Insecurely Attached in My Relationship: How Picking the Safe Romantic Partner Can Backfire

Intimacy can be avoided in complete darkness or in the blazing light of romance.

The avoidant attachment style, marked by a difficulty with being vulnerable with others, is often conceived through the lens of the loner type – the individual appearing to be hyper-independent. But more often than not, its expression is found in everyday relationships, involving individuals who wouldn’t consider themselves to be avoidant. What, at first glance, appears as love is anything but.

People avoid intimacy through others in several ways. Some pursue those who are out of their league, perpetually chasing high-status individuals with no luck. Others chronically date those who are inferior to them in significant ways, usually in several. Why would someone do that? Why would someone purposely become romantically involved with a person they believe is inferior to them? Mainly, power and admiration. It’s easy to control a person who’s overly grateful for you. And one can even fall in love with being admired, subsequently rationalizing that they’re the only one who can see how special their partner is (e.g. “I know he doesn’t have it all together, but he has so much potential.”).

Chronically low self-esteem can engender a grandiose self-conception, which, in turn, provides the foundation for cultivating relationships that help sustain it. Through the process of mental-filtering, where the mind hyper focuses on some data and not others, our minds automatically talk us into falling for partners we may not be attracted to if we weren’t desperately searching for love. The individual uses the stream of admiration for reinforcement, and feels a sense of security in knowing that she’s the better looking, smarter, and/or more charming one. There’s always a nagging self-doubt, but, just as frequently, it’s silenced through external praise. Yet, over time, that praise tends to dissipate, fostering resentment in its stead.

While gratitude and admiration last for some time, they often give way to the burden of imbalance. People aren’t stupid, and eventually accept what’s in front of them. Naturally, all of us tend to envy. And we resent feeling out of control. So, admiration turns to scorn, and the seemingly impenetrable security of the relationship fades. In attempting to establish some sort of balance, and compensate for the obvious incongruity, the partner who feels inferior begins to cheat on, mistreat, and even threaten to leave the other. Essentially, the veil of safety is removed and the relationship devolves into chaos. What appeared to be an adaptive strategy – dating below one’s status – is exposed as being nothing more than a mere band-aid, failing to heal the childhood wound.

Searching for a way to have the upper-hand, and preclude rejection, leads to rejection anyway. But, this doesn’t mean that people can’t date people who are less attractive or intelligent; it just means that wisdom rejects the belief that it’s best to date someone solely for security. There will always be discrepancies in the partners’ respective traits, but they shouldn’t be collectively excessive. You can make the case that you’re dating someone because they’re nice, but there are plenty of nice people in the world. Why choose someone who drastically pales in comparison?

If you don’t fall in love with your own reflection, or begin to devalue the source of admiration, then dating someone whom you consider safe can even engender your own sense of resentment. (As an aside, it’s normal to want to admire and be admired; it isn’t to choose a partner who admires you without reciprocity, even if you admire them solely because they admire you.) It’s easy to blame your partner for failing to meet your standards when you aren’t considering your refusal to try again. Dating will always be difficult, and rejection is its inevitable dance partner. As much as you try to avoid the latter by bastardizing the former, you’ll never escape failure and disappointment. Arguably, in this case, you merely become the co-author of your own sorrow.

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