RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Romance is rarely simple, and no two relationships are exactly the same. Some people are pretty quick to fall in love and start screaming it from the rooftops, while others keep their feelings close to the vest and love interests at arm’s length. Now, a fascinating study has revealed a novel way to quickly identify people prone to avoiding attachment and commitment.
The next time you’re trying to figure out a potential suitor, take note of how they speak about their past relationships. If they use “I” instead of “we” while describing their old flames, you’ve got yourself a catch who won’t get attached to you very quickly.
Conversely, if they’re still talking about their ex with the pronoun “we,” they’re probably the type that gets attached after a few dates.
“The pronouns individuals use when narrating their previous experiences from within their romantic lives provide a clue as to their corresponding attachment styles,” says Will Dunlop from the University of California, Riverside, lead author of the research, in a release.
Usually, attachment styles in relationships are determined by two factors: anxiety and avoidance. Anxiety refers to how much a person constantly worries about losing their partner. Avoidance is how often a person will resist intimate experiences with a new love interest.
The extremes on both ends of these factors are dating stereotypes in popular culture. From the insecure one in a relationship who is constantly afraid of not being attractive or funny enough, to the loner who avoids anything even remotely resembling intimacy or emotional attachment. Perhaps all it takes is a few pronouns to pick out these relationship attachment styles, not three or four dates.
For this project, researchers analyzed over 1,400 observations collected from seven prior studies. They then used that data to explore the relationship between adult romantic attachment styles and pronoun usage.
Studied subjects identified as having an avoidant attachment style were much more likely to use “I” instead of “we” when talking about past romances.
“Anxious and avoidant attachment styles capture individual differences in the ways people think, feel, and behave in romantic relationships,” Dunlop concludes. “Given that those with higher levels of avoidant attachment were found to demonstrate lower levels of we-talk when describing experiences from their romantic lives, considering the use of we words (e.g., us, ours) in the disclosure of previous romantic experiences may offer indication of one’s avoidant tendencies. This is a relatively novel and indirect way of gauging avoidant attachment, as individuals are typically unaware of the pronouns they use.”
Dunlop would like to continue his research on pronouns and love in the future. For instance, is there a connection between certain pronouns and a higher overall level of relationship satisfaction?
He also theorizes there are plenty of other giveaways that could reveal one’s romantic attachment style, such as how they conduct themselves professionally.
The study is published in Social Psychological and Personality Science.