Zoe’s points:

  • Self-fulfilling prophecy
  • Not black-and-white/unpleasant to be diagnosed like that
  • Knowing about patterns: can make you over-interpret
  • Prevents you from having interesting relationships
  • Not necessarily desccriptive of the individual

What I changed my mind about talk to Zoe:

  • Differentiate between it being a causal model and it being a bunch of behaviours associated with a particular cause
  • Can be other reasons that you have certain behaviours without the cause being there
  • Importance of seeing it as only the first few dimensions of a much larger model (and therefore also taking into account other considerations if e.g. dating an avoidant)

Also interesting: the example of the star student becoming anxious dating an avoidant guy and being all psychoanalysed about it then it being find once she broke up. Lesson: sometimes things aren’t based on rational reasons. Sometimes things are driven by subconscious mechanisms.

Key thing from what Zoe said: differently with different people. E.g. Rodrigo; e.g. Sarah being willing to ball her eyes out with some friends; ditto me.

I came across Adult Attachment Theory as a side-note at a recent CFAR workshop. It was interesting enough that I decided to read more about it. This lead to buying “Attached - The New Science of Adult Attachment.”

  • Might make you think too much in terms of the categories. E.g. when reading “that would be totally pathetic” in hpmor, my immediate thought is “avoidant”, even though it seems implausible that only people uncomfortable with intimacy would be like that.


Adult Attachment theory posits that people fall into one of three groups in terms of how they behave in relationships.


I’m sceptical that it’s a causal model. Evolutionary or not? Feeling of conjunction fallacy. What predictive power does it have?

I think the value is more in being a corpus of relationship patterns. Scepticism of observed behaviour vs proposed model vs suggestions.

Sceptical about message of “all emotional needs on partner”. e.g. self-compassion; CBT.


  • Normally sane people going crazy if their partner is avoidant

What I changed my mind about

That mutual dependence is necessarily a bad thing.

What I’m going to do differently

  • Assessing people by whether they seem avoidant

Other comments

Sadly little for avoidants.

Chapter-by-chapter summary

Below are summaries of the key points from each chapter. I’ve tried to avoid adding my own interpretation, but sometimes the summaries are shaped by charitability.

1. Decoding Relationship Behavior

The book opens with an overview and vignettes of the three attachment styles; a proposed explanation for how the styles come about based on evolutionary psychology; and a first hint of the book’s main message: “If you’re anxious, don’t date avoidants.”

2. Dependency Is Not a Bad Word

Setting the scene, establishing the philosophy to relationships followed by the rest of the book, this chapter’s key message is: meeting certain needs through one’s partner, and being at least partially dependent on them for having those needs met, isn’t necessarily the weak thing that the cultural zeitgeist suggests.

In particular, the chapter suggests that dependency isn’t necessarily something limiting; on the contrary, that it can actually be empowering. In the same way that a parent’s reliable presence can give her child the feeling of safety necessary to explore, confident in the knowledge that the parent is there if needed - a reliable partner, the chapter suggests - someone you know has got your back - can provide the secure base from which to try riskier things than one might otherwise feel comfortable with.

The message has separate components for the different attachment styles. For the anxious, the message is: accept and respect your need for reassurance. For the avoidants, the message is: don’t be so quick to dismiss dependency as a weakness; be aware of the strength that dependent relationships can offer.

[In Time Management for System Administrators, Tom Limoncelli suggests that self-esteem basically works like poker: the size of the bets you can make depend on how many chips you have. The nice thing about self-esteem, he points out, is that you can do things to magic up more chips. For sure, sometimes there are things you can do to magic yourself up more chips, like XX reminding yourself of your achievements; but writing this now, the thought occurs to me: what’s the harm in having an extra person to magic up more chips for you?]

It’s worth exploring exactly what “dependency” means here. The idea that’s most intuitive to me is “not wanting to give up the relationship because it offers you something”. Related to this idea, there are two scales to consider.

Scale 1: “Type and number of activities you can do without the support of a partner”. At one end is someone who needs the encouragement of a partner in order to get out of bed and go to work every day. At the other end is the person who is completely and utterly self-reliant in every respect.

Scale 2: “Type and number of activities that, for whatever reason, you can actually do in your life”. I see the value of this scale being calculated ‘Scale 1 score’ + ‘whatever benefits a supportive partner brings’.

With these two scales in mind, there are a number of observations to make.

First, I don’t think anyone is actually at the end of complete self-reliance in the first spectrum. Part of what makes up your Scale 1 score might be something like emotional resilience - how much you’re capable of doing without emotional support from your partner - but that’s only one part. We’re also talking about the benefits of cognitive diversity: that your partner might have skills that you don’t, or can help cover your blind spots. So the key thing is to accept that all of us currently sit at some point on Scale 1, and it’s not right at the end.

Second - given that we all sit at some point on Scale 1, and given that being willing to accept support from the right partner can provide a boost on Scale 2 - well, accepting that support must surely be a good thing, right?

Third, the issue is that in certain situations, the relationship might also move you down on Scale 1. You might become reliant on your partner for things which you were previously able to do on your own.

If what you get from your partner in a particular area is greater than what you yourself can muster, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Maybe you’re a terrible cook, and after moving in with your partner rely on him entirely for the cooking. Overall, the “how much tasty food I get to eat” component of Scale 2 still goes up.

But it’s worth bearing in mind that the opposite can also occur. For example, I experienced a case where I had a pretty good half-conscious habit for maintaining self-esteem, but the encouragement I got from my partner felt so good that I unconsciously lost the original habit. That encouragement wasn’t as effective in some situations as my original habit, though, and so overall I think my Scale 2 score actually decreased a little.

Combining these three observations, the trick seems to make sure you stay in the same place on Scale 1 and therefore still move up on Scale 2. Concretely, I think this means trying to be aware of when parts of your own skill - the skill that allows you to maintain the position on Scale 1 that you do - start to become weaker in the relationship; and when you notice that happening, deciding deliberately whether that makes sense. (Maybe it does! Maybe it doesn’t.)

3. Step One: What is My Attachment Style?

A tick-the-boxes style questionnaire to figure out what your attachment style is. There’s an online version at: http://web-research-design.net/cgi-bin/crq/crq.pl XX

As a second analysis option, the chapter suggestions considering where you lie on two dimensions: discomfort with intimacy, and relationship anxiety.

  • Secure: lower discomfort with intimacy + lower relationship anxiety
  • Anxious: lower discomfort with intimacy + higher relationship anxiety
  • Avoidant: higher discomfort with intimacy + lower relationship anxiety
  • Anxious-avoidant: higher discomfort with intimacy + higher relationship anxiety

4. Step Two: Cracking the Code - What Is My Partner’s Style?

  • Living with a Sixth Sense for Danger: The Anxious Attachment Style
  • Keeping Love at Arm’s Length: The Avoidant Attachment Style
  • Getting Comfortably Close: The Secure Attachment Style
  • The Anxious-Avoidant Trap
  • Escaping the Anxious-Avoidant Trap: How the Anxious-Avoidant Couple Can Find Greater Security
  • When Abnormal Becomes the Norm: An Attachment Guide to Breaking Up
  • Effective Communication: Getting the Message Across
  • Working Things Out: Five Secure Principles for Dealing with Conflict