I’ve written many articles on dismissive avoidants but this one is the hardest to write because it’s about me – my story as a dismissive avoidant ex. Some success stories on what made me go back to an ex, but much more about why my relationships didn’t work out.
I’m a very private person and do not have a social media presence to brag about for a reason. The only reason I’m on the internet is because I believe I can help others, and they are the focus of my online work. But lately many comments and questions on my blog are about how I know so much about how dismissive avoidants handle break-ups. Many of these comments and questions are from dismissive avoidants themselves. I’ve been able to respond without delving much into my own personal life and relationships history, but when one dismissive avoidant client asked me if I was a “secret” dismissive avoidant, I thought that was really funny. I laughed it off and told him, “maybe I am.” Days later, I knew it was time I ventured out of my comfort zone and revealed some things about me; and hopefully provide more insight into how dismissive avoidants handle break-ups from the perspective of someone who had a dismissive avoidant attachment. Here goes vulnerability.
Securely attached briefly leaned dismissive avoidant
I know so much about how dismissive avoidants handle break-ups, why they leave, why they often reach out and why they come back because for seven years of my adult life, I was securely attached leaning dismissive avoidant (hard).
My primary attachment style is secure – thanks to an upbringing with multiple nurturing caregivers. The African saying, “It takes a village to raise a child” is not just a saying but a reality for most Africans. There is a socio-economic and attachment element to this, but because most African children are raised to seek comfort and care from multiple secure caregivers, they mostly grow up calm, trusting and not resistant to being loved and cared for. Something I’m forever grateful for.
The flip side of my African upbringing is that there was so much pressure then for a woman be married before 20 years of age. At the age of 27, you’re considered “too old” for marriage and children. I felt the pressure to get married but I also wanted a post-grad education, go places, be someone who made a difference and just do me, so I rebelled and found myself a dismissive avoidant. It felt like I had to choose between “being me” and “being in a relationship”, I chose me. But being primarily secure, I struggled a lot and as a dismissive avoidant ex, I didn’t handle relationships and break-ups well.
Because I was primarily securely attached – I was a loving and caring dismissive avoidant. I had no problem expressing my feelings and needs and creating a safe space for someone to express their feelings and needs. I was consistently available and responsive but I didn’t want someone wanting more of my time and space than I wanted to give them. I didn’t want them expecting intimacy or expecting me to commit to a date or do anything they asked because it felt like pressure to meet their needs. But most of all, I didn’t want someone suffocating me and literally sucking the life out of me claiming it was love.
I was aware of my ability to detach and shut people out and it scared me
I went on dates with the intention of falling in love – and had no problem attracting guys. Most of my friends had and have always been guy-friends, and going to a guy I like, flirting and striking up a conversation comes naturally to me. The problem for me was when someone started showing signs that they really liked me – wanting contact everyday, hovering around me in social events, saying or doing “nice” things for me in excess, calling me Darling, Babe, Honey etc. – or started acting needy and clingy. Then I started to feel like they needed me to be happy and I didn’t want to be responsible for them – their happiness, thoughts, feelings, decisions etc.
Sometimes, I started thinking about breaking up with someone right from the start if a guy seemed to fall in love too quickly and too hard. I saw it as a flaw and sometimes it scared me that I could exploit it and hurt them. I didn’t have this fear as someone securely attached, deep inside I knew that I was incapable of intentionally hurting someone else. But as a dismissive avoidant, I was more aware of my ability to detach, shut people out and hurt them.
Ironically, my ability to detach and shut people out also gave me more confidence than I had as someone securely attached. With hindsight, I believe that some of that confidence came from the fact that I didn’t need or want someone else. I didn’t want to know what they were doing, thinking or feeling – and didn’t want them asking me what I am doing, thinking or feeling. This is probably why guys who “talk too much” instantly turned me off. I felt that they’d have a hard time respecting my boundaries, and I didn’t want to deal with someone like that.
Being a dismissive avoidant changed my thinking, my feelings, view of relationships
We were good as long as they kept their thoughts and feelings to themselves and were responsible for themselves – and didn’t try to probe into my thoughts or feelings or make me responsible for theirs. This didn’t mean I didn’t care about them, I did. If they wanted to talk about something “serious” that bothered them, I was present, attentive and supportive. I just didn’t care for the mundane stuff like how their day was, their worries about this or that, and dwelling on stuff that seemed so trivial and inconsequential. We didn’t need to talk about everything, and they didn’t need to know about everything I was feeling or thinking. To me, what’s that got to do with anything? I was still in the relationship, and doing my best to show I care and that should be enough.
My thinking was, “I don’t want a relationship, but you want a relationship. I’m trying to give you what you want but if it’s not enough for you, then leave. I’m not going to stop you or come running after you”. I know, really messed up (but there’s some truth to it).
Most people would find not wanting to be in “a relationship” strange especially for a woman, but relationships just weren’t that important to me. And if I didn’t know better, I’d have sworn I invented the phrase “relationships are overrated”. Now that I’m a relationships coach helping exes get back together, my exes make jokes about it.
Though my dismissive avoidance was mainly driven by commitment gamophobia, being a dismissive avoidant changed my thinking, my feelings, and my view of people in relationships (as needy, weak, unhappy on their own). Sometimes it felt like as someone securely attached I had been on “drive” gear cruising away smooth, secure and happy to be in a relationship. I didn’t need to be in one, but being in one added to my happiness. But as a dismissive avoidant I was on “neutral” gear; sitting still watching couples driving by in their relationships and sneering “It must be nice.” I didn’t like where I was, but I also didn’t want to be them, if that makes sense.
You can’t lose what you don’t want or miss what you never wanted
Being a dismissive avoidant also changed how I felt when a relationship ended and how I handled break-ups. You may have read that dismissive avoidants feel relief and burst of energy and excitement after a break-up, that’s true but that’s only part of the story. As a dismissive avoidant ex, sometimes I felt relief when a relationship ended, but sometimes I felt angry. Angry that I tried and it was never enough for my ex. Other times I felt like a really bad person for hurting someone who tried to love me. I’d immediately offer a friendship, and go out of my way to be there for them as a way of “making it up to them” because I genuinely cared for them.
I felt bad for hurting someone, but I didn’t feel sad about the break-up not because I was a dismissive avoidant narcissist without remorse, but because it was easier not to think, talk or be bothered about a relationship, the break-up, an ex… and just keep moving forward. If I caught myself reflecting on what happened, I quickly snapped out of it and distracted myself with something else. Eventually, I just didn’t think about an ex at all, unless they reached out or I saw something that reminded me of them. I’d think about them briefly but not dwell on it. No depressive episode, nostalgia kicking in or longing for an ex – none of that.
Somehow not thinking, talking or dealing with the emotions of a break-up made me feel untouchable and unbreakable. I had this “you can’t lose what you don’t want or miss what you never wanted” wall around my heart and not even a break-up would break it. It was a separation defensive mechanism I’d never experienced as someone securely attached from childhood.
I initiated most of the break-ups – or had already broken up with them in my head
As you might expect, I initiated most of the break-ups and even when a guy finally got fed up with my dismissive avoidant inability to prioritize them and the relationship and broke up with me, I had already thought about breaking up. I’d feel bad that that’s what it came to, but it is what it is.
As someone securely attached , “I miss you” came naturally and easily from an authentic place. I never even thought about it as something I had to be careful saying to someone. But as a dismissive avoidant ex, I never ever said “I miss you” or “I miss you too?”
If they asked me if I missed them, it irritated me. It’s like keep your feelings to yourself, I don’t want to hear about them. Based on what I hear from dismissive avoidants and people trying to attract back a dismissive avoidant ex, they don’t say “I miss you” or “I miss you too?” because it might give the impression that they’re sitting around sad and miserable without their ex.
In the 7 years of being a dismissive avoidant, I may have said “I love you” once or twice, but soon after freaked out wondering if I gave the guy the impression I wanted a relationship, commitment or to get married. I remember not responding to one guy’s calls for almost a month after I told him I loved him and he started acting “needy and clingy”. Every time he called, my stomach turned and I felt sick. I finally responded to his call and broke up with him on the phone.
I may have reached out to only two or three exes after a break-up
I may have reached out to two or three exes after a break-up mainly to check on how they we’re doing. Some of them were not what I would confidently call exes, because we went out on a few dates before things ended. The closest I came to being intimate was maybe a hug or kiss. I always needed lots of time to decide if I wanted more intimacy; but at the same time I didn’t want to give up my personal time to get to know them.
If an ex reached out to me after a break-up, my response would depend on if I thought they were a “good human being” or “not a good human being”. I didn’t know about attachment styles then and went by how someone treated me before the break-up and how they handled the break-up.
If an ex reached out and they were “not a good human being”, I’d feel angry that they were contacting me and either didn’t respond or responded to tell them to never contact me again. How I handled break-ups as a dismissive avoidant ex was different from how I responded as someone securely attached. As a dismissive avoidant ex, I had less empathy and patience and more judgement and irritation. “Not a good human being” was someone who didn’t treat me well (especially if I felt that I tried hard) and after the break-up acted mean, unkind and vengeful. It didn’t matter if they contacted me two days after the break-up or two decades after the break-up, I wanted nothing to do with them.
If they were a “good human being” I’d respond warmly. It didn’t matter if they contacted me the next day after the break-up, months or years later, I responded because they were good to me and I still really liked them. Being needy and clingy didn’t turn me off a person, being needy and clingy turned me off the relationship. It felt good to be talking to them again but I didn’t feel any sadness or longing for them. I still have the same warm feeling years later talking to them, but I don’t want them back. I moved on and they moved. We’re good friends and will always be good friends.
I only got back together with two exes because I felt safe coming back
In the 7 years I was a dismissive avoidant, I came back and got back together with two exes and that’s because we kept some form of connection and there was respect and goodwill n both sides.. With the exes I didn’t go back to, I just deactivated and ghosted them. I just faded out after a disagreement with some exes, to this day we still don’t agree on who broke up with whom. I think they broke up with me, they think I broke up with him. With exes who I now know had an anxious attachment, I stayed away because I didn’t want to come back to complaints and interrogations. All I heard was, “You’re a horrible person. You should treat me better.” As far as I was concerned, I needed space (like any reasonable person would), they couldn’t handle it because they are needy and clingy, and that’s on them. I’m better off without a relationship anyways.
With the exes I came back to, the break-ups were often something we both seemed to agree was good for both of us. I couldn’t do a relationship anymore and they couldn’t take my neglect anymore. There was no “bad blood” and I felt safe coming back often feeling bad and ashamed of my dismissive avoidant “stunts”. I’d try to be a “good girlfriend” for sometime, but there was always that need to “get out and breath” when things got intense or serious. Both of them finally ‘had it” and dumped my ass. It hurt. I cried. I felt that I deserved it but I suppressed my pain and move on.
It doesn’t matter how much time you give a dismissive avoidant to come back
Over the years helping exes get back together, how you handle the break-up plays a big role in how a dismissive avoidant reacts or responds after the break-up. It doesn’t matter if you reach out two days, two months, or two years after the break-up, if you were good to them and if you handle the break-up well, a dismissive avoidant is most likely to respond positively, and even reach out first. But if a dismissive avoidant didn’t form a strong attachment to you, or doesn’t think well of you or how you handled the break-up, it doesn’t matter how much time you give a dismissive avoidant, they’re not going to miss you or come back.
Of course not all dismissive avoidants are alike. Attachment styles exist on a spectrum. Dismissive avoidants like other attachment styles can lean secure, lean fearful and very rarely lean anxious. This affects dismissive avoidants handle break-ups, why they often reach out or why they come back. The traits that all these variations of dismissive avoidants have is that they’re very protective of their independence and would rather be alone than lose themselves in a relationship.
What me want to change a dismissive avoidant attachment?
What make me want to change a dismissive avoidant attachment was not any particular person, relationship or break-up. What made me want to change was because I was so tired of being avoidant – tired of the isolation, tired of acting emotionally unmoved and untouchable, tired of doing everything for myself and not wanting any one’s support, tired of pushing away and being angry at people who tried to love or care for me, tired of being alone.
I knew what it’s like to be secure and I wanted that back so badly. I wanted not to feel so alone anymore, so I went back to where I felt the most loved, the most cared for, the most secure – back home. It’s like when an insecure person earns security from being in a long-term relationship with a secure person, except in my case it was being among multiple people who were secure helped me find myself again.
Most avoidants have to go to therapy or do deep self-work to get to secure, but for me being surrounded by love so real, and being “one of them” was all I needed to remind me of who I really am – someone not resistant to being loved or cared for.
So there you have it. I’m not “a secret dismissive avoidant” – just someone who is trying to help people who do not have a dismissive avoidant attachment style figure out how to relate to it and deal with it. I have since worked through my “relationship with relationships” and I’m now a securely attached relationships coach who not only helps others get back their ex but helps them make a relationship work (Oh! the irony). But for seven years, I hurt people, and broke hearts, including my own. It still bothers me to this day that I did that. The silver lining in all this is that I learned the struggles of a dismissive avoidant attachment, something which if I had remained securely attached all my life, I probably would never fully understand.
Now I think to myself, “How did they do it? How did they love me?”
There is no doubt loving a dismissive avoidant is hard and can take a toll on one’s mental health. Dismissive avoidants show no interest or consideration for your feelings, constantly ignore your needs, disappear for long stretches of time and get angry when you ask for their time or try to get close.
What I learned or gained from being a dismissive avoidant ex is more empathy for people with an anxious attachment style. As a secure person, I took everything in stride and wasn’t affected by what the other person did. I didn’t know about attachment styles them and simply too anxious behaviours as someone who didn’t believe that I could love them. Maybe felt I was “out of their league” and needed me to reassure them that it didn’t bother me. I loved them for who the were. If I needed to, I would talk to them directly about what concerned me or didn’t make me feel safe. But as a dismissive avoidant, people with an anxious attachment annoyed me with their constant need for contact, for my time, for reassurance and validation and their people-pleasing behaviours. Now when I look back at what I put my exes through I think to myself, “How did they do it? How did they love me?” and I realize that I triggered them and they triggered me. It wasn’t always “what’s wrong with them?”, it was also “what’s wrong with me?”
By sharing my story as a dismissive avoidant ex and now an ex back coach, I hope that both sides- anxious attachment and dismissive avoidant can try to understand where the other is coming from and learn not just about an ex’s attachment style but who they are as a person, beyond their attachment style.
There is more to a person than their attachment style
I was dismissive avoidant for only seven years but most dismissive avoidants have been this way since childhood. I can only speak of my experience but want to encourage dismissive avoidants frustrated by the things written about them online to share about their experience from the perspective of a dismissive avoidant.
I’ve had many discussions with dismissive avoidants and some of them have pushed back with “there is more to a person than their attachment style” and “there is more to attraction and compatibility than attachment theory”; and listed personal values, shared goals/interest/hobbies, a sense of humour, adventure etc. It is true that there is more to a person than their attachment style and there is more to attraction and compatibility than attachment theory”, but if we don’t truly understand each other’s core attachment trauma and wounds, why they love the way they love and do the things they do, a relationship will still struggle even with shared personal values, goals, interest, hobbies etc.