Securely attached individuals can tell an avoidant right from the beginning of the relationship. Some securely attached people work hard at providing the safety and security that avoidants need, but if they see that the relationship is becoming toxic, they immediately end it.
Men and women with an anxious attachment style also can tell when someone is an avoidant but their response is different. A relationship with an avoidant is very familiar, an attachment dynamic they know too well, and are drawn to.
The attachment dynamic between someone with an anxious attachment style and an avoidant is one of getting close and pulling away. When trying to get back together, contact and emotional connection picks up, then abruptly stops, then picks up again and stops again.
Sometimes it’s a few weeks and even months of things looking positive and getting back together seems like only a matter of time, then something seemingly small happens, and the anxiety and distancing begins.
For many men and women with an anxious attachment style the advice in my book Dating Your Ex works great. They want steady contact and continuous connection with their ex, and they are able to not act needy as long as they follow the advice. Within a short time, they are seeing progress and are hopeful, until their attachment anxiety is activated. All the momentum built up to this point is all but lost.
The trigger can be something as simple as “Can we meet in person?” and the avoidant saying, “I don’t think it’s a good idea to meet”.
The anxiety and fear is triggered: “Why doesn’t she think it’s a good idea to meet? Did I act needy by asking to meet? Was it too soon? Is she leading me on? Is there someone else? Should I ask? What do I say? Have I ruined my chances? Should I reach out? What if she doesn’t respond? Should I ask if she’s doesn’t want me to contact her anymore? I will give her space (or wait for her to contact me)….”
Keep in mind, the avoidant didn’t say anything about “needing space”, they just said “I don’t think it’s be a good idea to meet”.
Since most anxious and fearful men and women are overthinkers too, things get out control: “What did he mean by ‘it’s not a good idea’? Should I ask what he meant? What do I say? What if he doesn’t respond? I don’t want to be annoying, maybe I should give him space. What if he thinks I don’t care? Maybe he wants me to reach out first. I need to know what he’s thinking. What’s wrong with asking to meet? I need to apologize if it made him feel bad. What if he never contacts me again? I don’t want to lose him. I don’t want him to think I don’t care. I need to show him I love him…”
Anxious and fearfully attached men and women honestly believe that if they show the other person that they care and make them feel loved, the other person will love them back and/or everything will go back to how it was before. In reality, they are the ones that need to know that they are still loved, and their partner or ex still cares about them.
How a securely attached ex and an avoidant ex responds to attachment anxiety couldn’t be more different.
A securely attached ex will do their best to reassure an anxious and fearful ex that “I don’t think it’s a good idea to meet” doesn’t mean they want to end contact, that they are pulling away or don’t want to get back together. They just think it is too soon to meet, they are not emotionally ready (not yet there) or they want to take things slow.
A fearful-avoidant’s natural reaction will be to avoid contact because they don’t know how to stay in contact or what to say when an anxious ex is triggered. But because want contact and connection as much as they fear it, they will respond to texts and reach out every now and then and generally stay under the radar (limited or low contact).
The good news is that limited or low contact actually works for an anxious-fearful and a fearful-avoidant. On a superficial level it looks like there is still closeness because there is some form of contact even if it’s random and shallow. The bad news is that contact that is random and sometimes far between does not build momentum not to mention bring two people close. After a while, the contact fizzles out and because both attachment styles (anxious-fearful and fearful-avoidant) are ruled by fear, neither party has the courage to do what it takes to get back together.
An avoidant on the other hand will react with you guessed it right, avoidance. They will not respond to any questions about why the don’t think it’s a good idea to meet and will either get upset or pull away when a triggered anxious and fearful ex starts acting needy and clingy.
Unlike a fearful-avoidant, a dismissive avoidant is not conflicted about contact or closeness. As far as they are concerned, they don’t think it’s a good idea to meet and their ex can take it anyway they want and accept it or not accept it. They don’t need to explain anything.
When an anxious ex asks, “What did you mean by ‘it’s not a good idea’?”, they will respond that it’s just not a good idea. They will not give further explanations because talking about thoughts or feelings makes them vulnerable, and in the mind of a dismissive avoidant, vulnerability is weakness.
If the anxious ex pulls away (in the name of giving space), a dismissive-avoidant will not initiate contact. To them, needing contact, connection or closeness is a sign of weakness, and they can’t afford to be weak by being the one initiating contact.