Are You Dating Someone with Avoidant Attachment Style or Are They Just…Not That Into You? We Asked a Therapist
I was rewatching Girls for the umpteenth time when I realized: There’s a pattern here. In this particular episode, Hannah (played by Lena Dunham), finds herself in a situationship with Adam (Adam Driver). He’s hyper-independent—always tinkering away at some obscure, metal woodworking project—and his demeanor is frustratingly evasive; she can never tell what’s really going on inside his brain. All of this comes to a boil when Hannah shows up at Adam’s front door and delivers a poignant monologue about his inability to commit: “You don’t even bother to explain […and] I don’t really see you hearing me.”
Suddenly, I thought of Brian (not his real name), a guy I dated in my early twenties, who evoked all the same feelings in me that Hannah intimated: confusion, insecurity and, my personal favorite, feeling like I’m “too much.” Brian was just like Adam, passionate yet quiet, and his inability to articulate his emotions nearly drove me to the brink of insanity. So much so, that this led to a similar interaction: Our relationship was reduced to a humiliating, one-sided confrontation (that ended with us never speaking again).
I can’t help but notice how this dynamic—one where girl chases guy, guy seems uninterested and girl is left feeling insecure—relates to the current discourse around avoidant attachment styles (more on that below). For years, therapists-turned-influencers have flocked to TikTok to discuss three psychological profiles: secure, anxious, and avoidant—with the latter being most misunderstood. Yet, it’s worth asking: Where’s the line between avoidantly attached and He’s Just Not That Into You? After all, anyone who’s watched Girls will tell you how rare (and swoon-worthy) Adam’s character turns out to be. But with a swipe-right mentality and dating culture that moves as rapidly as Amazon Prime, it’s hard to know whether a person’s *actually* interested (or simply keeping you in a rotation with three other people).
I couldn’t get an answer from Brian, but perhaps an expert could help me understand. Below, find Dr. Carolyn Rubenstein’s take on what constitutes an avoidant attachment style, plus five early red flags that say, “They’re not actually avoidant—they’re just not that into you.”
MEET THE EXPERT
Dr. Carolyn Rubenstein, PhD, is a licensed psychologist based out of Boca Raton Florida. She specializes in anxiety and trauma, with an emphasis on redefining relationships and improving overall wellbeing.
What Are Attachment Styles?
Attachment style is a “psychological model that examines how and why individuals respond in relationships—for example, when a person is emotionally hurt, perceives a threat or is separated from a loved one.” The framework—originally developed to understand the relationship between infants and their parents—categorizes how we perceive and make relationship decisions.
What Is Avoidant Attachment Style?
“The avoidant attachment style values self-sufficiency and independence before anything else,” Dr. Rubenstein tells me. “An abundance of intimacy triggers them and causes them to seek personal space.” As a result, avoidants are more likely to prioritize their own interests (read: workaholics) and fittingly ‘avoid’ any situation that calls for emotional vulnerability. Plus, it’s worth mentioning that an avoidant attachment style is actually a trauma response to childhood (what else is new). More often than not, an avoidants’ need for independence stems from a caretaker who would punish, reject or withhold love when they asked for help. This then translates into adulthood, where “avoidants typically believe they don’t need anyone, and that people aim to seize their freedom,” according to Dr. Rubenstein.
How Does Avoidant Attachment Affect Romantic Relationships?
Per the doc, “avoidantly attached people tend to withhold information about themselves—especially if it’s unsolicited. They’ll shy away from making firm plans (or they might discuss making future plans in vague terms)...They also might get invested very quickly, but then retreat just as fast.” At the same time, however, this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re incapable of getting serious (or that they don’t like you, for that matter). “While an avoidant person may not want to be alone, they can’t bear true intimacy…They would rather be by themselves than risk their personal freedom for the benefit of a relationship,” she explains. “When they do enter a serious relationship, it takes them a while for them to fully commit emotionally.”
What’s the Difference Between Avoidant Attachment Styles and Just Not Being Into Someone?
Between all of the emotional stonewalling and adversity to commitment, how do you distinguish between A.) an avoidant who’s instinctually pulling away, or B.) a player who’s keeping you on the back burner? When you’re in the early stages of a relationship, it can be hard to read between the lines (all while you’re trying to figure out who’s worth your time and energy). So below, we asked Dr. Rubenstein to break it down.
5 EARLY RED FLAGS THAT THEY’RE JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU
1. They don’t make a gradual effort to spend time with you
According to Dr. Rubenstein, “Avoidants feel safe alone and many are introverts. Yet, when they begin to fall in love, they start to let a partner into their time more frequently.” And this is where it gets tricky: If you’re in the early stages of a relationship (i.e., 1-5 dates in), you want to examine how you guys stay in touch when you’re not together. “Avoidants typically shun commitment, but they’ll communicate with you regularly,” she adds. So, if it’s been months on months of this person sporadically hitting you up—and having little to no interest in talking in between dates—it’s probably because they’re not looking to get serious (avoidant attachment style or not).
2. They “really connect” with you in-person
“Avoidants have a tendency to appear [detached] or partially present in conversations,” she says. “They’re not in sync with [other’s] emotions and communication is challenging.” Meaning, if you’re sitting across from the table with someone—eyes locked, talking about your hopes and dreams—they’re probably not avoidant. The former has a difficult time making early emotional connections and they tend to struggle with eye-contact when you first meet them. Ergo, if you’re dating someone who you feel “really gets you” (until they disappear for three weeks), it’s probably because you have a player on your hands.
3. They ask for help or favors
“People with an avoidant attachment style won’t ask for help or small favors…They believe that showing weakness is embarrassing,” Dr. Rubenstein explains. As mentioned above, avoidants are all about self-protection; they hold their cards close to their chest and do their best to create a world that revolves around them. Hence, why if they ask for anything—from small asks (like folding laundry) to bigger requests (like borrowing money)—it’s more likely that this person’s just taking advantage.
4. They have no problem revealing personal details
This one’s a biggie. “For avoidants, personal life is sacred…They’re extremely skittish about sharing their feelings (and won’t open up until they’re sure they can trust you),” she says. “At first, they’ll probably be testing how much they can trust you.” This all goes back to the independent thing. One of the staples of avoidant attachment is withholding information until they’re in a place where they feel it’s safe to share. So, if your person’s mantra seems to be, enough about me—what do you think about me? I’d recommend you start reading up on narcissistic personalities.
5. They don’t take things slow
Last (but certainly not least), you want to pay attention to the small stuff. “While avoidants are unlikely to sweep you off your feet, they’ll start complimenting you more and showing small acts of kindness if they’re interested,” she says. Plus, since avoidants struggle with intimacy, it might take a while before you two get physical. “Small steps equals safety for avoidants,” she adds.
The TL;DR? If they’re not showing interest over time (or they are, but only in a physical way), it’s because they’re not avoidant—they’re just looking for something easy and casual (read: stuck in a situationship).
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