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Analysing the attachment styles of the Heartstopper cast – season 1 & 2 spoilers included!

Updated: May 14

As someone who works with young people (and likes great telly), I have watched and really enjoyed Netflix’s young adult ‘Heartstopper’ TV series, and thought it would be interesting to dive into some of the main characters' attachment styles.


Heartstopper is described as ‘A British coming-of-age, romantic comedy-drama TV series, written and created by Alice Oseman, based on her graphic novel of the same name.’

The show has received critical acclaim, particularly for its positive and inclusive portrayal of LGBT folk.


Let’s look at attachment:


Attachment styles refer to patterns of relating to other humans that we learn as children, and which carry into our adult relationships.


The four primary styles are as follows -


*Secure Attachment: when we can balance dependence and independence in relationships, and feel secure in our own identity.


*Insecure Avoidant (or dismissive) attachment: here, we have an outwardly-seeming, strong sense of self-sufficiency, with the individual seeming more emotionally detached.


*Insecure Ambivalent (or preoccupied) attachment: we can feel more ‘needy’, and can be overly dependent in our relationships.


*Insecure Disorganised (or fearful) attachment: here, we may desire close relationships, yet fear vulnerability. Often related to trauma or family dysfunction, there’s often unpredictably in our relationships.


Charlie Spring

Charlie and his (eventual) boyfriend Nick Nelson are the main characters in the show – Charlie is gay and Nick is bisexual. These are the people with the richest back-stories in the series, and the most well-developed and defined characters.


I feel that Charlie has a primarily insecure ambivalent attachment style. Interestingly, he’s well-established in his sexual identity, although was accidentally ‘outed’ at school when he was still young, seemingly fourteen. So he has that inner surety around his identity that some of his peers don’t yet have, as they are still finding themselves, in that sense.


Attachment styles are established in our younger years, and we do meet Charlie’s family, although we don’t see much about them at any great depth; his Mum doesn’t have that many lines in the show.


Charlie has an older sister, and both parents at home, so he has that stability within his family – we can see that he’s safe and well cared for. He mentions depression and self harm, and has some disordered eating coping mechanisms – so we can see Charlie does have some significant emotional struggles in his life. He does have quite a needy personality, and seemingly lacks self-esteem, although as series two progresses, Charlie becomes more assertive around the people that have been coercive towards him, or have bullied him.


Compared to the relationship that boyfriend Nick has with his Mum, Charlie’s relationship with his own Mum (and indeed immediate family) seems more strained and less emotionally intimate. Charlie sneaks out to see Nick, and there’s very little physical contact at home in the way of hugs; his sister clearly has his back, but has that detached mannerism that Charlie’s Mum also has – maybe keeping Charlie at bay, somehow. (It is also interesting to see his sister on her own at the school prom, and I would hazard a guess that she may be primarily insecure-avoidantly attached. Quite self-sufficient and guarded.)


It is interesting that Charlie is so open and expressive with his emotions, which Nick finds very engaging, when Charlie seemingly lives in quite a constrained family unit. (Yet Charlie’s very open with his friends, who are extremely important to him, and presumably have become like family to him).


Charlie’s anxious ambivalent attachment could prove difficult in the future if he becomes too jealous, needy or self-doubting with Nick; or indeed if Charlie self-sabotages the relationship because he feels he isn’t good enough.


Nick Nelson

Nick seems to me to have secure attachment. He’s written as a well-rounded and relatively secure individual who has strong values, stands up for himself and his friends, and is brave (yet measured) about coming out as bisexual to friends and family.


We see a lot of Nick’s relationship with his Mum (if you have the wonderful actress Olivia Colman in the cast, you are going to want to make the most of her acting chops and emotional resonance!); and it is probably this relationship that has given Nick his inner sense of strength and enoughness. We meet his Dad in series two, and we see that he has been mostly absent, both physically and emotionally, in his sons’ lives.


Nick definitely has the sense about him that when people don’t like him, ‘get’ him or connect with him, it is a shame; but it doesn’t rock his world. Nick resiliently rises above it. This sense of maturity will serve him and Charlie well, and hopefully he can become the ‘secure base’ that Charlie needs, and Nick can help Charlie develop his own sense of enoughness.


Tao Xu

I first thought that Tao, who describes himself as straight, may have a primarily insecure ambivalent attachment style, like Charlie. He’s a very interesting character, one of the more detailed personas in Heartstopper. Most of Tao’s relationship difficulties could have been fixed or resolved if he could have expressed himself better with his friends, and his relationship with best-friend turned girlfriend Elle gets off to a slightly rocky start. (Although admittedly he’s navigating what I assume is his first ever relationship with someone he knows extremely well, but who is now a trans woman, which must have brought up some big emotions for Tao, who is presumably aged fourteen or fifteen when we meet him.) He’s tall and looks older than some of his peers, which doesn’t always help when you’re trying to find yourself.


We meet Tao’s Mum several times, and this seems like a warm and healthy relationship; she’s engaged and interested in Tao and his friend-group connections, and they share family time together. There were no early mentions of his absent Dad, but we do discover eventually that Teo’s father passed away when he was 12. Tao is very witty and has a great vocabulary, yet there does seem to be a vulnerability about him.


Knowing now that he lost his Dad young and probably has some issues around abandonment, I’d say it is very possible that Tao in fact has a primarily secure attachment. He does stand up for himself and his friends, and has a good ‘sharing’ relationship with his Mum; those early relationship wobbles could just be because of the background of his relationship with Elle (they were platonic friends first, maybe even best friends). Yes, Teo has quite a needy sense to him, and finds it hard to really openly talk about his needs and emotions. He also seems to veer into a ‘victimmy’ mindset quite easily. But he’s also resilient, with a strong maternal support system at home.


Elle Argent

Elle is Tao’s close friend and eventual girlfriend; and I feel quite disappointed that her character isn’t as well developed in the show. As a trans woman, she must have an interesting back story – we briefly see her with her Mum in series two, and later in the final episode, we also meet her Dad (who confusingly jokes with a scared-looking Tao about ‘his intentions’ – surely if Teo supported Elle through transition, and is a close friend, he’d be very ‘known’ to Elle’s parents already?)


There’s very little information to glean about Elle’s family (although her parents look tactile and warm); but the fact she’s transitioned at an unusually young age and goes to an all-girls school now speaks volumes about the support she must have had through this change, from her parents, and also both schools.


She’s initially reticent about making friends at her new school, and keeps herself to herself, but eventually Elle makes good friends. She’s quite assertive, seems to have a good sense of who she is (her transition aged around fourteen must have required immense maturity and courage), and isn’t at all needy in her relationships, also putting her own dreams and plans before romantic relationships. I must therefore assume she’s secure in her attachment style. If Teo does have some more needy tendencies, perhaps Elle can model to him that he can trust her and he is enough for her, and she won’t abandon him, in the same way that Nick will hopefully do this for Charlie.


Darcy Olsson

I also wanted to mention Darcy here, as she’s the only other character that we see using an unhealthy coping mechanism to manage her emotions (like Charlie). Darcy drinks to excess in France, and we also see some real insight into the dysfunctional relationship she has with her Mum. There’s a very moving episode towards the end of series two when we see, without the sound of what’s being said between them, Darcy and her Mum arguing and Darcy leaving, with some very moving purple graphics used to show the cloud of toxicity or apprehension or difficulty that Darcy feels at home. Later when Tara calls to enquire about Darcy, her Mum is detached and unconcerned about her daughter’s whereabouts. It isn’t expressly said, but I assume that her Mum has some mental health issues going on, or that there’s some family dysfunction in this regard. (Perhaps Mum also drinks to manage her emotions.)


I feel that Darcy, who describes herself as a lesbian, is primarily insecure avoidant in her attachment. We see this in her relationship with girlfriend Tara. Darcy shies away from expressing her true feelings and uses her outgoing personality as a form or protection; maybe not quite letting people in. She has a strong sense of self-sufficiency, but is quite emotionally detached, and as is shown with the scenes with her Mum, has clearly had some kind of traumatic upbringing whereby her Mum isn’t ‘seeing’ Darcy for who she is, or isn’t supporting her emotionally. In the final episode Darcy does move emotionally closer to Tara, but only after a period of complete withdrawal. As with Charlie this could pose problems if Darcy self-sabotages her relationships if she feels she’s not good enough.


With series three coming later in 2024, I look forward to seeing where the characters are in their romantic and platonic journeys! Naturally I hope it all works out for them, especially for Charlie and Nick.

They’re a brilliant group of characters and the production and acting are outstanding. Heartstopping indeed.


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