First every queer beau needed to know your zodiac sign. Then they demanded to know each potential suitor’s love language. And at some point, attachment styles became the new screening method for queer dating and a go-to analytical tool for queer relationships. But what is it, exactly?
Attachment styles come from “attachment theory,” which was originally proposed by British psychologist John Bowlby in the late 1950s. Bowlby theorized that the emotional bonds infants form with their caregivers affect their adult relationships. In the 1970s, psychologist Mary Ainsworth expanded on this theory, identifying three distinct attachment styles — secure, ambivalent-insecure and avoidant-insecure. By the late 1980s, researchers Main and Solomon had added another attachment style — disorganized-insecure — to the mix, completing the list of four attachment styles that psychology nerds know of today. Now those styles are more often called “secure” attachment, “anxious” attachment, “dismissive-avoidant” attachment and “fearful-avoidant” attachment. “Secure” attachment is considered the healthiest, most stable attachment style, while the other three are recipes for conflict.
Despite decades of research on this subject, attachment theory has its problems. First, attachment theory is a decidedly American idea. It conveniently emerged just after World War II and was solidified in the ‘60s. Its emphasis on the ways our early years shape our futures preyed on a particular societal fear of the time — that mothers entering the workforce would destabilize the nuclear family and inflict lasting damage on their children. More recent research suggests that caregivers aren’t solely responsible for our attachment styles, since our relationships with peers and our class backgrounds might have a greater impact on our adult relationships. And while Bowlby believed that a person’s attachment style is fixed, other researchers have found that we can have different attachment styles with different people and that our attachment styles can change over time.
The idea that we can all work towards secure attachment regardless of past experiences feels hopeful, and perhaps that’s why queer people, who seem to love analyzing relationships, have found attachment theory so useful. This framework helps us determine how our past experiences have shaped us and identify the areas in which we want to grow.
Take this quiz to identify your current attachment style in romantic relationships. Keep in mind that this quiz is not meant to diagnose any mental illnesses — it’s meant to give you an idea of where you’re at so you can work towards a healthier relationships.