Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My Girlfriend Says My Anxious Attachment Style Is Too Much”

I am a male in my late 50s and have been dating, for just under two years, a lady, “Maureen,” who’s a couple years younger than I am. She is a busy executive and has a 17-year-old son at home who is her priority; therefore, we have limited time together. I realized a few year ago that I have an “anxious attachment style” which I have been making progress on with a therapist, but I still get triggered.

Maureen’s ex-husband cheated on her and had a child with the girlfriend. Maureen has worked for almost ten years to get herself back. She tells me all the time that she does not want to lose herself again in this relationship. She is independent, as am I, and I have no wish for her to lose herself. I think we are very much in love with each other but have been having bumps for the last six months.

So, here’s my question: During the first two weeks of being quarantined, I came over to her house a lot. When her son came home, we decided it was not a good idea for me to go back and forth. We have been FaceTiming almost every day, and things seemed good although I could tell she was sad. Last Tuesday I dropped by her house to drop off some soup I made and some flowers. She did not see my texts saying I was coming over. She was very distant (and not just physically as we stayed six feet away from each other). During our conversation she dropped the bomb that she is not sure she can be in a relationship which, of course, triggered me, and I told her she didn’t have to be with me.

Later Maureen sent an email apologizing, and we went back and forth. I said I realized I had responded poorly, and it was really about her and not me. She eventually told me that my anxious attachment style was taking too much out of her. Also, it makes her give away parts of herself to make sure I’m okay. (I have no idea what that means.) A couple subsequent texts make it seem she is mad at me. She indicated that we should each work on ourselves and see if we come back together. I am not sure what to do, so I am not doing anything. I’m feeling very good and have not been needy at all over the last month. We’re currently not really talking besides the occasional texts. I think we all are feeling sad with the quarantine and that may have something to do with this. Any ideas what I should do? — Anxiously Attached

You should listen to Maureen. She’s telling you she feels overwhelmed right now and that she doesn’t have the energy or the emotional bandwidth to meet your needs. She’s telling you that the needs you have are more than she can deal with right now – that your “anxious attachment style” is “taking too much out of her.” She is telling you how she feels. Her feelings aren’t debatable. You cannot argue or justify yourself out of how SHE is feeling. You may very well be “feeling very good” and maybe you haven’t “been needy at all over the last month,” but that doesn’t change how she feels.

Also, you know, maybe you haven’t been “feeling very good”? Maybe you have been a little needy over the past month. If so, you’d be like a whole lot of us right now. These are unsettling, nerve-wracking times. It would be understandable if you haven’t been your very best self — if you’ve needed a little more from your closest relationships. There have been moments — days, really — in the past six weeks that I’ve been a pretty embarrassing version of myself, and thankfully I have a super supportive, loving partner who has the emotional capacity to deal with me when I am not my best self. Maureen is telling you she does not have the emotional capacity to deal with you, in whatever form you’ve been recently, and I think that you’re right in that this says more about where she is right now than where you are. She’s telling you that her well is dry, her cup is empty, she’s running on fumes. Even if you’ve managed to defy the odds we’re all facing and you HAVE been a really great version of yourself these past few weeks, being even less needy than usual, she is telling you she cannot give you anything of herself right now, likely because SHE is not the best version of herself at the moment.

Please honor Maureen’s request that you take some time apart, and even “work on yourself.” Continue with your therapy, and use the extra time you may have in your schedule these days to explore some hobbies, foster or nurture some interests, maybe learn a new skill or two. And think about what it is you’re looking for in a partner. Does Maureen truly fit the bill? When the going gets tough, like it is right now, do you want a partner who is going to walk through the storm with you or one who is going to tell you there’s only space for one under her umbrella and good luck keeping dry? Maybe that isn’t a fair analogy, but it’s worth considering anyway. Maureen is showing you where you stand with her right now. In a few weeks or a few months, you may stand in a different place. She may learn how much she misses you when you aren’t around. She may find room in her heart — and her life — for you after all. The question you should be ruminating on in the meantime is: is that where you want to be?

I live with my partner, Dan, and his 21-year-old nephew has lived with us since he was 14. He now works and has his own vehicle, but he doesn’t contribute to our household in any way at all — no rent, no help with paying for toiletries, no chores or boundaries. I feel like he should have some boundaries and responsibility, but Dan doesn’t even try to talk to him about this. They don’t have a close relationship – they don’t talk to each other at all. I’ve tried to convey to Dan that I’d like him to give his nephew some responsibilities or talk to him about getting his own place, but he won’t, and this has strained our relationship now for years.

I feel like the nephew gets special treatment as I’ve been paying my half of expenses since I moved in with Dan, and I feel like I don’t have a choice but to keep living here as a hostage in our own house without rights alongside an irresponsible freeloader. I’m tired of it. Dan and I haven’t spoken for two days now. I finally snapped and broke our TV because I get personally attacked for wanting to talk about this issue and get it resolved. I feel like I’m never listened to and like I should just leave. — Tired of the Freeloader

 
Yes, you should leave. Dan’s silence IS his response to you. You are asking for him to give his nephew some responsibilities, to ask him to get his own place, to assure you that your feelings are valid and he respects them. His silence is an implicit response and the answer is no. No, he does not respect your feelings, and no, he will not ask his nephew to move out, and no, he will not ask him to contribute to the household. Bet once he loses your half of the rent, he’s gonna have quite some different talks with his nephew! Too bad you’ll be long gone by then. Oh, please, be long gone by then. (And, also, consider therapy for yourself. Breaking a TV in a fit of anger is not a good sign of emotional stability.)

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.

16 comments… add one
  • avatar

    ArtsyGirl April 17, 2020, 8:05 am

    LW1-It sounds like you were smothering Maureen. You were the one that came over to her house “alot” in the first weeks of quarantine – it doesn’t sound like she was visiting your place. I am going to guess that you are the one that instigates the majority of the FaceTime calls. You were the one that brought over soup and flowers (which is a nice gesture) without waiting for her to confirm that she was available. Undoubtedly Maureen’s job is insane right now as she adjusts to a fully digital workforce and is probably making hard decisions if they need to lay off workers or cut back on projects. On top of that, her son is home and they are likely adjusting to this new reality as well – I teach at a university and many of my students are in struggling with the stress. On top of all that, you need her to make your relationship a priority which is an impossibility right now. Seriously back off and let her come back to you if she wants. If you continue to reach out and force a reconciliation, you will absolutely loose her for good.

    LW2: WWS this relationship is over. You have been dealing with this for YEARS and are only getting passive aggressive silence or outright dismissal. I am so confused as to why your BF even allowed his nephew to move in to your house in the first place considering he spends most his time ignoring his existence. It seems like that is your BF’s go-to strategy when he doesn’t like something – he just pretends it does not exists and refuses to speak about it. Clearly you have reached a breaking point and need to find an exit since it all sounds so toxic. Even with the shelter in place orders, start looking into alternative housing – do you have friends or family that could put you up? The fact that you are starting to get destructive means you need to leave NOW before you physically lash out at your partner or his nephew.

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  • avatar

    000 April 17, 2020, 8:44 am

    I love this column because you are always willing to break down all the ways that men show women they don’t care or aren’t committed. Seriously–that is not a sarcastic comment. I hope you never get tired of publishing these letters, even if they seem basically all the same. If it’s your niche, so be it! Please continue.

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  • Copa

    Copa April 17, 2020, 10:17 am

    LW1 – You don’t really mention what’s been going on the past six months that have caused your relationship to be rocky. Nor do you mention how you’ve been acting or reacting in those six months. I do think it’s fair to assume that neither of you have been your best selves the past month that so many of us have been locked down, though, and that all you can do now is listen to Maureen and respect her wishes.

    I will say this, though. I read the book Attached over a year ago. It’s about attachment styles and I highly recommend it. It has some helpful advice. The big thing I took away from it, though, was that the way I felt/acted/reacted in relationships had everything to do with the kind of partners I’ve picked. Some of the anxious attachment style behaviors described in the book fit me to a T — but ONLY manifested when I was in relationships with men whose attachment styles were avoidant. Because they weren’t meeting my needs. My boyfriend of nearly two years has a secure attachment style and OMG the difference it makes. Your casual mention of Maureen not wanting to lose herself in a relationship and being independent, while not inherently bad, has “avoidant attachment” written all over it. The book explains why so many anxious and avoidant people pair up, and why it’s often tumultuous when they do. May be worth your while to read the book while you’re thinking about what you want out of your relationship.

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    • MaterialsGirl

      MaterialsGirl April 17, 2020, 12:54 pm

      Attached was one i haven’t read, i may have to put that on the list, but it definitely speaks to “styles” like the love languages do. I used to be extremely anxious, but that person was completely avoidant/gaslighter so.. makes sense. It’s not just how you are individually, but how you work with another person.

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      • Copa

        Copa April 17, 2020, 10:41 pm

        I recommend it to so many people! It’s probably the only self-help-ish book I’ve sincerely enjoyed.

        There’s a quiz toward the beginning to help you figure out what your attachment style is. I was reading the book when my relationship was pretty new, and as I was going through the questions, kept thinking to myself, “Well, this was definitely true when I was dating X, but it’s not true with this guy.” It was so eye opening for me. I read that book at exactly the right time in my life because I thought about the relationship I was starting in context of the book.

        I also thought of this site a lot as I read it. There are so many LWs who seem addicted to drama or whose behavior is cringe-y (e.g., intentionally trying to make an SO jealous). And maybe attachment theory can’t explain away every boneheaded move we read about here, but it does discuss cringe-y behaviors and how people can confuse the attachment system going haywire for passion and love. A friend sent me a podcast that resonated with her after a recent break-up and what they were describing in the podcast as a “broken chemistry compass” was actually attachment theory at play.

        Anyway, I find it all super interesting and think a lot of people who frequent this site would as well. And LW, since he is dealing with it himself.

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  • avatar

    Goobs April 17, 2020, 12:21 pm

    LW2- I read this very differently. If this boy has been living with his uncle since he was 14 he may have experienced some parental related trauma at a young age. His uncle, out of love and concern, isn’t ready to charge him or ask anything of him yet. He’s only 21 for crying out loud. And I think he has made his decision very clear.
    The letter writer sounds resentful she has to pay her own way (she’s an adult, so suck it up, buttercup).
    She absolutely should leave. She broke the TV in anger because she didn’t get her own way. To me, that’s a good a reason as any to seek therapy.

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    • bittergaymark

      Bittergaymark April 17, 2020, 2:04 pm

      Agreed. I thought the letterwriter came across as just yet another stepmonster trying to get rid of a child she can’t simply stand because that’s all stepmonsters ever seem to do. Notice, I said stepmonster, here — not stepmother. Because there are good stepmothers out there. This LW, however, is NOT among them. And she thinks she has more leverage as the kid in question is a nephew and not the direct spawn of her partner. Really — it’s all very gross to me. Vile.

      Harsh, I suppose. The LW strikes me as deranged. I mean — c’mon! For fuck’s sake who attacks and destroys a television set? Newsflash: a seriously deranged nutjob. That’s who.

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    • avatar

      Sea Witch April 17, 2020, 4:10 pm

      To be fair, 21 is an adult almost everywhere. It is high time the nephew started to transition to adulthood by at least getting a job and contributing *something* to the household.

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      • avatar

        allathian April 20, 2020, 3:26 am

        The nephew has a job. The LW doesn’t say how he spends the money he earns, but he’s not contributing to the household.
        But yeah, I think the LW should move out.

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    • avatar

      ArtsyGirl April 17, 2020, 5:18 pm

      While this could be true, the LW should still be able to have a constructive discussion with his or her partner. The nephew has been living with both of them for 7 years and has been legally an adult for 3 of those years. It is normal for a working adult to either contribute to the household expenses or have a plan to move out. Dan won’t even discuss a timeline or plan and it doesn’t sound like the nephew is suffering from a debilitating illness which precludes him from being financially independent. It also doesn’t sound like the LW is angry at the nephew – instead he or she is angry that their partner of at least 7 years refuses to even talk about it and has refused for years. It is half the LW’s home as well and they have the right to make decisions about that home.

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      • bittergaymark

        Bittergaymark April 17, 2020, 6:47 pm

        Oh, reread the letter — they’ve talked about it ad nauseum, only he won’t do what she asks. i.e. kick the kid out… and I quote:

        “ I’ve tried to convey to Dan that I’d like him to give his nephew some responsibilities or talk to him about getting his own place, but he won’t, and this has strained our relationship now for years.”

        PS — expecting some kid to find a place in THIS time of pandemic insanity is all batshit crazy. Full stop. Almost as crazy as breaking a fucking television set. An act few seem even vaguely troubled by… 🤷‍♂️

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      • avatar

        ArtsyGirl April 17, 2020, 7:21 pm

        I guess we will have to agree to disagree on if they have had an actual discussion. To me it still reads like the LW has tried to have a conversation with Dan and instead of being treated as a partner, Dan ignores the LW and give him/her the silent treatment. I agree that the timing is horrible, but the LW isn’t saying they want to kick the nephew out of the house – just that he should be given responsibilities such as chores and/or contributing in some way. The LW said they would be fine with even a timeline on when to start implementing some of these responsibilities which is pretty flexible in my mind. Also, Wendy and I both mentioned the TV as a worrisome sign which is why I think the LW needs to move out even if it is only in the short term. The shelter in place orders are causing a lot of tensions to spike since people cannot leave to cool off and it sounds like this resentment has been brewing for years.

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  • avatar

    dinoceros April 17, 2020, 8:55 pm

    LW1: The fact that you showed up at her house without her saying it was OK is a problem. Sure, you texted her, but you said she didn’t see them, which means she never responded and said it was OK to come over. The fact that you don’t find that odd makes me think that you are doing a lot of other things that are rubbing her the wrong way that you think are fine.

    Regardless, she broke up with you. You never really explicitly say that you realize that. So, no, you should not do anything. I don’t know if you’ve explored therapy for your attachment issues, but I recommend that.

    LW2: You’re not a hostage because you have always had the option of leaving, but you didn’t. Your choices are to stay with him and accept this is his life, or break up.

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    • avatar

      Rebecca April 18, 2020, 2:42 pm

      *nods* LW1 was exhausting *me* and I’m not dating him.

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  • avatar

    brise April 18, 2020, 3:57 am

    LW1: I agree with the comment above about Maureen: she is avoidant, of course it is a trigger for you. I don’t think that she is ready for a relationship. “Lose herself”, what? I don’t think either that you are really responsible for the present situation. Face timing everyday must be super-boring: I wouldn’t do that. I wouldn’t claim either to a girlfriend your “anxious attachement” issue: this is self-defeating, such an easy excuse to break up with you. This is between you and your therapist. Otherwise, you have done nothing wrong. She is now living with her son, so it is like a couple’s life. She doesn’t need you. She is in survival mode and has nothing to offer to you. Consider her speech as a break-up and let it be for while. You are right to do nothing. I would perhaps write her a text saying: Dear Maureen, I am sorry if our relationship has added to the general stress of this lockdown time. I wish you well and if you are interested in reconnecting later, when the lockdown is over and life is a bit more normal, give a try.”
    And I wouldn’t expect her to call me. But you ease the tension if you accept the break and are able to communicate calmly about it. Do protect yourself right now.
    LW2: you are seriously out of your mind. Why do you focus so much on a 21-year-old? He is living with your partner, was already doing so before you came to THEIR place. You knew the conditions. The only argument I would consider is your paying only a third of the costs. Your partner can cover for two, as his nephew is a bit like his child.
    But anyway, you sound mad if you break a TV over it. I complain those who have to live confined with you. Stop harassing that poor young guy. Your anger and hostility make it impossible to discuss seriously a share of the chores. You discredit yourself and should apologise to both. When you are a bit calmer, perhaps you can make a list of all general chores for the house and ask both guys how to distribute it fairly, what the nephew would like to pick? He will get the message. But this works only if you are a responsible flatmate already, not an enraged one.

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    • avatar

      ArtsyGirl April 18, 2020, 8:06 am

      Just as a quick point – the LW was living with Dan when the nephew moved in so the LW and Dan have been living together longer than 7 years.

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