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  • Writer's pictureElise Braunschweiger

Dating When You’re Avoidant

Do you often feel smothered or trapped while in a relationship? If so, this article is for you.

People who lean avoidant in their attachment style can sometimes get a bad rep in the dating world. While those who are anxiously attached seek closeness with their partners in order to feel secure (sometimes coming off as ‘clingy’ or ‘needy’), avoidants protect themselves from vulnerability by convincing themselves that their partners are too demanding and incompatible with their need for independence or space. 

This often results in a “stuff and blow” scenario, where the avoidant experiences a series of smaller triggers before something catalyzes them to engage in “deactivating strategies, or mental processes by which they highlight partner flaws and idealize singledom. If left unchecked, deactivation will often lead to separation. Usually, and most frustratingly for everyone involved, avoidants do not recognize deactivation as being related to their attachment style but instead write it off as a quality of the relationship and therefore the best decision (i.e. “She was too needy, I should just focus on work right now.”). 

While it is certainly the case that sometimes, the person we were dating simply wasn’t a compatible fit, if it begins to emerge as a pattern it might be worth examining whether or not you’ve been using deactivating strategies as a protective mechanism to keep yourself from developing intimacy. If the answer to that question is yes, it’s worth investigating if that’s been an adaptive strategy for you. Has it led to better outcomes? 

People who have an avoidant attachment style will push their partners away as a means of keeping themselves emotionally detached and invulnerable due to fear of relationship failure (and therefore emotional pain).

They worry that if they continue to grow intimacy with their partner, they will be unable to consistently meet their partner’s needs or have their own needs met. Often, the avoidant has experienced previous dynamics (with family or partners) where their emotional needs were minimized or dismissed entirely, and therefore they struggle to directly communicate their needs with the trust that they’ll be respected and met. Avoidants therefore become self-reliant as a means of maintaining as much control over their own wellbeing as possible. 

But connection requires us to be vulnerable.

As Brene Brown, a world-renowned expert on vulnerability, says, “Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.

So if you’re avoidant, what would I recommend? First, I want to say that avoidant people can be in happy, committed, long-term relationships. But if you feel perfectly happy alone and don’t yearn for romantic partnership, that’s totally ok too. Many people who could technically be defined as avoidant could also be defined as happily single and there’s nothing wrong with that. 

Secondly, I’d suggest bringing awareness to your internal experience and the way you narrate your relationships, and see if you believe your determinations are objectively true. Are you taking a biased stance, ruminating on flaws and ignoring the green flags you’re seeing? An example could be, a new romantic partner asks to see you for a third night in a row this week. To you, it feels overwhelming for how early you are in the relationship and you read their behavior as ‘clingy’ (a red flag for you and something you’re sensitive to). But there are many people who are capable of both desiring your company and understanding your need for alone time. 

So my last piece of advice is, be communicative about your needs so that your partner understands where you’re coming from and shares your expectations.

If the kind of relationship you’re seeking requires a certain level of independence, that’s okay, but it’s on you to be upfront about it. 

I’ll leave you with this final quote from Dr. Brown, which I think sums up why vulnerability is worth it, even when it’s hard - 

“This is what I have found: to let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen; to love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee — and that’s really hard… to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, when we’re wondering, “Can I love you this much? Can I believe in this this passionately? Can I be this fierce about this?” just to be able to stop and, instead of catastrophizing what might happen, to say, “I’m just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive.”

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