There are three main different types of attachment style; Anxious, Avoidant and Secure. Your attachment style is created in childhood, but compounded by adult life experiences. The backbone of attachment theory is that it is beyond our intellectual control: our behaviour is pre-determined by our attachment type.
So, without further ado, here are some checklists based on everything I’ve read about attachment theory. Now, it has to be said, that even though I’m a psychology geek, I’m not a psychologist, so you should probably hop online and do one of the multitude of expert-devised quizzes too, to double check your outcome and read what an actual expert has to say. (I learnt everything I know below from reading Attached by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller).
I’m not even going to bother to try to pull the wool over your eyes by mixing the types up into a multiple-choice questionnaire, because you’re an adult, and you’ll guess which is which anyhow, and it’s a waste of my time and yours. Just answer these completely honestly. Maybe even ask a close friend to read them over to check you’re bang on the money and not being self-delusional.
Give each statement a number, with 0 being ‘not true at all’ 5 being ‘true around half the time’ and 10 being ‘true all of the dang time.’ Once you’ve given each statement a number, add up your numbers in each category.
* You’ve never had a relationship last longer than around a year
* You’re single because you haven’t met the right person yet
* You have a checklist, either mental or physical, of what you want in partner, and you won’t settle for second best
* The finality of commitment scares you
* When people get too close, you tend to move away physically or psychologically
* You experience the urge to leave after having had sex
* Exes have talked about your ‘walls’
* The idea of depending on someone else, financially or emotionally, is scary
* You totally trust very few people, if anyone
* You think that love interests are trying to ‘trap you / trick you’ into marriage, parenthood, or financial entanglement
* When a partner is having a rough time and asks for your support, you feel somewhat turned off by their neediness
* Your independence is your most prized asset
* Your partner never knows everything about you; you keep some cards close to your chest
* In long-term relationships, you often find that once the honeymoon period has worn off, you can’t help but pick out faults in your partner
* Your relationship history consists of a lot of casual sex
* You believe sex with one person inevitably becomes dull and repetitive
* You’re a little relieved when you see your partner eyeing up other people
* You spend most of your time thinking about your love life.
* You secretly believe you’re single because you’re inadequate in some way.
* You have been known to avoid making plans on a Friday/Saturday night, in case the person you’re interested in wants to see you.
* You often worry that the person you’re dating is losing interest.
* You ask a lot of questions about his / her ex, in order to try to place yourself in the pecking order.
* You find it hard to believe that people truly love you, and often quiz them on this point for reassurance.
* You’ll tell your partner about somebody chatting you up, so that they don’t forget that you’re attractive.
* You have been known to triple-call / triple-text when you get no response.
* Exes have described you as ‘intense’, ‘needy’ and/or ‘demanding’
* You fear that you’ll ‘never find someone else’ should a relationship end
* At the start of a relationship, you tend to put on a performance and maintain high levels of physical appearance. You worry that they won’t like the ‘real you’
* When you’re not in a relationship, you feel incomplete or anxious
* When your partner is away travelling, you are horribly paranoid they will meet someone else, and are haunted by imagined scenes of this happening
* You threaten to leave, purely so that they will beg you to stay
* You fantasise that a partner is ‘The One’ after just a date or two
* If your partner is in a bad mood, you assume it’s something you’ve done wrong
* In confrontation, you tend to say terrible, hot-headed things you later regret
* You give affection without fear it won’t be returned
* You’re single because of chance, circumstance and choices you have consciously made.
* Emotional intimacy comes easily to you, and is not dependent on sex
* You don’t worry about being abandoned
* You like depending on others, and having them depend on you
* Your romantic relationships are generally steady and satisfying
* It’s very rare that you raise your voice, make threats, or issue ultimatums during disagreements
* You believe people are inherently faithful and reliable
* You treat your ‘chosen people’ like royalty
* You are comfortable with confiding your innermost thoughts to your partner
* People describe you as ‘mellow’ or ‘low on drama’
* You can disagree with someone without inflamed emotion
* If somebody is in a foul mood, you wonder why, rather than feel paranoid it’s about you
* Break-ups hurt you for a while, but you bounce back fairly quickly
* You stay in touch with exes as friends
* You feel worthy of love and respect
* If your partner goes on a business trip with attractive colleagues, you don’t feel jealous beyond a fleeting pang or two
Take your top scoring category. That’s your attachment style.
According to Attached, around 50 per cent of the general population are Secure (you lucky badgers), around 20 per cent are Anxious (howdy my worrisome friends), 25 per cent are Avoidant (yo to most of my ex-boyfriends), and 3 to 5 per cent fall into a double-winner category (both Anxious and Avoidant, which sounds like a bit of a nightmare, sorry A&A guys).
If you scored highly in two categories, it’s possible you’re moving toward the second-highest attachment style, or moving away from it. For instance, I scored highest in Anxious, but I also scored highly in Secure, which seems to suggest a shift, which we’ll talk more about later. My Avoidant score was 0. I date them, but I don’t relate to them. I identify more strongly with serial killers than I do Avoidants.
You can read more about your attachment style here. Or in the aforementioned book, which is what I really recommend doing.
Finding out I’m not a freak
Finding out I am an Anxious Attacher and reading about it has been nothing short of an epiphany. I just thought I was bananas, but here it was, all written down, all my ‘abnormal’ behaviours, reeled out as normal, humdrum and pedestrian behaviours for this attachment style.
It explained why I used to quiz my boyfriends as to whether they really loved me, and why they loved me, and were they sure they loved me, and whether they loved me more than their exes. It explained my talent of doomscaping ice palaces of thunder out of the teeniest tiniest snowflakes. It explained my irresistible urge to tell my boyfriend, must tell boyfriend when somebody had asked me out, or approached me in the street.
It explained why, when I said to friends, wide-eyed with earnestness, ‘I know he’s [insert reason man is inappropriate, inadvisable or unavailable] but I really like him, and I hardly ever like anyone!’ they would roll their eyes ever-so-slightly and say, ‘Cath, sweetheart, you’ve said that to me three times in the past year about three different guys.’ It explains why, even though I am shooting for commitment, my loins manage to find the most commitment-incapable man in any room. Which has always been a head-scratching conundrum to me.
It made sense of my former snooping, my high sexual appetite, and my fear of letting go of relationships that were no longer serving me, or him. It’s why I would dangle the threat of a break-up over his head, like a gullotine, when actually I was just looking for reassurance and a lingering hug.
I thought these were personal flaws, eyesores, like a deep scratch in a mahogany table, but it turns out they’re just common-or-garden normal for this attachment style. Which is really blooming reassuring.
In fact, this now throws fresh light on repetitive and non-satisfying love-life conversations I have had with my mate Charlotte, who I’ve now realised is a total Avoidant. She be like, ‘I don’t know why you get attached so quickly, or idealise them’ and I be like, ‘I don’t understand how you don’t get attached, and how you don’t put them on a pedestal.’ We would then stare at each other quizzically like we’re a different species.
And we are a different species, attachment wise. Our clash now makes sense. We don’t get each other, because we speak different languages. We’re cut from different attachment style cloths. We’re polar opposites We non comprendes. We never will, in fact. We’ve now given up talking about our love lives, since we can’t compute each other’s POV.
The irony is, if Avoidant Charlotte were an attractive man, I’d probably try to date her. Given we just don’t get each other’s romantic languages, this only serves to illustrate the dunderheaded foolishness of the Anxious-Avoidant pairing. I want to hop into a time machine and visit myself throughout my twenties, disguised as a wise old woman, in a hood to hand myself Attached and say, ‘Read this, sweetpea.’
Attachment style & films
SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen 500 days of Summer, don’t read on.
Once you see things through the lens of attachment theory, it changes everything. It takes away the sting of things being personal. Take the film, 500 Days of Summer, which sees Tom (Joseph Gordon Levitt) think that Summer (Zooey Deschanel) is ‘The One’ after a couple of brief exchanges and a moment where they discover they both love The Smiths. He pines and plays it cool. Summer maintains that she doesn’t believe love is real, eventually kisses him over some photocopying, and then abruptly leaves the room. Summer ‘Mirandizes’ Tom when they’re bouncing around in an Ikea bed pretending to be a married couple, telling him that she doesn’t want anything serious.
What’s ‘Mirandizing’? Allow me to explain. Put it this way, the last serious relationship I had was with a guy who with, from the get go, said he was not ready to get into a serious relationship, he had cheated on every other long term partner, and that he didn’t want to get married again, ever. Red flag, red flag, dealbreaker. But I went there anyway. It was the most blatant example yet of my deliberately stuffing myself into the cannon, and then being surprised when I’m jettisoned out of it. Oh, really, gosh, what a surprise. Believe people when they show you who they are. And every time I’ve gotten in deep with an emotionally unavailable man, there have been warning signs way before the cannon blast. The fact I’m in a cannon, for a start. But I choose to ignore it and say I’m comfy here and I like it, and I’m ok with being in a cannon.
Summer and Tom sleep together for a while and ultimately, Summer gets cold feet and calls it off. Tom then hankers for Summer for months and months. Basically, this is a classic ‘Anxious Boy meets Avoidant Girl’ love story.
Knowing it’s a case of attachment type clash, rather than a personal slight, is comforting, non? So Tom and Summer were highly unlikely to work, given their Avoidant / Anxious dynamic, but the implication at the end is that both of them go on to have happy relationships, probably with Secures. Ultimately, Anxious and Avoidant are a pairing that just won’t work well, like oil and water, or even fire and petrol. They just never quite merge, or they boom! Whoosh up into flames of discontent.
However, there is some terrific news. You can consciously change your attachment style, once you’re aware of it and know the lay of the land. Obviously, Attached is like a road map for how to do that, and I am not even going to attempt to distill all the great advice to be had there.
A quarter of people do manage to change their attachment style over a four-year period. A study cited in the book has shown that parenthood can cause a shift in attachment style, in many cases. And interestingly enough, whenever I did the test in the book from the stance of ‘the Cath of 2012’ she came up as much higher in the Anxious scale, and practically non-existent on the Secure scale.
So, I have been shifting my style from Anxious to Secure, without even knowing it, with all the things I’ve been doing, like not dating for a year, not stalking people online after we’ve split, or calling time on things with Avoidants that are clearly a cul-de-sac rather than driving around and around inside said dead end, trying to get to a destination that is unavailable.
On the flipside
So, I thunderously recommend you read Attached. However, I did actively disagree with some points made. They make the case that co-dependency is a good thing, and strongly suggest that the ‘secure base’ of another is required in order to lead a daring, adventurous, satisfied life. Which is utter poppycock.
They also cite a quote from Into the Wild about happiness only being real when shared, which made me weep slightly on a beach in Barcelona. ‘Is my happy day not real because I didn’t share it with anyone?! Wahhhh.’ And then I realised that I had indeed had a daring, adventurous, satisfied day of whizzing around a fountain flanked with dragons, crunching my way through some crispy grilled sardines, and accidentally finding myself on the dog / nudist / gay-cruising beach, and deciding I really liked it, given it was so tranquil and bordered by a satisfying juxtaposition of palm trees and futuristically large industrial chimneys. So. I call bullshit on happiness only being real when shared, authors of Attached.
But other than that, finding out about attachment styles was a true game-changer for me.