He was, on paper, perfect. One of my good friends had been seeing a boy for just over a month, and was beginning to freak out. So, over half a crumpet, we rationally discussed and debated the situation. Yes he was kind, with good teeth and had held her when she was having a panic attack—but, she persisted, “What if I just find him a bit... cringe?” She scrunched up her nose and immediately I knew what she meant. That nauseating, ‘where’s the exit’, ‘why did I ever go here’ feeling.
Another friend, a mama one step away from starting a vegan commune, had the same experience. In undeniably the most romantic story I’ve heard, last year she reconnected with her crush from a decade ago, who, after a slightly drunken Facebook exchange, booked flights to come stay with her and her three-year-old. Not entirely unconvinced she wasn’t making this up, I was floored to learn not only did he spend three weeks adoring her and her child, he was also wanting to pick up his entire life and come here for her. Thinking she would jump at the chance, I was shook when she said, “What if he’s just too... nice?”
Both friends’ love lives before this had been turbulent, marked by instability and behaviour where emotional intimacy was always slightly out of reach. The possibility of meeting in the middle with a person secure in their attachment style, and themselves, seemed inharmonious with the feelings of love both friends had experienced previously.
Similar to the way an unbearable feeling grates on your rational judgement and causes you to spin, feeling cringed out has caused me some less than honourable moments. I have ghosted, avoided and ended-by-text (not my finest moment) my way out of dating situations the moment that feeling crept up. But this dissonance in the presence of a secure person is not uncommon.
In Attached, Dr Amir Levine discusses the importance of overcoming the desire for turbulence or distance in a relationship. He draws on how your attachment style—anxious, avoidant, or secure—is formed by upbringing and life experience, and can cause you to react when dating. Those who are naturally more anxious or avoidant will be predisposed to an activated—as opposed to a calm—attachment system, unintentionally seeing it as a prerequisite for love: “Because you are used to equating an activated attachment system with love," writes Levine, "you conclude that this can’t be 'the one' because something is missing, for some reason no bells are going off. You associate a calm attachment system with boredom and indifference, and because of this fallacy you may let the perfect person pass you by.”
What’s more, Levine discusses the deactivating strategies anxious and avoidant attachers subconsciously implement to turn off their attachment needs—even though they are the ones who crave intimacy the most—and they sound a lot like cringe. Pulling away when things are going well, becoming overwhelmed by your partner's shortcomings, sending mixed messages, having a gut feeling they just aren’t right, believing you’re not in love enough, feeling your partner isn’t truly available, feeling a deep-rooted loneliness that should have been alleviated by the ‘perfect person’.
Here are Levine's brief descriptions of each type in a relationship:
- Secure: feels comfortable with intimacy and are warm and loving.
- Anxious: craves intimacy, often preoccupied with relationships and longs to get closer with their partner.
- Avoidant: equates intimacy with loss of independence, distancing self, the idea that something better is around the corner.
In one counselling session a while ago, I was explaining how hesitant I was to progress with the guy that I was seeing as I was reading his seemingly lovely behaviour as too nice, surely hiding a lack of depth or narcissistic under-belly. My counsellor stopped me mid-sentence and briskly said, “No, you are just looking for problems that aren’t there.” Initially a bit bummed out by her tone, I realised she was totally right. I had been listing off potential problems areas in a hypothetical relationship because the love I was used to had always had a catch—when really what was in front of me was pretty damn great. This line from an old Man Repeller article puts it perfectly: “I took the absence of red flags, as a red flag.”
When you have experienced deep pain in any relationship, familial or romantic, it can affect how you see love, and the people you are drawn to. How much more compelling it seems to the person accustomed to just-out-of-reach love to move towards a person woven out of red flags—a la Mr Big—than to sit in the slight uncomfortableness that is a person who is completely okay with texting back without delay, and is looking forward to seeing you tonight, if that’s alright with you.
I will say, it’s a fine line to walk between ‘I’m a bit cringed out’ and ‘I’m just not into you’, and while I am always more ready to throw my hat into the work-at-it category—without chemistry it’s going to be hard to ever get past go. But, if you do like them, and if those who love you are saying this could one could be great—it is now my prerogative to believe that the nice person who makes you cringe a little, the one who perhaps dances when you walk down the street, or uses their fingers to mop up pasta sauce when you are out, or even has a collection of fictional character figurines in their room, is maybe the one that you should look at a bit more closely, and fight those feelings of running, for.
Oh, and my friends from earlier? They are madly, deeply in love with their nice, cringey boys and wouldn’t have it any other way.
This article originally appeared on The Oh Nine.