A couple of weeks ago, in the midst of my four-day, constantly-tearful breakdown of what established initial patterns in my relationships, I read Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find—And Keep—Love by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller. La Bruja had recommended this book weeks ago, and I finally got around to reading it.
When she first recommended it, I did a little quick research online and came to the conclusion that I have an anxious attachment style. "Anxious people are often preoccupied with their relationships and tend to worry about their partner's ability to love them back." I realized I mostly have dated and been in relationships with avoidants. "Avoidant people equate intimacy with a loss of independence and constantly try to minimize closeness."
According to Levine and Heller, people with secure attachments—those who "feel comfortable with intimacy and are usually warm and loving"—make up about 50% of the population. Anxious ones like me make up 20%, while avoidants make up 25%. The remaining 5% of the population is made up of anxious-avoidants, and I can certainly include a couple of my exes in that narrow margin.
But when it comes to dating as an adult, the majority of secure people are in healthy relationships. They're the ones you know who are still happily married after twenty years. They're the ones I look to and wish I'd ever had a relationship like that.
Secure men are generally not on the open market.
There's a disproportionate number of avoidants in the dating pool. This is part of the reason I am far more likely to encounter a Fragile Cat when I'm on the prowl myself.
Anxious people are also more likely to be attracted to avoidants, as if something unconscious in us feels like we've found a missing piece of our puzzle. Avoidants are usually reflective of a powerful, dysfunctional attachment in our earlier life, often from childhood. Initially everything may seem really great, but then something happens and the avoidant backs away, which causes the anxious to move closer to close the gap, which causes the avoidant to back away even further. Both partners are having their fucked-up emotional attachment needs met, but it's a pathological dance of getting close and backing away.
In reading Attached, I was surprised (and thankful!) to learn I wasn't quite as screwed up as I'd thought. Yes, I am anxious, though not nearly so off-the-chain as I could be. (I'm less of an outlier than I normally am.) Levine and Heller argue that there is a biological, evolutionary purpose and need for attachment. Just as happens with parents and children, bonds are formed in the brain when we partner. Synapses and neurotransmitters and a bunch of brain shit that I only understand as a layman come together to imprint that person on our brain as a matter of survival. As inherently social creatures, especially ones who have sexual reproduction, we need other people.
When an avoidant backs away from me, it activates that attachment system, and I've learned mostly unconsciously to do things and work in ways that will get a response from my partner, to deactivate that system. (I'm talking phone calls and texts, not boiling bunnies, though I'd imagine this is exactly where and how stalking begins.) When I don't get the response I need, it amps up my anxiety, so I step closer again and again until I'm either soothed or I get so worked up that love feels like a huge waste of my life.
Because of these patterns established throughout my life, emotional security is something I need in a different way than secure people. That doesn't make it better or worse than anyone else—unless you're the avoidant on the polar opposite side of the need. The avoidant's need for independence, their oft-refused acceptance of needing another person, is a defense mechanism and a way to fulfil their own established patterns.
The avoidants' defensive self-perception that they are strong and independent is confirmed, as is the belief that others want to pull them into more closeness than they are comfortable with. The anxious types find that their perception of wanting more intimacy than their partner can provide is confirmed, as is their anticipation of ultimately being let down by significant others. So, in a way, each style is drawn to reenact a familiar script over and over again.
My secure friends, and certainly my avoidant ones, have a very hard time understanding this. They don't get why I can't always just suck it up and go on and get over someone, even when they've hurt me time and again. But when that attachment system is activated and spinning out of emotional control, contact with that person can immediately soothe all of my anxieties, much in the same way an upset baby is soothed by the presence of its missing mother.
Many individuals find it hard to follow through on their wish to break up, even after they've tried more than once to do it. Anxious people may take a very long time to get over a bad attachment, and they don't get to decide how long it will take. Only when every single cell in their body is completely convinced that there is no chance their partner will change or that they will ever reunite will they be able to deactivate and let go.
One of the things Levine and Heller stress is that emotional dependency is not bad. It is, in fact, a natural part of a healthy relationship to make your partner's needs more important than your own and vice versa. It's okay and normal and good to elevate someone else's needs above your own when you are healthily in love.
But I have this history of addicted men. Alcohol, drugs, sex—I've seen and dated and slept with them all. I've written before about how I am historically and enabler. So what about codependence? Isn't becoming so enmeshed in another person that your boundaries are blurred just dysfunctional? Doesn't dependency on a partner make you lacking or broken or just fucked-up in some way?
Need and addiction are not the same thing. Codependency exists, and it is especially relevant in the realm of addiction. The addict uses their substance as a tool to maintain emotional distance. They drink or get high or sleep with other people as a way to cope with their own damage, and that often means they are actively inserting something between themselves and their partners. There are other biological factors that come into play with addiction, as well. The times I have refused to leave because my partner needed me to take care of them—whether to pick up their drunkenly-abandoned car or make excuses to their boss or friends about why they weren't showing up or to clean up whatever mess they created while they were fucked up—that's where the dysfunction of codependence can actually be applicable.
Just because you need someone, that doesn't mean that you are addicted to them.
One of the things Attached recommends I do is date a lot of people, to go out with several at once. That way if an avoidant sneaks (bombards his way) into my circle, I am reassured by the fact that I have someone else over here who wants to go out with me. It's no big deal that this one fucked up, because there's someone else who finds me attractive and wants to spend time with me. Historically, I am not a multi-dater, but I'll see how it goes.
So I put myself back on the market.
Friday night, I had a date with a new guy. I'll call him S, because I don't want to reveal his name and—as you'll see shortly—he's not worthy of a jellicle name. We met nearby at a billiards bar. We had a couple of slow drinks and talked, though we never got around to actually playing pool. He was cute and smart and funny. We sat on the patio of the bar talking about sociology and music and dating as adults. We walked around for a while, still talking and laughing, and ducked into another bar for a last drink. I even messaged the Castration Committee while I was peeing that it was going really well.
With about thirty minutes left in my night, that first kiss was looming. Okay, you'll get a kiss, and it sounds like there's a chance you'll get another date. I was looking forward to the prospect of seeing him again and getting to know him better.
Cut to the chase, and he turned into a handsy ass. Now, I'm no prude. While I've been mulling imposing a Three Date Rule for sex, I have never been one to live by such social proprieties. That doesn't mean I've slept with everyone I've been out with, and certainly not always on a first date, but I am comfortable going quickly down that path if I feel the situation is conducive to such intimacy. Yes, sometimes, it's just a one-nighter. I had to be home in an hour; this was not going to be one of those nights.
For the first time in a really long time, I felt like a 16-year-old piece of cheap meat. I felt stupid and also insulted that I was being offered a quickie in the backseat of his car, parked down a dark side street. Again, not a scenario I'm unfamiliar with given my history, but I am not that girl anymore. I'm a grown-ass woman. I am worth far more than what this man was clumsily and uncomfortably offering me.
And after writing two weeks ago and talking with my therapist this week, it was like I was watching this from above, from outside my own body. For a moment, it felt like Stephanie was sitting there with Quinn as this recently-nice man imposed himself on us. I could feel myself now, knowing this was just insulting, but I could also feel Quinn sitting silent and petulant, wishing he would just take his rough hands and slobbering mouth off of her.
Something in me clicked and shoved him away quickly. I got out of the car and said I needed to go. I walked back to my car, a block away. I texted Pandy to let her know it had gone awry but that I was okay.
This is where I will also interject that I called Bounder.
In the now-14 months since we met, dated, broke up, dated again, broke up again, slept together, slept together again, dated others, slept together again, et cetera, we have continued to have this weird connection. One of us reached out to the other, usually via text, at just that right moment when the other seems to need us. We still sometimes dream of each other at the same time, as we'll find out a day or two later.
But in all of that time, with all of the men I've gone out with, Bounder always seems to know. He has never failed to text me while I'm with someone new, sometimes at the most inappropriate moments that I don't see until after the fact. He's never failed to reach within than four hours after I've been with a new guy. Whether he smells my perfume on the wind or has a bug in my phone (no, he doesn't), he just knows.
It is unquestionably the dance of an Anxious and Anxious-Avoidant.
I'd even joked on Friday afternoon that I wasn't blowing off this first date with S just to go sleep with Bounder. (It wouldn't have been the first time.)
I hadn't even left my house for the date when his text came.
Totally innocent response to something else from days before. I was leaving for the date when I saw the message. The man is uncanny, really.
And I didn't shut down this thing with S because of Bounder. He really doesn't have the power to cock-block my dates from a distance. I wasn't caught up in the idea of him that night; I was completely engaged with S until it turned weird. (Let me stress here that at no time with S did I feel unsafe or in any type of danger. I was simply very, very uncomfortable.)
My voice shaking and low, I called Bounder to tell him thank you for having never made me feel like I owed him anything. Honestly, I was thankful it was a late-night voicemail and that I didn't have to talk to him directly. For all of his faults, for all of the times I have done this fucked-up pathological dance with the man I love more than any other ever but who is such a heartbreakingly-close-but-terrible fit for me, he never made me feel sexually worthless. In fact, as I was working through some pretty ugly memories and trying to get past some things, he was incredibly, beautifully patient and supportive with me. He failed me in a lot of ways, but he never, ever made me feel anything but beautiful and wanted for exactly who I was, not because I should or might be something else, not because there was an expectation. And that, in and of itself, is its own kind of love.
So I'm still learning how to step differently, how to dance to a different beat. It's not like reading this book would suddenly make me not maladaptive. But it did open my head, giving me some insight and tools to work toward the healthy relationship I likely never would've possessed, had I not started this process of intense self-analysis and re-discovery.
As shaken as I was when I walked away from that uncomfortable moment, I know I am fully engaged in this process. I'm not watching from afar, checking out emotionally to just let things happen to me. Healthy or unhealthy choices are my choices, and they aren't dependent on what Cissie or Quinn might want, though their needs are sometimes still my needs.
I drove us all home and to bed. Alone.
And as La Bruja commented on Facebook as we talked about this date, "The good things that I see from this: 1) material—duh; 2) nothing happened and you're fine; 3) when you meet the right man, and some hot guy starts flirting with you while you're in line at Starbucks, you won't wonder if you missed any fun experiences by not dating more. You'll know you've got a great thing going and that 97% of all the guys who flirt with you would not come close to measuring up."