July 21, 2023

What Having an Avoidant Attachment Style taught me about Dating.

Leeds is perhaps not an obvious yoga destination, but it was there that I took a 50-hour Trauma Training course with Angela Read-Jervis.

While the world watched Charlie having his crown fitted, I sat on the floor in a concrete room near Leeds Dock with 18 other yoga practitioners, learning about the nervous system, Polyvagal Theory, top-down and bottom-up, Gabor Mate and Peter Levine and Bessel Van der Kolk. Chanting, breathing, stretching, and crying.

A few months ago a friend of mine joined an internet dating site. I hate internet dating. But after a few weeks she’s waxing lyrical about this guy and that guy and how much fun it all is. I haven’t had sex since I separated from my ex-husband three years ago. And that is a long time.

So I sign up.

Thing is, the last time I was on the dating scene was over a decade ago. I was 39 then. A single woman at 39 can easily find herself—it turned out—keenly pursued by any number of gorgeous 20-something hotties keen to bag themselves a MILF. A decade ago my single’s game was smoking.

By the time you’re 49, let me tell you, the landscape is different. Unrecognisably so. What the hell happened? On offer is a smorgasbord of individuals hailing apparently from the Palaeolithic era. Old, grey, worn out, fat, pompous, bald. Jesus. Did I accidentally land on the British Museum website? Am I in the Mummy Gallery?

There’s one who looks okay. Literally one. I figure I don’t want to waste my time messaging someone who might turn out to be nothing even resembling his profile, so I suggest straight away that we meet up. In the Park. Battersea.

Sure, he says. Love to.

I’m planning on a quick recce. In and out. No prisoners.

And guess what. Here’s the shocker. He turns out to be okay. Good looking, fun, and solvent. Black T-shirt, Joe 90 glasses. With a BMW motorcycle he takes me for a ride on at the end of our first date. (And no, that is not a metaphor. Get your mind out of the gutter please.)

So commences a liaison.

You know how it is when there’s a spark. All your sh*t collides with all their sh*t. You hardly know yourself and you certainly don’t know them. Suddenly you’re reading everything into anything, desperate to understand what this person is thinking and feeling. Two plus two equals 453,000. One x means this. Two x means that. It’s a whole hot mess.

Joe 90 travels for work. For weeks at a time. During which he is apparently unable to make calls. He messages. He messages every single damn day. But after a while this wears thin and my mind starts doing overtime. Why would someone not call? Married? Avoidant? Worse? Unable to sit in the “don’t know,” my mind makes up stories and then believes them.

When I was a little girl my daddy used to travel for work. A lot. He’d be away for weeks at a time. Where’s daddy? Oh, he’s in Dubai. He’s in Singapore. Australia, Hong Kong, Nigeria, Nicaragua…he’ll be back in a few weeks.

And so I would wait. And wait. And wait for daddy to return. For the sun and the moon and the stars to come home.

And in this way, all my daddy sh*t plays itself out onto this complete stranger. Joe 90.

Luckily, after 20 years of therapy and yoga and meditation and every other hocus-pocus healing modality known to man, I have now reached the heady heights whereby I can begin, just begin, to see my sh*t playing itself out without identifying with it so completely that I am literally drowning in it.

Back in Leeds, in Trauma Training, we’re studying Attachment Theory. Attachment style is most often determined in the first 18 months of life. If your caregivers when you were small were inconsistent in their care giving it’ll probably result in your having an anxious attachment style—meaning needy and with low self-esteem. We all know the type. It might even be you. That’s okay.

On the other hand, if your caregivers or parents were not just inconsistent but mostly altogether unavailable (physically or emotionally) you will likely experience avoidant attachment style. You might find yourself wary of getting too close, prefer to be independent, keep a safe distance. You could say avoidants are also needy and anxious in their hearts, but they’re hiding that behind a cool, aloof exterior. Their nervous system feels safer behind a wall.

The more I’ve learned about attachment style the more obvious it has become which one I am: always the one to back out of relationships, easily feeling overwhelmed and claustrophobic, hyper-independent. That’s me.

So here this guy is messaging and messaging but not manifesting and here my mind is going into a tailspin. Eventually, after three weeks of not seeing him or speaking to him, I decide this isn’t right. This can’t be right. I message him that it’s not working for me. I wish him all the best but just no. After I’ve sent that message I feel much better. I feel safer, calmer. The world has become peaceful again. My mind has settled.

Only the addiction cycle isn’t over. The next day I notice myself thinking, oh, but he was quite nice. Why did I do that? Oh, no! Can I reverse this? It’s a familiar story.

So I message him again. I manage to find some vulnerability deep inside myself and I manage to share it with him. This I would not have been capable of a decade ago. A decade ago it would have been entirely and exclusively his fault. But now I tell him I panicked and I’m sorry and I ask if we can meet up.

Sure, he says.

Eventually he comes back from travelling for work. And we meet up. And it’s all okay again.

My guess is he’s probably avoidant too. He maybe feels easier with me backing away than he would if I was right up in his face with my anxiety the whole time. He maybe feels safer with another avoidant. I know I do.

So let’s see how the story of Joe 90 pans out. In the end it doesn’t really matter. What matters is the journey, not the destination.

Here’s the Trauma Training takeaway: Any behaviour a person presents is them showing you how they learned to survive. In other words, go easy on folks because in the end we’re all doing the same thing. We’re all just trying to survive.


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