Avoiding Intimacy By Pursuing Unavailable Men

Today I am featuring a post from a guest blogger: Ionsil Ferrin. The link to her blog is below. I hope you will read more from her!

This article will only make sense if you’re familiar with theories on attachment styles. Super simplified: someone who has an “avoidant” attachment style stays away from emotional intimacy (usually in ways that they aren’t even aware of), while someone with an “anxious” attachment style has a hard time with any amount of emotional distance, and can get controlling about trying to close the gap.

There are literally book-loads more written about attachment styles, I highly recommend reading them. But for the sake of this blog, I want to divulge something pretty personal about my own attachment tendencies. I think it could help light some bulbs for people. Plus, this blog is really my own cheap therapy.

When I first read about attachment styles, my assessment was that I can swing between avoidant and anxious, depending on the circumstances. In my twenties, an older and wiser friend of mine had a graphic novel version of Harriet Lerner’s “The Dance of Intimacy” on her coffee table. Basically, it poked fun at the ways we chase and avoid intimacy. Especially in romantic partnerships, it’s common for one person to pursue or chase, while the other runs away or distances. And often, they’ll switch places back and forth, maintaining the subconsciously safe distance that both people can comfortably tolerate.

And of course when the distance grows too large, that’s when break-ups happen.

Mostly, I assumed, I was anxiously attached. I would pursue men who were out of my reach physically or emotionally or both. I can’t tell you how many obsessive hours of my life were spent thinking about, writing about, and talking about the object of my longing. Not only in my teens and early twenties, but even after my divorce.

It wasn’t until I realized that I was in love with the longing itself that the pattern began to shift for me. With enough self-honesty, I finally realized that I actually enjoyed the loneliness, the inner drama, the pain in my heart that brought me closer to a long-lost, forgotten part of myself. With that self-love and self-connection more consciously nourished, the pattern started to dissolve naturally.

But it’s still something I have to stay aware of, and something I could still lapse into at any time. After all, it’s so much safer to have a relationship with a fantasy than a reality. (And fantasizing is a self-soothing trauma response from not having your needs consistently met in childhood, which is where it started for me, but I digress.)

In my early twenties, it seemed like a big step forward for me to start a “real” relationship with a man who actually reciprocated my attention and interest. That was my kids’ dad, who I was in a relationship with for 7 years. At first, I felt like I was so in love, and I did love him as much as I was capable of at the time. But in retrospect, I realize that a big reason I was with him for that long was because of (not in spite of) the relationship he had with drugs and alcohol. His addictions allowed us to stay at a safe emotional distance the whole time. He could never be that present, and we could never be that close because of his constant mistress of substance use.

(Side note: He’s now been sober for 3+ years and is an amazing father and co-parent. So even the most painful relationships can have eventual happy new beginnings.)

That emotional distance was the only way I could stay in a relationship with him for as long as I did. Because since our divorce 7 years ago, I’ve finally woken up to the fact: I’ve been avoidant all along. I was pursuing men who would never get close to me, BECAUSE they would never get close to me. And I’d never have to get close to them. Because it was safe. And relieving to stay in the freedom of single-hood.

I was recently in a romantic exploration (that I mentioned in previous posts) that really brought this home for me. At first, I was seeing progress in who I was attracted to at least, because he’s different than other men I’ve dated. He’s done a lot of inner work and was available for deeper connection.

But then we hit our first snafu where his anxious attachment tendencies revealed themselves, and I pretty immediately bailed ship in full-on avoidant mode.

Essentially, one of the things I learned about myself is that I have a hairpin trigger around being told that I am wrong or bad in any way for having the needs for space that I do. A lot of it comes down to how someone communicates, as well. I can hold space for someone’s pain or fear all day. But as soon as they even subtly suggest that I’m bad or at fault somehow, I want to run away faster than Sonic. (The Hedgehog?… Jeez, guess you don’t have a 9 year old son.)

Even though I know (or at least I’ve read) that people with anxious attachment tend to be the most abusive in relationship because of their overwhelming desire to control the situation, and that desire comes from their own pain and wounding, I still found myself incapable of holding space for it.

So, I’m still refining the search for intimacy and growing in self-awareness.

Since my divorce, I’ve been actively working on my codependent tendencies, where, instead of communicating my needs directly, I would try to help, heal, or change the person I was with to try to get my needs met indirectly. (Funny ol’ wounded psyche.) But only now am I getting in touch with the inverse polarity of codependency in myself—which is the part of me that doesn’t want to be responsible for other peoples’ needs. At all. Ever. And is pretty damn avoidant because of it.

Shortly after the aforementioned romantic exploration ended, a friend of mine read me like a book. She said, “You need a partner who’s independent like a cat. But loves to cook for you. And is great in bed.”


Turns out, I need someone with a unicorn-esque balance of emotional self-sufficiency AND capacity for deep love and connection. In my limited experience, most people are either so independent that they’re not open to intimacy (avoidant), or they’re so tense and fearful in their desire for connection that they become controlling (anxious). I have been—and probably always will be—at both ends of that spectrum at times. Sometimes, I’m at both ends simultaneously. I think a lot of us can be.

So it’s probably not about being—or finding—someone who has mastered that balance, as much as it’s about learning to surf the waves that knock us off balance, ideally healing the rift before permanent disconnection happens.

As those of us on a personal journey of raising consciousness (increasing our choice and awareness so we can live more happy and free lives) are moving out of thousands of years of oppression and patriarchy and fucked up messaging about sex and romantic relationships and gender roles, it can be a pretty wild ride to figure out who we are, what we’re really wanting, and how to get there.

I am a work in progress, for sure. And I appreciate all of you for being your own works in progress as well.

What’s your personal growth edge around relationships right now? If you’re inspired, let me know in the comments, I’d love to continue the conversation.

Click here to read more from Ionsil Ferrin!

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