Relationships/Adulthood

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An adult sees his real partner, not a mirror reflecting himself. He sees his partner's faults, and loves her despite her shortcomings. The ancient Greeks called this love pragma. Psychologists call it intimacy. Christians call it forgiveness.

The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved-loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves.[1]
—Victor Hugo, author of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831) and Les Miserables (1862)

Adults give their partners space. E.g., on weekends he flies his glider. She goes to horse shows. They accept their differences. They lack the passion of 19-year-olds, but their relationship is stable.

When the knight becomes king and the princess becomes queen, their attention turns towards their kingdom. Adult partners focus not on each other, but on their family. If they don't have children, they may start a business together, or create art or music.

Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking together in the same direction.
—Antoine de Saint-Exupery, author of The Little Prince (1943)

30s: Stuck Between Adolescence and Adulthood[edit]

Thirtysomething individuals can become stuck between adolescent mania and adult pragma. They're quick to see a potential partner's faults, and can't accept an imperfect partner. They want passionate love, but have outgrown the adolescent style of projecting ideals onto partners.

Such thirtysomethings reject partners who embody their hidden personality elements, and reject partners who don't. E.g., a man believes that "real men don't cry." Emotionally expressive women scare him, and he rejects them. Emotionally controlled women don't make him feel passion, so he also rejects them.

By the time I got to 35, I had been disappointed enough times in a row that I was better at ruling men out than ruling them in.
—Pam Houston, author of A Little More About Me (1999)

He swears off dating, because every relationship ends in disappointment. He'll accept only a perfect woman, in a passionate relationship. No woman meets his standards. He can see faults, but he can't accept faults. Our society encourages men stuck here to focus on career, sports, or hobbies.

Women stuck here expect that "Mr. Right" will magically appear, without the woman making any effort. Or the woman becomes a "man hater." Our society encourages women to blame men for their unhappiness.

Adult Friendship[edit]

Friendships determine success more than education or hard work.[2] Successful people have hundreds of friends. Friends connect us to new worlds of people. An individual with a wide variety of friends will accomplish more, with less effort, by asking the right person for help in any situation.

Adults create friendships by drawing boundaries. Boundaries draw people into parts of your life, as well as exclude them from other parts. Successful individuals quickly draw the right boundaries around new acquaintances.

Boundaries enable unequal adults to be friends (unlike unequal adolescents). E.g., a CEO and a janitor can be buddies on their company softball team-and return to their usual distance at work.

Rivals draw clear boundaries. Individuals can be rivals in one area, and friends in another.

The Internet is a boundary. It's easy to form friendships on-line, e.g., chatting on a discussion forum. Few on-line friendships become "real world" friendships. There's nothing wrong with that. On-line friends are another category, just as you have work friends, neighborhood friends, family friends, etc.

Companionate Marriages[edit]

In a companionate marriage, the couple shares careers, hobbies, friends, etc. Companionate couples also share parenting responsibilities.

Before 1970, companionate marriages were rare. In the past thirty years, this has become the most common type of marriage.

The problem with companionate marriages is boundaries. Each of us needs to be an individual, as well as to be part of a dyad (see "Dyad Trouble," page 150). In traditional marriages, the husband goes to work, the wife takes care of the home and the children, he goes to the Moose Club to see his friends, her friends come over for a coffee klatch, etc. The boundaries between individual and dyad are clearly drawn. But in companionate marriages, unclear boundaries can lead to one (or both) partners feeling a loss of individuality. In general, this makes the husband unhappy, if the couple is young, or the wife feels unhappy, if they're older (young men and older women value their independence).

Companionate couples should draw boundaries to spend some time apart. E.g., on weekends he flies his glider, and she goes to horse shows.

Your Village of Relationships[edit]

On my first visit home [to West Africa] after moving to the United States, I told my mother that just [my husband] and I lived in our house. To her, living like this was inconceivable; she thought I was crazy. It meant that we were getting no outside energy to support and strengthen our relationship. We were basically left with the impossible task of figuring things out on our own. In my own marriage, I now bring as many people as I can into the relationship....When you don't have a community of friends and family involved in a relationship, you base all your intimate expectations on your marriage. And that is too much to ask of any relationship. Of course, your partner is your friend and family, but to get everything from one person is impossible.[3]
—Sobonfu Somé, The Spirit of Intimacy (2000)
After more than a half-century of marriage, I can tell you that it is important to realize early on that no one person can give you everything that you want or need.[4]
—Old woman, quoted by Danielle Crittenden in What Our Mothers Didn't Teach Us (1999)

The ancient Greeks had six words for love:

  • Mania, or adolescent passion
  • Eros, or sexual attraction
  • Pragma, or adult commitment and care giving
  • Storge, brotherly, sisterly, and comradely love
  • Ludus, friendship (page 83)
  • Agape, the altruistic love of all creatures (page 88).

As we mature through each stage of our lives, we need-and give-different types of love. And each of us is more mature in some ways, and less mature in other ways. E.g., an individual may act maturely at work, but revert to adolescence when dating.

References

  1. E-mailed from Joe Kalinowski.
  2. Gladwell, Malcolm. The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference (Little, Brown, 2000, ISBN 0-316-31696-2).
  3. Some, Sobonfu E. The Spirit of Intimacy (Quill, 2000, ISBN 0688175791).
  4. Crittenden, Danielle. What Our Mothers Didn't Teach Us: Why Happiness Eludes the Modern Woman (Simon & Schuster, 1999, ISBN 0684832194), p. 110.

Adolescence · Agape

 v  d  e 
Adolescence · Relationships · Agape
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