Marrying Peter Pan
In 10 years, my 40-year-old boyfriend has proposed twice, and twice he broke it off, saying he was not ready for marriage. He is brilliant yet works beneath his abilities and fantasizes about careers. He spends more money than he makes and lets his parents bail him out. He has many good qualities (he’s very spiritual), but I am ready to marry and start a family. I always thought that I would do this with my boyfriend, but, as we prepare to celebrate another anniversary, I’m not sure. Am I wasting my time?
Yes. Your boyfriend appears to suffer from puer eternalis, a.k.a. the eternal-boy syndrome. He refuses to grow up. Brother Don Bisson, a New York-based Catholic retreat leader and spiritual director, said, “Our culture is highly influenced by this addiction to youth, youthful attitudes, youthful behavior.” Those immersed in this addiction pattern cannot commit to a relationship. These are the 40-somethings who become infatuated like 14-year-olds. (Hello, Tom Cruise!) The eternal boy or girl wants therapy, Bisson says, but as soon as it is painful, they’re gone. “They want bliss without the journey because their healthy ego self is unformed,” he said. Drugs, alcohol and pseudo-fixes around pain are an immense draw for the eternal boy or girl.
“Growing up includes pain, suffering and limits, but by refusing to grow up, you create more pain,” Bisson warned. Peter Pan is the ideal puer eternalis, especially in his refusal to have his shadow attached to him. The eternal boy or girl is seductive, not grounded, too spiritual or needy. He or she needs immense amounts of love but can’t sustain a relationship.
Healing from the addiction to childishness requires a willingness to be ordinary. “They need to stand in line at the grocery store, bag their own groceries and put it away at home because, for the puer eternalis, [ordinary chores are] too oppressive,” Bisson said. Jungian psychologist Marie-Louise von Franz pointed out that ordinary, repetitive work is important because their childish nature is addicted to stimulation. Secondly, sexuality and love relationships must move toward commitment. The eternal boy or girl is addicted to falling in love but never learns what love is. (Remember Sex and the City?) Third, the puer eternalis must provide concrete service to others. And finally, he or she needs to put down residential roots and to understand aging as a spiritual reality. If your boyfriend changes in these ways, your relationship has a chance.
My husband frequently tells me stories about the sexual jokes he and his co-workers make, sometimes in front of three female co-workers (the only women on the staff). Recently, he joked about our sex life and told me about it. I was appalled. He thinks that since no one at work has a problem with such talk, I shouldn’t either. Is he right? Or am I?
Uh-oh. Rather than referee or take sides, let me offer ideas. Your husband can determine the appropriateness of his comments by considering whether they enhance or detract from the humanity of his co-workers. After a titillating joke, do co-workers feel more respected, appreciated or accepted? Are the jokes a test of who is in the clique or outside it? Every workplace has its own culture, but creating a hostile workplace leaves employees open to sexual-harassment lawsuits.
Now, regarding the public airing of your sexual proclivities, are you pained because your husband breached intimacy with you in order to secure intimacy with his workmates? Were you embarrassed because the information he shared was true, but you did not want to face it? There is gold in this situation for you, if you are willing to dig past the drama and discover the deeper reason for your discomfort.