Why it is good to grow up

I’ve been thinking recently about the concept of maturity and why it might be a good thing.

To put it one way, I’ve dated a lot of people I’d consider immature during recent encounters, and it’s been a stressful thing to deal with. It is, of course, difficult to define why this or that person might be “immature”. In some senses, it’s incorporeal. People just rub us the wrong way because they don’t act the way we think people should act. This can make things even more stressful.

But I think immaturity is something a little more defined than that.

Misfits (2000) by Jao Pombeiro

Step back and ask yourself why you fall in love with someone in the first place. I can only speak for my own experience, but for me, falling in love usually happens when I finally realise something profound about this other person: they are entirely their own self. Don’t get me wrong – this doesn’t mean I think most people don’t have a sense of self. Selfhood is probably the one thing all subjects of contemporary capitalism have in common. But the selfhood of the person I love tends to be something entirely separable and other – it is self-belonging. They act according to their own rules and they introduce to you a whole world you never before thought was possible. It’s a little like Deleuze’s idea of desire, which is a process where “something is produced”.[1] Reality is created anew.

An immature person lacks this sense of self. Whenever I’ve dated someone who is immature, I always notice two things. First, they’re never confident in their own skin. This probably sounds a little harsher than it is, but what it basically means is that they’re holding an enormous amount of themselves back for fear of being judged. They do have personalities, for sure, but these are often so concealed under layers of self-deprecation, irony, or whatever compensatory quirks they’ve picked up along the way, that they’re entirely absent in any encounter you can imagine. The second – the worse trait – is that they then begin to latch onto you and identify strongly with your personality.

Lacking a sense of self, an immature person falls in love by becoming invested in the traits and personalities of the object of their affection. They become frustrated when this love is unrequited, because they’ve tried so hard to reshape their lives to fit the mold of someone else. For years, the immature person might pretend to be someone’s friend, for example, while secretly plotting ways of worming into this other person’s life. There is another Deleuze saying worth taking into account here: “If you are trapped in the dream of the other, you’re fucked.”

I can say this with some confidence because this immature person used to be me. As opposed to pursuing my own interests, as opposed to fostering a sense of self that others might find attractive, I became invested in fantasising how my life might be transformed by finding the one person who might love me back. Growing up taught me how to build a personality, how to become my own person.

This all sounds very self-help doesn’t it? Maybe it does. It could even be likened to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, with self-actualisation at the top of a grand social pyramid. This sows the seeds for all kinds of cynical reasoning. Why not, for example, trick people into friendships and build a huge social profile so that others will practically beg to have sex with you? Why not become a pick-up artist who uses psychological manipulation to lower the self-esteem of others so far that they become subservient to you? Who needs a personality when you can just pretend to be interesting by acting strange or wearing funny clothes?

These are not the signs of maturity. Neither is the other stereotyped route that most people imagine when they dream of one day growing up: settling down, marrying someone, holding a steady job, having children. All these things are fine if these are things for you. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say that they aren’t things for everyone. I might even go one step further: If these things aren’t for you, and you pursue them anyway, then this is itself a sign of immaturity.

An immature person, as I have said, lacks a sense of self. Lacking a sense of self means becoming invested in the selfhoods either possessed by other people (usually people you desire), or on sale as part of a mass and dominant culture. I say growing up is a good thing, because when you grow up you learn to put your faith in your own vulnerable skin. You become thick-skinned, because the world no longer pulls in so many directions at once. You have your strange desires, your bizarre rituals, and your unique way of seeing things – and none of it matters! You no longer put up barriers or act in ways that you think might impress others. And this means you can become many more selves. You are in many ways unfolding into a world of possibility.

And all of this, I want to say, makes you someone who can both love and be loved back. Alain Badiou writes that love “goes beyond the narcissistic”.[2] This is true: by becoming self-assured, your love for someone else is no longer constructed as part of some great journey towards actualisation. By having a sense of self, you are no longer self-obsessed. And isn’t this the greatest gift of growing up?

 


[1] Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, (London: Continuum, 2004), 2.

[2] Alain Badiou, In Praise of Love (London: Serpent’s Tail, 2009), 19.

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