Woe Is Me! “Why Do I Keep Dating Adults Who Act Like Children?”
Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.
“I always end up in relationships with adults who act like children! This is not even a male-specific thing — I’ve dated both man-children and woman-children. Do I just resign myself to having a type? How do I avoid these adult babies?“
— Unwilling Parent
KB: First of all, let’s just bust one big, hairy, very pervasive myth. Growing up, many of us believe that adults are these organizationally and emotionally superior beings, and that they have figured it all out. In truth, no one has anything figured out, and adults are, in fact, giant kids with more bills to pay and emotional baggage to sort, but much of the same immaturity and cluelessness they had when they were half the size. So stop expecting there to be some magical age at which humans suddenly sprout infinite maturity and inner peace — there is no such time.
Now that we’ve established that, I would ask: is there some pattern to the specific childishness that you seem to gravitate towards? Is it people who are not financially independent? Is it people who are emotionally needy and drain you of your energy? Is it people who foist their trauma onto you and expect you to shoulder emotional abuse? I’d look for that specific pattern, and once you locate it, it should be easier to avoid going forward. It also sounds like perhaps you need to learn to set boundaries. You can’t always control what other people do, but you can control your own ability to say no.
AS: When you say ‘act like children,’ what exactly do you mean? Do you mean they act juvenile all the time? Or are they sometimes childlike, and need to be taken care of? It might not seem very different, but I think the latter is a sign of increased vulnerability and intimacy in a relationship. We all want to be taken care of sometimes. We all have potentially silly fears and ideas, and when we feel close enough with someone, we can actually share these fears and ideas. That doesn’t take away from how mature, ambitious or self-reliant we may be. (Plus, don’t they say it’s nice to keep up a certain childlike wonder about life, so as to not let it get ‘all work and no play’?). On the other hand, if you feel the baby behaviour is genuinely too much, you could try narrowing down the stuff that ticks you off — like, do they complain too much? Are they messy? Are they constantly asking for attention? And then, when you venture into dating again, just try to be wary of these signs right off the bat.
SK: Hard relate! I don’t think it’s a matter of type as much as it is about letting some red signals slip early on in the relationship. Immature behavior might seem adorable and charming, so it’s easy to hope that it’s not the only thing defining a person. They say practice makes perfect, and if you’ve had a fair to deal with a fair share of partner/babies, you can now be better at detecting how much ‘immaturity’ is a joke and how much of it is a personal trait. Best not to discount such behavior as a one-time thing; or even avoid people who are way too dependent on you, demand too much of you emotionally, are fickle or short-tempered. It’s all connected!
DR: Hello there, Adult-sitter! Trust me, I’ve been called that in the past. But I don’t think I’ve dated as many adult-children as it seems you have — even so, it was extremely frustrating. So I can only imagine what you must have to go through!
Is it possible you’re finding yourself dating these ‘big babies’ because you’re going through some savior-phase, or some fix-’em-phase in life? That may completely not be the case, but I realized it was for me… well, a tad. So, maybe, this warrants some introspection? At the same time, do you think this may be becoming a vicious cycle for you in the sense that you’re attracted to ‘big babies’ because you’ve dated so many of them that it just seems like a familiar — and by extension, comfortable — personality type to you? If it is indeed the case, you’ll actively need to break out of the cycle, and consciously date people who are the opposite kind for a while, I feel. And if your mind/body continues to crave the desire to take care/be parent-y because that’s what it’s used to, maybe, you can channel the energies towards fostering a stray?
In either case, I think it’s important that you find out if there’s anything about who you are, what your traumas/privileges might be, that are leading you to date adult-children. While one way to do that is through therapy, if that’s not what you want, maybe you can just explore introspection — and hey, learning more about yourself can be a lot of fun! Also, it might just act as a respite from parenting your dates.
RP: You can avoid them! You first have to decide that you want to. From the tone of your query it sounds to me like all of this is just happening to you beyond your control. You end up in these relationships, you are resigning yourself to having a type. Put yourself back in the driver’s seat. When we find ourselves drawn to the wrong kind of people for us again and again, it’s usually not because first impressions were wrong and we learned the truth too late, it’s because there’s something comforting about what is familiar. Even if what is familiar is pain, that pain feels a little easier than choosing the unknown. You’ll probably see the signs early on that this new person is similar to the ones before.
I think we all have a type we go back to even when we know we shouldn’t. Maybe it feels like it will be easier the next time because we are smarter about when to walk away or hindsight is rose-colored. But the only want to avoid those babies is to figure out why you keep going back. What is the part of being with an adult-child that you enjoy? Maybe it’s taking care of someone, being the provider or the saviour that feels good and that is how you end up with someone who isn’t acting like an equal partner. If you can recognize early on what you are getting attracted to which usually creates the same situation, you know what to stay away from.
Like most things, this is easier said than done but I would give yourself the space to figure it out slowly, even if it means being sans relationship for a bit. Take your time in testing out connections with people who don’t fit the mold, who are unlike ones you’ve dated before, and who make you rethink what attracts you in the first place.
LG: I really hope you don’t resign yourself to having this type, because it sounds like you’d be really unhappy doing so! I’m really curious what you mean by adult-babies — is it lack of experience? Or is it emotional immaturity? For instance, someone who has never lived with anyone other than their family may not realize, say, it’s their responsibility to wash their own dishes, pick up after themselves, and pay the bills on time. It might feel obvious, but it’s possible it’s just a blindspot and they’d be willing to step up once their blindspot is pointed out to them. On the other hand, if, when something like that is pointed out to them, they respond by blaming you or someone/thing else, refuse to assume responsibility for themselves or acknowledge how their actions (or lack thereof) affect others, then that’s a dealbreaker. What does your relationship history suggest it is?
I’d suggest looking back on these relationships with adult-babies and asking yourself a few questions: What is it about them that attracted you? What is it that made them seem like babies? Were there any early red flags as to the latter? And did the inevitable dealbreaker have anything to do with the initial attraction? That might help you parse out what you’re looking for and/or what to avoid (or identify earlier) in future relationships.
Finally, I’ll leave you with this thought: Even mature adults grow at different rates and ways in relationships. Part of being in a committed relationship is patience and aid while the other person ‘catches up’ with you, and vice versa. Is it possible what you perceive as baby-ish simply you getting to a wiser place first? Does the other person have it in them to reach there, too? Are there ways in which you might come across as an adult-baby to your partners? I’m not saying you have a duty to hang around, nurture, and shoulder the load for any rando-baby you casually date — you absoluely don’t. Just food for thought for the longer term. Good luck sorting all out, you magnificent honeybee, you.