Never Date a Man Who... Isn't an Adult on the Inside

Steven Ing, MFT

Remember that last guy? The one who actually and totally looked like a grown-up but actually and totally was not? You know, tall, dark, and handsome... and like a child on the inside? He was willing, able, and eager to have sex but what he really seemed to want was a mommy to take care of him.

Remember that guy? And (yikes!) remember how, for a hot minute, you totally turned into his mom? There you were, reminding him of every little thing, explaining to him why he couldn't let his emotions rule his behavior, feeling scared at the way he let his impulses drive everything from his road rage to his money management to his failure to be responsible about, well, nearly everything. You probably scolded him too, didn't you? Bad mommy.

Theoretically, you'd think it would be kind of easy, this relationship stuff. But by now we all know better and, if you don't yet know better, oh have you got some catchin' up to do. Yes, we're a social species and yes, we're hardwired for falling in love, and yes we (mostly) all like sex... so what could possibly go wrong?
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As it turns out there are quite a few things that could go wrong. Many of them are unpredictable (like a future psychotic break years after the wedding). But thankfully, most problems in romances are highly predictable when you think about them. So, please, take a minute and just think about this series, "Never Date a Man Who...." So far we've gone over three kinds of guys no woman in her right mind would keep dating.

First, A Man Who Can't Talk About Sex. Why not him? Because adult romantic relationships naturally include sex. It's a legit part of the relationship and it will require some conversations here and there over time to figure out who we are (as individuals), what we like (as a couple), and the skills to address issues that come up.

Second, you are strongly advised to Never Date a Man Who Can't Embrace Equality. I know, I know, sounds political but, really, isn't the concept of two of you being of equal worth sort of what you have in mind for your future together? It's implied, right? Equality does, after all, offer the only realistic remedy for loneliness.

Third (and it's amazing we have to talk about this), Never Date a Man Who Can't Commit to an Abuse-Free Relationship with you. We're not talking here about a committed relationship in the colloquial sense of marriage or cohabitation or even just "goin' steady," but a commitment nonetheless. We may argue, we may fight about things—but our commitment is that we will never engage in guilt trips, yelling, name-calling, or even a demeaning tone of voice. Respect: not too much to ask for from someone who's auditioning for a leading role in your life. With romance as with baseball, when we think of home we think of a place where we can be safe. Who would ever want less?

But men who aren't grown-ups? How many can there actually be? Judging from my caseload over the last few decades, the answer would be, "More than you might think." Think about it. If you've dated a bit (and no one here is slut-shaming), you've met some of these guys. They might have been interesting and fun for a minute before you came to realize that you're the only adult in the room.

Some of these men were the wounded poet type with very strongly held feelings (and words to match!). Some were fierce warrior types exhaling tough talk and wearing all the right t-shirts for “the cause.” There are subcategories like the uber-wounded patient who needs therapy very badly and the love of a good woman (like you!) is palliative but not curative. Some were boys with expensive toys but no room in their hearts for the heroic journey required of every man as he moves from boyhood to manhood. You know, the hero who sets aside his own gratification, his agenda, his personal needs to care for those weaker and more vulnerable than himself—like the kids in his future. Maybe some of the man-children you dated were merely "in process" and with them you were, perhaps, guilty of little more than picking the fruit before it was ripe.

But men are not like melons in the supermarket. You can't thump them to see how hollow they are. You actually have to get to know them, well, at least a little. Here, specifically, are a few pointers to separate the men from the boys: Does he have a job? Not so important, especially if he's in school or in an economic downturn caused by a global pandemic. Does he have a career? Very important. He knows (at least for now) who he is and where he's going. Does he have buddies from work? Not so important. Does he have friends in his life, the sort of men who help him become a better man? The sort of men you respect? No? Then keep looking, because great men who have developed lives worth living are ones who possess lives worth sharing. They don't need a mommy because they are perfectly capable of taking care of themselves.

It comes down to this. Adults are different from children. Children, by definition, aren't grown-up enough to do a good job taking care of themselves. Adults, by definition, are supposed to be able to do all that and that's why they get to raise children. If you're the sort of woman who needs to rescue stray dogs, then you’ll end up being a mommy to a needy teenager. You get to decide who you want to make a life with.

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I had a seriously messed up childhood. Like, mobster-father-shot-to-death-by-police messed up. Out of this beginning came a lifelong fascination with two questions: “Why do people do what they do?” and “How can all of us figure out how to move to what healthier families enjoy and how they get their needs for love met?” As a Marriage and Family Therapist for over 30 years, I work to help people figure out how they too can have healthy sexuality and intimacy by Managing Sexuality Intelligently™. I have literally written the book on human sexual needs, "We’re All Like This” (Second Edition 2020, Giant Publishing), with portions appearing in the 2nd edition of the McGraw-Hill textbook "Human Sexuality: Self, Society, and Culture," used in university-level human sexuality classes. My books, articles, and public presentations create conversations about human sexuality that are safe...but not too safe. My insights have led to a humane take on our beautiful human sexuality and how all the rest of us can have ridiculously happy lives (yes, and sex lives too!).

Reno, NV

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