A Psychologist at the Movies

Imaginary people have problems, too.

Valentine’s Day at Hogwarts, Part 2

Why Ron Weasley is so anxious in love

A few days ago, I posted an entry regarding the Attachment Theory of Love, which hypothesizes that there are three major "styles" of attachment, or how we bond to others. Attachment theory states that we learn how to bond with others due to the relationship we have with our parents at a young age, and that this basic orientation continues when we have adult romantic relationships. My first post explained why Hermione (the female heroine in "Harry Potter") is a perfect example of the first attachment style, called "Secure." Unfortunately, her object of interest, Ron, is not so well off.

Ron Weasley: A Case Study in Anxiety

The second attachment style identified by researchers is called "Anxious." Anxiety, in terms of attachment, has origins in parents who are inconsistent in their caregiving--sometimes supportive and loving, and sometimes absent, distracted, or simply not noticing the needs of their child. Children raised in this environment often have low self-esteem, not having any confidence that the ones they love will really reciprocate. They seem to scare easily, meaning they are easily upset when things go wrong, easy to pretend to be angry or annoyed with the ones they love, when really they desperately want to reunite and smooth things over. In short, the anxious attachment style is characterized by people who have an extreme need for closeness and attention from others, and at the same time have a constant fear of rejection.

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Ron: An example of Anxious Attachment
In Ron's life, it is easy to see how his home life is characterized by instability and distracted parents. With seven children, Mrs. Weasley understandably can't give each of them the attention a child needs. In fact, when we see Mrs. Weasley interact with her children, it is only in one of three modes: (1) warning them not to get in trouble, (2) yelling at them when they have, inevitably, gotten in trouble, or (3) crying/fussing over them when the trouble has caused injury or potential death. Often her style of parenting is simply to chew them out.

Ron is aware of his mother's challenges--in fact, when he first meets Harry he's a bit embarrassed by her, and explains to Harry, "she hasn't got much time . . . with five of us [still at home]." It could only have been worse when Ron was very young and all seven of them were home. It is clear that Mrs. Weasley loves her family very much; she is just stretched too thin. For example, she hand makes (or wand makes) sweaters for her children every year. However, she never notices or remembers that Ron hates maroon, the color he gets every year. This mixture of loving attention and lack of ability to focus on detail or everyday attention is the hallmark of a parent with an anxious child. Ron's father is equally torn in two directions, but we see this at work. His entire essence is ambivalence: his job is to bust wizards for misuse of Muggle objects, but Mr. Weasley's joy in life comes from doing this very thing. He tries to manage the entire family, but must constantly be at work to support the nine of them, thus not having any time to actually spend with the family, except on special occasions.

This lack of attention and quality time with either parent leads directly to the most central trait of an anxious person: his or her need for attention and quickness toward jealousy. We see these patterns in Ron constantly throughout the series. Ron's ultimate goal is to be the most popular and well-liked person in Hogwarts. What is the evidence for this? In the very first book of the series, Ron and Harry stand before the Mirror of Erised, which shows them their deepest, darkest desires. Ron's vision is of himself, standing alone, but as Head Boy. He was won both the Quidditch and House Cups, implying the glory and fame he seeks. Throughout their friendship, Ron is happy for Harry's successes, but Ron also clearly desires the attention for himself.

Importantly, attachment theory suggests that we should see these patterns of jealousy and the desperate striving for relationships in Ron's romantic life. He constantly attempts to get attention from girls, but at the same time seems too scared to act on important feelings, because of the fear that he'll be rejected. We see this clearly in the turbulent relationship between Ron and Hermione.

Ron's jealousy over Hermione comes early in his reaction to seeing her crush on Lockhart: he's disgusted by her infatuation and begs her to tell him that she didn't send Lockhart a Valentine. His jealousy is seen again when Hermione goes to the ball with Krum. Ron has no right to be jealous when he waited until the last minute to ask Hermione (and then, in a very rude way), but Ron's focus at the time is simply on getting the prettiest possible date to impress others. He actually asks Fleur out, to everyone's dismay. Ron places no value on Hermione as a possible relationship partner until she is desired by someone else, thus inflating her public value. It drives Ron crazy that Hermione and Krum continue their relationship after the ball.

What is Ron's way of dealing with this situation? To simply tell Hermione that he has feelings for her? No. Anxious people (according to attachment theory) don't have the confidence in themselves to believe that others will return their affection. As stated above, they desperately crave loving relationships, but don't have the self-esteem necessary to maintain a trusting partnership. Thus, Ron's solution is to date a non-threatening alternative: Lavender Brown. Lavender offers no real threat to Ron because she is clearly infatuated with him and just kind of silly. Therefore, she provides both an easy romantic relationship and a nice method of being passive-aggressive toward Hermione, Ron's real object of desire. It becomes clear early in the relationship, however, that Lavender doesn't really make a good partner for Ron. Another trait of anxious people, though, is that they cannot end relationships. Even when in a bad relationship, anxious people are so afraid of being alone that they cling to things or people. Ron therefore doesn't end things; he just waits for her to become so annoyed at his lack of attention that she breaks things off.

Although his feelings seem obvious to the outside observer, Ron doesn't seem to have a grasp on them at all. He wants to be with Hermione, but doesn't really understand these cravings. Thus, this anxious conflict comes out with constant petty squabbles between Ron and Hermione, over stupid things like Hermione's cat and her surprised reaction to the news that he's been named a prefect. These fights continue for years. Finally, an implicit understanding takes place between Ron and Hermione, but only after two tragedies (Ron's poisoning, in which he squeaks out Hermione's name in the hospital, and Dumbledore's death). After six years of secret, unspoken yearning, Ron finally understands his desires and acts upon them.

Although anxious people certainly have a rocky road toward relationship bliss, their path seems easy compared to our third and final Attachment Style: Avoidance. My third and final post in this series will focus on Harry himself, and why he is the epitome of Avoidance.

 

For a more detailed version of this article, see my book chapter "Attachment styles at Hogwarts: From infancy to adulthood" in The Psychology of Harry Potter, by BenBella Books.

Copyright Wind Goodfriend, Ph.D.

Wind Goodfriend, Ph.D. is a social psychologist at Buena Vista University, with research expertise on stereotypes and on romantic relationships. more...

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