You’ve had a couple of dates with a man whom you met online. The two of you are having fun and enjoying one another’s company, and you’ve begun to develop feelings for him. You decide to express your feelings to him on your next date, but within days of your sharing honestly and vulnerably, he seems to become less interested. You start to notice that in the ebb and flow of your texting and phone calls, he begins to pull away and become more emotionally distant. When you ask him about it, he tells you he needs space.
Instead of pausing and taking a breather to give him some space, you blow up his phone with long text messages that become progressively clingier. You profess your feelings in even more dramatic ways, until you notice that he has stopped responding altogether and appears to have ghosted you….
It can be tempting to reach out to that new person in your life when you feel you’ve really connected physically and emotionally, but when a relationship is still relatively new, there’s often a fine line between communicating interest and coming on too strong and being clingy. Learn what that line is and how to avoid clinginess with some practical behavioral tools, in the paragraphs that follow.
The Line Between Clinginess and Healthy Attachment
Clinginess can kill a relationship, maybe especially a new one. One way to mitigate against this outcome is to know and respect the line that separates clinginess from healthy attachment.
A definition of clinginess and its signs and causes can be helpful here. The Attachment Project gives a good definition: Clinginess is “a strategy for coping with severe anxiety in relationships”when you have an anxious attachment style.
Typically, an anxious attachment style in adulthood stems from not having received a close, loving, and secure attachment as a child. This experience can manifest as low self-esteem and hypervigilance towards abandonment and rejection in one’s relationships.
Signs of Clinginess
How do you know whether you’re being clingy? The Attachment Project lists these signs:
• Calling or texting your partner many times a day
• Becoming angry or upset if they don’t respond immediately
• Imagining the worst-case scenario if you don’t hear from your partner – even for short periods
• Wanting to spend all of your time with your partner
• Stalking their activity on social media and/or looking through their phone
• Experiencing intense jealousy
• Not wanting your partner to do anything without you
• Moving very fast in new relationships, e.g. wanting to determine the status of the relationship within a few days
This list is not exhaustive. Clinginess can be defined more broadly as compulsive behaviors that originate from severe separation anxiety and fears of abandonment.
5 Tools for Managing and Overcoming Clinginess
If you struggle with tendencies toward clinginess, there are things you can do to reduce and even overcome it. Here are six behavioral tools that may help.
1. Write down 10 things you love about yourself. Because low self-esteem can feed clingy tendencies, it can be helpful to write down 10 self-attributes that you’re proud of. This way, when you’re tempted to get clingy, you can revisit the list to remind yourself that you’re smart, have a great personality, are physically fit, and so on.
2. Journal about what needs you have and how to meet them through more than one person. Clinginess is more likely when we’re projecting all our needs onto one person, when in reality, no one person can meet all our needs. Journaling can provide more clarity about your needs and the people in your life who can meet them.
3. Set boundaries that are appropriate to the type of relationship. In a new relationship, consider erecting some guardrails to help you stay in your lane, honor the other person’s need for space, and avoid clinginess. This can be a goal that you set for yourself or that you articulate for the both of you, based on your shared preferences and life circumstances.
4. Identify qualities in yourself that you wish you had more of and find ways to develop them in a variety of ways. Sometimes dating a new person can reveal one or more aspects of yourself that you really like and that you’d like to develop more of. Spend time connecting with these parts of yourself and finding ways to cultivate them. Sometimes clinginess is less about the other person than it is about what is going on inside you. When you devote more energy to connecting with that part of you, you will be redirecting the energy that you’d otherwise spend clinging to someone else in a constructive way.
5. Ask loved ones or professionals when you may be showing clingy behaviors. It can feel vulnerable to ask a friend or a therapist for their honest feedback about whether you’re being clingy, especially when you suspect their answer will be “yes.” Often, though, it is that very honesty that can be a catalyst for prioritizing your self-respect and mental health.
6. Make a list of the activities you do on your own and celebrate them. What hobbies do you enjoy in your free time? What interests make you who you are? By writing them down, you’ll have a list of activities on hand for those times when you’re tempted to indulge in clinginess. It can also be an opportunity to celebrate the many gifts in your life that were there before this new person came along and are there still.