Everyone has an attachment style that develops in childhood. As you grow older into adulthood, those attachment styles can impact who you are attracted to and how you seek comfort in your romantic relationships. Certain attachment styles might be harder to connect with and understand. One specific attachment style, “dismissive avoidant,” can be difficult to navigate for a number of reasons. So what might lead someone to be attracted to this particular attachment style in a partner?
Let’s Start with the Basics.
“Attachment” is a word thrown around a lot in counseling and couples therapy, but what do therapists mean when we talk about this? You develop your attachment style based on how your caregivers interacted with you and responded to your needs. Were they attentive? Did you feel comforted? Were they absent or neglectful? Based on how your needs were met, and how reliable your caregivers were, that inevitably shapes how you react to the world around you, and how you get your needs met both in childhood and as an adult.
There are two major categories of attachment: Secure and insecure. Secure attachment is when your caregivers consistently met your needs and you easily felt comforted by them when needed. As an adult, secure attachment is displayed by fostering healthy relationships, the ability to openly express emotions, and can attend to their partner’s needs while also getting their own needs easily met.
When it comes to insecure attachment, there are three specific types: Avoidant, anxious, disorganized. Avoidant attachment style is characterized by being emotionally distant, striving for more independence, and tending to dislike being dependent on others. Those with an anxious attachment style tend to reach out for support much more often, and become anxious when their partner or loved one is not around. Lastly, disorganized attachment style is a mix of wanting attention and wanting distance. There tends to be a lot of chaos and uncertainty with those who have a disorganized attachment.
Attachment in Romantic Relationships
As mentioned earlier, your attachment style in childhood affects how you relate to your romantic relationships as an adult. Just like you reach out to your caregivers for comfort and assistance as a child, you also reach out to your partner in the same way as an adult. You can imagine that two people with secure attachment styles generally do not run into too many problems. Both partners are comfortable with themselves, reaching out for support, and providing support. When you bring an insecure attachment into the mix, it does not mean your relationship is doomed. It simply means there are just extra hurdles you might need to consider.
Dismissive Avoidant Attachment
So why would someone be attracted to a partner with a dismissive avoidant attachment? Remember, individuals with an avoidant attachment tend to be more independent, isolative, and distant (hence the name dismissive avoidant). This could create a difficult situation for forming a romantic bond with someone who has these traits. These individuals were likely neglected by their caregivers, so they learned to find ways to meet their own needs without the help of others.
There are a number of possibilities that could lead any one person to be attracted to an avoidant partner, and the specific reasons can be further explored with a therapist since everyone’s situation is unique:
1. Going with what you know
As Dan Siegel described, you create pathways in your brain as you grow older, therefore you are more likely to follow familiar paths in your life. One possibility for being attracted to an avoidantly attached person is that you are used to that type of person. Hypothetically, you could also identify with someone with an avoidant attachment, and are used to having others around you who are more independent and get your own needs met. You could unconsciously be attracted to someone who maintains your personal “status quo” and matches your beliefs of how relationships should be (similar to how you grew up, for instance).
2. Opposites Attract
Another possibility could be the idea of “opposites attract.” In the case of attachment, having an anxious attachment would be the opposite of someone with an avoidant attachment. Research by Jeffry Simpsons (1990) showed instances of people being in a relationship with someone who has opposite traits and styles. Another hypothesis is that by growing up in a home environment where your family was highly enmeshed (i.e. little boundaries), that could lead to seeking out a partner who has more strict boundaries and desired independence.
3. Attractive qualities
Based on the work of Stan Tatkin, those with an avoidant attachment can be highly intellectual, creative, and tend to process and think internally (rather than stating everything that comes to mind). Also, according to Hal Shorey, those with a dismissive avoidant attachment could “initially come across as warm and charismatic.” These qualities and traits could be highly attractive when seeking out a romantic relationship. In addition, Amir Levine described the situation of an avoidantly attached person giving an anxiously attached person something to “chase” after. For instance, having someone who comes across as aloof or uninterested might give a goal and purpose to someone who has an anxious attachment.
4. Wounds and Self-Fulfilling Prophecies
When thinking about your own attachment style, you may need to do some deep diving into your childhood. Roxy Zabarri made a great point to think about what wounds you are trying to heal when looking at who you are attracted to. When finding that you are frequently attracted to individuals who leave when the relationship gets too intense, or who run when feeling engulfed, it might be good to look inward and see what draws you to those types of individuals? This flows into the idea of: Are you becoming involved in relationships where your fears and your downfalls are reinforced? In which case, are you setting yourself up for failure? Both Dan Siegel and Lisa Firestone describe these types of self-fulling prophecies in their work as well.
Once you have identified your own attachment style, it can provide insight into the types of relationships you seek out in adulthood. Again, if you have an insecure attachment style, that does not mean your relationships are doomed to fail. Attachment styles can shift towards the “secure” side over time with a supportive environment. The aid of a therapist can also provide a space for you to challenge your own thought patterns and childhood traumas in order to create new pathways that make room for a new, secure attachment style to take form.