How to Identify an Attachment Style on a First Date

Our attachment style says a lot about how we relate to each other. It can be a good predictor of how a person is going to behave in private; information that's vital when choosing a partner. In this article, we'll give you some information so you can draw your own conclusions.
How to Identify an Attachment Style on a First Date

Last update: 24 August, 2022

Being able to identify an attachment style on a first date could be advantageous and avoid you a great deal of suffering. Indeed, if you’ve ever wondered why you’re always so unlucky in love, being unable to work out a prospective partner’s attachment style could be the cause. Although it’s not always possible to ‘choose’ who you fall in love with, being aware of how a person bonds with you on an emotional level can be a tremendous help.

For example, if you have a partner with an avoidant style, they’ll exhibit a clear inability to understand emotions, both their own and those of others. They’re people with serious problems in achieving genuine intimacy. Furthermore, they walk through life heavily armed.

Research conducted by the University of Milano-Bicocca (Italy), and published in the journal, Frontiers in Psychology, claims that having a partner defined by a secure attachment by your side makes it more likely that the relationship will have a future. Moreover, a happy future.

On the contrary, insecure ties in a relationship manifest themselves with aggressive dynamics.

Often, the way in which we bond with our caregivers in childhood defines the way in which we bond with our partners.

Couple smiling, thinking about how to identify attachment styles
Finding a partner who bonds with you in a secure and mature way will be key to a happier relationship.

How to identify attachment style on a first date

Before delving into how to identify an attachment style on a first date, let’s clarify what attachment is. Attachment styles define how we bond with our parents in childhood. It was John Bowlby who developed this theory and explained that there are four typologies: secure, anxious, avoidant, and disorganized.

These first experiences have a great impact on our lives, as humans. Some children have caregivers who attend to their every need and know how to offer them secure and enriching affection. On the other hand, others have to deal with emotional coldness, abandonment, or abuse.

Everything lived in the first years of life determines the way in which emotional relationships are built in adulthood.

Doctors Mario Mikulincer Phillip and R. Shaver explain in their book, Attachment in Adulthood (2016) that approximately 35-40 percent of people say they feel insecure in their relationships. In fact, only 60-65 percent report being able to enjoy safe, loving, and satisfying relationships.

It’s evident that a happy childhood forms the foundation for a fulfilling life. Therefore, being able to identify attachment styles as soon as possible in people that you’re attracted to would guarantee, in a certain way, ‘getting it right’ in your search for a partner.

Although it’s estimated that attachment styles are stable over time, there are people who do manage to overcome the gaps and emotional suffering experienced with their parents, and build happy and satisfying relationships in adulthood.

Ask them about their last romantic relationship

Bringing up past relationships is common on a first date. It’s also a useful topic of conversation for finding out certain information about your date. So make sure you ask them about their last relationship.

With this information, you should be able to deduce their attachment type.

  • Secure attachment. They’ll have no problem talking about this topic. In fact, they’ll generally have had longer, more committed relationships. In addition, they won’t usually speak negatively about their ex-partners.
  • Anxious attachment. People with an anxious style will show some emotional restlessness. Talking about their previous relationships will make them uncomfortable or even angry. Indeed, their relationships are always painful and even traumatic.
  • Avoidant attachment. They won’t want to talk and will prefer that you talk to them.
  • Disorganized attachment. They’ll tell you that they prefer not to talk about the subject, that it’s in the past and has no importance. Furthermore, they’ll claim that they only care about the here and now.

Ask them about their childhood

To identify an attachment style in your ‘possible’ partner, you should look at the story of their childhood and the relationship with their reference figures. That said, this is a personal and rather intimate topic and you may find they’re reluctant to talk about it.

If this is the case, proceed with caution. You could always start by talking about your own childhood and then encourage them to talk about theirs.

  • Secure attachment. They’ll speak normally about their childhood, highlighting both good and bad experiences. They’ll be honest and, as a rule, will have a good relationship with their parents.
  • Anxious attachment. They might talk in-depth about their childhood. However, it’ll be in a rather haphazard way, mixing the past with the present, mourning aspects that they missed, as well as the complicated dynamics of their family that continue to drag on.
  • Avoidant attachment. They’ll either lie or dodge the question.
  • Disorganized attachment. They’ll say they don’t remember their childhood well. They might describe key moments when they were happy, but they won’t go any deeper or talk in any detail about their parents.
Woman thinking about how to identify attachment styles
Normally, during the first weeks of a relationship with a new emotional partner, you can already intuit attachment patterns.

How to identify an attachment style in the first weeks of a relationship

On a first date, your prospective partner will usually try to show themselves in a good light. This can cause them to elaborate on certain elements of their personality and attitude. However, as the days and weeks go by, you’ll find you can deduce their attachment style. Here are some clues:

  • Secure attachment. You’re dealing with a person who can be trusted, someone who knows how to respond to your emotions and needs. Also, they’re not dominated by fears or insecurity. They don’t exhibit jealous behavior and are independent and attentive. In fact, they know how to take care of you and themselves without being dependent.
  • Anxious attachment. They’re dominated by many fears and oriented to building dependent relationships. They’re afraid of being abandoned, that something will happen to their partner, that they’ll be betrayed, or that what happened in previous relationships will repeat itself. In fact, they’re really insecure people.
  • Avoidant attachment. This is the most complex attachment style. They’re people who don’t let themselves be loved, and are elusive and distrustful. It’s clear that they lack love, but they neither know how to offer it nor how to receive it.
  • Disorganized attachment. They’re unpredictable. At times, they reveal themselves as people in great need of affection who are really affectionate, kind, and complicit. However, after a few days, doubts and mistrust arise. They need to know you’re committed to them.

Seeing the whole picture

Finally, although it’s true that you’ll never be able to 100 percent identify the type of attachment in a partner in the early stages of a relationship, there are always certain signs, attitudes, and behaviors with which you can read between the lines.

One last comment. Bear in mind that attachment style can change depending on different variables or even the context. For example, a person may display a secure attachment style with their family and an ambivalent attachment style with their partner or friends. Hence, you should only draw your conclusions from the picture as a whole.

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  • Honari, Bahareh & Saremi, Ali. (2015). The Study of Relationship between Attachment Styles and Obsessive Love Style. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences. 165. 10.1016/j.sbspro.2014.12.617.
  • Santona A, De Cesare P, Tognasso G, De Franceschi M, Sciandra A. The Mediating Role of Romantic Attachment in the Relationship Between Attachment to Parents and Aggression. Front Psychol. 2019 Aug 6;10:1824. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01824. PMID: 31447749; PMCID: PMC6691345.