Have you seen the show How I Met Your Mother? It's about a bunch of flawed but lovable New Yorkers trying to find (or hang onto) love as they go through life's changes, which range from silly to momentous. It’s a funny, feel-good, and sometimes poignant sitcom.
But what I like most about it is that it’s a perfect showcase of human attachment styles.
If you don’t know what attachment styles are, or haven’t ever seen the show, don’t worry. Once you hear about the characters and how they personify each attachment style, you’ll be sure to recognize yourself or people you know.
But first, what is attachment? Attachment is the bond we form with our first primary caregiver, usually a parent. It’s a universal human phenomenon that starts as early as in the womb, and the way we develop it eventually affects the way we find, keep, and end relationships.
There are four major styles of attachment that people form early in life and generally tend to keep into adulthood. These styles are:
- Fearful-avoidant (a.k.a., disorganized)
To figure out what style of attachment you tend to have, there are quizzes you can take (like this one). They ask you to agree/disagree with statements like, “I easily develop emotional ties to others,” “If a partner pushes me to establish a commitment, I freak out inside,” and, “If I’m not in a relationship, I am nobody.” You can see that these items are probing the way we think of others and ourselves in the context of relationships and intimacy.
So what attachment style do you think you have? Well, let’s see if you most closely relate to Ted, Barney, or someone else from How I Met Your Mother. In this first in a three-part series on attachment, we’ll let the beloved HIMYM characters guide us through the four major attachment styles:
1. Securely attached—Lily and Marshall
Lily and Marshall are the quintessential cute couple. They have quirky inside jokes; they have cute nicknames for each other (Lilypad and Marshmallow); they finish each other’s sentences … but none of this cuteness overload explains why they’re securely attached.
When a person has a secure attachment style, they feel confident in their relationship and their partner. They feel connected, trusting, and comfortable with having independence and letting their partner have independence even as they openly express love. They reach out for support when they need it and offer support when their partner is distressed.
And this is where Lily and Marshall excel. Their relationship wasn’t all puppies and rainbows for all nine seasons of How I Met Your Mother. There were times when they broke up, had family tragedies, worried about building their own family, and had awful fights that seemed to shake the very foundation of their future together. But through it all, they fundamentally trusted each other, openly showed affection (sometimes enough to make you gag), told each other their thoughts and feelings even when it was difficult, offered support when the other was sad and gave each other space when needed.
This type of attachment style starts when, early in life, a child feels that their parent is a secure base, so that even though they’re happy to be with Mom or Dad, they also feel confident enough to explore the world on their own. Kids grow up this way when their parents themselves are securely attached people, and when they use an authoritative parenting style, meaning they are involved and firm, but also warm and allow independence.
Given Lily and Marshall’s own security and their loving style, I bet their kids will turn out to have secure relationships of their own.