Attachment styles and the swing scene

The swing scene is a strange, social sandbox in which adults can play out all the unresolved issues of childhood and adolescence. An ever shifting sea of personalities and interactions, slightly removed from daily life and thus a ‘safe’ exploratory space.

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Yet in this melting pot of lust, desire and social re-jumbling, we also find patterns within ourselves and our behaviour. So many interactions, all together, and resembling the first stages of dating and building of primary relationships: we can see things in ourselves that are often confused by the slower pace and more diverse demands of daily life. We start to reveal our blueprint for how we operate.

Click to play the swinger attachment styles quiz

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We get to revise and relive history, tinkering with the parameters and the benefit of experience and hindsight. The socially-awkward nerd can be the playboy. The bullied girl can be the queen bee, with her own social pyramid. Couples can play out fantasies with the backing of each other, having the confidence they never would if they were going it alone.

Attachment theory is a relatively established area of child psychology, which extends to how we approach and build relationships in our daily lives. There are currently thought to be 4 main styles of attachment (variously named) imprinted on us by our interactions with primary caregivers before we are 6:

1. Secure attachment

2. Insecure -anxious attachment

3. Insecure- avoidant attachment

4. Insecure-disorganised attachment

How you start isn’t necessarily where you finish, and all behaviours can be contextual responses to the relationships (of whatever kind) you find yourself in, but seeing your patterns and understanding them can be a big step in taking control of your life, the patterns your relationships follow and giving you the answers you are looking for as to why the same things keep happening to you.

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You will see examples of all 4 attachment styles within the swing scene.

1. Secure attachment:

Best exemplified by happy long term swinger couples who allow each other complete freedom, trust and openness. This is the relationship style ‘goal’. You can work through issues together with support and insight, complement each other and your adventures are all the better when you are together.

Even those who have secure attachment with their primary partner may find themselves developing patterns of other attachment styles with different people, if it is in their nature to respond this way.

All the single ladies on the scene, looking around at securely attached couples and wishing for the same sense of intimacy and support may imagine that the swing scene is a great way to meet a partner with a type 1 – secure attachment style. It really isn’t. The couples almost never meet on the swing scene and have developed this security and connection in all other areas of their life before bringing their relationship into the adventures and stressors of swinging. When they haven’t, you see the cracks appear. These are the couples who fight, make drama at parties, have fits of rage, jealousy or try to exert power and control over their partners and other playmates.

If you have a type 1- secure attachment style, you are a pretty easy person to date or swing with and may even have much more positive relationships with other attachment styles than they have experienced in the past.

2. Insecure-anxious attachment

These are the chasers. The stalkers. The ones who want to move too fast and hold on too tight when their partners want distance. Typically drawn to avoidant types, they like to daydream about their partners in an idealised way, looking for ‘passionate love’ and the search for validation. The trouble is that they want to earn the validation from those who initially ignore them.

Your standard ‘single woman’ stereotype but also applicable to other genders, they often walk the line between incredibly sweet and overly demanding. Very prone to being ‘played’ by some basic pick-up theory game moves- whether for seduction or exploited for money. They believe that if a relationship is not panning out how they hoped, they need to try harder. They may describe themselves as ‘romantics’, ‘idealists’, ‘looking for love’, ‘a gentleman’, ‘a nice guy’, a ‘soft touch’ or ‘unlucky in love’.

An ideal match for a type 2 insecure-anxious attachment style is either a type 1 (secure attachment) who will teach them over time that they don’t need to work for love, or a person who actually cares, but is a good enough player to keep them interested by behaving avoidant when needed. Other type 2’s will probably feel like they lack chemistry. The type 2 likes to chase and not be chased.

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3. Insecure-avoidant attachment

This attachment style can come off very aloof or distant, unemotional or self-centred. They prefer to place themselves at the centre of their own universe and are often wildly attractive to people with a type 2 insecure-anxious attachment style. They often don’t feel the particular need for many close friends or especially intimate relationships, preferring to operate on a more pragmatic or goal-based system for life.

Stereotypically the F-boys, but applicable to any gender, they are likely to base pursuing partnerships, when they do, on status, money, life opportunities or other tangible assets they can acquire and benefit from.

This attachment type is uncomfortable dealing with emotions or neediness. If you want them to block you, start crying or ask them if they love you, to make some sort of commitment or talk about their feelings. They will often view people with type 2 insecure-anxious attachment styles as ‘admirers’ and keep them around, benefitting from their generous fringe benefit offerings until they become problematic.

They may describe themselves as ‘independent’, ‘free-spirited’, ‘self-sufficient’ or ‘enjoying life’.

Even with an insecure-avoidant attachment style, humans still need connection in their lives, and they may get this from a large network of friends, work colleagues or sports teams. They do still have emotional needs, but they often won’t be able to express them, their acts and words won’t match up or they will emotionally shut down at times of stress. They can benefit from developing relationships with type 1-secure attachment style people, where they very gradually come to feel safe to open up, or a natural type 2 insecure-attachment style, who has really learned to play it cool. Other avoidant types rarely end up being a close relationship, as both will tend to pull away under pressure. They find the best way to have their needs met is to pretend they don’t have any.

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4. Insecure- disordered attachment

People with an insecure-disordered attachment style often struggle with self esteem and really trusting others. They suffer the conflict of both insecure-anxious attachment styles and insecure-avoidant styles. They would like to experience validation and passionate love but push away people who get too close. They would like to be independently content but can feel lonely and unworthy. Trust is hard-earned and easily lost with an insecure-disordered attachment type, as any mistake or failure will be seen as confirmation of their worst fears.

When abandoned, they are devastated on every level. Building a relationship of any kind with someone of this attachment style can be harder work than most. They will put up defensive barriers and seem avoidant if they don’t fully trust you, in order to protect themselves. They are not only protecting themselves from others. They are protecting themselves from the volatility and onslaught of their own feelings and associated behaviour, which can take them over like a whirlwind.

They may reach out to you in unusual ways, or suddenly close up on you. They can also have times where they try too hard to form connections and appear insecure-anxious. They may describe themselves as ‘unpredictable’, ‘confused’, or ‘better off not in love’.

Yet all is not impossible. Though this style of attachment is usually associated with those who have been through abuse (and abuse is often a recurring theme in the lives of those who have) they can come to trust and open up with time and consistent good treatment. Developing friendships and relationships with type 1- secure attached people will ground them and give them a sense of stability and perspective. They will understand the feelings experienced by both insecure-anxious and insecure-avoidant types. They can be as loving and loyal as anyone else, but can also be hard to fathom and predict. If you want a crazy rollercoaster ride, a type 4 insecure-disordered style is just the ticket.

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These are all extreme examples, and to have a tendency as to which way you lean under pressure is not the same as having a psychiatric disorder. Yet being aware of how you respond and entrench patterns with repeated behaviours played out in relationships (be they a one night stand or something with more depth and longevity) allows us to rationalise the endless loops we sometimes seem to get stuck in, and maybe find an act under our own control to break out of them.

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On the swing scene, there will be people of all different attachment types to interact with, and understanding that your reasons for being part of it may be very different to theirs is a big part of building a good social network. Some are there ‘just for sex’, some to avoid attachment, some to seek passionate attachment, some to demonstrate their worth, some to try to make sense of the indecipherable nature of their own feelings and behaviour.

There is no rule book, marketing style or membership questionnaire that is going to match you up with guests who view the world, and swing scene, the same way as you. Just as there is no perfect way to be. We are all on a journey of discovery, of the world outside us and within. Welcome to the uncharted waters of the human libido.

*This guide is just for fun and not intended as psychiatric advice. If you feel you have a disorder or are struggling with self-esteem or relationships you are advised to seek the advice of a qualified counsellor or psychiatrist.

*All depictions of bondage are with enthusiastic, informed consent for the purposes of photography and no persons were harmed in the creation of the images. You are not advised to try bondage without first taking expert tuition.

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