In early1994, while entering a new relationship, I was desiring to not make the same mistakes I had made before, eager and ready to make some fresh, new, bold mistakes! I was seeking a divorce from the recurring themes of my dysfunctional history, a clean break up from my past. You know when you’ve had enough of living the same old country and western song?
I had a therapist who also doubled as my relationship coach. When I went to see him soon after meeting this woman, he who had seen me through several romance trances with heartbreaking breakups, offered these words of guidance: “Scott, I suggest building the adult be your top priority this time, more so than getting the girl and living happily ever after.”
What the hell did that mean?. I feared he was asking Peter Pan to stop flying and keep my feet on the ground. Or worse, he meant questioning and threatening the relationship priority I had had since adolescence: Have sex with attractive females as soon and as often as possible. I used my sexuality not just to feel good, but to validate myself as a real man. The more I ‘scored’, the more self-esteem I felt. Oh how I loved making points. It was like a sport to me.
Building the adult, at the very least, meant not seeking to rush ahead and act on the sexual energy that was pulsating through my youthful body, to postpone that kind of pleasure in the service of getting to know somebody, slowly and gradually. My therapist offered me this mantra: Slowly is Holy. Another of his gems, “Friends First’, challenged everything I thought I knew about sexual relationships.
Wise words, but try as I did, I was not able to retrain or restrain myself in those early years, my roaring twenties. I did get the hang of it, with much practice, in future relationships. As my therapist said, “You are learning how to savor eating a whole artichoke instead of whisking away the leaves to get to the heart as quickly as possible.” Building the adult. Strange how that felt like foreign, brave new territory. The mantra I uttered behind the scenes of my life had been I Won’t Grow Up! It was a screw you to my parents, as well as a rebellion from a culture that I perceived wanted to steal my joy and whisk my freedom away. Building the adult has come to mean so much more to me than handling sexual energy maturely.
Now, at 58 years old, I am learning that it is possible to be a joyful, playful, fun loving adult, an adult that also has an accountant and a daily to do list. I learned to observe that my inner critic likes to masquerade as my adult voice, shutting me down with pressure and guilt. When I am ‘shoulding’ on myself, feeling not good enough, having high expectations, that’s not the mature side of me. That’s the shaming and blaming, old paradigm, old perfectionist programming.
I often ask myself, “What would a wise adult do now?” Not a dreary, always serious adult with back pain, pushing.trudging along, but an adult of my own choosing…the opposite of my programming.
Peter Pan Syndrome, like all self-defeating behaviors, started out as an effective survival strategy to guard and protect my jewels – my innocence, spontaneity, and joy. I developed my spiritual, artistic and intuitive sides, and avoided worldly concerns and grounding initiations like paying taxes, learning how to drive, or getting a credit card. (I got around to them eventually.)
I thought I was free, and I thought that structure and discipline would threaten my freedom.
Jesus is quoted as saying you must become as a little child to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. I think he was referring to being more childlike, not childish. My inner child needs some adult supervision. We have so much more fun and get so much more done when that child is enjoying the ride in the passenger seat, not driving the car.
How do you build the adult, finding that balance between freedom and structure? Inquiring minds want to know….