A Psychologist at the Movies

Imaginary people have problems, too.

Valentine’s Day at Hogwarts, Part 3

Why Harry Potter will never find a lasting romantic relationship.

Over the past week or so, I've posted two entries in which I discuss the Attachment Theory of Love and relate it to characters from "Harry Potter." In the first post, I explained the theory and wrote about Hermione, and how she is a wonderful example of the attachment style called Secure. In the second, I discussed Ron Weasley and how he displays characteristics of the second style, called Anxious. In this third and final post, we'll analyze Harry himself, and why I think he is practically the poster child for the last attachment style, Avoidant.

Harry Potter: A Case Study in Avoidance

The last Attachment Style identified by researchers is called "Avoidant." Avoidant children are often treated as strangers by their parents, and vice versa. They don't act distressed when parents leave; often, it's more of a relief. In short, Avoidant children simply don't attempt to make strong bonds, they act indifferent about potential romantic partners, and often simply shut down their entire emotional life. Avoidant children often don't like themselves much, and they have little to no trust in others. Why should they? In essence they have been abandoned for most of their young lives. They are pessimistic and generally have a pattern of purposeful isolation. We see all of these characteristics in abundance in our main character, Harry Potter.

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Harry: An example of Avoidant Attachment
Harry's home life is, in a word, pitiful. When Harry's parents were murdered when he was only one year old, Harry moved in with the Dursleys, his aunt and uncle. However, he was never treated as a family member (more like a servant or a disobedient dog). In stark contrast to their neglect of Harry, the Dursleys pamper their own son Dudley to the point of absurdity. Dudley is the face of indulgence (both figuratively and literally). The direct result of this polarized treatment of the children is that Harry learns to be resentful and that others are not trustworthy. Harry simply never believes that good things will come his way, especially from his interpersonal relationships. His lack of trust and pessimism follow him like dark shadows in everything he does.

He doesn't believe Hagrid when he's told that he's a wizard. He doesn't think he'll be able to afford his required school supplies. He then thinks he'll be the worst in his classes, impossibly behind the other children. When he's awaiting Sorting, he's sure he'll end up in Slytherin. Finally, when he's actually under the Sorting Hat, he's afraid that the hat will decide he shouldn't be in any of the Houses and the hat will simply kick him out of Hogwarts before he's even begun. Note, all of these examples come before Harry has even gone to his first day of school. It's clear that the Dursley home environment has taught Harry to feel worthless and that nothing good will ever happen to him.

As he ages, Harry's pessimism takes an ugly turn to resentfulness. This is another hallmark of Avoidant people: their emotions are on a negative track, and they tend to lash out at others, pushing them away. At the beginning of Order of the Phoenix, Harry has spent his entire summer glowering over the fact that Ron and Hermione get to spend time together working against Voldemort, while Harry is home with the Dursleys. Harry obsesses about how he's being completely left in the dark, as their letters carefully avoid mentioning details. He alternates between jealousy, laughing indignation, and guilt, but he seems incapable of taking control of his emotions or understanding the perspectives of others.

This leads Harry to the solace typical of Avoidant people, and the classic behavior which leads to the name "Avoidant:" purposeful isolation. Even from the beginning, Harry avoids making new friends--for example, he tries to find a solitary compartment on the Hogwarts Express on his first day. The first time he tries out his invisibility cloak, he consciously does not include Ron in the adventure. Before he battles with Quirrell, Hermione hugs him for luck, but Harry doesn't hug back; he just stand there, uncomfortable with her reaching out, both emotionally and literally. Harry could certainly use more friends and support throughout his time at Hogwarts, but he pushes people away who want to get close.

The point of attachment theory, however, is that Harry should show these Avoidant characteristics in his romantic relationships. It is clear over and over again that Harry avoids romantic relationships, preferring to silently fantasize and never act. Harry has a major, major crush on classmate Cho Chang for years. However, all he ever does is remain passive, never acting on his feelings unless forced. The perfect opportunity to ask her out arrives with the Ball, but Harry puts off asking her until the last minute. When she tells him that she's already agreed to go with someone else, Harry's reaction is relatively bland--he just kind of mutters "okay" and heads off to be by himself. He then asks the next person who happens to walk by, clearly giving up. From that point on, he never initiates anything, though clearly he still pines for her. After their first D.A. meeting, Cho waits behind the others, crying. It is she who arranges for them to be alone together. It is she who points out the mistletoe, she who moves closer to Harry, she who tells Harry that she really likes him. Finally, they kiss, but only because (as Harry explains later), "She just kind of came at me" (Order of the Phoenix). Harry is so stunned that he does what he always does: nothing.

Harry's first and relatively successful real romantic relationship finally comes at the end of his last year at Hogwarts, with Ginny Weasley. Importantly, although he's harbored secret desires for Ginny for several months, he has again done absolutely nothing about it. Again, it is SHE who makes the first move, running at him to kiss him after a successful Quidditch match. They are happy together for a very brief time. However, as Avoidant people always do, it is Harry who quickly ends the relationship. He tells Ginny that he won't be able to concentrate on his mission to kill Voldemort if she is there--that he must do this alone. She accepts this, but note that Harry easily agrees to be accompanied by Ron and Hermione. It is the romantic relationship that Harry simply cannot maintain. According to attachment theory, Harry's early dismal home life has caused him to enter a never-ending pattern of relationship misery that he cannot escape.

Attachment theory therefore predicts that Harry will never be able to resolve this missing piece of his life, and will never be able to maintain a healthy romantic relationship with another person. It is not the ending we would like. At the end of the series, the "happily ever after" we all want seems to be there for Harry, in his marriage. It is possible that with a great partner, Harry will have a relationship that will last a relatively long time. However, it is the unfortunate prediction we must make that in the end, Harry will live his life in basic isolation. Harry must, inevitably, only rely on himself for major missions in life, for major decisions in life. Harry is a great wizard. But often, greatness is bred from childhood strife, and in adulthood results in interpersonal loneliness and separation. It is a reality of life that is not optimistic, not a life ending "happily ever after." But sometimes, and usually if you're Avoidant, happiness is temporary and leads to divorce due to emotional distancing. For Harry, quiet isolation, without constant threat of murder and betrayal, may be the best we can hope for.

 

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. For a version with a couple of academic references, check out my similar post on the website Science of Relationships.

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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