment style and it’s based on the pioneering work of Psychologist Dr. John Bowlby in the late sixties and early seventies on what became referred to as attachment theory.
According to Bowlby, “attachment behavior characterizes human beings from the cradle to the grave.”
The basic idea is this: depending on how much love and affection you received — the dynamic of your relationship between you and your parents, guardians, and/or other constant loved ones — as a young child, you developed a behavior to match that. And that behavior stays with you for the rest of your life. Unless, of course, you do work to change it.
That attachment style can be healthy, with you attracting partners because you truly like and are interested in them, but it can also be unhealthy in several different ways, leading your relationships to become toxic.
So, how can this help you? It can help in a lot of ways if you know your own attachment style. Most notably, knowing your attachment style can help you reduce that toxicity and develop healthier dating and relationship patterns, which will then lead you to attract better partners and make your relationships more successful.
There are four attachment styles: secure, anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant, and fearful-avoidant. Here’s a bit about each and how they can affect the way you date in their own unique ways:
How Secure Attachment style affects the way you date
Secure attachment style is the only one of the four attachment styles that is entirely healthy. Fortunately, it’s the most common (roughly sixty percent of people have a secure attachment style).
Growing up with a loving guardian whom you could always count on is the recipe for developing a secure attachment style. If that was you, then you don’t look for a partner to fill a hole that your childhood created within your heart (need), you rather look for a partner to enhance your life (want). You generally don’t attract toxic partners. You’re more easy to trust and respect your partner and attract partners who do the same.
Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean your relationships will all be perfect, just that you won’t have that added layer of attachment issues to deal with as well, making it easier to find a good partner and develop a strong relationship with another person.
How Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment style affects the way you date
Anxious-preoccupied, along with dismissive-avoidant and fearful-avoidant, are the final three attachment styles. I bunch them together because they’re on the other side of the spectrum in terms of healthy attachment styles. Each is different but they all can lead to harmful relationship patterns.
Anxious-preoccupied attachment types have a lot of insecurity and are most notably defined by their desire to find someone that will make them whole. When an anxious-preoccupied person is dating, it’s partly through this lens that they judge who they pursue or move forward with.
Because of this desperate desire to find their missing piece, anxious-preoccupied people are often very paranoid and untrustworthy, sometimes developing controlling relationship habits to preemptively protect themselves from being hurt over their partner cheating or falling out of love. To begin working through this attachment style, trust must be developed early and kept strong.
How Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment style affects the way you date
Somewhat of a contrast to anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant is the first of two avoidant attachment styles.
Dismissive-avoidant types have a habit of pushing their partners away and becoming distant. They can be very cold and hard to get through to at times and they often don’t even notice they’re doing it.
If you’re dismissive-avoidant, you’ll seek out relationships which lack a deeper level of intimacy because otherwise you just feel uncomfortable and that will trigger your self-protection mechanism. Dates and consequent interactions will often be more shallow and you’ll avoid deep conversation for fear of any sort of significant emotional connection.
It’s difficult to step outside your comfort zone. However, if you’re a dismissive-avoidant, doing just that and seeking to have more of an emotional connection with your dates can help you find someone you have a real connection with as opposed to just a surface-level attraction.
How Fearful-Avoidant Attachment style affects the way you date
Finally, fearful-avoidant attachment style avoids connection for a different reason: they’re afraid. Afraid of what will happen if they become too close with a person or if they grow too distant. This can make them appear very unstable.
It can also make dealing with a fearful-avoidant type extremely frustrating as they often can’t decide what they want. They’re afraid of getting close and being hurt, so they sometimes keep you distant like a dismissive-avoidant type. Other times, they also fear losing someone by becoming too distant, so sometimes they appear more like an anxious-preoccupied type in their desire to attach and control.
If you’re a fearful-avoidant type, you may often get close to someone you’re dating quickly and then suddenly distance yourself from the person for reasons you’re not even aware of. You’re typically operating from a place of fear when getting things going with someone, taking action only when that fear becomes great enough one way or the other.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s important to know that no matter what your attachment style, you can change. Your attachment style is deeply embedded, however, it isn’t written in stone. Start first by working to identify your attachment style. Once you’ve done that, you can start facing it and working to develop a more secure attachment behavior.