Letting Go of Attachments: An Evolutionary Cataclysm

“The mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death.” –Oscar Wilde

Sometimes I feel like I spend too much time thinking/wondering/worrying about finding someone to be with. Because in the meantime, major atrocities and devastations are happening all across the globe. Certainly, not having somebody to share my life with doesn’t rank very high on the list of worst possible things to ever happen in the world.

With that said, I think most of us would prefer to have a partner in life. We all want to be loved, as hard as it may be to admit.  We are all hoping to find ourselves in someone else.  But we live in an age where self-reliance is revered and independence is our birthright. Even technology is pushing us more and more in the direction of depending less and less on our fellow neighbors. From automated phone services to self check-out lanes, we are now more than ever less likely to engage in real life social interactions with other human beings.

Attachment Theory argues that all of this is counter intuitive and our need to find closeness is actually embedded in our genes. In Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find–and keep–Love, Amir Levine and Rachel S.F. Heller contest that as a result of our evolution, we seek out a few specific individuals in our lives to cherish above all others.  Essentially, we were born to be dependent and the urge to forge with other human beings persists until the day we die.  This is because, prehistorically, attachment to another provided one with a greater chance of surviving.  And so, our brains have developed a biological mechanism specifically for the purpose of creating and regulating our relationships with the people we are most fond of–parents, children and romantic partners.  That is why a child separated from their mother will cry so fervently until reunited.  This kind of reaction is what is referred to as protest behavior, which we continue to exhibit as adults when a source of love disappears from our life.

However, despite the fact that “we all have a basic need to form close bonds, the way we create them varies”.  Given the heterogeneous nature of human beings, people respond differently to intimacy and the threat of its abrogation, but we all tend to fall into one of these categories: Anxious, Avoidant, or Secure.  What’s great about this Attachment Theory is that it “does not label behaviors as healthy or unhealthy…romantic behaviors that had previously been seen as odd or misguided now seem understandable, predictable, even expected.  You stay with someone although he’s not sure he loves you?  Understandable.  You say you want to leave and a few minutes later change your mind and decide you desperately want to stay?  Understandable too.  But are such behaviors effective or worthwhile?  That’s a different story.  People with a secure attachment style know how to communicate their own expectations and respond to their partner’s needs effectively without having to resort to protest behavior.  For the rest of us, understanding is only the beginning”.  

And that’s where I’m at. I’m only just beginning to understand how my attachments to others are influenced by the way I came to depend on my parents to address my needs as a child and then later, my significant others.  And since “people are only as needy as their unmet needs” I recognize that at times it may take a bit more to fill my emotional cavities.  Because in a romantic relationship, “if our partner fails to reassure us, we are programmed to continue our attempts to achieve closeness until the partner does”.  It’s the old tug-of-war routine.

Coincidentally, when our emotional needs are met, we are then free to place our attention outside ourselves.  This is referred to as the “dependency paradox”, which states that the more effective people are at depending on one another, the more independent and adventurous they become in their own lives and the more secure they become in their relationships.  So while we hear so often that we should never rely on someone else for our own happiness, perhaps some of us can agree that that’s a bunch of malarkey.

In fact, studies demonstrate “that when two people form an intimate relationship, they regulate each other’s psychological and emotional well-being.
That’s because their physical proximity and availability influence the stress response.  How can we be expected to maintain a high level of differentiation between ourselves and our partners if our basic biology is influenced by them to such an extent?”  The codependency myth which is quite prevalent today encourages us not to base our happiness on our partner, or to acknowledge how important another person might be in our overall feelings of fulfillment; but to instead be self-reliant, focusing on ourselves and tending to our own needs first.  But what could possibly provide more joy and satisfaction than the feeling of being loved and cared for in return for committing to looking after the needs of another?

Of course finding love is something we strive for–it’s written in our genetic code.  Then again, something like love cannot solely be explained away with science.  There will always be a mystical, magical quality to the act of falling in love.  But it does help to know how our early attachments affect the emotional needs we carry into our romantic relationships.  Not one is either right or wrong.  Someone who forms anxious attachments will naturally be attracted to someone who is avoidant and vice versa.  What matters most is the ability to come to an understanding, to be willing to meet half way.

I wish not only for my sake, but for the sake of human kind that every person finds love.  Because it is what has allowed us to evolve as a species, surely.  And it seems to me the only thing worth living for.  If everyone felt loved, imagine what kind of world this would be.

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