Mystery or Emotional Baggage?

We all enter new relationships with our own unique experiences. For some, this may be an exciting mystery. For others, it can look more like unresolved emotional baggage.

 When we meet new people, how good are they at assessing what our past may look like? 

If you’ve read some of our previous articles, you’ll probably remember us talking about attachment styles. Attachment styles in adult relationships describe how we form attachments to other people in intimate relationships. Our attachment style is informed by our past, and generally falls into either of these categories: secure, anxious/preoccupied, or fearful/avoidant. 

New research in relationship psychology sheds light onto an aspect of attachment styles that has not yet been explored much: Do our attachment styles show? Can other people tell, on our first date or flirtatious interaction, how we might behave in a romantic relationship? 

Results of this October 2022 speed-dating study by Emily Impett and her colleagues suggest that when participants perceived their potential partners as anxious or avoidant, they were less likely to express an interest in dating them.  

The most interesting finding of the study is as follows: Participants were pretty good at spotting an anxious attachment style, which usually manifests itself in needing reassurance and fearing rejection. However, participants were often not accurate in their judgments when spotting someonewhose self-report suggested they had attachment avoidance, which is someone that may feel discomfort around intimacy and place great value in their independence.  In fact, it was more common for participants who self-reported as anxious to be perceived as avoidant than actual avoidant participants to be perceived as such! 

The researchers gave a couple of reasons why this may be the case. One possibility is that people higher in attachment avoidance are better able to paint a confident image of themselves, and to strategically use humor and physical contact. This is because they tend to have a positive view of themselves and a negative view of others. However, anxiously attached people tend to have a more negative view of themselves and a positive view of others, which makes it harder for them to strategize during a flirtatious interaction. And when they do strategize, they may pretend to be disinterested, which can explain why some attachment anxiety is mistaken for avoidance! 

According to this specific study, it seems that people with attachment avoidance have a better chance of securing a second date than people with attachment anxiety, likely because they’re better able to present their avoidance as independence. 

This makes me think: Do we tend to perceive avoidance as mystery and anxiety as baggage?