Securely attached love and trust quite easily and second naturedly.
Anxious attached strive for intimacy with others but are rife with fears, anxieties and disappointments which tragically can make such worries a reality through misplaced, and counter-intuitive, passive-aggressive behaviour.
Avoidant attached tend to avoid closeness because they feel too vulnerable. It is far breezier to be alone and emotionally withdrawn than to risk heartbreak, or to merely evade the risks of the new.
Securely attached are generous in their interpretation of their beloved’s behaviour. If they fail to pick up a good joke, appreciate a new top, or even tell you promptly they are in ill-health; then it’s not their fault. After all, the joke to them may not have been funny or they were in a melancholy mood. The top may have been the last in a tangle of thoughts, enough of which features you, without reference to a new garment (they may notice later anyway). And ill-health concerns their own body, perhaps they didn’t tell promptly because they were processing it themselves or didn’t want to come across as weak or a burden – we ought to recognise how metaphors of ‘transaction’ and ‘perfectibility’ are liable to seep from neat work into far messier love. It’s not that they don’t care about your day, but that they are overwhelmed by their own. If they strike out, it’s because they are in pain or afraid not because they are a sadist.
Anxious attached view the world through a lens of past bad experiences, likely of losing or being lost. These are ones likely to be clingy, even a little bit annoying. If you are anxious avoidant you may call too much, to reconfirm your partner loves you. You may ‘surprise’ your beloved at work or with visits even if they have made other plans because you don’t want them to slip away; if you are always together you can make sure your beloved never drifts away or cheats or betrays. Simple oversights and generously toned comments, to the anxious attached, are alarm bells of abandonment. Your beloved smiling and joking with the waiting staff reads as impending doom. Their failure to decipher how indignant you feel about watching their shows only, feels like a calculated—and silent—insult aimed at who you are. You want to change for them, become ‘better’ for them because prior love seems now like a training program of failed expectations; that they love you for the whole rather than rare minuses of you seems all too implausible. (It’s a credit to your affection that you don’t counter your doubts with the ‘faults’ of your partner.)
For the anxious-avoidant, their first instinct when feelings emerge is to avoid them and their source. Where most relationships are about sharing vulnerabilities and mutual support, not so for the anxious-avoidant. Sharing will feel dangerous, and even scary. Rather than admit you want – or butterfly ache ‘need’ – them, you hesitate about speaking to them at all. If there is a relationship issue, it never gets talked about. If you are jealous they spend so much time with Terri, they won’t know. You don’t comprehend why they need a cuddle without a reason, or a conversation without an agenda. If they hurt you, then they are a nasty person who you never liked anyway; you are strong and independent and need no one. Such ‘emotionally unavailable’ people are (mis)protecting themselves out of fear.
The psychology lesson of these types is that rather than our partner outright trying to upset or hurt us, overwhelm us with affection, or avoid us—it all has roots in rough childhoods and tricky adolescence. And in the diversity of different neurotypes, different brains.
Freud rings true with the influence of parents. Your life is more than about your parents and upbringing, but not much more. Parents, our first loves, in a possible series mess us up in countless ways. But so were they in turn. As the Philip Larkin poem runs:
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.
We can remedy austere affection as best as we can. And without the morbid – quite anxious avoidant – sensibility of not bothering with human intimacies, or by outright and pessimistically rejecting a source of meaning – raising new humans.
There is some progress: the ‘affection will spoil a child’ hypothesis has been disproven. John Bowlby, the creator of attachment theory, said maternal care is as vital to wellbeing as vitamin D is to bone development. The role of fathers showering affection on children and playing and caring for them, clearing up in equal-gendered house husbandry, and so forth ought to give new generations a wiser template for healthy (as they can be) relationships.
In truth, no one is wholly securely attached, avoidant or anxious attached. Each person varies in a mosaic of actions and feelings. The gift of knowledge of such a mosaic allows us to alter our behaviour, albeit a little from baseline, to prosper in relationships; and to be generous, understanding and kind, to others and their histories.