From Chapter 25 of Bad Boyfriends: Using Attachment Theory to Avoid Mr. (or Ms.) Wrong and Make You a Better Partner, “Types in the Dating Pool.”
If you’re not familiar with attachment types, take the test and read about them here.
Estimates vary, but a good guess is that 50% of the population starts adulthood secure, while 20% are anxious-preoccupied, 25% are dismissive-avoidant, and 5% are fearful-avoidant. But as time goes by and the secure are more likely to get into and stay in long-term relationships, the proportions of the types seen in the dating pool change—the secure become scarce, and the dismissive-avoidant, who begin and end relationships quickly, become the most likely type you will encounter.
The graph is based on a simplified* simulation of the dating pool by age, showing the percentage of each type in the shrinking dating pool. Secures appear dominant early in the dating pool at about 50%, but over time their prevalence declines to around 20%. Notice how the Dismissive-Avoidant start off as the second most prevalent attachment type at 25%, but over time become the predominant type at 50% of the far smaller dating population—this is not because they don’t start relationships, but that they tend to exit them quickly. The proportion of Preoccupied and Fearful-Avoidant increases somewhat as well. The age scale assumes everyone starts looking for a partner at 20, so subpopulations which start later (academics, for example) would be shifted by a few years. Since both starting parameters and the simulation are simplified, these numbers are only suggestive.
The shrinkage of the dating pool with time and its later domination by less secure types means the older you are, the more cautious you should be, because it is much more likely that those in the dating pool in later years have a problematic attachment type, or even worse problems keeping them from sustaining good relationships. Of course there are always new entries to the dating pool who have been released from good relationships by their partner’s death or unfortunate circumstances; but those past 40 who have never been able to get and keep a good relationship going, likely never will—unless of course they have realized they need to change and work hard on themselves.
* — Based on data from a simplified simulation model run by the author based on reported duration of relationships by attachment type combinations and initial populations. Suggestive, but the initial parameters are based on limited studies and the simulation ignores such factors as longer relationships tending to break down less frequently. More longitudinal studies are needed.
For more reading, start with my book, much of which is online here.
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Is there any hope at all? I’m 46, and just coming out of a catastrophic breakup with a dismissive-avoidant. He came to my job and broke up with me by publicly humiliating me over my sexual dysfunction. I am in therapy now to deal with this.
I haven’t had a decent relationship in over twenty years. It seems the right man came along when I was too young and dealing with my own emotional crap to realize it. It also didn’t help that the relationship was deliberately sabotaged by my therapist because she wanted total control over me. After that, I moved to NYC, where pretty much every guy is dismissive avoidant. My needs have always been treated with contempt. It seems that when I finally pulled my head out of my ass in my 30s, there was no longer anyone decent to date.
So even after I deal with my crap, you’re saying that my chance of finding a partner is slim to none? That there is no chance at all that I’ll ever be in a long-term relationship, just like everyone predicted for me since I was four? Of course, many people feel that I don’t deserve to be loved let alone exist because I’m autistic. Am I doomed to never know what love is? Is all the work I’m doing on myself going to be for nothing?
It’s bad enough I never got to have kids because every man I dated told me I wasn’t worthy of having kids, but now you’re saying that I’ll NEVER have love at all? That I blew my one chance because I had the misfortune of having a sociopath for a therapist? That no matter how much I work on myself, it’s too late and I completely missed the boat? Every relationship I’ve had since 40 has been worse than the last one. And you’re basically saying that’s to be expected and I should give up trying because it’s too late. No matter how much I improve myself as a person, there will be no one to partner with.
I hate the fact that all I’ve done is prove everyone right that no one would ever love me.
It’s not that bad — 46 is so not too late, trust me. It’s true good partners at that age are not thick on the ground, but you are wiser and more likely to avoid wasting time on the (as you point out) omnipresent dismissives. There is no “last chance” or “too late.” Make the effort to be happy and keep yourself open to possibility.
Someone, I can’t remember who, once said: “those past 40 who have never been able to get and keep a good relationship going, likely never will”
Wait, I remember who it was now: it was the author, and he said it on this post.
Jeb, if you truly believe that “46 is so not too late,” then why did you just tell us all that 40 was too late?
*If you have the ability to conduct a healthy relationship*, it’s harder to find a good partner after 40, but it’s never too late. If you’ve tried several times and failed to keep anything going fo more than a few years and you’re over 40, then most likely there’s something about your expectations and relationship skills that would have to change to make one work. Which can be done, but pretending you’re just unlucky and keeping on with the same game isn’t likely to succeed.
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