When your ‘Man’ is actually a ‘Man-baby’.
Have you ever heard of the expression “man-child” or “man-baby”?
I read an online article some time back that felt such labels are disrespectful and should not be used. I, on the other hand, am perfectly comfortable with ‘man-baby’ as I have seen firsthand much damage done to many relationships over the years by this issue. If you are old enough to remember the ‘80s, a book called The Peter Pan syndrome: men who never grow up, was published. If you remember, Peter Pan was a boy who enjoyed his youth so much, he did not want to grow up, and that’s the topic for this article.
(By the way, another book, The Wendy Dilemma: When Women Stop Mothering Their Men, was also published that explored mothering and how some women seek approval in their relationships by being a mother figure – as per the character Wendy in Peter Pan – rather than a spouse. But that’s another story)
Whilst it might sound a bit derogatory, it still portrays a very real reality I have seen many times; that there is a subset of the male population that feel they are entitled to all the privileges of single life while being in a relationship or family. Lonely spouses and neglected children are usually the result. How on earth does one get entangled in the first place in such a relationship?
In my opinion, there is often a “bait and switch” happening. What’s that, you say?
In the early days of dating a man-baby, he usually is a lot of fun. Often rather chilled, they seem to really enjoy life. They just feel great to be around, and you are attracted to the fact that they seem so stress-free.
There’s the bait.
But after a while, the true colours come forth (as I explain shortly). The emotional maturity you thought he had was a cardboard cut-out of the real thing, and you can start to see that he is a mile long and an inch deep. In other words, shallow.
And let’s not forget the ‘Trinity’ of man-babyhood: the Xbox, the weed and the porn. Oh, he’ll explain that he can’t stop, that they are his escape (and the porn “doesn’t mean anything to me”), or that he simply has an “addictive personality”.
There’s the switch.
I might sound rather harsh, but I have seen so much damage done to families (especially to the children) by men who choose not to take responsibility. I do appreciate that many of these men come from families that did them no service by failing to launch them properly from the family nest, or worse, emerge from families that were emotionally neglectful or abusive. I get it. Nonetheless, they still have a choice about what to do with what was given to them. Some refuse to make that choice; they simply don’t do ‘Adult’.
So, what are the warning signs you’re dating a 15-year-old in a 40-year-old’s body? Here’s just a sample:
What was his Flat like, and how does he drive?
I’ve heard the expression that, “the home reflects the heart” and living in such squalor where no self-respecting pig would live in, is a concern. Humans tend to revert back to their ‘default setting’ when no-one is looking, and so a mouldy 3-week-old McCain’s pizza on the bench would be a worry. In other words, do you get a sense of what he was like before he met you? Also, check out how he drives. Is he patient? Is he courteous? Or does the road rage explode at the poor pensioner travelling at 40km/hr? Both of these areas can reveal a lot about a person’s character.
His friends are his soulmates, not you
There is a common mental health condition whereby a man forgets important anniversaries, neglects his own children, and is never there when you need him, but always seems to have time for his mates. It’s called selfishness. He will reframe this as ‘needing space’, needing his ‘man-cave’ and will try to gaslight you by saying you are ‘smothering’ him. Try and raise the issue of ‘commitment’ and see what happens! This flows on to the next one:
A man-baby can’t handle criticism.
It might be a genuine attempt on your part to give feedback or a suggestion, but he takes it as a personal attack. That’s when he’ll start listing some of your faults as ammunition to try and boost his own poor self-esteem. Closely related to this one is his inability to handle stress, and his stress is always worse than anyone else’s. He has written the textbook on being a victim, and because he feels it’s all very unfair, he thinks he is justified in getting angry at you.
There’s always a good reason.
It’s basically never his fault. Not his fault the bills weren’t paid. Not his fault he bought another PS4. Not his fault he forgot to pick up the kids. A common issue is the money. He often borrows money or spends more than he earns – or you earn.
His ability to complete typical grown-up responsibilities is worse than the kid’s.
This is especially true for general household duties. Does he know that toilets are not self-cleaning? Is he aware that 2-year-old Maddie should not be eating the dog food? Does he really think that his dirty clothes on the floor and the dirty dishes in the sink are the latest in home feng shui? Or, if you do attempt to get him involved in the day-to-day domestic schedule, he either pretends he does not know what to do, or he gives you a list of all the things he has already done and gives some vague answer about ‘down-time’. You feel like a nag and end up doing it yourself. Game, set, match to man-baby.
In the end, most Peter Pans do not want to grow up….not yet anyway…
- It’s not your role to make him grow up. That’s his responsibility.
- Is change possible? Yes, but again, that’s his responsibility.
- Question: How long do I wait? Answer: That’s up to you, but if the above sounds like him, and you have tried to repeatedly raise these issues with him, start running.
- Do I need to change myself? Quite possibly. Sometimes the boundaries need a tune up, and it’s always a healthy thing to examine your own responses and reactions.
- Again, I want to reiterate that many men do want to change, but don’t know where to start, and I’m not painting all men with the same brush here. However, the above does resemble some men who really are comfortable in the way they live, and that’s the problem; when they want all the freedom and carefree fun of being single when they are not single.
- It’s not an easy path for either party, but sometimes a listening ear of a therapist can help decide the direction of the path.
Author: Dr David Ward, BSocWk, BA., Grad Dip (Couple Thpy), M.Couns., MPhil., PhD.
Dr David Ward is a psychotherapist with over 25 years’ experience, providing therapy to adults, adolescents, children, couples, and families. His areas of professional interest include the use of EMDR therapy to help with recovery from domestic violence, child abuse, PTSD, depression and anxiety; family therapy; and working with victims of spiritual and ritual abuse.
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