It’s not easy to maneuver relationships, let’s face it. It’s scary to talk about what’s bugging us, even embarrassing sometimes. Whether family, friendships or partnerships, we are re-learning how we “attach” or “disengage.” At least some of us are. Relationships are delicate, “a thing,” an important thing.
Some of us are avoidant or aloof, others clingy or pursuing. Then you get a mix of both. The dance has existed since the beginning of time. If you move too far ahead, you step on toes, too far back, well, you don’t have much of a dance. I call it the cha- cha, my young clients prefer to call it the salsa or swing dance.
We might even need to “talk about the relationship!” Oh, drat. Who wants that? These days in psychology the term for connection is called “attachment theory.” It means, how have you learned to relate? It can be defined as: “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings.” (Bowlby 1969) We’ve all got tendencies in our associating behaviors, our togetherness.
We live in a society that encourages self-sufficiency and diss – association. So, learning to connect with others is an art, more of a discipline than we think. And as my new friend Eddy, (who is in sales, trying to keep his usual outgoing style) reminded me, “that’s why they call them skills, you have to learn a skill.”
The fact is, “35 percent of Americans over 45 are chronically lonely. Only eight percent of Americans report having important conversations with their neighbors…. “When a whole society is built around self-pre-occupation, its members become separated from one another.” (David Brooks, The Second Mountain) Joining takes awareness, being attuned and intention.
We might be detached, hiding (what I call “the Ostrich thing), doing a disappearing act, or acting above it all. Or we might never get enough, you know, frisky, verbose, craving contact, cuddling, compliments. Whether we’re anxiously attached or avoidant, the distancer or pursuer, prickly, squished down or shriveled up, we can all probably improve a little bit.
Oh, and let me not forget, the very fortunate folks are called “securely attached.” They are less ruffled by the ins and outs of relationships, yes, more secure. Still, sometimes they are too stoic or could try dancing wildly.
People with insecure anxious attachment styles may have had parents available one minute, gone the next. This type needs self-soothing. The avoidant person may have had emotionally unavailable parents, critical or smothering, but whatever the case, they can tend to hide, or duck and pray. The anxious person tries to belong, maybe by overwhelming others or demanding. The avoidant ones quell their fears by being invisible, ghostlike.
What to do? It’s work in progress. Most relationships have some version of “come close, go away.” If you are an avoider, try initiating conversation for five minutes and be curious, listen well, share something personal. If you crave connection and want to scoop people up and put them in your back pocket try going with the flow, let go. Focus on finding your own fulfilling endeavors, do something that soothes your jangled nerves.
We all have idiosyncrasies. Just wiggle your typical way of doing things a little bit to create better connections. And keep your sense of humor. Nobody’s perfect!
Katy Byrne, MA, LMFT, licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in the Bay Area for over 35 years and author, The Power of Being Heard. Conversationswithkaty.com. 707.548.8982