So as I’ve established--and some of you may agree--dating isn’t easy. It’s especially difficult if you have anxious attachment patterns. Although the highly scientific attachment style quizzes I’ve taken online indicate that I have a secure (or at least predominantly secure) attachment style, I know I have some anxious/ambivalent/enmeshed patterns stemming from a co-dependent relationship with my father growing up. My Dad and I have a healthy, great relationship now--and maybe that’s why I have a mostly secure attachment style--but there are lingering elements of ambivalence that rear their ugly heads in my dating life!
See, the same night Greg ditched me, I texted a guy I’d been chatting with through an online dating site to see if he wanted to grab a drink. I chose him to ask out because he was fun and flirty and that was just what I needed at the moment. I kicked any “rules” to the curb about who should ask who out because I had planned for a night out anyways and just wanted to have fun. New guy--we’ll call him Jay--was up for it and we had a great time. I hadn’t been expecting to connect with him on a major level that night and wasn’t trying to impress anyone. I don’t know about you all, but those tend to be the times when a good guy sneaks up on me!
So, Jay--a fellow Type A--and I have been out about 5 times now. He has a lot of great qualities and it feels good to be with him . . . and he reminds me of my Dad in several ways. Jay’s been really attentive and communicative about his interest in me, which is such a refreshing change of pace from men I’ve dated in the past. At first I really enjoyed his frequent text messages and compliments. Then it started to feel a bit consuming and it was hard to stay present with my work tasks, so we agreed to cut back. Sunday, I only got 2 texts from him in a brief exchange. Rather than appreciating this restraint, I felt disconnected and craved more connection. While some anxiety and uncertainty is common in the early stages of dating, this felt like ambivalent attachment at work! And I have to admit this isn’t the only instance of it so far.
Certainly, therapy can help and is an important component of working through attachment issues. However, as part of a holistic approach, I’ve come to find that a spiritual path can be extremely comforting and balancing. Practicing the Buddhist principle of acceptance with Jay has been a wonderful challenge and growth opportunity. I’ve used this lens to help me address the fear I feel about being consumed by the relationship as well as the fear of things ending. I accept my emotions, the fact that he’s imperfect and that I’m imperfect. It’s an imperfect world we live in and there is no use in trying to fight that. It’s freeing to let go of trying to force my will upon the world by resisting reality. Rather I can allow it to be and decide how to respond.
Seeing Jay’s strengths and his flaws and accepting them has been important as well. As a therapist, I easily see the potential in people and spend all day helping them dig through their emotional recesses to achieve personal growth. While I can certainly express my wants and needs, providing therapy isn’t my job in a dating relationship! On the other hand, I’m pretty great at bringing unconditional acceptance to my clients. I easily see their strengths and know they’ll flourish when I focus on their strengths and accept their flaws. This IS a concept I can apply to my dating relationships. I don’t need to change Jay--he’s great! I do need to work on my response and healthy boundaries though. Luckily, acceptance also provides a valuable perspective that releases shame and helps me cultivate compassion and loving-kindness for myself as I work on my own attachment issues.
Heather Shannon is a counselor and health coach working in private practice in Chicago. She works primarily with "Type A" clients and takes a holistic approach to counseling, incorporating nutrition and lifestyle education into her work with teens and adults.