Are You Dating Someone with Avoidant Attachment Style or Are They Just…Not That Into You? We Asked Therapists for Their Take

If they ask for a favor after the first date, run

Are You Dating Someone with Avoidant Attachment Style or Are They Just…Not That Into Youuniversal
Dasha Burobina

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.”

It’s Time to Start Using the 80/20 Rule in Your Dating Life

Meet The Experts

  • Dr. Carolyn Rubenstein, PhD, is a licensed psychologist based out of Boca Raton, Florida. She graduated from Duke University (Summa Cum Laude) before earning her M.A. in psychology from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in counseling psychology from the University of Miami. She’s the author of Perseverance: How Young People Turn Fear into Hope and How They Can Teach Us To Do The Same and specializes in anxiety and trauma, with an emphasis on redefining relationships and improving overall wellbeing.
  • Dr. Sanam Hafeez, Psy.D, is an NYC-based neuropsychologist and founder of Comprehensive Consultation Psychological Services, P.C. Hafeez graduated from Queens College, CUNY, with a BA in psychology, and then went on to earn her doctorate in Psychology at Hofstra University. Hafeez provides neuropsychological educational and developmental evaluations in her practice and also works with adults who suffer from PTSD, trauma and brain injury, abuse, childhood development and psychopathology.

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: 

  • Secure Attachment: Secure attachment styles feel comfortable with both intimacy and independence in relationships. In childhood, securely attached individuals likely had caregivers who were consistently responsive to their needs and emotions, providing a secure base for exploration and support.
  • Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment: Anxious-preoccupied attachment styles often crave closeness and worry about the stability of their relationships. They may fear rejection or abandonment and seek constant reassurance from their partners. In childhood, caregivers of individuals with this attachment style may have been inconsistently responsive, leading to a sense of insecurity and anxiety about relationships.
  • Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment: Dismissive-avoidant attachment styles tend to prioritize independence and self-reliance over emotional intimacy in relationships. They may downplay the importance of close connections and suppress their emotions. In childhood, caregivers of dismissive-avoidant individuals may have been emotionally unavailable or dismissive of their needs, leading them to develop self-reliance as a coping mechanism.
  • Fearful-Avoidant (Disorganized) Attachment: Fearful-avoidant attachment styles combine elements of anxious-preoccupied and dismissive-avoidant attachment patterns. Individuals with this style desire close relationships but fear rejection and may struggle with trust and intimacy. In childhood, caregivers of individuals with fearful-avoidant attachment styles may have been inconsistent, abusive or frightening, leading to conflicting emotions and confusion about relationships. 

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?

  1. They communicate regularly. According to Rubenstein, “Avoidants feel safe alone and many are introverts. Yet, when they begin to fall in love, they start to let a partner into their time more frequently.” And this is where it gets tricky: If you’re in the early stages of a relationship (i.e., one to five dates in), you want to examine how you stay in touch when you’re not together. “Avoidants typically shun commitment, but they’ll communicate with you regularly,” she adds. So, if it’s been months on months of this person sporadically hitting you up—and having little to no interest in talking in between dates—it’s probably because they’re not looking to get serious (avoidant attachment style or not).
  2. They might struggle with eye contact. “Avoidants have a tendency to appear detached or partially present in conversations,” Rubenstein says. “They’re not in sync with other’s emotions and communication is challenging.” Meaning, if you’re sitting across from the table with someone—eyes locked, talking about your hopes and dreams—there's a fair chance they're not avoidant. Avoidants have a difficult time making early emotional connections and they tend to struggle with eye contact when you first meet them. Ergo, if you’re dating someone who you feel “really gets you” (until they disappear for three weeks), it’s probably because they're wining and dining someone else.
  3. They don't ask for help or favors. “People with an avoidant attachment style won’t ask for help or small favors…They believe that showing weakness is embarrassing,” Rubenstein explains. As mentioned above, avoidants are all about self-protection; they hold their cards close to their chest and do their best to create a world that revolves around them. Hence, why if they ask for anything—from small asks (like folding laundry) to bigger requests (like borrowing money)—it’s more likely that this person’s just taking advantage.
  4. They’re reluctant to reveal personal details. This one’s a biggie. “For avoidants, personal life is sacred…They’re extremely skittish about sharing their feelings (and won’t open up until they’re sure they can trust you),” she says. “At first, they’ll probably be testing how much they can trust you.” All of this goes back to the independent thing. One of the staples of avoidant attachment is withholding information until they’re in a place where they feel it’s safe to share. Conversely, if this person's mantra seems to be, enough about me—what do you think about me? I’d recommend you start reading up on narcissistic personalities.
  5. They take things slow. Last (but certainly not least), you want to pay attention to the small stuff. “While avoidants are unlikely to sweep you off your feet, they’ll start complimenting you more and showing small acts of kindness if they’re interested,” she says. Plus, since avoidants struggle with intimacy, it might take a while before you two get physical. “Small steps equals safety for avoidants,” she adds. Translation? Be very wary of anyone who tries to come upstairs after date one...

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:

  • Develop Self-Awareness: Reflect on your attachment patterns and how they influence your relationships. Identify any negative beliefs or behaviors rooted in past experiences that may hinder secure attachment.
  • Communicate Openly and Honestly: Foster open communication with your partners, friends and family members. Share your feelings, needs and hesitations in a clear and respectful manner.
  • Build Trust and Intimacy: Be reliable and consistent in your actions, and honor commitments made to others.
  • Set Healthy Boundaries: Establish clear boundaries to protect your emotional well-being and maintain autonomy. Respect the boundaries of others and communicate your own boundaries assertively.
  • Cultivate Secure Relationships: Surround yourself with supportive and emotionally attuned individuals who prioritize mutual respect and understanding.

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. 

profile pic WP

Associate Editor

Sydney Meister is PureWow's Associate Editor, covering everything from dating trends and relationship advice (here's looking at you, 'soonicorns') to interior design, beauty...