What's your attachment style? How the language of dating — and screening — has changed (2023)

'Do the work,' psychologically, advises pretty much every dating listicle, and people are talking about red flags, codependency and Myers-Briggs personality types

Author of the article:

Tyler Dawson

Publishing date:

Oct 08, 20221week ago10 minute read Join the conversation

What's your attachment style? How the language of dating — and screening — has changed (1)

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Are you holding a fish in your Tinder picture? What’s your five-year plan? Do you want kids? Where do you want to live? Do you know your attachment style?

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The early screening in dating can be just that — screening. Nowadays, it’s most likely a left swipe of rejection on the fish photo; but the others can end up being real questions on first dates, as potential partners scan the person across from them, over a coffee or a pint of craft beer, for compatibility.

It’s not that this process is particularly new. It’s just that now we know an awful lot more about human relationships and communication.And the language, the way we understand dating and relationships has shifted. No longer are the tactics of pickup artists or the drunken antics of Tucker Max an inspiration, at least for many people.

Rather, the language of therapists’ offices and self-help books have made it tofirst app matches,first dates and first hookups, alongside the broader societal conversations about consent and sexism.

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“Do the work,” psychologically, on yourself, advises pretty much every listicle, advice piece or reply on reddit forums about recovering from breakups or re-entering the dating world. Ask a millennial in your life, and there’s a good chance, they’ll tell you people are talking about red flags, toxic relationships, codependency, attachment styles and so on. Or, at least, they’ve heard about it.

“Things like being emotionally healthy and emotionally stable have always been attractive to people of all genders. So, like, I think there’s an extent to which that being an attractive feature in people is not new,” says Geoff MacDonald, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto. “I don’t know if it’s that those things are valued more now or if it’s, like, people are figuring out that those are valuable both in terms of, like, being an attractive partner and just being a healthy person in general.”

(Video) What Is Your Attachment Style?

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Sometimes, these terms show up in bios on dating apps. People may list their Myers-Briggs personality type, for example, saying they’re an ENTJ. When it comes to discussing exclusivity, or what went wrong with their ex, some people might mention their attachment style, which is a theory about how people attach to one another. A person can be secure, meaning they feel confident and trusting in their partnership, anxious, meaning they’re more insecure, clingy and fear abandonment, or avoidant, someone who pushes away intimacy and closeness — or some combination of anxious and avoidant.

If you search through internet forums on dating and breakups, other terms come up, too, such as codependency, the idea that someone has an unhealthy dependence on their partner, and tends to put their partner’s needs or wants before their own.

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And that doesn’t even account for the other factors at play, like red flags people see (and, often, ignore) but are part of the mental screening of everything from dietary preferences, to the way someone talks about their ex-girlfriend or their parents, or the logistical issues posed by future plans and goals, or a lack thereof.

All of this — the dating advice, the self-help by meme, the way we’re thinking about dating — adds up to something akin to a “mental checklist,” says Camila Espana, a registered social worker and therapist with Everwell Health in Hamilton, Ont., that people are bringing along on dates.

“Something I often tell my clients when I work with them individually is ‘Are you looking for a connection or are you looking for someone to fit that mould that you have?’” Espana says.

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People are in talking phases with multiple people at once

Camila Espana

The dating world, as with so many other facets of life, has been influenced by the broader social media-fication of everything we do, via apps like Tinder, Bumble, Hinge and Grindr. And these apps have brought hundreds or thousands of potential partners to your phone while you’re on the couch, toilet or bus.

Confusingly for many, Espana says, this is not the sort of struggle we can seek advice for from our parents, who met their partner at a club or vacation or church group and just assumed that kids come after marriage.

The game has changed and so, too, have our expectations and understanding of what’s happening when we go on a date or meet or match with someone we see as a romantic prospect. Take what Espana calls the “talking” phase, which is, quite simply, when two people have matched on a dating app or exchanged numbers, and have expressed interest and are getting to know one another, but haven’t yet committed to an exclusive relationship.

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“People are in talking phases with multiple people at once,” says Espana.

In that phase — and as a potential partnership moves further along — there’s the issue of building a closer connection in a world where there are so many other fish in the sea, when those mental checklists are getting in the way (or helping, at times) and many people are simply emotionally unavailable or don’t know what they want.

(Video) What are the 5 Love Languages? How Your Attachment Style Communicates in a Relationship

“People think that after a date or two dates, there’s connection. No, that’s not connection. That’s chemistry. Connection takes time to build,” says Espana.

A recent Psychology Today article argues that women are sick and tired of dating men who areemotionally unavailable and hung up on their exes. Men who don’t know what they want in life and are generally the sort of people who still look at dating like Barney Stinson from the sitcom How I Met Your Mother.

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For men, writesGreg Matos, the Los Angeles couples and family psychologist who authored the piece, there’s a “relationship skills gapthat, if not addressed, will likely lead to fewer dating opportunities, less patience for poor communication skills, and longer periods of being single.”

And women are “increasingly selective” when it comes to finding mates, writesMatos.“They prefer men who are emotionally available, good communicators, and share similar values.”

“The problem for men is that emotional connection is the lifeblood of healthy, long-term love. Emotional connection requires all the skills that families are still not consistently teaching their young boys,” Matos writes.

But has anything really changed? It’s a bit tricky to say what has changed over the past 20 years and whether men — and women — have substantially upped their communication or mental-health game in those years, too, says Jeffrey Hall, a professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas.

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What's your attachment style? How the language of dating — and screening — has changed (2)

It’s “absolutely possible” men have become more emotionally sophisticated over the past couple decades, but, Hall says, it’s also possible women have, too, and so men perhaps haven’t lessened the skills gap between genders.

“I don’t think that the literature, longitudinal evidence over time, really tells us whether those differences between men and women have changed over time in dramatic ways, or whether or not they’re stable,” Hall says.

Beyond the way people are dealing with these shifts in dating on the ground, or around a coffee table or at a bar rail, there’s definitely a public conversation and research, MacDonald says, about attachment style and communication, and it’s all happening in “a way that I’ve taken to be quite healthy.”

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Obviously, people scoping out potential partners want someone who’s emotionally intelligent, they want someone who’s doing “the work,” and if they can’t find it, well, they may just embrace being alone, rather than wading through the bog of crummy dating partners.

Women don’t actually need relationships anymore, Hall says, at least not in the way they did when our grandparents were getting hitched. This cuts across demographics, too, in cases of people of colour and those from less privileged socioeconomic backgrounds.

“Those things create imbalances that, I think, still are very unfamiliar in cultures where men are supposed to be the breadwinner or are supposed to be the person who is more educated or has a more high-powered job,” says Hall.

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(Video) The Four Attachment Styles of Love

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Statistics Canada data show nearly 57 per cent of post-secondary graduates in Canada are women, compared to just shy of 44 per cent who are men. This has led to shifting intra-relationship dynamics and more — in 1967, women were the primary breadwinner in 11 per cent of Canadian households; by 2003, that proportion was 29 per cent, Statistics Canada says.

It’s a “buyer’s market,” for women, says Espana, and with a multitude of options and modern independence, they can afford to be picky about tracking down a partner who checks other boxes.

Even so — who knows if being picky will lead to picking correctly.

“You’re going to have … good moments where you’re vibing and you’re going to go through episodes of ebbs. So, no, just because you’re being more picky doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily going to select the best partner,” says Espana.

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What's your attachment style? How the language of dating — and screening — has changed (3)

More people are single right now than ever before. In 2021, according to Statistics Canada, there were 15 million single Canadians, compared to 14.5 million who are married and another 3.8 million living in a common-law partnership.

Of those who are single, eight million are men. Seven million are women. This ought to be the sort of information that makes a single person optimistic — there are a lot of fish out in that sea.

But that isn’t always the case.

Espana deals almost exclusively with men and couples and she sees a lot of “dating fatigue” for men.

“What’s happening is that there’s this sort of false notion that, ‘Hey, if I joined a dating app, that I’m just going to be paired with so many women,’” says Espana. “And though that’s true, what happens is that you’re also having access to consistent rejection.”

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This landscape of potential partners can have something of a grass-is-greener effect —for both men and women. When it comes to some of the issues Matos raises in Psychology Today, there’s the widespread presumption that women are better communicators than men and more emotionally intelligent, which in turn puts men at a disadvantage in the dating game.

There’s someevidence that there’s some truth to this.

“There is something called alexithymia that men are more likely to have and that sort of limited vocabulary in expressing feelings,” says Espana.

But verbal communication isn’t everything; just because a man can say he’s sad but not pick out that he’s feeling despair doesn’t mean he isn’t communicating — even if it feels like it.

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“A gentleman withdrawing or getting quiet or a deep sigh or just even his body language, that is a form of communication,” says Espana.

No woman — or man, for that matter — wants to date someone who can’t communicate or express their feelings. But some men, especially men of a certain age, may come to this battlefield slightly less well-equipped than women, having been raised to be stoic, with admonitions like “sticks and stones” and “boys don’t cry” coming from parents and coaches and teachers.

What's your attachment style? How the language of dating — and screening — has changed (4)

Perhaps none of this would matter if it weren’t for the fact that some people are really quite unhappy about being single.Data from Statistics Canada in September 2021 show that 21.4 per cent of people not in a relationship reported “often or always” feeling lonely; 19.8 per cent of men felt this way, and 22.7 per cent of women.

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Hall, from the University of Kansas, pointed to substance use in general, and the opioid crisis in particular, as one potential consequence of this loneliness. This loneliness isn’t just for those entering middle age who don’t have — or have lost — partners. Major transitions through one’s 20s, such as moving away, getting a career, or finding a partner, can isolate one from their support networks, leading to loneliness.

“There has been an enormous wave of studies that have demonstrated that longitudinal evidence points to just how devastating long-term loneliness can be,” says Hall.

Additionally, and rather unhappily for those of us who are single, the research is crystal clear that unmarried people don’t live as long as their married colleagues. One such study, published in 2020, found that married men in the U.S. lived 2.2 years longer than unmarried men, and married women live 1.5 years longer than unmarried women.

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And there’s the happiness factor, too. There are a pile of factors that go into whether people are happy single, such as whether they have a satisfying sex life, strong friendships and a purposeful life. Moreover, there’s plenty of research that suggests women get sick of their marriages faster than men — in the United States, women initiate divorce in nearly 70 per cent of cases. Indeed, research also suggests that women recover from the grief of a relationship loss, and other major life events, faster than men do.

“It is very clear from the literature that the average person who’s in a romantic relationship is higher in well-being than the average person who’s single,” says MacDonald. “But for my money, the more definitive data shows that that’s because people who are happier are more likely to end up in a relationship.”

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Still, men and women don’t necessarily need a partner to be happy. It’s why there are men and women who are now single by choice, perhaps not dating at all. It’s not altogether uncommon to see, in a dating app profile, a woman saying some variety of, “I’ve already got one kid — I don’t need another.”

Moreover, you reallyshouldn’t go hunting for a relationship to make yourself happy.

“If people are reading (the Psychology Today piece), and are kind of taking from it like, ‘Oh, well, I guess this means that men not getting into relationships is going to harm their well-being,’ it’s not entirely clear to me that that’s the case,” says MacDonald. “I don’t think that your front-line strategy for being happy should be to get into a relationship, it should be to take care of yourself first.”

• Email: tdawson@postmedia.com | Twitter: tylerrdawson

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FAQs

What is attachment style in dating? ›

An attachment style is a specific pattern of behavior in and around relationships. There are four adult attachment styles: secure attachment, anxious attachment, avoidant attachment, and fearful-avoidant (aka disorganized) attachment.

How does your attachment style impact your relationships? ›

People with anxious attachment styles tend to be insecure about their relationships, fear abandonment, and often seek validation. Those with avoidant styles have a prevailing need to feel loved but are largely emotionally unavailable in their relationships.

What are the 4 types of attachment styles? ›

Bowlby identified four types of attachment styles: secure, anxious-ambivalent, disorganised and avoidant.

What is attachment style example? ›

The four child/adult attachment styles are:
  • Secure – autonomous;
  • Avoidant – dismissing;
  • Anxious – preoccupied; and.
  • Disorganized – unresolved.
25 May 2017

How do I know my date attachment style? ›

The structure of early conversations.

Listen closely, and you can often pick up signals that point to whether your date is secure (mostly trusting of others and comfortable with intimacy), avoidant (pulls away from relationships in favor of independence), or anxious (craves intimacy and requires constant reassurance).

What is the best attachment style? ›

Secure. Secure attachment is known as the healthiest of all attachment styles.

Which attachment styles work best together? ›

1. Secure Attachments. A securely attached partner with a securely attached partner is the best combination because they experienced secure attachment in childhood. The experience of secure attachment supports the experience of having each other's back and caring for each other.

Why is it important to know your attachment style? ›

Understanding your style of attachment is helpful because it offers you insight into how you felt and developed in your childhood. It also clarifies ways that you are emotionally limited as an adult and what you need to change to improve your close relationships and your relationship with your own children.

What are the 5 different attachment styles? ›

The best we can do as adults is make an effort to understand our own stories and use that information to grow as partners and friends.
  • Secure. What it looks like: A lucky 60 percent of us have a secure attachment style. ...
  • Anxious-preoccupied. ...
  • Dismissive-avoidant. ...
  • Fearful-avoidant. ...
  • Disorganized.
13 Mar 2020

Can you have different attachment styles in different relationships? ›

Yes, it's possible to have more than one attachment style. Attachment styles often shift depending on the relationship. For example, you might be secure in a friendship but preoccupied with a romantic partner. “Most people are going to lie somewhere on the continuum of different styles,” says Shorey.

Can two Avoidants be in a relationship? ›

For example, two avoidants in a relationship may operate quite harmoniously as they both respect the other's need for space and discomfort with expressing emotions. However, someone with an anxious attachment style in relationships may struggle to understand an avoidant partner's actions and push for closeness.

How does anxious attachment style affect relationships? ›

Anxious attachment types are often nervous and stressed about their relationships. They need constant reassurance and affection from their partner. They have trouble being alone or single. They'll often succumb to unhealthy or abusive relationships.

How do you build a secure attachment in a relationship? ›

How to develop a secure attachment style as an adult
  1. Actively working on your relationship with yourself.
  2. Purging toxic or counterproductive relationships.
  3. Building your self-esteem.
  4. Healthily expressing your emotions.
  5. Lean on the support of friends and family.
  6. Work on healing from past negative experiences in therapy.
14 Feb 2022

How do you date if you have avoidant attachment style? ›

Seek a partner with a secure attachment style. Practice identifying your feelings and needs and communicating them directly with everyone you're close to. Notice when you're distancing yourself, and try to stay in connection even when it feels uncomfortable. Practice asking for help and support from everyone.

What is the rarest attachment style? ›

Fearful-avoidant attachment is a pattern of behavior in relationships that is marked by both high anxiety and high avoidance, wherein a person both craves connection but also fears getting too close to anyone. Also known as disorganized attachment, it's the rarest of the four attachment styles.

What is the least common attachment style? ›

Fearful-avoidant

This is the least common type of attachment style, but it can also be the most difficult. Again, while there are many factors that contribute to the development of attachment styles, early childhood influences are often key.

What is it like dating anxious attachment? ›

People with the anxious attachment style often internalize what they perceive to be a lack of affection and intimacy as not being “worthy of love,” and they intensely fear rejection as a result. In an attempt to avoid abandonment, an anxious attacher may become clingy, hypervigilant, and jealous in a relationship.

What do you say to someone with attachment issues? ›

The best thing you can do to support a partner with attachment disorder is to be there for them emotionally, even if you don't always understand what they're going through. Encourage them to express themselves freely, ask questions when you don't understand something they say, and validate their emotions.

How do you tell your partner you have an anxious attachment style? ›

How to talk to your partner about your relationship anxiety…
  1. Own your attachment style and work to accommodate it to create safety for yourself.
  2. Tell them if you want them to tell you they love you more often.
  3. Be direct: make sure they understand what you need instead of assuming they know.
13 Jul 2021

Which attachment styles work best together? ›

1. Secure Attachments. A securely attached partner with a securely attached partner is the best combination because they experienced secure attachment in childhood. The experience of secure attachment supports the experience of having each other's back and caring for each other.

What are the 5 attachment styles? ›

The best we can do as adults is make an effort to understand our own stories and use that information to grow as partners and friends.
  • Secure. What it looks like: A lucky 60 percent of us have a secure attachment style. ...
  • Anxious-preoccupied. ...
  • Dismissive-avoidant. ...
  • Fearful-avoidant. ...
  • Disorganized.
13 Mar 2020

What is the best attachment style? ›

Secure. Secure attachment is known as the healthiest of all attachment styles.

What is it like dating an avoidant? ›

Thus, avoidant attachers' are typically triggered by intimacy – they're uncomfortable with being dependent on others because it exposes them to the risk of rejection. For this reason, if you're dating an avoidant, you might find that they pull away from your attempts at emotional closeness.

How do you date someone with anxious attachment style? ›

Here are some tips on how to date someone with an anxious attachment style:
  1. Be consistent. ...
  2. Let them know how you feel – on a regular basis. ...
  3. Find out their love language. ...
  4. When in a fight, reassure that you're not leaving them. ...
  5. Follow through on the little things. ...
  6. Don't invalidate their feelings.

Can two people with anxious attachment style date? ›

It is possible for two anxiously attached people to have a good relationship as long as they are able to communicate their emotions.

What happens when two anxious attachment styles dating? ›

When both partners have an anxious attachment style, the relationship can often limp along based on mutual fear and need. In such cases, as "safe" as partners might feel, unaddressed wounds often silently fester and manifest as anxiety and stress.

How do you date an avoidant attachment style? ›

We spoke with relationship experts to learn about ways you can increase your connection with an avoidant partner.
  1. Be patient. ...
  2. Create an atmosphere of safety. ...
  3. Respect cultural differences. ...
  4. Try to understand how they view 'needs' ...
  5. Avoid controlling their behaviors. ...
  6. If possible, offer alone time. ...
  7. Try not to interrupt their space.

Why is attachment style important? ›

Attachment allows children the 'secure base' necessary to explore, learn and relate, and the wellbeing, motivation, and opportunity to do so. It is important for safety, stress regulation, adaptability, and resilience.

Can you have different attachment styles in different relationships? ›

Yes, it's possible to have more than one attachment style. Attachment styles often shift depending on the relationship. For example, you might be secure in a friendship but preoccupied with a romantic partner. “Most people are going to lie somewhere on the continuum of different styles,” says Shorey.

What is the most important attachment? ›

While a baby's first attachment is usually with their mother, the bonds that babies form with their fathers are just as important. Though babies form attachment relationships with other adults who care for them, the bonds with their parents are the most important ones.

What is a normal attachment style? ›

Styles. Adults are described as having four attachment styles: Secure, Anxious-attachment/preoccupied, Dismissive/avoidant, and Fearful-avoidant. The secure attachment style in adults corresponds to the secure attachment style in children.

Can Fearful Avoidants date each other? ›

Fearful-Avoidant with Fearful-Avoidant:

But since they both feel a real need for intimacy even if they are skittish when it actually happens, there's a chance they can make it work. They are more likely to succeed if aware of each other's insecurities.

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