Take a moment to imagine your ideal romantic partner. What is it, exactly, that you find so attractive about him or her? If you’re like a lot of people, you probably envisioned someone caring, warm, reliable, confident, and open—All personality characteristics that make for a secure partner. Now, think of one of your actual romantic partners, past or present. Again, if you’re like a lot of people, you probably can think of at least one partner who was insecure; perhaps they came across as emotionally needy and clingy (i.e., anxiously attached) or perhaps they acted emotionally distant and non-communicative (i.e., avoidantly attached). This raises a paradox when it comes to dating choices: If most people say they want secure partners, how and why do they end up with insecure partners? Could it be that insecure individuals use certain strategies to help them attract potential dates?
Researchers examined these very questions in a study of attachment and dating strategies.1 First, they asked 146 undergraduate students to complete a questionnaire that measured their attachment avoidance and attachment anxiety. Next, they led the actual participants to believe that they would have a conversation with a fellow participant (in reality, the other person wasn’t a real participant, but an attractive research assistant who had been videotaped earlier for the experiment), who would choose whether or not to ask the actual participants out on a date after asking them some questions via video. The questions included things like, “Please tell me about yourself, including what you like to do, and what you don’t like to do” and “Imagine that you are out and you see a very attractive man/woman. Show me what you’d do to get his/her attention.” Finally, trained coders rated the actual participants’ videos on different characteristics, including how nice, interesting, fun, talkative, and humorous participants seemed.
Insecure people used a host of strategies to present themselves in a positive light; in some cases, they presented themselves even more positively than secure people did! For instance, avoidant individuals tended to use humor and physical contact to attract potential dates, which might lead a potential date to believe that avoidant individuals are more comfortable with closeness than they actually are. Anxious individuals were even more skilled at appearing attractive. They came across as nicer and more interesting, humorous, and conversational than did non-anxious individuals, which might lead a potential date to believe that they’re warm, caring, and engaging.
These findings shed light on why people might end up with insecure partners, despite stated preferences for secure partners. Insecure individuals display a range of attractive qualities that can help them win over (some might say, “fool”) potential partners, at least early on in relationships.
1Brumbaugh, C. C., & Fraley, R. C. (2010). Adult attachment and dating strategies: How do insecure people attract mates? Personal Relationships, 17(4), 599-614.
Dr. Lindsey Beck – Articles | Website
Dr. Beck’s research examines how people initiate and develop close relationships, including why some people—but not others—choose to avoid situations that would help them form relationships, how partners ask for and offer support as they develop relationships, and how couples respond to stressful situations in newly-formed relationships.