Thursday, December 29, 2011

Review: Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment

I love books that apply science to daily affairs, and Attached promised to take scientific research and apply it to romantic relationships. If it pans out, you can use this to predict how you would act with someone else with respect to romance, as well as whether you're built for loving relationships, so it's a real promising book.

The book essentially divides people into three attachment types: Anxious, Avoidant, and Secure. Apparently, this categorization came out of child attachment studies, where babies essentially display the same type of behavior. Anxious types are your typical "needy" daters. They fight to keep themselves from calling their dates or romantic partners too often, and are wont to interpret every bit of thoughtless behavior as loss of the partner. Avoidants are the non-committers: you know, the type who won't bring you to see their friends and family, or who won't commit. Secure types (whom the authors say compose of 50% of people) are the buffers who've learned not to over-react to bad behavior and place their partners first in a relationship.

One of the interesting things the authors say is that the most common relationship problem is between the Anxious and the Avoidants. Basically, the two feed each other and push buttons in each other in ways that leaves Anxious people addicted to the drama of the relationship and thereby prolonging the pain. Another thing they say is that when you're out dating, you're actually more likely to meet Anxious or Avoidants despite them being only 50% of the population, because the Secure types typically don't stay on the market very long.

A lot of the book then spends time visiting case study after case study of the relationship types, breaking down arguments, and explaining what the Secure response to each potentially explosive situation is, and how the insecure response typically backfires. This is good stuff and I wish I had it when I was a teenager. It also tells you what you already know: "That being direct and honest is always the best policy, if you want to find a partner that suits you, but to stay in a relationship, what you need to do is to trust your partner and always assume the best outcome." They also explore potential dysfunction even for secures in a relationship, and explains why many such people would stay in relationships far too long for their own good.

Where this book fails for me is that there's no explanation at all as to how people become Anxious, Secure, or Avoidant. There's a discussion of dead-ends in the research. For instance, they explored whether Secure babies became Secure adults, and there's apparently no correlation whatsoever. This is bad news, because it means we don't know how to turn someone who's Avoidant into being someone secure. In fact, the authors come right out and just say, "If you're Anxious, avoid that Avoidant types and go for someone Secure. Here's how to recognize one, and for heavens sake, that excitement you feel for the Avoidant types is an addiction you need to get over." There's also no studies as to whether a Secure can become an Avoidant, or whether transmutation between types is common.

The book's a very quick read (it looks thick, but half the pages are essentially references to the scientific literature), and easily picked up at the library, so I'd say you should just read it because the case studies are entertaining, even if you don't normally read romance novels. I'm not sure it isn't an over-simplification, and clearly the science isn't anywhere near what we see in Thinking Fast and Slow, but I can definitely recommend it.
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