May 18, 2019 at 06:00AM by CWC
Despite expert claims that where you live doesn’t inform your relationship status, many city dwellers are single or dating the human equivalent of a trash panda. (And, like—that’s not something I’d want to date—would you?) So when Brooklyn-based psychotherapist Aimee Barr, LCSW, filled me in on her hypothesis that people with an avoidant attachment style are drawn to big cities, I practically spat out my cold brew in agreement. Because, welp, as a very single gal living in New York City who has a friend group full of single pals, my experience says tells me Barr is clearly on to something.
For the uninitiated, the gist of adult attachment theory is that there are different styles of establishing intimacy in relationships: secure, anxious, and avoidant—and the name of each style essentially gives away what each means. “Anxiously attached are fearful, anxious, and clingy,” says integrative holistic psychotherapist in New York Rebecca Hendrix, LMFT. “Securely attached are healthy, balanced, adaptable, trusting, and independent. And avoidant-attached people are really self-sufficient, closed off, withdrawn, escapist, and fearful of commitment.” (There are lots of online quizzes and questions you can ask yourself that can help you determine which attachment style best fits your personality.)
Barr’s anecdotal hypothesis is that cities are a draw for avoidant attachers. What’s this mean for you? Well, urban places may, then, have a higher population of folks who are afraid of commitment. “It makes sense that folks who are avoidant-attached would be attracted to big cities; intimacy is a fear for them” she says. “The constant motion makes it easier to escape intimacy and avoid feeling trapped by routine, commitment, or boredom,” says Barr.
“It makes sense that folks who are avoidant-attached would be attracted to big cities; intimacy is a fear for them. The constant motion makes it easier to escape intimacy and avoid feeling trapped by routine, commitment, or boredom.”—psychotherapist Aimee Barr, LCSW
The idea is folks that who are avoidant-attached value quantity over quality and therefore find comfort in a city where something new will always be available. Basically, it’s swipe culture in a nutshell. “Whether it’s greater job or romantic options, in big cities these folks have unlimited options, which allows them to escape commitment,” Barr says. “They’re able to escape commitment with less consequences than they might face somewhere with a smaller population.”
Attachment styles are something we develop as infants and toddlers through our relationship with our primary caregivers, says Hendrix. This means someone won’t necessarily become avoidant-attached simply because they pay rent in a specific location as opposed to another. But (but!), because most people embody a blend of at least two styles, Hendrix says it’s entirely possible that living in a certain location may highlight that specific attachment style in a person.
If you’re out there dating, the likelihood is strong that you’ll meet some commitment-phobes—it just may be stronger if you live in a big city. Regardless of where you call home, though, just keep on keeping on. The best thing you can do is focus on rebranding the avoidant-attachment issue as a good thing in your mind. Because when you’re aware of a potential issue (and taking things slowly so you don’t miss obvious red flags that someone’s not ready, willing, or able to establish a healthy relationship), you can be more adept at sensing warning signs. Think: unreturned texts, not meeting their friends or family, and sensing their lack of comfort in talking about their feelings.
Or, you could always try writing “Seeking someone with a secure attachment style” in your dating profile to attract some worthy suitors. After all, Barr says these people are like the universal blood types of the attachment-style world—they work with everyone.