When Emily was in her psychiatry residency, she decided she also wanted to become a psychoanalyst. Before starting classes at the psychoanalytic institute, she was required to embark on her own analysis for at least a year, going to therapy four times a week, lying on the couch and talking about whatever came to mind. In the beginning Emily was doing very well. In fact, she appeared so put-together that her analyst thought that she would be done with the analysis within two years max—unheard of, considering that analysis usually lasts at least four to five years.
Then she met David, whom she fell for very quickly. David, an aspiring actor, turned out to be bad news. He gave out mixed signals about wanting to be together, and this really unnerved Emily. It changed her behavior until she appeared to have completely destabilized. We used to run together around the reservoir in Central Park, and she would bring both her work pager and cell phone with her (and in those days cell phones were relatively big and heavy!). She would alternate checking first the one and then the other every few minutes just to see if he had called. At work she would spend hours tracking David’s activities on the then-novel internet, creating a false internet persona and chatting him up in the chat rooms he frequented. In short, she became obsessed.
Her analyst could not make sense of this horrible transformation in his most promising candidate. From a resilient, together person, Emily began to change into someone with “masochistic borderline personality traits.” It now seemed that analysis would take many years.
Distractions on the Road to Happiness: The secret to finding a good relationship if you are anxious:
Emily didn’t know that she had an anxious attachment style. She was also unaware that the man she was obsessed with , David, had an avoidant attachment style. If she had known, she would have understood that being anxious means that she thrives on intimate, supportive relationships that are stable and long-lasting, and that uncertainty and emotional unavailability get her activated and preoccupied, or in a word, miserable. She would also have known that certain people—namely, avoidants—intensify her worries and feelings of inadequacy, while others—secures—pacify them. Emily, like most anxious people, paradoxically often ends up dating people with an avoidant attachment style even though findings in attachment theory make a clear case for people with an anxious style going with secures. Why is this so? And most important, how can you find happiness and avoid unnecessary heartache…
A number of studies have looked into the question of whether we are attracted to people based on their attachment style or ours. Two researchers in the field of adult attachment, Paula Pietromonaco, of the University of Massachusetts, and Katherine Carnelley, of the University of Southampton in the UK, found that avoidant individuals actually prefer anxiously attached people. Another study by Jeffry Simpson of the University of Minnesota, showed that anxious women are more likely to date avoidant men. Is it possible then that people who guard their independence with ferocity would seek the partners most likely to impinge on their autonomy? Or that people who seek closeness are attracted to people who want to push them away? And if so, why?
Pietromonaco and Carnelley believe that these attachment styles actually complement one another in a way. Each reaffirms the other’s beliefs about themselves and about relationships. 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.
The Emotional Roller Coaster
But there’s another reason you might be attracted to an avoidant partner if you are anxious…