3 Dating Tips That’ll Turn Your Anxious Attachment Style Into a Romantic Superpower

Photo: Getty Images/Thomas Barwick
The day after I started reading Attached—a deep-dive analysis into how people with different attachment styles approach relationships—my Co-Star app served me an on-the-nose horoscope: I would start reading a book that would ultimately change my life. And while Co-Star's predictions for me aren't always true, this one certainly hit home. That's because as soon as I finished the first few pages, I felt inspired to learn more about how my anxious attachment style might strengthen rather than compromise my dating life.

As a refresher on attachment styles, they come from adult attachment theory, which breaks down how we relate to others into three types of attachment: secure, anxious, and avoidant. (Avoidant includes two subcategories: fearful-avoidant and dismissive-avoidant.) I fall into the anxious category, which basically means I benefit from regular reassurance that my various relationships are in a healthy state. Unfortunately for my romantic pursuits, though, anxiously attached people tend to gravitate toward avoidant attachers, and avoidant attachers often to have trouble establishing intimacy. So, the resulting situation often has an oil-and-water effect of not blending into any state of cohesion.

Experts In This Article
  • Tammy Nelson, PhD, licensed sex and relationship therapist and director of the Integrative Sex Therapy Institute

Because of this impasse, some schools of thought would suggest I work to change my attachment style to be more secure in the interest of leveling up my romantic prospects. But, that's not the route that I most want to take because the sheer awareness that I'm anxiously attached has helped me to improve my relationships with other people and with myself.

Because of this, I contend that—without needing to change any part of your emotional fabric—having knowledge of your attachment style can help you be more self-aware and identify certain potential partners who simply aren't a great match for you. So below, find three anxious attachment style dating tips that allow you to lean into your personality rather than avoid it and improve your romantic connections in the process.

3 anxious attachment style dating tips that don't require you to change who you are.

1. Accept the realities of your attachment style

This tidbit essentially roots back to accepting yourself for who you are. In my case, it means allowing myself to express what I need in order to feel comfortable and emotionally safe, and also being opening to how others may perceive that. "It’s probably a good idea to understand that having an anxious attachment style means that you might be called needy by someone who is avoidant," says sex and relationship therapist Tammy Nelson, PhD, author of When You're the One Who Cheats. "And sometimes you might act that way. You might push to be attached too soon or feel rejected if someone doesn’t call you or want to commit."

"Avoid people who don’t call you back and who might say things like 'I just don’t believe in monogamy' or 'I avoid long-term relationships.' That doesn't make you needy, it makes them afraid of intimacy." —Tammy Nelson, PhD

Furthermore, being aware of your attachment style can help you avoid common pain points that may arise, no matter how tempting they may be. For anxious attachers, that may look like resisting people who are unavailable and avoidant, who are likely to trigger your anxieties. That's why Dr. Nelson says to steer clear of "people who don’t call you back and who might say things like 'I just don’t believe in monogamy' or 'I avoid long-term relationships.' Why put yourself through the stress? That doesn't make you needy, it makes them afraid of intimacy," she says.

2. Avoid clichéd dating advice

"Don’t listen to advice that tells you to wait three days to text back, or that it's okay if they don’t want to take you to dinner after you have sex," Dr. Nelson says. "You need to find people to date who accept you for who you are—people with whom you feel comfortable being yourself. Don’t set yourself up to feel bad about having real needs."

3. Accept the realities of your partner's attachment style

If you do choose to date someone who has an avoidant attachment style, you may desire more intimacy, and your partner may desire more space. And that dynamic can work, so long as you're both aware of it. "This distancer-pursuer relationship is fine if you understand it. Don't let it ruin your lives," Dr. Nelson says.

Regardless of your attachment style, Nelson says that we all feel insecure at times in our relationships—yes, even you, securely attached folks—but we're all also capable of intimacy. "It’s okay to want reassurance and it's okay to want space. It's also okay to feel anxious and to want to distance yourself at times," Dr. Nelson says.

Originally published February 14, 2020; updated November 3, 2020.

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