Looking for love usually doesn’t seem to work in this day and age, but I also think that simply waiting for it doesn’t work too well either for most people. Especially these days, and especially in urban areas like our massive, sprawling, wonderful Los Angeles. I certainly don’t think that online dating is the answer in this day, age, and environment, although, because I’ve seen many friends and clients go through loads of unfulfilling experiences on those sites. The pay-sites are generally considered to be more fruitful, but many people just can’t afford them, have some kind of strange pride or mysticism about it, or simply don’t want to go there yet. They feel they can do better, whatever that means. Regardless of how one meets a potential mate, whether in person or online, I believe the following as a psychotherapist and human being: The absolute most important personal qualities, in terms of achieving love and lasting relationships, are self-awareness, growth, openness, flexibility, and willing to adjust one’s standards, expectations, and vision of what love would or will be. That means working on it, and on yourself!
Honestly, nothing in life ever seems to end up looking like we thought it would back in the day. Yet we still look for that. There is something called attachment theory, however, that gives us a good idea who we are emotionally, socially, and behaviorally compatible with, and that has great potential to help us along our journey. Without getting into too much detail (feel free to Google the wealth of information), attachment theory argues that there are essentially three (or four, though the fourth is too rare to consider here…) different categories of attachment, “attachment styles”, or “attachment patterns” that go as follows: secure attachment/securely attached people, avoidant attachment/avoidantly attached people, and anxious/ambivalent attachment/anxiously attached people. Attachment theory goes back to infancy and early caregiving experiences, has been widely researched on humans and animals, and appears to have cross-cultural validity. The attachment style of infants predicts the adult attachment styles that we all have today and that impact all of our relationships.
In a nutshell, the majority of the population is securely attached, which means the person’s needs were properly attended to in infancy, and that the person developed a healthy bond and connection with the caregiver(s) such that later relationships in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood tend to go rather well. With the securely attached, for example, one finds low levels of conflict, great satisfaction in relationships, comfort both in expressing intimacy/desiring closeness and in giving a partner space, and low levels of anxiety, fear, jealousy, competition, etc. in relationships. Avoidantly attached folks’ needs were not attended to as well during infancy, or later life experiences impacted them such that they desire high levels of independence, autonomy, do not feel a burning need or desire for closeness/intimacy, tend to “take ‘em or leave ‘em”, are idealistic about love w/ high standards, and tend to go through many different partners, whether in relationships, marriages, or flings. Anxiously/ambivalently attached folk, however, are on the opposite end of the spectrum of the avoidants: their needs as infants may have been attended to more frequently than the avoidants, but they were inconsistently or unpredictably attended to, or perhaps they were over-attended to, especially as the person moved into childhood and adolescence. As a result, they are anxious and ambivalent about relationships and partners: sometimes they want to be extremely close to partners, almost as if to “become one”; other times they desire space. The anxiously attached have high levels of anxiety and fear about relationships and about partners leaving them or not loving them enough. They tend to be very jealous, possessive, affectionate, and are prone to conflict because of the extreme, excessive level of closeness that they often desire. They want too much! And avoidants want too little!
I’ve been using attachment theory in my individual, couple, and family work for years now, but I just attended a wonderful lecture through LA-CAMFT by Sheila Sayani, MFT–a lovely, level-headed, Persian-American (I believe!) therapist with practices in Encino & Calabasas. She also teaches at Pepperdine. Anyway, the gems of her lecture and of her understanding of attachment are as follows, particularly with regard to our modern, online dating scene. Enjoy…
Ms. Sayani point out that the majority of people doing online dating are either avoidantly attached or anxiously/ambivalently attached. There are very few securely attached people in that world. If and when there are, they tend to disappear from it quickly (they find partners). The avoidants and anxious attachment styles, however, stay on the sites, on and off, for years. And they don’t often seem to find the “right” person or fit. Bottom line: it’s tough. But attachment is an extremely useful tool. For example, avoidants and anxiously attached folks can pair up and be fine if they balance out each other just right. It takes health communication. But two avoidants or two anxiously attached people usually don’t work out as couples, unfortunately. On the other hand, securely attached people can pair up with either avoidants or anxiously attached people, so long as the secures can tolerate the respective avoidance or anxiety involved in the relationship (which they often can, because they’re secure, and don’t get triggered!). Of course, it goes without saying that two securely attached individuals will often be just fine in relationships and marriages. They often don’t come to therapy!
However, for the rest of you out there, the power of attachment and the power of understanding attachment through psychotherapy is great. It could mean the difference between achieving and maintaining love in a happy, healthy, long-lasting relationship. Or bouncing back and forth over the years like some human-relationship-pinball. Look around, Hollywood–whether you be an average person or a celebrity of some sort: What do you see? In our personal lives, we tend to see our loved ones struggling to find satisfying relationships, going in and out of relationships, getting married and then eventually getting divorced, remarrying and getting divorced. Sometimes just giving up on the whole thing to “take care of ourselves” and find “peace of mind”. And, in the media, with celebrities of all levels and types we see an absolute circus of attachment theory gone wrong. Sure, some of it is strategic and for publicity/money, but the rest of it isn’t. These celebrities are disempowered by their attachment styles and how they are affecting them in relationships. It’s as sad for them as it is for the rest of us.
Much of Hollywood, one can imagine, would not involve secure attachments: most of the people that come here come from very far away and leave their former lives/families mostly behind. They are extremely independent, autonomous, resourceful, intelligent, and daring. In short, we would expect most of the celebrities in Hollywood to be avoidantly attached, which would explain the large amount of relationships they go through, how quickly things begin and how quickly they end, and the overall level of promiscuity in business and promoted by the media. There are surely plenty of anxiously/ambivalently attached folks in Hollywood, who tend to have highly conflictual relationships with the avoidants that we encounter in the news everyday. And of course there are securely attached people as well, who stay in happy relationships and marriages and are generally absent from the gossip/tabloid eye. However, by and large, securely attached folks stay in other parts of the country and world and leave the craziness and narcissism of Hollywood to the rest of us, while they happily watch, gasp, and laugh from afar. They watch Hollywood’s insecurely–avoidantly and anxiously–attached celebrities go at it, one relationship after another. Some find a way out, but many don’t. And some suffer an even worse fate, particularly when ongoing, habitual attachment incompatibility in relationships is paired with various mental health problems and more severe disorders. Not to mention addiction and alcoholism.
Alas, Hollywood, and all the rest of you out there: There is hope! I can assist you in developing true awareness of the disempowering experiences throughout your life that have reinforced your attachment pattern from infancy. There many tools to achieve this. I can help you to fully learn and to understand how your attachment pattern has become a form of disempowerment that is holding you back in life and relationships, rather than the actual form of empowerment that it can, ought, and has the potential to be. After achieving that understanding, you can begin practicing alternative responses and behaviors to the ineffective ones that your attachment pattern generally dictates in your relationships. Or, if you happen to not have many relationships outside of work and tend towards avoidant, we can begin practicing how to feel secure enough to reach out to people. To check your avoidant thought patterns and behaviors. It’s really a matter of learning, understanding, and practicing behaviors within the context of a safe, supportive therapeutic environment with a qualified professional. You have the power to break the incessant cycle of relationship dysfunction and to reclaim the love, satisfaction, and freedom that is innately yours! Thanks for reading.