What I Want

I’ve had a lot of time to think lately, and a lot of it has been about relationships. Now, historically, I have not had a lot of luck in this department – two attempts and two failures makes for a record that is frankly abysmal even by the percentage standards of Major League Baseball. And a part of this is because, for a lot of the time I’ve been on the market, I have had some serious issues. The first try I made, I was seriously having emotional issues, and I was just not very emotionally available – probably among other problems. This time around, I was just unaware of the kinds of things I wanted from the relationship, and so it caused me a lot of heartache and other troubles that could have been avoided. So I thought that it might be helpful – maybe as a guide for myself in the future, or maybe to provide some insight into what is going on in my head, or maybe just to be helpful to someone else with similar problems. So, here’s a list – probably an incomplete one, but at least a start – of what I am looking for in a relationship.

First, I want to find someone who is comfortable being intimate with me, both physically and emotionally. I’m not necessarily talking about sex, though I imagine that would be a part of it. But I want someone who will want to spend a fair amount of time with me, and want to be close – someone who will listen to me when I have something important to say, and who I can listen to as well. I’m generally pretty good as a listener, but I’m still working on how good I am at expressing myself. That will probably take some time, so I want someone who can be patient in that regard. Being able to be close to the other person is important, too, because I just want someone who will be comfortable curling up on the couch watching TV, or huddling together at a movie, or really anything along those lines.

I also have difficulty explaining what I want or what is bothering me at times, so someone who is patient with me is a big must. Even with two degrees in English, I still struggle to find the right way to try to express what is going through my head, and that can be both confusing and frustrating. I want to be able to help my partner through any of her own such struggles, as well, because I think it’s important to know what’s really going on in the other person’s head.

Third, I want a partner who can take part in, or at least not have a problem with, my hobbies. I’m a pretty big nerd – I like comic books, I love Lord of the Rings, I play RPGs and video games, I’m a fan of Star Wars and Star Trek… I could go on, but that would get tedious. And those things are an important part of my life and who I am, so having a partner who understands that, and is willing to be a part of it is important. I hope that I can do the same with my partner’s interests; I’m pretty open to things, so I like to think that is something that can work out.

I’m sensitive to signs of rejection, as someone with an anxious attachment style, so I know that will come up. I want someone who will be patient and try to reassure me when I start freaking out, who can help me lessen my worries and who is consistent and relatively reliable.

I like to treat the people who are important to me as well as I can; I don’t have a problem going all-out for birthdays, holidays, or any kind of important event, and sometimes I just want to do something unexpected and cool. I want to be with someone I can do that for, who will appreciate it and maybe reciprocate. I want to know that I am as important to them as they are to me.

I don’t want a partner who will make me feel bad because I can come off as ‘needy’ or ‘dependent’. I don’t think those are bad things, as long as I can try to keep them in check, and I like to think they help me to show how much the other person means to me. I want someone who can accept that those are parts of who I am, and who likes that about me. I want someone who can be up-front about their feeling with me, especially concerning her feelings about me, and who wants to be in a relationship.

Yeah, I don’t really talk about a lot of things here, but then, a lot of them aren’t as important. I don’t have a particular body type, hair color, ethnicity, or religion I’d want in a partner, because I think those are all kind of secondary; as long as we both like, even love, each other, and find each other attractive and desirable, that’s good enough. Mostly, I just want someone who will be as good to me as I am trying to be to them, and who won’t just let me try to flail around int he dark trying to figure out what is going on. I’m tired of being alone, romantically speaking. I’ve only had a very small taste of what a good relationship can be like, but I want more. And now I have a better idea of what I am looking for, to hopefully eliminate at least some heartache.

I’m not sure how much sense this is all making; this has really all just been bouncing around in my head all day, and I felt the need to get it out somehow. So I hope it makes sense, but I welcome any questions, comments, or other criticisms to try to help me flesh out these ideas further.

Attachment, Part 2

Just wanted to follow up from my last post, because this is an area where I imagine that things will continue to be messy for a long time. Not necessarily bad, but messy – of course, many things that are worthwhile are.

I’m pretty sure that the whole anxious attachment style allies not only to romantic relationships, but also to friendships, as well. I know that in the past, when a friend who is very close has suddenly decided to stop talking to me for an extended period of time, I immediately assume it was somehow my fault, even when there is no evidence of that – partly because I want to continue to think the best of my friends, and partly because I don’t have a historically high self-esteem. I think there’s probably a middle ground there, though – just because a friend has stopped communication, it doesn’t mean I did anything wrong – and it also doesn’t mean they did, either. Especially if I don’t know what happened to cause the radio silence, I need to work on my obsessing about why it happened, because it’s often painful and severely distracting for me. I do prefer it is I know what happened, but sometimes a person just needs some space, and even as a good friend I am not entitled to know what’s going on with them – as much as I may want to, it is up to my friend to communicate, or not. I do still hope that my friends feel like they can come to me if they need to talk, though.

In cases where the relationship becomes a bit more confusing, though, so does everything else. Having romantic feelings for another person seems to cause a whole new bundle of things to go right – or wrong, depending on how things work out. I know that when my heart gets involved, The characteristics of an anxious attachment type come out in force. I want more intimacy – whether mental, emotional, or physical – from the relationship, because that’s always been one of the hallmarks of a romantic relationship in my head. And I know that for some people I’ll probably run into, and maybe even fall for, this will be a big issue, because one of the big points raised in the book Attached I mentioned in my previous post is that people of the anxious type are often drawn to people of the avoidant type – and this can lead to a lot of misery.As they note in Attached, anxious attachment type people probably shouldn’t get together with avoidant people for several reasons:

  • where anxious people want closeness and intimacy, avoidant people want to maintain distance, emotional and/or physical
  • where anxious people are very sensitive to signs of rejection, avoidant people often send mixed signals that can come across as rejecting
  • where anxious people find it hard to tell a partner directly what they need and what is bothering them, avoidant people tend to be bad at reading verbal or nonverbal cues and/or don’t think it is their responsibility to do so
  • while anxious people need to be reassured and to feel loved and cared for, avoidant people will often put a partner down or withdraw emotionally to create the distance the desire
  • where anxious people want to know exactly where they stand in a relationship, avoidant people prefer to keep things fuzzy and undefined
  • while anxious people want to be able to depend heavily on their partner, avoidant people feel a strong need to assert their independence in relationships

If you look at this and think you’ve gone through a relationship where things like this have happened, then you’ve fallen into what the authors of Attached call the Anxious-Avoidant Trap – an anxious partner will pursue their partner for intimacy, while the avoidant partner will pull away for independence, in a vicious cycle that tends to continue until the avoidant person decides to move on or the anxious person can work up the will to try to break out of a relationship that isn’t good for them – which requires a lot of willpower because the anxious partner has likely formed a deep attachment to the other person, and even leaving a bad relationship can be really hard if you love someone a great deal.

Now, I don’t mean to say that avoidant attachment type people are bad people – far from it. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be independent; it’s caused a lot of things to get done in the world, because sometimes you just have to do things yourself without waiting for others. I just wanted to point out that, when anxious attachment type people and avoidant attachemnt type people get together, there is a lot of potential for things to go really wrong. Relationships between anxious and avoidant people can work, of course, and they can even be really rewarding – but they require a lot of self-awareness and willingness to put a lot of work into the relationship from both parties, and that is hard a lot of the time.

I’m not sure what my relationship status is, honestly. I wish I knew more, but I’m sadly still pretty new to this, so I guess I’ll see how things go, and whether my new information will make any difference.

Attachment

So I’ve been doing some reading about attachment (seriously, look at my past blog posts, people, of course I did some reading!). I found what seem to be a couple good things to read through, which I’ll go into in a bit. But from all I can tell, I definitely fall into the anxious-preoccupied attachment type – though I’ll just call it the anxious type from now on, just because it’s easier to type out. .It’s been some interesting reading, finding out exactly what that seems to mean – and if you are interested in finding out your own type, you can take this test, the Attachment Styles and Close Relationships test.

The hallmarks of being an anxious attachment type person are kind of odd, really. I mean, I tend to take a while to warm up to people; I’m pretty introverted. So, the things that define the anxious attachment type are a little surprising. They are:

  • You want closeness and intimacy.
  • You are very sensitive to any signs of rejection, and express insecurities.
  • You find it hard to tell others directly what you need and what’s bothering you (effective communication), and use protest behaviors (excessive attempts to reestablish contact, acting hostile, keeping score, etc.) instead.
  • You need to be reassured and feel loved.
  • You need to know exactly where you stand in a relationship.
  • You are unhappy when not in a relationship.
  • You play games to keep attention or interest.
  • You let the other person set the tone of the relationship.
  • You are preoccupied with the relationship, devoting a great deal of emotional energy into the relationship.
  • You fear that small acts will ruin the relationship, and believe you must work hard to keep the other person’s interest.

It sounds really weird, but looking at it, it makes a lot of sense. When I’m in, or close to being, in a relationship, I do want a lot of closeness and intimacy. I’m not ordinarily a touchy-feely kind of person, but with someone I am interested in, I want a great deal of contact, physical or otherwise. I’m just terrible at knowing how to ask for it, because it’s just so counter to what I have traditionally been taught to expect. And I know I get anxious when I don’t get a chance to be close to the object of my affection, and that comes out in a lot of insecurity – I obsess over whether or not I have done anything wrong, and I take any blame for anything that might have happened on myself – because I assume it must have been my screwup.Thinking about it, almost all of those things make sense to me.

A large part of what I am finding out about this particular style, and how this attachment style interacts with other attachment styles, comes from two sources – one is slightly more technical and more dispassionate; this one is a work by a man named Jeb Kinnison, who has worked in computer and cognitive science, called Bad Boyfriends: Using Attachment Theory to Avoid Mr. (or Ms.) Wrong and Make You a Better Partner. I found this one kind of dry, and not particularly friendly to someone coming to it from out of the field, but it did give me some good advice on where else to look. It pointed me towards another book that I found much more useful and reader-friendly, called Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find – and Keep – Love. It’s written by two people who seem to have done extensive research in the field, Amir Levine, M.D., and Rachel Heller, M.A. It’s been much easier to get into, and had a lot of advice on how an anxious attachment type person can survive and thrive in relationships – what kinds of things to look for and avoid, both in yourself and others. I assume that the other parts of the book would be similarly helpful to people with other attachment types, but I’m not one of them, so I don’t know.

I think that anyone who has ever been unsure of confused about relationships, and why the ones they are in keep going wrong, should read Attached, and I definitely think everyone should take the quiz above. Especially if you end up as a secure attachment type, because then I might need to ask you for some advice. 🙂

Identification

So, after a fair amount of thought over the past few days, I think I’ve come up with a list of the ways in which my insecurities manifest themselves. While depressingly long, it gives me a place to start from; otherwise, without knowing exactly how my insecurities show up, I can’t really work to make any of them better. So, without further ado:

1. Intelligence. I know I’m smart, but I am constantly worried that the people around me, especially the people I view as peers, friends, and others such relationships, will think I’m dumb. I often feel that what I have to say on a subject is not that smart or interesting, especially compared to what others are saying. and so when this starts happening, I generally just clam up and wait, hoping that maybe I can interject something that sounds goods somewhere along the line. This was particularly bad when I was in grad school, because I was surrounded by people who shared my interests, and who always seemed (and some certainly did) to have more intelligent, more important things to say.

2. Appearance. This is another big one. I have trouble looking in the mirror in the morning after showering, because I’m never particularly happy with what I see. I know I’m overweight, and I can accept that, but it’s still not nice to look at. I’m also not a very good judge of what makes a guy attractive, but I’ve always had a nagging feeling that whatever it is, I don’t have it. Naturally, when you feel like you’re unattractive and overweight, this brings up issues when talking to one’s preferred gender, and I imagine that lack of confidence in my appearance has resulted in most of the rejections I’ve had from women.

3. Motivation. This, I think, is probably largely tied to my depression, but it can certainly make things problematic, especially where it ties in with my other insecurities. I’ve never had a huge degree of motivation for anything; I just don’t feel that drive to get things done that I see other people as having. There are things I want to do, sure, but my motivation comes in very finite amounts – if I go all-out on something, it will only last for a little while, and then I’ll burn out, lose interest, and never finish. This, I think, is what frequently happens with my efforts at things like weight loss; I start out motivated, but I can only keep up that drive for a week, two weeks, maybe a month. And then I just don’t feel it anymore.

4. Attachment. This is probably a big one – possibly the biggest one, at the moment – for me. A friend who I mentioned this to actually said that she thought I might have an attachment disorder. Now, I know the internet can be dangerous about such things – I remember looking up some things on Borderline Personality Disorder and being horrified by how misleading it was. So everything I have done is preliminary. But I figure Wikipedia, while not the greatest authority, might be a place to at least start. So I found an article on attachment in adults. It lists four separate types of attachment: secure, dismissive-avoidant, fearful-avoidant, and anxious-preoccupied. Reading through the descriptions, initially, anxious-preoccupied seems to fit well for me; I’ll quote it here: “People with anxious-preoccupied attachment type tend to agree with the following statements: “I want to be completely emotionally intimate with others, but I often find that others are reluctant to get as close as I would like”, and “I am uncomfortable being without close relationships, but I sometimes worry that others don’t value me as much as I value them.” People with this style of attachment seek high levels of intimacy, approval, and responsiveness from their partners. They sometimes value intimacy to such an extent that they become overly dependent on their partners. Compared to securely attached people, people who are anxious or preoccupied with attachment tend to have less positive views about themselves. They often doubt their worth as a partner and blame themselves for their partners’ lack of responsiveness. People who are anxious or preoccupied with attachment may exhibit high levels of emotional expressiveness, worry, and impulsiveness in their relationships.” I know that the closer I feel to another person, the more contact I want with them, and I start to spend a lot of time thinking about what I’m doing wrong. I create scenarios in my head of what they’re thinking about me, and how I’m going to far, which makes me constantly question everything I say and do – did I look at her too long? Did I say the wrong thing? Did I make that hug last a second too long? I feel like however the other person sees me, they will eventually see through that image and see how screwed up I really am and leave me, and I always wonder when that shoe will drop. I take the blame for everything that goes wrong, because I feel like it is always my fault – I said something stupid, I was inconsiderate, I wasn’t hospitable enough. Reading up on this, I can see how toxic this must be to the other person, because my second-guessing myself can lead to them doing the same thing, and they might notice this and want to put some distance between us to try and work through their own issues. But the distance makes me feel even more needy. I’m not qualified to diagnose myself, of course, but it does seem to have a fair degree of resemblance to me.

These are all things I’ll need to discuss with my therapist when I see him tomorrow. I know that some of them are the very epitome of what a group leader at Menninger tried to hammer into us: “Thoughts are not facts.” So, now that I think I’ve identified the big areas, I need to start watching for when they pop up so that I can knock them back down. Hopefully moving forward with this, at least to  some degree, might help me save my friendship.

Attached

I’ve noticed that some of my relationships can be a bit strange. I seem to get attached to certain people in my life – mostly friends, or possible romantic interests. And the closer I feel to them, the more I wish I was in contact with them. This doesn’t necessarily apply across the board, of course – friends who are far away, or who I know have busy schedules, I know I will hear from less frequently, and I accept that. It’s part of growing up; we can’t always stay in close contact with the people in our lives. But people who are closer, I want to hear from more often. And the longer we go without talking, in some fashion, the more nervous I feel.

By nervous, I mean that whole “What if they don’t like me anymore?” kind of high school vibe. Which, I grant you, can be a little clingy. But I have had to leave a lot of people behind in my life, and so I am very worried that I will lose other people – especially people I’m close to. This tends to be even more noticeable when I miss a day of medication – specifically my antidepressants, because thyroid medication doesn’t affect that one way or the other. The medication tones the nervousness down, but doesn’t make it go away – it’s just kind of like turning down an annoying noise to a tolerable level.

It’s kind of frustrating, because I know, logically, that my friends who aren’t in contact with me have their reasons; some of them are very busy right now, or at other times, and I know that this desire of mine to be in more constant contact is tough to deal with for them – and sometimes annoying. But I get scared when I don’t hear from the people I care about, especially when we have previously had a very close relationship and now things seem to have drifted apart. Trying to get the emotional and logical sides of my brain to agree on issues like this is weird. But it’s kind of attached to me, much like I feel attached to some people.

Attachment

So one of the things I have discussed while back in St. Louis is attachment, specifically attachment disorders. My sister works with abused children, and she sees a lot of this in the kids she works with. Essentially, because of how a parent or other important figure treats or responds to a child in early life, the child will start to exhibit certain behaviors. Children with this problem might become detached, excessively emotionally inhibited, and unresponsive to comforting, or they might also become indiscriminately social or inappropriately familiar with whoever they feel attached to.

One of the things my sister noted is that she sees some of this in both me and her. I am, on the whole, a pretty detached person, and up until very recently, had great difficulty expressing myself emotionally. I am uncomfortable being touched or comforted by people I don’t know or trust, but start to crave it from those I do. I form very few attachments, but those I form are extremely close; once I let someone in, they get access to everything. My sister, on the other hand, became indiscriminately social, getting to know everyone and be friendly with them all, but never really letting anyone get too close.

She thinks this might stem, initially, from our adoption as children – our very first caregivers chose to give us up rather than raise us, and we might have unconsciously absorbed that. It might also have come from the multiple moves our family made when we were young children – I formed very few attachments because I was afraid to lose them, which I knew I would, while she formed many attachments, but not really any close ones. I don’t know that I can really argue with either of those, though I’ve never considered adoption to be a big issue in my life.

It does sort of fit, though, because things like that can, apparently lead to a number of things later in life – among them being depression, low self-esteem, and the inability to form meaningful relationships. I definitely have the first two, and I have been unable to form certain kinds of relationships successfully – mostly casual relationships and romantic ones. I think the casual is a problem for me because I either consider someone a friend or not, with no real shading in between. As for romantic, well, I am terrified of rejection, and am also massively overprotective, tow qualities which would likely make a romantic relationship with most women extremely hard. But you never know, it might happen someday. It makes me feel for the kids with attachment problems, though, and those others who grew up with them and are now dealing with the consequences, because there’s nothing a kid can do to change that.