Clinginess is an act of resisting separation by holding tight or grasping onto something. In romantic relationships, the term is often used to describe someone who needs reassurance from their partners in a heavy-handed, frenzied, or even compulsive manner. It often looks like someone who asks for repeated promises in the relationship, yet even after their partner goes out of their way to demonstrate their love and commitment, the “clingy” person remains skeptical of how the other person is really feeling.
“Clingy behavior comes from a person’s desire to fulfill their unmet needs, whether it be emotional, physical, spiritual, or mental,” couples’ therapist Beverley Andre, LMFT, tells mbg. “The person is experiencing fear and anxiety that is attached to a belief they won’t get their needs met, so they cling even harder to a person or situation to prevent the risk of this happening.”
Notably, the word “clingy” tends to have a strong negative connotation, according to couples’ therapist Aparna Sagaram, LMFT. “It’s more helpful to use the term ‘anxious attachment.’ This means you worry about the other person losing interest or leaving you, so you need constant reassurance.” The anxious attachment style is one of four attachment styles a person can have, according to the psychology framework known as attachment theory.
Clinginess often gets a bad rap, but oftentimes, people who are exhibiting clingy behavior may not be aware of how they’re coming off. The terror of abandonment overrides their ability to stay cool since they are more focused on soothing their insecurities. Patterns will commonly manifest in behaviors such as incessantly texting your S.O. throughout the day to check in, excessively monitoring their social media accounts to see what they’re up to, and making early effusive professions of love (which may ring hollow in certain moments) to secure a closer connection.