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I was rewatching Girls for the umpteenth time when I realized: There’s a pattern here. In this particular episode, Hannah (played by Lena Dunham), finds herself in a situationship with Adam (Adam Driver). He’s hyper-independent—always tinkering away at some obscure, metal woodworking project—and his demeanor is frustratingly evasive; she can never tell what’s really going on inside his brain. All of this comes to a head when Hannah shows up at Adam’s front door and delivers a poignant monologue about his inability to commit: “You don’t even bother to explain […and] I don’t really see you hearing me.”
Suddenly, I thought of Brian (not his real name), a guy I dated in my early twenties. He evoked all the same feelings in me that Hannah intimated—confusion, insecurity and, my personal favorite, making me feel like I’m “too much.” Brian was just like Adam, passionate yet quiet, and his inability to articulate his emotions nearly drove me to the brink of insanity. So much so, that this led to a similar interaction: Our relationship was reduced to a humiliating, one-sided confrontation that ended with us never speaking again.
I can’t help but notice how this dynamic—one where girl chases guy, guy seems uninterested and girl is left feeling insecure—relates to the current discourse around avoidant attachment styles. For years we’ve seen social media obsess over three psychological profiles, including secure, anxious, and avoidant—with the latter being most misunderstood (more on that below). Yet, it’s worth asking: Where’s the line between avoidantly attached and He’s Just Not That Into You? After all, anyone who’s watched Girls will tell you how rare (and swoon-worthy) Adam’s character turns out to be. But with a swipe-right mentality and dating culture that moves as rapidly as Amazon Prime, it’s hard to know whether a person’s *actually* interested (or simply keeping you in a rotation with three other people).
I couldn’t get an answer from Brian, but perhaps experts could help me understand. Below, find two therapists' take on what constitutes an avoidant attachment style, plus five early red flags that say, “They’re not actually avoidant—they’re just not that into you.”
Meet The Experts
What Are Attachment Styles?
An attachment style is a psychological model that examines how and why individuals respond in relationships—for example, when a person is emotionally hurt, perceives a threat or is separated from a loved one. The framework, originally developed to understand the relationship between infants and their parents, categorizes how we perceive and make relationship decisions. Below, we asked Hafeez to provide a quick breakdown of each:
What’s the Difference Between Avoidant Attachment Styles and Just Not Being Into Someone?
“The avoidant attachment style values self-sufficiency and independence before anything else…An abundance of intimacy triggers them and causes them to seek personal space,” Rubenstein explains (more on what causes this below). In terms of dating, however, avoidants are more likely to prioritize their own interests (read: workaholics) and fittingly ‘avoid’ any situation that calls for emotional vulnerability. Yet, between all of the emotional stonewalling and adversity to commitment, how do you distinguish between a.) an avoidant who’s instinctually pulling away, and b.) a player who’s keeping you on the back burner? When you’re in the early stages of a relationship, it can be hard to read between the lines (all while you’re trying to figure out who’s worth your time and energy).
What Are Signs of Avoidant Attachment Style?
Why Does Avoidant Attachment Happen?
If you’ve made it this far, it’s likely because you have an avoidant on your hands (they get a bad rap but it’s not a death sentence). As mentioned above, all avoidant attachment styles—whether that’s fearful- or dismissive-avoidant—are actually a trauma response to childhood. “Children with avoidant attachment styles may have caregivers who are dismissive of their emotional needs, leading them to internalize the belief that expressing vulnerability is futile or unwelcome,” Hafeez explains.
“A lack of emotional responsiveness and support in childhood can create a sense of self-sufficiency and independence. This is because the child learns to minimize reliance on caregivers for comfort and reassurance. Traumatic experiences such as abuse, neglect or parental loss can further exacerbate avoidant attachment styles, as children may develop defensive strategies to distance themselves from perceived threats or emotional pain.” This then translates into adulthood, where “avoidants typically believe they don’t need anyone, and that people aim to seize their freedom,” Rubenstein adds.
How Does Avoidant Attachment Affect Romantic Relationships?
Per Rubenstein, “Avoidantly attached people tend to withhold information about themselves—especially if it’s unsolicited. They’ll shy away from making firm plans (or they might discuss making future plans in vague terms)...They also might get invested very quickly, but then retreat just as fast.” This doesn’t, however, necessarily mean they’re incapable of getting serious (or that they don’t like you, for that matter). “While an avoidant person may not want to be alone, they can’t bear true intimacy…They would rather be by themselves than risk their personal freedom for the benefit of a relationship,” Rubenstein explains. “When they do enter a serious relationship, it takes them a while for them to fully commit emotionally.”
How to Develop a Secure Attachment Style as an Adult
If your goal in couples therapy is to improve communication or connection, that’s code for developing a secure attachment style (and it’s definitely something you should bring up at your next session). Yet, if you’re someone who’s struggling with an avoidant attachment in your dating life—or trying to better understand how to help your partner—Hafeez has some tips:
The TL;DR? When they’re not showing interest over time—or they are, but only in a physical way, they’re not necessarily avoidant—they’re probably just looking for something easy and casual (read: stuck in a situationship). If they are avoidant, however, it’s worth pausing to consider why. An avoidant attachment style is something that’s planted during childhood and watered through adulthood. If they’re being consistent and making an effort (albeit, slow as molasses), it likely has something to do with their upbringing or the environment they grew up in. As with all things dating, this will be revealed in time—and they should be the one to open up about any childhood trauma (don’t force). Staying curious and really listening when they speak is the best way to sniff out their intentions in the meantime.
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