**This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events that I have experienced firsthand; used with permission.
Three of my significant romantic relationships were with men with avoidant attachment styles. While I’m not an avoidant myself, it’s not surprising that I was attracted to this type of person because both of my parents are avoidants.
For me, being in a relationship with an avoidant makes me anxious. This means that I constantly find myself wondering where I stand. I never feel quite secure in these types of relationships because most avoidants are notoriously bad at communication. They’re also good at shutting down, stonewalling, and going above and beyond to steer clear of necessary (and often uncomfortable) conversations.
Over the years, I have noticed three subtle behaviors that avoidants often exhibit in relationships. If you’re dating an avoidant, you may have seen them yourself. Being aware of these things has helped me better understand my avoidant partners and allowed me to manage my expectations in relationships.
1. They send mixed signals
The longest relationship I never had (that’s not a typo) was with an avoidant guy who was chronically hot and cold. He would be loving and attentive one minute and then distant and withdrawn the next. This made it challenging to know whether he was truly invested or not.
Sending mixed messages is a self-preservation tactic for avoidants. They don’t want to get too close because it makes them feel uncomfortable, but at the same time, they don’t want to let go completely. So they string you along with just enough hope to keep you hanging on.
“Avoidant partners maintain distance by sending mixed signals, sometimes drawing you in with bids for closeness, other times pushing you away. They may say one thing but do another, such as telling you they want to spend more time together but then cramming their schedule with other commitments.” — Dan Neuharth, PhD, MFT
2. They can be stingy with physical and emotional affection
One of my former boyfriends was only comfortable showing physical affection during relations. He would become physically tense whenever I tried to cuddle with him in any other setting. This made me feel like I was begging for affection, which left me in a constant state of fulfillment. He rationed out “I love you’s” and rarely gave hugs.
Avoidants don’t withhold affection to be mean. They do it because they’re afraid of getting too close. They’re also scared of being rejected or abandoned, so they hold back in an attempt to avoid getting hurt.
“People who carry this working model of attachment into adulthood will exhibit the same impulse to approach and then withdraw in their interpersonal relationships with friends, spouses, partners, colleagues, and children.” — Cynthia Vinney, Very Well Mind
3. They are expert secret keepers
Every avoidant I’ve ever dated played their cards close to the chest. At first glance, they appeared to be private, but I later realized they were actually quite good at hiding things. They would avoid discussing specific topics, deflect questions, and share on a need-to-know basis. And they’d often decide that I didn’t need to know.
People with avoidant attachment styles pride themselves on flying solo. Most unconsciously believe that vulnerability and intimacy are liabilities. So they avoid them at all costs.
“…people with this attachment style also don’t disclose their deepest feelings to others and have a sense of strong emotional independence. They avoid sharing their inner world because to do so would bring them closer to their partners, something they try to avoid.” — Shirley Davis, CPTSD Foundation
There are many reasons why avoidants create distance and sometimes sabotage relationships. But if you’re dating an avoidant, it’s important to remember that it’s not personal. In many cases, avoidants are simply acting out of self-preservation. And with a bit of patience and compassion, you can have a healthy and happy relationship with an avoidant.
Managing your expectations is imperative. They will probably not be emotionally available and will likely avoid difficult conversations. But if you can accept them for who they are, you may find that you establish a deep and lasting connection.
Remember that avoidants are often guarded because of their personal history. Their past often dictates how they show up in the present. So try to accept that we are all products of our past. And if it’s too much or you can’t seem to make any progress, let them know and proceed accordingly.