Just the Tip is a sex and relationship column hosted by queer non-monogamous kinkster Jera Brown. Here you will find interviews with sexuality researchers and educators as well as smart and compassionate responses to anonymous questions. If you would like to be interviewed or have a sex or love question you’d like Jera to answer, email firstname.lastname@example.org or DM Jera on Instagram or Twitter @thejerabrown.
Two words: No drama. As soon as I see them on a dating profile, I immediately swipe left.
To me, calling out “no drama” on a profile should be a red flag for everyone, but especially anxious attachers (which I’ll explain in a minute). When someone says “no drama,” what they often mean is that they don’t want to deal with “messy” or complicated relationships. And this can mean a number of things.
There are naturally messy lives. Relationships with kids can be inherently complicated, as can relationships involving a divorce or separation, issues with someone’s immediate family, multiple partners, processing trauma, living with chronic illness, etc. In other words, there are a lot of types of “drama” that are a natural part of living.
Then there’s the other kind of drama that these two words tend to refer to: relationship drama. Like the kind that happens when people have mismatched expectations or needs, and end up fighting about it.
Wait, isn’t it okay to set boundaries? Like isn’t it okay to want to date without being immediately dumped into the drama of someone’s life? Or to desire physical and/or emotional intimacy without constant fights or blow-ups?
Well, yes …I think it’s completely reasonable to want to maintain a level of peace and simplicity as you start to get to know someone. And yes, it’s okay to set boundaries about how involved in someone’s life you want to be. It’s also okay to be clear about the level of heat or vulnerability you’re looking for.
What’s not okay is being blamey about it.
The issue here is that the terminology used — “no drama” — is unkind. It’s akin to calling someone “crazy” or a “hot mess.” (Two other red flags, in my book). Using this kind of terminology is coming into a situation with a lack of compassion or desire to understand.
And there are better, kinder ways to set boundaries.
So why is this a particular red flag for anxious attachers?
The Anxious-Avoidant Trap
See, I have a theory that people who put “no drama” in their profiles lean toward being avoidant-dismissive: one of the four attachment styles or orientations found in Attachment Theory. People who fall into the avoidant category tend to shut down or push away when things get uncomfortable or too vulnerable.
Like when there’s perceived drama.
I happen to fall on the opposite side of the spectrum. I’m an anxious attacher, meaning I’m naturally anxious when starting a new relationship, and because of this, avoidant behavior is my kryptonite. When someone begins pulling away, I can easily become all the more anxious and needy, creating a vicious cycle of me requesting deeper vulnerability or assurances whereby my new lover or partner further shuts down.
This cycle is also known as the “anxious-avoidant trap.” In his book Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find—and Keep Love, psychiatrist Dr. Amir Levine explains that when one person is anxious and one is avoidant, couples often “disagree about the degree of closeness and intimacy desired in a relationship,” and “the issue eventually threatens to dominate all of their dialogue.”
When this happens, couples can “find it particularly hard to move toward more security is primarily because they are trapped in a cycle of exacerbating each other’s insecurities.”
If you’re an anxious attacher and someone is sending a clear signal that they’re not going to handle vulnerability well, moving forward is putting yourself into a situation where your own insecurities are likely to be triggered.
Should An Anxious Attacher Date Someone Who’s Avoidant?
To me, it depends on whether both people are aware of their weaknesses and habits and willing to put in the work.
“If you want to be in a relationship with someone who is avoidantly attached, especially if you identify as anxiously attached, you might have to put in work too—on both your own relational style and on how to make your avoidant partner feel safer,” writer and avoidant attacher Melissa Fabello writes.
Fabello also recommends taking care of yourself first: “If avoidant behaviors from another person freak out your nervous system or otherwise feel like red flags, that’s a perfectly acceptable reason to end a connection—no matter how much work the avoidant person is putting in! You’re never required to stay in relationships that don’t feel good for you, and attachment differences can be particularly challenging.”
This is why I don’t pursue people who put “no drama” on their profiles. I take this as a sign that they’re not willing or ready to do the work. But this doesn’t get me — or any other anxious attacher — off the hook, as well.
Better Language to Use than “No Drama”
If you’re using language like “no drama” on your profile, and you want to set boundaries without being unkind, here are some alternatives to consider:
I need something simple right now. If you’re not open to dating people with complicated lives, it’s okay to point that out. But I suggest making it about you, not them. On your profile or in your first exchanges, you can be clear you can’t handle messy life situations right now (or ever). Maybe your own life is messy, and it’s all you can handle. And that’s okay!
Slow to vulnerability and commitment. Once again, making it about you. If you know you exhibit avoidant behavior, call it out. You might even ask people right up-front what kind of vulnerability or commitment they’re looking for.
What if You ARE Causing Drama?
“Someone with an anxious attachment style craves intimacy but is also very sensitive to even the smallest of perceived threats to this closeness,” Levine writes. “Sometimes they’ll interpret your unconscious actions as a threat to the relationship. When this happens, they become flooded with apprehension, but they lack the skills to communicate their distress to you effectively. Instead, they resort to a lot of acting out and drama. This can create a vicious cycle as they become even more sensitive to slights and their distress is compounded.”
I think it’s important for those of us who are anxious attachers to consider how we’re responding to our insecurities.
For me, this means being upfront about my anxieties so they don’t come up unexpectedly. It means processing my insecurities on my own first and bringing them to my partner only after I’ve done my own work. It also means building confidence in myself as a wonderful person and partner and not expecting someone else to make me feel worthy.
For more advice, check out Levine’s book, which contains strategies for escaping the anxious-avoidant trap and how all insecure attachers can move towards a more secure attachment style.
For non-monogamous folks, I also recommend checking out Polysecure — a book about attachment theory and polyamory.
Self-Blame NEVER Helps
According to Levine, someone with a secure attachment style has “very little drama in [their] romantic ties—no high and lows, no yo-yos and roller coasters to speak of.”
What Levine is describing is someone who has learned how to protect themself while still offering closeness and vulnerability to another person. Which sounds great, but …
It’s not so great if you blame yourself for your insecurities on your way to achieve this security.
For many people, past trauma makes the journey to secure attachment a lot harder. In fact, anxious or avoidant behavior usually stems from past trauma.
Listen: anxious or avoidant behavior doesn’t make you a bad person or incapable of healthy relationships. Neither does having trauma.
The attempt to connect with others — especially after prior hurt and bad experiences — is brave. And you shouldn’t need to be perfect to do this. In fact, relationships you can bring your whole self to are healing and can lead to more security and less painful highs and lows.
Related Read: When Dating Triggers Past Wounds or Trauma
Your Messy Life Is Beautiful: Drama and All
Once again, there’s also drama inherent in being alive! In having kids, in having a fragile human body, in having a past. And this is true for people with any attachment style.
Finding someone who is down for your unique brand of drama is a matter of compatibility.
I want to just call out that this can be really hard. Especially if your “drama” is tied to systemic racism, chronic illness and living in an ableist society, or other things outside of your control. Keep looking. There’s someone out there who will get it and be supportive.
Strong and secure attachments help us to navigate the messiness of life.
If you own what makes your life messy, hard, beautiful, complex — it’ll make it easier to find someone who will fall in love with all of it.
Disclaimer: As always, there’s no perfect solution to any relationship issue and you may benefit from the help of a neutral, trained professional. Jera is not a licensed mental health professional, just a writer living as authentically as they can.