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I’m 36, still single, and finally figured out why

I’ve been single for nearly all of my adult life, am still single, and I finally figured out what the problem is.

I used to believe the reason was because I hadn’t met the right person yet. I believed that all I had to do was keep on enjoying life, focus on my passion, identify the qualities I was looking for and soon enough I would attract the perfect partner.

I now know this approach to life is total bullsh*t.

The way to attract the perfect partner into your life is completely different than what most people believe. Life isn’t a fairy tale. There are no easy solutions, despite what the law of attraction gurus will tell you.

The brutal truth I discovered is that the problem is me, not the women I’ve been dating.

I knew this as soon as I came across “attachment theory” in an article by Mark Manson which describes the nature of emotional attachment between humans, and the four types of people in relationships.

I’ll share the 4 types of people according to attachment theory below, but first I’ll explain the problem I was facing.

Living my whole adult life as a single man

Every time I meet someone new, the same thing happens. I feel incredible excitement about the possibility of sparks flying. I spend some time with them. The usual sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach returns. I conclude that she’s “not quite right” and move on to the next person.

(Have you experienced this before? Have you tried dating someone like this? Let me know in the comments below.)

Week after week, month after month and year after year this same thing happens. I continue to succeed at my external focuses in life, but don’t have any success at building any kind of emotional and loving connection with a romantic partner.

The truth is that I’m 36 years old and have lived almost all of my adult life as a single man.

why I'm still single
Credit: Shutterstock

Recently I read about attachment theory and came to the sudden and painful realization that the problem isn’t the women I’ve been dating.

I’m the problem. I’m the “avoidant type” (number 3 below). And I now know what to do to live a better life.

(If you’re interested in self-improvement, check out the free salon I put together: The hidden trap of “improving yourself”, and what to do instead)

4 types of people in relationships, according to “attachment theory”

As Manson explains, attachment theory began in the 1950s and has since amassed a sizeable body of research behind it. In short, researchers have found that the way in which infants get their needs met by their parents determines their “attachment strategy” throughout their lives. Your attachment strategy likely explains why your relationships have succeeded or failed, the manner in which they did and why you’re attracted to who you’re attracted to.

The four attachment strategies people adopt are: secure, anxious, avoidant and anxious-avoidant.

1) Secure: people who are comfortable displaying interest and affection

These people are both comfortable showing affection towards their loved ones while also being alone and independent. They can prioritize what’s important in their relationships and can draw clear boundaries.

Secure people can accept rejection when it happens and can also be loyal during tough times.

People who are secure are the best people to have a relationship with.

Over 50% of the population are of the secure type, according to research. I used to think I was one of them, but learning about type 3 helped me see that I’m not.

Secure attachment is developed in childhood by infants who regularly get their needs met, as well as receive ample quantities of love and affection.

2) Anxious: people who are often nervous and stressed about their relationships

These people need constant reassurance and affection from their partner. They are uncomfortable being alone, and often succumb to abusive relationships.

Anxious people have trouble trusting their partners. This is the girl who constantly wants to check their boyfriend’s messages and the guy who follows his girlfriend to work out of fear she’s going to meet someone else.

Anxious attachments are developed early in life from infants who receive love and care unpredictable from their parents.

3) Avoidant: extremely independent, comfortable being alone and uncomfortable with intimacy

These people have massive problems with commitment and can often rationalize themselves out of any intimate situation.

They are highly sensitive to feelings of being “crowded” or “suffocated” in a relationship, and in every relationship they always have an exit strategy.

Avoidant types of people often create a lifestyle that supports their constant independence.

It’s the man who works 80 hours a week and gets frustrated when his partner wants to spend some quality time together on the weekend. It’s the woman who dates many partners over a number of years, telling them all she “doesn’t want anything serious.”

It’s also me, and before coming across these attachment types I had absolutely no idea that I was creating the problem.

According to research, attachment strategy is developed in childhood by infants who only get some of their needs met while the rest are neglected (for instance, he/she gets fed regularly, but is not held enough). It’s not always the case — personally, I was fortunate to grow up in a happy and loving family, but I did have some challenging relationships in my early years of adulthood which set the course for my avoidant behaviors.

4) Anxious-avoidant: the “fearful type” who bring the worst of both worlds

These types of people are not only afraid of emotional commitment and connection. They also lash out at people who try to get close to them.

Anxious-avoidant types often spend large amounts of time alone, but they’re miserable in doing so. When they’re not alone, they’re often in dysfunctional and abusive relationships.

According to studies, only a small percentage of people are anxious-avoidant types, and they typically have a multitude of other emotional problems in other areas of their life (i.e., substance abuse, depression, etc.).

Anxious-avoidant types develop from abusive or terribly negligent childhoods.

What happens when different attachment types date each other?

According to attachment theory, different configurations of relationship types coming together have different impacts on the nature of the relationship itself.

Secure types are capable of dating both anxious and avoidant types. They’re comfortable enough with themselves to give anxious types the reassurance they need and to give avoidant types the space they need without feeling threatened themselves.

Anxious and avoidant types often end up in relationships with one another. This is because avoidant types are so good at putting off others that it’s only the anxious types that stick around. And the lack of emotional availability of the avoidant types ends up triggering the anxiety of the anxious type, which keeps them coming back for more.

Anxious-avoidants often date each other, or the least secure of the anxious types or avoidant types. These relationships are often abusive or negligent.

According to the theory, people can change over time. Secure types can help anxious or avoidant people “level up” over the course of their relationship, but unfortunately, the converse is also true with avoidants and anxious people also able to “bring down” their secure partners.

Now that I discovered my attachment type, what am I going to do about it?

The first point I want to make is that I don’t think a theory can perfectly describe who I am. I also don’t see myself as a “flawed individual”. Rather, I’m using the insights from attachment theory to help guide me in creating some personal shifts.

As Manson points out, everybody has elements of each attachment type. But we usually end up demonstrating behaviors of one particular attachment more than others over time.

I know that I have elements of a secure type, along with moments of anxiety. Yet if I’m honest with myself, my perpetual single life can be explained by the avoidant type in attachment theory.

In my case, I’ve decided to embark on a journey of addressing the parts of myself that result in my avoidant behaviors. I don’t think I’m a bad person, and I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with me.

However, in my view, a natural part of life is to understand there is always room for personal improvement. I also believe I’m capable of changing the circumstances in my life and becoming a person more secure with intimacy and companionship.

I would like to experience a committed and intimate relationship. My first commitment is to myself and creating the change within. My second commitment is to share my own personal journey with the Ideapod community so that others can join me in my process of personal transformation.

Therefore I asked the shaman Rudá Iandê to create a masterclass sharing his key teachings on love and intimacy. Rudá is a very close friend of mine and has been helping people with their journeys of personal transformation for the last 28 years. He’s very highly regarded as a shaman and has a long waiting list of people wanting to work one-on-one with him.

Ideapod’s free masterclass on love and intimacy is the result. It’s currently playing and you can watch it right now if you’re interested in joining me on this journey.

Here are my key takeaways from the masterclass, as it relates to my own quest to experience a committed and intimacy relationship:

  • How I treat others in a relationship is a mirror of how I treat myself.
  • What I want from others in a relationship is what I need to give myself.
  • The most important relationship I can cultivate is the relationship I have with myself.
  • By becoming secure with the relationship I have with myself, I’ll have secure relationships with others.

It seems pretty simple when I write it out above. But for me, it’s an incredibly profound insight.

I’m now consciously aware of the practices I’m engaging in every day in developing the relationship I have with myself.

Already I’m noticing some powerful shifts in my life. I’m still single, but I’m much more secure in my relationships with others.

I also feel much more confident in the kind of person I would be in a loving and intimate relationship.

Whether this new understanding of myself will result in an intimate relationship doesn’t concern me so much. I’m already much happier this way. I respect myself and love myself.

Life is already changing quite profoundly.

If you’re like me and wondering why you’re still single, I recommend considering the key principles of attachment theory I shared above.

If you want to develop the relationship you have with yourself, I also recommend checking out the free masterclass with Rudá Iandê. He’s a profound teacher but also very practical and down-to-earth. I couldn’t recommend this masterclass highly enough.

NOW WATCH: The author of this article shares what he learned about being 36 and still single in the video below

Notable replies

  1. This was a really meaningful article for me to put together early last year. I had just been on a holiday with a potential love interest and it didn’t work out.

    It wasn’t a great situation and I think I caused a bit of pain. Afterwards I was reflecting on my love life. This article was the result.

    It’s now one year in and I’m 37 and still single. I’ll write another article soon with my latest learnings about relationships.

    In the meantime, I would love to know from others reading this article what their reactions are.

  2. Hi Justin,
    I stumbled across your article online and immediately felt like I could relate to the 3rd, like yourself. Thanks for the insight into attachment theories - super interesting!

  3. Do what I did. Be eating dinner in a diner sitting at the counter (1967) and a young lady enters sits next to me orders a cup of tea and is eating a popsicle. I was a very shy person and would never have thought of starting a conversation. I learned eventually that Lorelei loves to talk and she did, with me, and the rest is history. I do miss her. Just be in the right place at the right time.

  4. Avatar for ACD ACD says:

    I remember this being an issue for you when we first met a decade ago. Interpersonal relationships of all kinds require each to give up freedom for the sake of the relationship: this is as true of romantic relationships as it is of business relationships, for example. When you are ready to surrender your freedom, you will be fertile ground for those seeking to develop relationships with you. Before you know it, you will be married and also enjoying the benefits of other types of relationships. This is my experience.

  5. I think when we become adult, we feel freedom and our individual sovereignty . We feel real love when we are willing to lose individual sovereignty to another and possibly create family, true love is when the partner reciprocates the feeling.
    :movie_camera: The Real Reason for Marriage - Prof. Jordan Peterson - YouTube
  6. Hey Justin,

    I see that it’s been 6 months since you wrote your article so I’m not sure if you will even see this message or not… but I just came across your article and find it so interesting to view these types of behaviours. It definitely explains a lot in terms of relationships. Also makes me curious as to what type I will date next. Thank you for sharing your insight.

  7. Avatar for Martha Martha says:

    I’m so frustrated being single at 40. I’ve always wanted a family of my own. I never established a healthy relationship with my own family since childhood. It’s at this time in my life when i realized i needed to make shifts and adjustments within. What brought this on is a failed relationship. I thought everything was going well, until it didn’t. Shocking for me since i was completely cut off and didn’t even know why. I still don’t know what will make a relationship blossom into a commitment. Maybe there is no shortcut and no real recipe. The article helps me see different attachment types. Who wouldn’t want to be secure and be with someone secure, right? Maybe tho, there is that something extra needed for a commitment to be possible.

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Written by Justin Brown

I'm Justin Brown, the founder of Ideapod. I've overseen the evolution of Ideapod from a social network for ideas into a publishing and education platform with millions of monthly readers and multiple products helping people to think critically, see issues clearly and engage with the world responsibly.

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