An Attachment Theory Guide For the Workaholic Women Who Need Space… And Love
While our dismissive-avoidant heroines are capable of changing the world with their talents, they may also struggle with understanding what “secure” really means in modern dating.
A feminist, an attachment theorist, and a dating coach walk into a singles bar…
This piece is so very close to my slightly dismissive-avoidant heart. I am fascinated with looking at the intersection of dating, feminism and attachment theory — because of how it’s played out in my own life, yes — but also because of what I’m seeing and hearing on the daily from folks that are in the dating scene.
I do not claim to be an expert on biological sex, gender, feminist theory, or the psychology of love, but I am certainly a fan of news, knowledge and the anecdotal experiences around these things.
My expertise is really in dating and forming relationships with strangers — I speak to hundreds of daters on a regular basis and hear their stories, and more importantly, their goals for the future.
I speak to many high-performing, independent women who say some very similar things, some of which I can relate to:
- I don’t need a partner, but it would be nice to have one
- I would be fine having separate living situations, I like my space
- They need to understand my incredibly demanding work schedule and social life
- I want a masculine man with ambition
- If they aren’t willing to travel to me or make themselves available, they aren’t serious about finding a partner
- I do all the decision making at work, I need someone who can lead
- I don’t want to feel like I’m the one pursuing
- I believe a man should at least offer to pay for the check and treat me like a lady
Wow. A lot to unpack here.
My hypothesis is this: Avoidant women are in a struggle of attachment theory healing versus fourth-wave feminism understanding, and it’s messing with our love lives.
Attachment theory and feminism are not at odds, but I believe some women are really working through tough stuff, and the road map isn’t necessarily clear. It certainly isn’t for me.
What is dismissive-avoidant attachment style?
Dismissive-avoidant women are a more rare breed (only 25–30% of the population is avoidant, majority being men), but they are easy to spot and we can even see them as having super powers.
This attachment style is characterized by folks who prioritize their independence. They are confident, likable and great at giving practical, logical advice. They tend to enjoy climbing the ladder at work (workaholics, unite!), are extraordinarily self-reliant, and excel in leading groups.
They also minimize closeness on a deeper level, withhold physical intimacy as a form of punishment (or protest behavior as the theory puts it), and struggle with making quality time for their person. There are plenty more things to consider, but these are the highlights. If you’re curious about your own style, take a quiz!
Avoidance comes from a primary caretaker that was not reliable to meet a child’s needs, so the person ends up relying on themselves to self-soothe and get through situations. Romantic relationships can also affect attachment style and push it in different directions.
It’s of note that avoidant people become a larger part of the singles pool as they get older, and tend to be more attracted to anxious partners (see above with “they need to be available to me”). When paired, this creates a cycle of protest behavior that pushes both people further away and wreaks havoc on a relationship over time. This will be important when we look at traditional gender roles a little later.
How does it relate to feminism?
Much of the qualities we think about when it comes to this attachment style relate to a woman’s perceived influence, work ambition and how she spends her time. Is she independent, or partially avoidant? Independence becomes a trick question here.
If you read the avoidant description above and were looking at it through the lens of feminism, it might sound like avoidant women are actually getting some of the “equality” they’ve been asking for — or at the least the opportunity to compete in similar spaces as men if they choose.
Driven, highly ambitious, workaholic masterminds that make important decisions for large groups of people are highly respected and even needed in society according to attachment theory, and women thrive in these roles too. Duh. Our U.S. Vice President is friggin’ female. (Quick reminder, women didn’t even have the right to vote until 1920 in the U.S., and that was only white women. So, Kamala is looking at 1964 before black women could vote — the same year she was born. Wow.)
Women have to organize, protest, struggle and prove themselves to compete in traditionally male spaces, some more so than others. This means we’re late-to-the-game. Women climbing those same ladders may have extra hurdles to achieve the same status as men in those roles. This would increase the time and effort it takes to make that climb, thereby magnifying the avoidant tendencies that hurt their intimate lives the most.
To be clear, I’m definitely not saying that being feminist or dedicated at work creates an avoidant attachment style or is always an indicator of one, but I wonder if the higher demanding jobs both attract, and take advantage of, those with avoidant tendencies the most, and create the biggest conflicts for proudly feminist women that strive for balance.
So, ladies, how do we reconcile the thrill of literally being able to overwork, lead teams, be decision-makers and achieve status in high-stakes environments when those are also indicators we might suffer in our personal lives? Shall we carry the torch of female empowerment at the expense of secure intimacy?
No. Absolutely not. Attachment theory, thankfully, dictates that your attachment style can change and you can actively work towards a more secure attachment style with effective communication (hey there, coaching tools!). You can be a badass and a securely attached woman.
How does it relate to being a woman?
While we know that women are increasingly becoming more educated than men, there remains a pay gap that doesn’t want to budge. One reason: the decision to have a family disproportionately affects women’s pay over their lifetimes since their bodies perform a disproportionate share of the child-rearing needs.
For most women, there is a biological factor they were born into that gives them the ability to have babies and feed them. What a literal time suck!
Thankfully, many couples are redefining roles of parental responsibility, and while we celebrate and delight in the concepts around “leaning in”, the truth for many avoidant women is that they struggle with guilt about where to prioritize their time and how it will affect their futures. The proof is in the numbers — women are having fewer kids and waiting longer to have them.
This is not to say that avoidant women are only high-powered working women. These qualities can manifest in stay-at-home moms or “free spirited” travelers and artists too. However, it’s working women that have higher stakes and more confusion with their roles in partnerships because of what work and income mean to a family, and how it upends some traditional roles in intimate relationships.
This is absolutely the case for me. I actually like working and feel thankful for so much that feminism has created for me. I live a wonderfully free life compared to most women throughout human history that may have wanted options outside of only motherhood and wife-dom without being burned at the stake. I enjoy voting, ya know?
I do question, though, the value of my avoidant tendencies when they flare up, and wonder what the balance is between staying competitive in work spaces and overdoing it to the detriment of my romantic partnership. It is a weekly, if not daily, concern.
What about being “feminine”?
Who do we most associate with being avoidant over-workers? Men. And, in fact, masculinity itself is most associated with avoidant attachment style, according to this study.
So, many dismissive-avoidant women are taking on more traditionally masculine roles (now that they have access to them), but this does not actually mean they want to be perceived as more masculine and it doesn’t change their sexual preferences.
Almost the opposite is true, at least in their mindset. Many seem to feel they need a very powerful, masculine man to counterbalance their pull from the feminine center, and reaffirm their gender expectations of themselves and from society.
Hilariously, avoidant folks can gravitate towards anxious folks — and anxious attachment is more closely associated with women. So, it could be, perhaps, that in this particular mixture of attachment styles, masculine and feminine perceptions are also out of whack. What if this makes it all worse?
The anxious-avoidant cycle — of one chasing and the other pushing away or withholding — is rough enough as it is. Now, add gender roles and expectations to the mix!
So many avoidant women want to feel “equal” but also feel “feminine”. Which is great! But the bigger issue at play, I think, has to do with our reconciliation of the past. In their intimate lives, as opposed to every other space they occupy, they want to be more “traditional”. Uh oh.
What’s the road map?
This is where all the crossroads meet for dating. Apparently, there are three cakes; we want them all and to eat them too. We act detached, but want allegiance. We want to succeed where feminism works for us and be treated equally at work, and we want to be treated like pre-feminism objects while dating because...?
It’s confusing. All the dating and marriage norms are heavily skewed towards pre-feminist frameworks — that women are the weaker, dumber sex and should be treated delicately; that they need to be led because they should be passive; that they are property; that their role is to serve their husband and children only. Again — no voting before 1920. Just remember what that symbolized.
In so many ways I’m ready for the newer mindsets around sex and gender to shake things up to such a degree that we stop playing to these old traditions that represent subjugation from the past. I can’t tell you how many women are kicking ass at work, making good money, happy in their lives — but still, don’t love the more “masculine” perceptions of those things, and are constantly paranoid everyone is intimidated by them, so they double down on wanting a mirror instead of a complimentary person.
I tried to date someone like myself once. It did not work out. A reminder — according to attachment theory, avoidants don’t work well with other avoidants.
Some might say this is about the “masculine and feminine energies” but I don’t buy into that framework a whole lot with those particular terms, especially because I think it still points women in the direction of needing to be more “feminine” if they are acting too “masculine” because they are a woman and they’re out of their “natural” balance.
Polarity and balance, yes. Using traditional notions of masculinity and femininity to determine those things, no thank you.
I’m also sick of us associating some really toxic things to masculinity and femininity, but that’s another rant.
If you take a look at the initial list of wants from these badass women, you’ll see clearly dismissive-avoidant tendencies, attraction to anxious qualities in others, and the desire to be perceived as “feminine”. It’s a very fantastical paradox of wants.
I partly wonder if this is just deep cultural programming about what is considered “feminine” in society but also — there are absolutely men out there that are fine with us being badasses at work. Because they’re secure.
Ladies, can you handle that? Do you need your guy to still be better than you at everything and make more money just so your intimate relationship confirms you’re a woman in the eyes of the past?
No. You don’t. Start reframing your needs in a partner and get a grip. You probably don’t need a hyper masculine man. You just need a secure one that calls you on your shit when you’re not communicating well. It’s likely he’ll also help with changing diapers, which is a huge plus.
Here’s a start to finding your road map to secure love:
- Understand your attachment style and figure out where it came from for you. Read the book. Think about your patterns and behaviors. Change your communication around them. Start to crack open your life to more emotional support.
- Don’t worry about what’s masculine or feminine. Worry instead about how well you and someone else will complement each other’s needs and dig into qualities that look secure — not equally avoidant and paradoxically available at the same time.
- Re-evaluate what partnership means to you and why it’s important. Think about the types of people that make you feel safe, calm and communicative, and then the types of people that make you feel either trapped and suffocated, or intimidating and too aloof to care. Go for the safe, calm feeling.
It’s definitely not hopeless, but it takes a lot of conscious effort to start to unravel the history behind your avoidance with the history of the female plight. But we can do it! (Red bandana bicep pose!)
Change the way you date. Get a coach. Get dating.
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