How To Be Good At Dating When You Have An Anxious Attachment Style

I used to have severe anxiety when it came to dating. Meeting new people, waiting for text messages, confirming plans, not knowing where the relationship is going could hurt me physically. Dating wasn’t fun. Dating was a constant battle of fighting all my ugly thoughts about myself, all my doubts about whether I was worthy of love, all my childhood memories of feeling left out and unloved, imprinted on every molecule of my body.

When the person I was dating showed signs of pulling away, I tensed up, I freaked out, I held on tighter, which only pushed them away further and, damn, did that hurt. Sometimes it hurt like my life depended on it. I shrunk into a needy little lost child, paralysed in fear and loneliness. Dating stopped being about finding a healthy relationship with someone compatible; it became an addiction, a way to punish myself while desperately hoping that the punishment would stop and, somehow, I would be saved.

Make no mistakes — These dating situations didn’t just happen. These guys didn’t just pull away. I chose them. I chose very specific people who deep down I knew weren’t for me and would eventually leave. These relationship outcomes were driven by my deepest negative beliefs that I was indeed unworthy of love and I should just be alone. I also used these people to write a different ending for my relationship with my parents, which, as we all know, would never happen. My choice of partners was wrong from the get-go

When you have an anxious attachment, your ideal partner is someone who is securely attached, someone who is attentive to your needs and quick to reassure you. Anxiety might still happen but, over time, you will experience it less and less. Then, with adequate support, you will likely model after your partner and become more secure yourself. When your partner is avoidant, however, your anxiety will only intensify. I know there are guides out there to help you manage the anxious-avoidant dynamics but, especially if you’re uninvolved right now, I would earnestly advise you against it. 

My approach is this: First, you become emotionally secure, and then you find an emotionally healthy and available partner. In this article, I want to share with you how you could best achieve these two goals. This is not a two-step solution. You won’t see the result overnight. It’s a long journey that requires commitment and resilience. But, once you keep at it, it will change your life forever.    

So how do you do this?

Look inside yourself

I spent a good few years running away from my life, numbing all my senses with substances and mindless activities, so I know it isn’t easy to suddenly stop and face yourself. But you must do this now. I don’t know where you are in your dating life or in your life for that matter; it’s time to take a break from all the distractions and focus on the things that both scare you and matter to you the most. It’s time to look inside yourself. 

If possible, I would recommend going to therapy. Going to therapy literally changed my life. It acted as a stabiliser for me to safely enforce my personal boundaries and make ruthless relationship decisions that serve my long-term benefits. In therapy, I learned to ask for what I need and feel okay asking for what I need. I learned to lean on myself when things got hard and when past trauma caught up with me. I learned to get attached to myself and my own life instead of some strangers who got nothing on me. 

If you can’t go to therapy, then read, do your research, talk to people for insights. Make efforts to understand your own issues. Dig deeper. Spend quality time with yourself. Treat yourself like you would a loved one. Don’t worry about anyone else right now. In fact, delete the dating apps. Block those unsaved phone numbers. Pause dating indefinitely — it’s okay. You don’t need dating right now. Be your own best friend and partner instead. Immerse in your own personal space. Take as much time as you need. Learn to put yourself first. Get used to being your number one priority. Get used to being on your own. 


Build a life you truly love 

After you have made sure you’re the first person you’re thinking about and focusing on right now, you can start cultivating a life that consists of only the things that give you good energy. The easiest way is to look right where you are.

What do you enjoy doing? What makes you feel good about yourself? Who brings a genuine smile to your face? Now that you’re not dating, you can do things in your own ways — or whichever way lights up your world — without the pressure to change yourself to please anyone. You are free to be fully yourself. 

Go follow your heart. Sometimes, the destination might surprise you but accept it anyway. Embrace the uncertainty ahead. Step into your potential. I know it’s scary and it might be uneasy at first, but it will make you stronger and better, trust me. Try being loudly, unapologetically you for a day, a week, a month, a few months, a year, or even longer until it becomes effortless. Do the things that make you feel like yourself the most. Find the people who share the same interests and outlooks on life as you. Surround yourself with these people. Learn to receive their love. Be present for their love. Tell yourself that you deserve their love. Enjoy their love like it’s always been yours.

It might take a while for the positive effects of this process to kick in. So be patient. Take it one day at a time. You will get it wrong, you will make mistakes, you might even fall back into old destructive behaviours, and it’s all okay. The key part is to keep marching forward and never give up on yourself. You must believe that better days are ahead of you and you’re exactly right where you need to be in order to get there.

Choose who to date and decide who to invest in based on your core values 

Before therapy, I used to choose partners primarily based on superficial factors, such as job title, appearance, and good conversational flow. Date nights usually involved excessive alcohol and attraction would escalate at lightning speed. Now, I realise that I wasn’t looking for a relationship; I was looking to be validated and distracted. I needed to escape my daily life as I hated it. I also didn’t think very highly of my own values and interests, and that’s why I was intensely drawn to people who were opposite of everything I stood for. Needless to say, these connections never led to healthy relationships. 

This is why the steps one and two outlined above are so important. To be good at dating, especially when you have a history of being anxiously attached, you must learn to love yourself first. You must learn to meet your own needs. You must learn to validate your own feelings and experiences. When you have built a life you truly love and feel comfortable in your own skin, when you seriously value yourself as a human being, you will feel drawn towards people who are similar to you. You will find it easy to cut off the people who disrespect you or don’t treat you the way you’d like to be treated by a partner.

People often say that you have to find someone who shares the same values as you. At first, I thought how hard could this be?! I believed you could simply ask people straightforward questions about their values and decide accordingly. So I asked and listened to people’s perfectly worded answers and, without fail, I ended up with someone who was completely wrong for me. As I matured, I realised that, while everyone seems to know just exactly the right things to say, most people don’t know what their core values are. Even if they’re being completely honest, who they think they are can be different from who they really are. 

The best way to discover someone’s core values is by observing their words and actions over a long period of time. This is exactly what dating is for. Dating isn’t a proving-your-self-worth contest. Dating isn’t about trying to qualify as someone’s “the one”. No. Dating is a two-way process to assess compatibility. You don’t have to be liked or chosen by everyone you meet. And not being chosen by someone you meet isn’t a reflection of your self-worth; it’s a reflection of their preferences and perspectives which might or might not have anything to do with you. You must remember that you get to choose too. You gather information about your date’s values and interests and decide whether this person is a good match for you. 

To do this effectively, you need to know what your core values are and you need to be able to identify the behaviours that demonstrate these values as they happen. One way you could practice this is to look at your non-romantic relationships. You could try to describe these relationships and find what they all have in common. From my personal experiences, your partner should make you feel at least as at ease and comfortable as your best friend would. They should inspire you to be more of you, not any less. 

Especially, they should not constantly challenge your boundaries. Sometimes you do have to show people how to treat you, but an incompatible partner will require you to do this a lot and, frankly, it’s not worth the time and effort. I like a quote by Brianna Wiest that says, “Every time you break your boundaries in order to ensure someone likes you, you end up liking yourself that much less.” And that’s true. If you keep breaking your boundaries for someone, you will end up losing yourself. Also, it shouldn’t be entirely your responsibility to uphold the healthy boundaries for both partners. If your date keeps pushing boundaries, it isn’t a test for your character, it’s an insight into theirs. 

You don’t have to be liked or chosen by everyone you meet. And not being chosen by someone you meet isn’t a reflection of your self-worth; it’s a reflection of their preferences and perspectives which might or might not have anything to do with you.

— Ellen Nguyen

Be upfront about your needs for closeness and intimacy 

If you have an anxious attachment and you require a lot of closeness in order to feel safe, it’s very important that you are upfront about this need. The sooner and the more clearly you communicate this, the better it is. You need someone who is comfortable with emotions and isn’t afraid of intimacy. You need an emotionally secure partner, someone who will respond favourably to your need for closeness and can reassure you when there’s doubt or distance. 

So if someone shows signs of avoidance, such as not being able to talk about their feelings, not spending much time with their family and loved ones, always busy working, etc., they’re likely not for you. If someone reacts negatively to your need for closeness, for example calling you clingy or suddenly pulling back, they’re definitely not for you. I know you might be tempted to play it cool but don’t make this mistake. Playing it cool will attract avoidant partners who only chase you when you’re ambivalent towards them. It also means you let them set the tone for the relationship to be one that is void of true intimacy. 

You might think your anxious attachment is a liability, but it isn’t permanent and nor does it define you. You must believe that you’re more than your anxious attachment and, regardless, you’re a quality human being who is worthy of love. If a partner truly values you, they will care about your anxiety and will want to help you alleviate it. You should not pretend you don’t have anxiety and try to bend yourself to fit with someone’s dating style. It’s an approach that might get you the (avoidant) partner temporarily but it’s psychologically taxing every step of the way and does not serve your long-term benefits, which also means, ultimately, it’s a waste of time. 

Learn to sit with your feelings before jumping to judgment or action

Even if you’re dating a securely attached partner, there are times your anxiety will be triggered and your anxiety-driven behaviours can damage the relationship if they’re not well managed. It’s important that you learn some coping techniques in your own time before you enter a romantic relationship.

It might sound extreme but you shouldn’t date altogether until you learn how to regulate your emotions to some extent. When you’re constantly anxious on a life-or-death-threatening level and don’t know what to do about it, your choices of partners won’t be healthy and the quality of your connections won’t be high. Plus, sorting out your emotional issues when single is much easier than when being involved with someone as you only have to care about yourself and you can take as much time as you want.   

Ideally, you should go to therapy and actively do your own research on how to identify each of your emotions and how to avoid getting yourself in triggering situations in the first place. It’s important that you create a lot of space for yourself. It means when you experience a negative feeling, you don’t try to numb it or avoid it. You don’t immediately turn to alcohol or drugs or extreme hobbies or intense romance to blank your mind. You don’t put the focus on someone else’s problems to distract yourself from your own. Instead, you face those anxious feelings head-on. You let them breathe and have a life of their own until they dissolve in their own time. You observe and you don’t react. You wait it out. 

This process is made much easier when you have a healthy lifestyle. A healthy lifestyle doesn’t only help create a safe, reliable environment for you to express your authentic self and explore inward, but it can also inspire positive internal changes over time. Especially, when anxiety hits, you might feel like your world is being turned upside down but, with a wholesome routine in place, the panic will pass quickly and you can easily find things to lean on and remind yourself that there’s no real danger, your life is okay.  

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Never settle for less than someone who is fully available for you 

When you have an anxious attachment or a high level of relationship anxiety, not everyone is for you and you are not for everyone. You have to protect yourself and you have to be extremely ruthless when picking a partner. You want to be with someone who is fully available for you and is secure with themselves. You need a full-time partner who is all in, who is sure about you and is happy to go to great lengths for you. Someone who shares the same values and has high empathy. You cannot accept any less because you simply cannot afford that.

Your anxiety is the cost you have to bear every time you get out there and take a chance on someone. This is not easy. Heck. This is hard. Not everyone is worth this cost. You owe it to yourself to quickly cut your losses when someone shows you they won’t or don’t want to meet your needs at any point during the dating process. You owe it to yourself to never tolerate disrespect or bad treatment. This life is yours. Your future is in your hands. Whether you will have a healthy, happy love life is up to you. Take that power and give yourself the best you deserve.  

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© Ellen Nguyen

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