One of the questions most asked on this blog is “why doesn’t my avoidant ex want to meet?” The second, and one which almost everyone of my clients trying to attract back a fearful avoidant has asked is “Should I ask if we can talk on the phone?” or “Do you think there is enough momentum to ask for a phone call?
According to research (Luo, 2014), individuals with a preoccupied anxious attachment and both fearful and dismissive avoidants text more as a percentage of their overall communication compared to securely attached. While people with anxious attachment tend to use texting as a way to feel connected at all times, avoidants tend to use texting as a way to maintain distance and regulate closeness. And for dismissive avoidants for whom connection is not a priority, sometimes they just have nothing to say and don’t text back.
Are you texting an avoidant ex too much or they just being avoidant?
It’s therefore natural for someone with an anxious attachment who uses texting as a way to feel connected to sometimes worry if they’re texting an avoidant too much or if an avoidant is just being an avoidant and regulating closeness. Both can be true at the same time. This is why I advice my anxiously attached clients to always check with their motivations for initiating a text and to ask themselves: What am I feeling right now? Am I doing this because I want genuine connection or because I need validation and/or reassurance? Would I do this if I felt secure in our connection?
It’s also important for me to point out here that while most avoidants use texting to maintain distance and regulate closeness, a good majority of fearful avoidants who lean anxious sometimes don’t respond to texts or end text conversations abruptly not because they’re trying to regulate closeness but because they get anxious about it. Even when they enjoy texting an ex (and text just as much as their ex or even more), fearful avoidants sometimes worry that texting will stop and they’ll be left feeling rejected or that they may be sending the message that they care about someone more than the other person cares about them, and that gives someone the power to hurt them.
This fears stop many fearful avoidants from reaching out first leaving someone with an anxious attachment with the responsibility of always being the one to reach out – which then makes an anxious person worry that they may be texting a fearful avoidant too much.
What about asking a fearful avoidant to talk on the phone?
Should you ask your fearful avoidant ex for a phone call or will it be too much for them? Yes. Sometimes you have to take small calculated safe risks to get things moving forward. Just like with texting, if you don’t reach out first, it’s unlikely that an avoidant will make the first move.
There are of course some fearful avoidants who prefer phone calls or face-to-face meeting to text messaging, but the majority of fearful avoidants are more comfortable with text messing than with phone calls of or face-to-face meeting.
So yes, ask your fearful avoidant if you can talk on the phone, BUT only if you have created enough momentum to ‘graduate’ from text messaging to phone calls. The thinking is that text messaging is less intimate than a phone call; a fearful avoidant may find talking on the phone too close for comfort but texting first for a while serves as a launching pad for them to feel safe to talk on the phone.
Once you have created enough momentum for a phone call, ask your fearful avoidant ex to talk on the phone. The questions is: do you just call or should you ask them via text if you can call them?
Before you ask to call a fearful avoidant ex or surprise call them, you need to understand their anxiety around phone calls and why many fearful avoidants avoid talking on the phone.
Fearful avoidants and major anxiety around talking on the phone
In my research, I came across this explanation on why fearful avoidants don’t want to talk on the phone or don’t take calls when you call them out of nowhere and just had to share it. As a coach, I understand fearful avoidants, but no one understands a fearful avoidant than a self-aware fearful avoidant. What I’m trying to say is, I couldn’t have explained what goes on inside a fearful avoidant when you call them than Erin Edwards.
I have major anxiety around my phone.
And I mean, major.
I cannot remember the last time I had the thing unmuted. Whenever it rings, my thought processes go something like this:
Oh, right it’s you… ok then.
Dammit, why are you calling when you know I’m better at texts?
Should I answer?
What if you want to chat for ages?
What if you’ve got a huge problem you want me to listen to and empathise about? If I do it today then I’m responsible for checking in & making sure you’re OK and following up on it and all kinds of scary commitment type stuff I just can’t cope with right now.
Oh man, what if you want me to go somewhere?
Ugh is this some kind of horrible surprise being sprung on me?
I’m not sure I can deal today.
Meh, I’ll call you back after *insert self-deceptive excuse here*
Call rings out.
Then comes the fretting:
What is wrong with me?
I do not deserve friends/family/people who give a shit.
Oh god, what if something awful happened?
What if you called to tell me something life-destroying?
Well, then I did the right thing not answering – ignorance is bliss.
The loop of fear is then normally disrupted by a text.
Texts I can kinda handle because you have no idea if I’ve read it or not. You don’t know if I’m ignoring you, if my battery died or if I’m out of signal. This gives me time to read, digest and plan a plausible reply.
Should you you just call or should you ask a fearful avoidant ex if you can call them?
While not everyone with phone anxiety is a fearful avoidant, fear or shame associated with wanting connection is very typical of a fearful avoidant attachment. Sometimes fearful avoidants even say “call me any time” then when you call they don’t pick up the phone, or try to get off the phone very quickly.
Just calling someone who is conflicted about connection is not a very good idea. Some fearful avoidant exes may initially be apprehensive if you surprise call them, but feelings of unease quickly turn into feeling wanted and valued. But the majority of fearful avoidant exes want you to ask them via text if you can call them before you call them. But even this is tricky.
If you initiate a text just to ask a fearful avoidant if you can call them, your chances of getting a reply are close to zero. Most fearful avoidant exes don’t respond, avoid the question and or come up with some lame excuse as to why they can’t talk to you on the phone.
But if momentum is really good and a fearful avoidant is engaged and connected, you can just initiate text to ask if you can call them. What I’ve found works is to ask them in the middle of an engaging conversation when they’re emotionally invested – what I call avoidant “connection mode”. In that moment, the desire for connection is much stronger than the fear or avoidance of it, which makes your chances of getting a positive response good. They may still come up with some lame excuse as to why they can’t talk to you on the phone, like I said, sometimes you have to take small calculated safe risks to get things moving forward.
Don’t overreact and get in your own way. Remember everything an avoidant says or does is not always about you. Your fearful avoidant ex may just be anxious about talking on the phone in general or conflicted about wanting connection. Take the ‘rejection” in stride and with the long-term goal in mind. Ask again in a week or two. Small. Calculated. Safe risks.