Attachment – physical or emotional – is a deep and long-lasting bond that connects two people.  Being emotionally attached means to care, show concern and like someone very much.

The Theory of Attachment was originally developed by British psychoanalyst John Bowlby in his effort to understand the distress experienced by infants who were separated from their parents.

Attachment behaviors take place between infants and a primary attachment figure – someone who provides support, protection, and care.

In the late 1980s, two American psychologists, Cindy Hazan, and Phillip Shaver, widened the theory to adult romantic relationships.

Most people confuse attachment with love, but doesn’t being in love involve liking, caring, and concern about someone?  As I see it, there is a very fine line between these two sentiments.

Interestingly enough, in the same way love isn’t reciprocal, attachment styles aren’t either.

On my post Love Without Rules, I mentioned how adult romantic connections are directly related to the relationship we had with our parents growing up.  I also made reference to how I thought my move to the US was a potential cause of what I believed was an emotional dependency.

How do we know when we are emotionally attached to someone instead of enamored or infatuated?  How long does it take for emotional attachment to turn into love?  What’s the difference between love and emotional dependency?

To understand this better, let’s break this up in parts.

According to Hazan and Shaver, four styles of attachment have been identified in adults:

Secure:  These adults have positive views of themselves, their partners and relationships, and are able to keep a balance between intimacy and independence.  A securely attached adult is not jealous or possessive, has individual interests, and goes out with friends as well as with their partner.

Anxious-preoccupied:  These adults are very dependent and insecure and tend to look for a high level of intimacy, approval, and responsiveness from their partners.  They are not as trusting and may be impulsive, anxious and needy in their relationships.  They can also be very controlling, possessive and jealous.

Dismissive-avoidant:  These adults avoid attachment in general.  They believe they are self-sufficient and they feel vulnerable when they have feelings of attachment.  They suppress their feelings and are not trusting.  It is hard for them to have intimacy because they don’t believe they are worthy of a relationship.

Fearful-avoidant:  These adults display a combination of dismissive-avoidant and anxious-preoccupied styles.  They feel uncomfortable with emotional closeness, they are not trusting and, like dismissive-avoidants, they also view themselves as unworthy of love, suppress their feelings and lack trust in their partners because of their fear of rejection.

After reading these descriptions, I can say with confidence that my attachment style is secure, and that all relationships I’ve been in, with the exception of two, have been with another securely attached adult.

I started watching the Luis Miguel series on Netflix this weekend. I admire Luis Miguel as an artist, but I didn’t know that much about his personal life.

His father was very abusive and emotionally dependent on alcohol and drugs.

Luis Miguel’s first romantic relationship presented traits of secure attachment, but as his father became more and more abusive, and their relationship started to deteriorate, he started to present anxious-preoccupied and fearful-avoidant attachment tendencies.

He also developed an emotional dependency on alcohol and vapid loveless relationships.

People can be emotionally dependent on substances, food, gambling, money, sex… But there is also the dependency on getting someone’s love, approval or attention to feel deserving, adequate, likable, secure and fill an inner void.

If we take into consideration that adult relationships may be a partial reflection of experiences with our primary caregivers, do we need to include questions such as «how was your relationship with your parents growing up» as part of our dating protocol?

Attachment styles are triggered from the first date on, have a direct impact on relationship dynamics, how a relationship ends, and also dictate our behavior in relationships.

This is why we sometimes wonder why we act a certain way in relationships and keep making the same mistakes.  The explanation probably boils down to attachment styles during our childhood.

We all define love differently but, in a nutshell, love is about giving and sharing, not about receiving.

Focusing on getting someone to notice or love us can lead to behaviors that are possessive and controlling and can block out love.

This is why the focus should be on being loving and caring about ourselves and our essence to be able to see, appreciate and love the essence of another person.

Emotional dependency has a bad reputation and it is very often shown in a bad light, but when reading up about it online, I came across some positive articles.

Studies show that we become emotionally dependent and intimately attached, right at the moment we decide on being with someone.

Some psychologists actually believe that without bonds of love and attachment with others, we cannot really achieve our full potential.

If we happen to have a loving, respectful, caring and supportive partner we are able to feel happier, healthier, stronger, and we can improve our ability to succeed in life.

But what happens if we aren’t with a good partner?  What if we feel compelled to make things work because we believe we are in love with the wrong partner?  How do we know if we are with the right partner?

All these theories are very interesting, accurate and straightforward, but can be slightly confusing.

Breakups after being emotionally attached, love and heartache are painful and very hard to get over from.

If it were that easy to know if a relationship is going to work based on these theories, then we would all be in the ideal, cookie-cutter secure relationship.

For my parents, and many people from their generational group, all these psychological theories might sound like a load of baloney.

I don’t want my parents’ relationship, but they have been together for over 40 years and, even though their relationship isn’t perfect, they have made it work and are still married.

For older generations in countries like Colombia, it was harder to date more than one person. If you decided to get married, you had to make it work.

In a utopian world, a person would normally end up with the right match, making it a no-brainer to fall in love and be reciprocated.

In a continuously evolving world, with an increasing variety of ways people perceive and define healthy, organic and desirable intimate relationships, it is definitely not that simple.