I’m going to tread lightly on this subject. By no means am I saying that I found the cure for my anxiety, nor am I saying it’s my partner’s responsibility to alleviate my anxiety.
But the fact is, dating my boyfriend — someone with a secure attachment style — did help my anxious attachment style. And it all began about two years ago.
On a cool, Los Angeles afternoon, I grabbed lunch with a friend at a local vegan cafe. I’d been single now for a year, a time I intentionally took off dating so I could work on myself and finally break my negative dating patterns.
Without much thought to it, I mentioned to my friend that I thought one of our other mutuals friends, Nish, was sweet, kind, and pretty cute. She almost jumped out of her seat.
“What! You two should totally date!” she exclaimed.
The seed was planted. I thought about it for a few days before sending Nish a text asking if he wanted to grab brunch. He said yes, completely unaware that I was thinking of this meetup as a date.
Well, that date went great and resulted in a few more but something about us dating didn’t feel right. Nish didn’t mess around with playing games and seemed confident in texting me back quickly.
Several dates in, I ended things. I thought what we lacked was a connection, until I dated a few more people and realized I may have made a mistake. Luckily, Nish and I saw each other again, six months after our first date, at a friend’s going away party.
After that night, we started talking again and we haven’t stopped since.
I won’t lie and say the second time we dated was smooth sailing. Dating someone with a clear secure attachment style and healthy dating habits felt uncomfortable. I was used to arguing and crying; neither of which happened with Nish.
Part of me wanted to pull away, but I worked on myself enough to know I needed to give this relationship a fighting chance. I actively ignored that little voice inside me telling me to run away; the part that was freaked out whenever he texted back mere minutes after I sent him one.
Instead of pressuring me into a relationship, he let me take the time I needed.
I didn’t want to keep all these anxious thoughts inside me, so one day, I told Nish about how I felt. I said I liked him, but I was used to dating jerks. I needed time to warm up to him and get over some crappy habits I picked up in my dating life.
To my shock, Nish told me, “That’s OK. Take all the time you need. I’ll still be here.”
That was one of the first lessons Nish taught me; that love doesn’t necessarily have to happen in the timeline fashion everyone talks about. It’s OK to take things slow, as long as you communicate with each other throughout.
I’d been used to jumping the gun on relationships; I’d imagine wedding bells on the second date. That kind of behavior was all I knew, and the fact that Nish so kindly accepted that I needed time blew my mind, to be frank.
Whenever I asked, “are we OK?” made me feel better in asking it less.
A classic sign of someone with an anxious attachment style is needing reassurance. In my past relationships, that never went so well. My boyfriends would become annoyed or use that as a reason to start an argument.
But with Nish, things were different. I already knew enough about attachment theory to reason with me that I didn’t need to ask if everything was OK every time that thought popped into my head.
Yet, on the occasions I uttered that question, Nish’s even-keel made it seem like no big deal. That meant a lot for two reasons. First, things didn’t escalate into an argument so I didn’t feel worse for asking. The second, I realized, from his calm response, how wrong my thoughts were in thinking things weren’t OK.
He helped me realize that jumping into a relationship wasn’t the only way.
When Nish and I gave dating a try for the second time, I told him I needed to take things slow. I explained how I was used to these tumultuous relationships and that his kindness made me uncomfortable at times.
“That’s OK,” he explained, “Take as much time as you need. I’ll be here”
For years I’d rushed into relationships without taking a second to reflect on whether my needs were being met or if I liked the person. Taking things slow wasn’t my style. But what that led to was me ignoring a lot of red flags.
During that year off of dating, I decided that my eagerness to make things official would be something I worked on. The fact that Nish respected that, rather than pressuring me like boyfriends did in the past, assured me that I was making a healthy decision to wait.
His behaviors don’t trigger my anxious responses.
If you’re trying to quit sugar, you’d probably get rid of all the chocolate in your house. If you were quitting smoking, you’d without a doubt throw away all your cigarettes.
So if your goal is to become more secure in your relationships, why would you continue to date people who trigger your anxiety? More specifically, why keep choosing to date avoidantly attached people?
In the past, I dated men who would threaten to leave me whenever we argued. One of my exes would call me crazy whenever I tried to talk about how they hurt me. Another had a habit of ignoring me for a week whenever we fought.
By dating someone who’s secure, I work on my anxiety without having it continuously triggered. Not to mention that I finally feel happy and safe sharing my life with someone else.
His calm rational attitude in arguments helped me see things more clearly.
By no means is Nish above saying sorry nor does he think he’s always right. But he’s willing to talk things out, rather than pull away from the issue, which was a not-so-great habit I picked up from my past realtionships.
More so, Nish introduced me to this concept of thinking of fights as “our” problem; not mine or his. Having that sort of team mindset puts me in a less defensive position and open to having harder conversations, rather than closing up.
I’ve picked up on some of his even-mannered conflict skills; something that would’ve been hard to implement simply from reading them in a book.
He reassures me but also doesn’t overindulge in enabling my anxious thoughts.
My relationship isn’t the only part of my life that suffers because of my anxiety. So does my self-worth and feeling confident in my career.
I worry all the time where I’m going with writing. I’ve struggled for many years with my body image. I don’t exactly have confidence exuding from me naturally.
But Nish helps me see things from a realistic perspective. He supports me, encourages me to cry it out, and helps me see things from an objective standpoint. He listens to all the ideas I have and never feels threatened by the projects I pursue.
While I can do all of this on my own, being in a relationship with a securely loving partner expedited the whole process.
I’m sure I’ll get comments saying that it’s not my partner’s job to change who I am, nor should that change come anywhere else but from within us. And I wholeheartedly agree.
But if you’re going to date and you have an anxious attachment style, you’re not doing yourself any good by getting into a relationship with someone who’s avoidant or also anxious. You’re not setting yourself up for success. You might be heading down a path of more turmoil.
I’m lucky to have found someone with a secure attachment and to have fallen in love with them. I know it’s easier said than done but prioritizing the same for yourself could be the change in your love life that you need.
This post was previously published on Medium.
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