Relationships/Adolescence

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First, starting at around age eleven, an idealistic image of life grows in intensity throughout the middle teens. Second, somewhere around age fourteen or fifteen a great expectation arises that "something tremendous is supposed to happen." Third, adolescents sense a secret, unique greatness in themselves that seeks expression. They gesture toward the heart when trying to express any of this, a significant clue to the whole affair.[1]
—Joseph Chilton Pearce, Evolution's End (1992)

Some adolescent boys are easy to understand. They seek approval for accomplishments. They dream of winning the big game, playing guitar in a heavy metal band, and dating the prettiest girl in the school. Some adolescent boys do not dream of dating the prettiest girl in the school.

In folktales, adolescent boys go on quests for treasure. They overcome obstacles not by force of will but instead by listening to advice from seemingly unimportant creatures. In the end, they marry a princess.

Some adolescent girls are harder to understand. On the surface they seem to care only about shopping, clothes, music, science, mathematics, and movies- and talking about boys. Adolescent girls expend as much effort deciding what to approve as boys spend seeking approval. Some girls do not do any of these things. But what mental processes do girls use to approve something? (Contrary to popular belief, adolescent girls aren't sheep. They don't buy stuff solely because their peers bought it.)

In folktales, an old woman imprisons a young woman in a tower, castle, or kitchen (the old woman symbolizes the life stage the young woman is trying to grow out of-see page 207). There the young woman passively waits for Prince Charming to recognize her beauty and rescue her. This is a metaphor that women want men to see their inner beauty, that each young woman feels that something stops men from seeing her emerging true nature, and that women feel love when a man breaks through that barrier. When a man connects to a woman's inner self, she gives her approval. Similarly, women give their approval when clothes, music, or movies connect to their inner selves.

Adolescents give and receive conditional love-love for what makes an individual special.

Anima and Animus[edit]

You feel passionate love when you meet an individual who reflects the hidden, contrasexual elements of your personality. Men feel passion when they meet women who reflect their anima, or hidden feminine sides. Women feel passion when they meet men who reflect their animus, or hidden masculine sides.

Meeting your anima or animus object makes you feel whole. You feel as if something's been missing all your life, and now you have it.

You feel passionate love, but you don't love the other person. Instead, you love yourself, as reflected in the mirror of the other person. Passionate love can take two courses. You can:

  • Love your projected reflection. Sooner or later reality shatters your fantasy and ends the relationship. You then repeat the cycle with other individuals.
  • Try to become what you love about your object of desire. As you develop these hidden elements of your personality, you need your partner less and less, and-ironically-your object of desire likes you more and more.

Projection[edit]

You sometimes recognize an element of yourself in another individual. You then project additional personality elements onto the person. You imagine your future life together. You picture the beautiful home you'll share, the successful careers each will support in the other, and the perfect children you'll raise.

Each additional element gives reality another opportunity to shatter your fantasy. Anything your object of desire says or does differently destroys your invented world. Eventually, everything your object of desire does hurts you, and you hate the person.

Archetypally, the imprisoned princess waits for her knight in shining armor. He'll solve all of her problems, and then they'll marry and live happily ever after. Young women project this ideal onto their lovers. But sooner or later, each woman sees reality. His armor is dented and has rust patches. His horse has a bad leg. Dragons defeat him more often than he defeats them. Her fantasy shatters. She's angry that he deceived her. He's stunned that one day she loved him, and the next day she hates him.

Or the knight rescues the princess-then rides away to find another dragon to fight and another princess to rescue (see "Becoming A Couple").

You used to stir my imagination. Now you don't even stir my curiosity. You simply produce no effect. I loved you because you were marvelous, because you had genius and intellect, because you realized the dreams of great poets and gave shape and substance to the shadows of art. You have thrown it all away! You are shallow and stupid! My god, how mad I was to love you! What a fool I have been. You are nothing to me now. I will never see you again. I will never think of you. I will never mention your name. You don't know what you were to me, once. Oh, I can't bear to think of it. I wish I had never laid eyes upon you. You have spoiled the romance of my life.
—Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890)
Fear of intimacy
Some young adults aren't capable of intimate relationships. They fall in love with projected images. Or they try to be someone else's projection. There's no intimacy because real people never connect. Some young adults are capable of intimate relationships.
Intimacy scares some adolescents. Intimacy forces you to see parts of yourself that you wish you didn't have. Weakness, stupidity, sexual ignorance or inadequacy, and other faults come out in intimate relationships. Young adults break off a relationship rather than experience their shadow aspects. Some adolescents are not scared by intimacy.
Young adults may think they're ready for an intimate relationship, but only with Mr. or Ms. Right:
So many people save loving. I call them "emotional virgins." Save really giving their heart away, surrendering, opening up, sharing, because they want to save it for the right person. The problem is when the right person comes along you don't know anything about loving.[2]
—Barbara De Angelis, Coming Alive With Love (1985)
"Emotional virgins" fear showing their inner selves to anyone who doesn't perfectly mirror their anima or animus. These individuals aren't ready to accept a real partner.
Unrequited love
When a teenage boy projects his anima onto a girl, the girl does things other than what he projects she'll do. The version in his head and the real girl conflict. This upsets him. He's happier loving her from a distance. If she likes him, she can't understand why he stops calling her when she starts paying attention to him. If she dislikes him, she finds it creepy that the boy has fantasies about her.
Adolescent mania is unrequited as often as it's mutual. Young men average three unrequited loves between 16 and 20. Young women average only 1.6 unrequited loves between 16 and 20.[3] I.e., teenage boys are less successful at love than teenage girls.
Traditional relationships
Projection can work if you accept traditional gender roles. Projection can work if you don't accept traditional gender roles.
Traditionally, men don't develop feminine skills (e.g., cooking) or feminine emotions (e.g., nurturing). A traditional man marries a woman who embodies these underdeveloped aspects of himself.
Conversely, a traditional woman doesn't develop a career, or use masculine emotions, e.g., assertiveness. She marries a man who'll do these things for her.
Together, a traditional couple can be one complete person, and enjoy a fulfilling relationship. A traditional relationship can enable a man to fully develop his masculine side, e.g., excel at his career. A woman can fully develop her feminine side, e.g., excel as a mother. Such a relationship can last a lifetime. Such a relationship might also fail. Note that homosexual relationships can also work out as well and that it is possible for females to have a career.

Becoming Your Object of Desire[edit]

Instead of imagining your wonderful life with your object of desire, manifest your dream without the person. Ironically, this will make the other person want you.

E.g., a woman has a good job and a stable life. She's attracted to a jazz musician. His improvisations loft her emotions to heights she's never experienced. She wishes she could do that, but tells herself that she can't.

They date. She finds that he's impoverished. Her first reaction is to offer the elements of her personality that she's aware and proud of. She tells him that if he marries her, he'll get health insurance. He isn't moved to propose.

He offers her the elements of his personality that he's aware and proud of. He asks her, on the spur of the moment, to accompany him to Jazz Fest in New Orleans. She can't take vacation time from work without six months planning.

They need opposite partners. But they fear exposing their weaknesses. Instead each wants to share what he or she is most proud of.

Instead, each should ask the other for help developing his or her weaknesses. E.g., she's always wanted to sing. She could ask him to give her voice lessons. He'll feel that she's becoming the type of woman he wants.

He could appreciate her ability to go to work every day. He could ask her to manage his career. She'll feel that he's becoming the type of man she wants.

After she develops her singing she may no longer need him. After he's a financial success he may no longer need her. Or they may marry. Either way, they'll live happily ever after.

Identifying why you feel attracted to an individual is difficult. In contrast, explaining why your object of desire should want you is easy. Have a mutual friend ask each of you (separately) why each person should want the other. (Hint: ask a gay or lesbian friend, who understands both masculine and feminine thinking patterns.)

"Cute and Quirky" Becomes Annoying. Psychologists say that the #1 complaint in marital counseling is that the "cute and quirky" qualities that attracted the partners to each other became annoying after the wedding. E.g., a shy but dependable man marries an outgoing, impulsive woman. He envies her ability to have fun. She admires his steady work ethic. But after they marry, she wants to go out in the evenings. He prefers to stay in. Compromising wasn't a problem when they dated a few nights a week, but now they have to compromise every night.

Ideally, he grows more like her, e.g., enjoying social dance classes. She grows more like him, e.g., taking night classes at a community college.

Developing an Adult Identity[edit]

The first crisis typically hits during our early 20s...We either don't know what we want to do with ourselves (start up a cyber-chic website? go to law school?) or can't seem to transform our idea of what we want to do into reality (how does one become a world-famous travel writer who journeys from one land of lush to another investigating such intriguing topics as orangutan rehabilitation in Bukit Lawang?). If we base our entire identity on vague or unobtainable plans due to lack of experience, we are ripe for crisis...

The second crisis usually hits during our mid to late 20s. After we've established a crude model of adulthood by which we've been living, we finally regain enough strength lost from our first crisis to acknowledge that the model we've created is not working. Various external influences typically propel the second identity crash: a friend gets a huge promotion...or the guy we thought we one day might marry goes on a three-day "vision quest" in the Rockies, comes back, and breaks up with us...or a friend gets pregnant, and due to pheromone influences beyond our control, we are overwrought by primal urges to get married and procreate, making us burst into tears at the mere thought of buying tiny baby socks.[4]
—Julia Bourland, The Go-Girl Guide (2000)
When I grow up I'll be stable...[5]
—Garbage, "When I Grow Up" (1998)

The primary work of adolescents and young adults is to develop adult identities. In high school, they make new friends. They try different sports or hobbies. In college, they consider different majors or careers. Maybe they try different sexual experiences. After college, they move to different neighborhoods or cities.

By 26, most individuals have a job, a relationship, and a community. They've created their first full adult identities. But they're unhappy with at least one aspect of their lives. E.g., an individual may have a good job, but is unhappy with her relationship. Or she may have the partner she wants to spend the rest of her life with, and a job she can't take another minute of.

Between 26 and 30, individuals change at least one aspect of their identities. If you want to marry a 26-year-old, be open to a career change or a move across the country. By 30, most individuals are comfortable with their identities and ready to settle down in a committed, long-term relationship.

Be wary of individuals who didn't go through identity crises as a young adult, e.g., a 30-year-old doctor who wanted to be a doctor since she was five. Individuals who don't have these identity crises when they're young have worse identity crises later in life, after they've made commitments to career, marriage, or children.

Too Little Adult Identity[edit]

Men and women emphasize their similarities to attract mates. Younger people, lacking strong identities, easily adapt themselves -sometimes by lying-to another person's likes and dislikes. Without a fully developed adult identity, everyone will love you, because whatever they are, you are too. Other people will easily project their ideals onto you.

Without an adult identity, you won't be able to say no to suggestions. You won't do unpleasant but necessary work. You can't hold down a job or work out problems in a relationship.

Too Much Adult Identity[edit]

Too strong an identity can make you unable to adapt to a changing world. An inflexible person can't learn and grow. Such a person can't adjust or subsume his or her identity to form a dyad as a couple (see "Dyad Trouble," page 150).

A strong, clear identity is difficult for others to project onto, so few people will feel adolescent mania for you.

Adjust your identity when you get something you want, e.g., a new job or relationship. Bringing your old identity into the new situation may get you into trouble. When a change is undesired, you're more "on guard" to look for ways that you'll need to change.

The most dangerous moment comes with victory.[6]
—Napoleon Bonaparte

Integrity[edit]

A well-chosen adult identity fits your personality and fits the world around you.

An adult identity that doesn't fit your personality causes mental illness or depression. E.g., a man who's outgoing, fun-loving, and gregarious becomes depressed if he chooses a solitary career. A woman who enjoys quiet solitude develops anxiety disorders if she chooses to be a paramedic in a violent city.

An adult identity that doesn't fit the world around you causes separation from society, or alienation. If you choose a career for which there are no jobs (e.g., poet), or dress outlandishly or slovenly, or cultivate anti-social eccentricities (e.g., refusing to enter rooms with fluorescent lights), you won't receive material or social rewards. I.e., you'll be poor and lonely.

Integrity is the fusion of your public and personal selves. Whether you're a celebrity or a garbage collector, people will respect you. Buddhists call this "right livelihood."

Interpersonal vs. Inner Conflict[edit]

Traditional societies had fixed roles for farmers, blacksmiths, ministers, etc. (and for their wives and daughters). Our ancestors may have felt oppressed when faced with no choices, predictable futures, and pressure to conform. Identity crises caused interpersonal conflict. E.g., if the son of a tailor didn't want to be a tailor, he rebelled against his father.

Our society allows anyone to be anything. Parents no longer pressure their children into careers or arrange marriages. The world is changing so fast that following in your parents' footsteps no longer works-you'll likely change careers two or three times in your life. And whatever lifestyle you choose, you can find people who'll accept you, e.g., a lesbian triathlete stockbroker can move to San Francisco and find other lesbian triathlete stockbrokers.

Identity crises now produce inner conflicts, instead of interpersonal conflicts. Facing unlimited choices, uncertain futures, and minimal parental guidance, we have no one to rebel against but ourselves.

Adolescent Friendship[edit]

Did you ever stop to think that a dog is the only animal that doesn't have to work for a living? A hen has to lay eggs, a cow has to give milk, and a canary has to sing. But a dog makes his living by giving nothing but love.[7]
—Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936)

Dogs give what the Greeks called ludus, or the enjoyment of each other's company.[8] Your dog enjoys being with you. You enjoy being with your dog. To win friends and influence people, be enjoyable to be with.

Your best friends are likely individuals you worked with or lived with. Choose a job where you'll work with people. Instead of living alone, share your home with several housemates.

The opposite of ludus is obligation. If you visit Aunt Millie only out of obligation, send her to a Dale Carnegie seminar.

Equality[edit]

Friendship requires equality. It's easy to be friends with individuals whom we're told are our equals, e.g., our college roommates. It's harder to be friends when we don't have equality thrust upon us.

To make friends with an individual more powerful than yourself, make it clear that you don't need the person's help. To be friends with an individual less powerful than yourself, make it clear that you won't help him or her.

A fast way to lose a friend is to act superior, or inferior.

Confusing Friends and Lovers[edit]

Sometimes a woman refers to the man she's having a sexual relationship with as her "friend." This communicates lack of commitment. She's either sleeping with more than one "friend," or she's dissatisfied with her "friend" and is looking for a better man (see "Boyfriend Lies"). Either way, if your lover refers to you as a "friend," it's time to have an "our relationship" talk.

Don't have sex with your friends. This usually isn't a problem for heterosexuals, but for gays and lesbians it's a likely way to lose your friends. Friendships last longer than romantic love. Breaking off a love affair kills a friendship.

References

  1. Pearce, Joseph Chilton. Evolution's End: Claiming the Potential of Our Intelligence (Harper San Francisco, 1992, ISBN 0-06-250732-X), p. 190.
  2. De Angelis, Barbara. "Being the Perfect Lover In and Out of Bed," Coming Alive With Love (1985).
  3. Hill, C.A. Owen Blakemore, J.E., Drumm, P. "Mutual and unrequited love in adolescence and young adulthood," Personal Relationships 4 (1997), 15-23.
  4. Bourland, Julia. The Go-Girl Guide: Surviving Your 20s With Savvy, Soul, and Style (Contemporary Books, 2000, ISBN 0809224763), 166-167.
  5. Garbage, "Version 2.0" (Uni/Almo Sounds, 1998, ASIN B000006NZV).
  6. http://www.cyber-nation.com/victory/quotations/authors/quotes_bonaparte_napoleon.html
  7. Carnegie, Dale. How to Win Friends & Influence People (Pocket Books, 1936, ISBN 0-671-72365-0), p. 53.
  8. Rosenthal, Norman E. The Emotional Revolution: How The New Science Of Feelings Can Transform Your Life (Citadel, 2002, ISBN 0-8065-2295-X), p. 268.

Childhood · Adulthood

 v  d  e 
Childhood · Relationships · Adulthood
About This Book · Q&A · Recommended Books
The Science: The Evolution of the Human Brain · How Women Select Men · How Men Select Women · How Our Ancestors Lived · Monogamy and Polygamy · Hormones · Communication Styles
Life Stages: Childhood—Seeking Unconditional Love · Adolescence—Seeking Romantic Love · Adulthood—Families And Forgiveness · Agape—Altruistic Love
Practical Advice: Where Couples Met · Flirting · How to Write a Personal Ad · Dating · Sex · Becoming a Couple · Conflict In Relationships
Personality Types: Emotional Control Systems · Zeus-Hera · Poseidon-Athena · Apollo-Artemis · Hermes-Hestia · Ares-Hephaestus-Aphrodite · Dionysus-Demeter · Hades-Persephone