When the person you are in a relationship with seems to be extremely volatile and immature, chances are you are dating a teenager in an adult’s body.
An insidious trend has been gaining steam for a number of years. What trend, do you say? Teenagers inhabiting the bodies of adults.
Quite a ghastly and cunning thing. It is particularly devious because at first glance you could not know that the man, or woman, with whom you are speaking is in fact a teen. Why not?
To start, they are generally well into their twenties, sometimes even in their thirties and beyond. Secondly, when first meeting these individuals, one often finds them charming. There is something exciting about their spontaneity and naivete.
This magnetism has lured many an otherwise level-headed adult into a romantic relationship with the teenager in an adult body (let’s use TIAAB for short).
And this is where things get interesting.
TIAABs are attractive at first glance because of their youthful exuberance, sense of abandonment, and infectious energy to seek out fun at every opportunity.
None of these are bad qualities. When harnessed to a mature character they are assets. When yoked with developmental arrest they become a source of great stress for those who have chosen to be in a romantic relationship with the TIAAB.
Perhaps you are wondering if your love interest falls into this category? Important question. If that turns out to be true, you can count on a tumultuous relationship.
If you are a persistent type of soul you will be greeted with more disappointment, confusion, and pain. Pretty much can count on just repeating the “wash and spin” cycle as it were. Not really the best of selling points when looking for a soulmate.
Although it’s possible that in time your true love will mature into an adult, it’s much more likely that he or she will remain stuck in the adolescent phase of life for many years to come. Sometimes for decades.
With this in mind, it pays to be able to tell if the person with whom you have given your heart is a TIAAB or simply someone with a number of quirks (in which case we can all say “Welcome to the club”).
Here are the major signs to look for when determining TIAAB status:
1. Everything is a crisis and dramatic action needs to be taken immediately.
The emotional life of your significant other resembles a pinball bouncing from one crisis to another. The boss giving someone else a promotion is a calamity because it signals some unfair preference (not the fact that the promoted employee worked longer hours and performed better).
The TIAAB response is, “I might just quit. Let them see how well the business runs without me!”
A friend not returning a telephone call creates anger and despair because it demonstrates mean-spirited insensitivity. The solution: “I’m cutting them off. I don’t need a friend like that!”
If you forget to call home when running 20 minutes late, this will be seen as a callous disregard for making the relationship a priority. The TIAAB responds with “Fine, I guess there is no need for me to tell you if I will be out all night with the guys. Don’t come crying to me when your shoe is on my other foot.”
(Pro tip: If they misstate a common aphorism, just let it go).
2. They live by the unspoken belief that “If you do not agree with me, you are a very bad person.”
Some creative types will also let you know that by not agreeing with them you are “being hurtful.” Or, better yet, “Your words are a form of violence against me.”
If you are a novice at dealing with the TIAAB, you might respond by trying to show you meant no harm. For penitence, you end up cooking a special meal, doing all the grocery shopping for a week or two, and cleaning the house so well it would make Martha Stewart blush.
Rookie mistake. Your significant other sees this as a confession of your sins. It will be noted in the Book Of Wrongs.
Moreover, your implicit confession will be brought up and vigorously waved about as evidence of your cretinous nature during the next conflict (trust me, this won’t take long).
3. Disagreements are frequent.
And not relegated to just the important issues of life, but even the minor ones. You are expected to apologize in every case because, well, because you are always wrong.
The ability to conjure up a conflict from the most innocuous topics is a strength of the TIAAB. Minor differences regarding vacation plans, one’s view of friends, or politics spark argumentative firestorms. Reason plays no role in resolving these conflicts.
The TIAAB requires total capitulation, capped with a heartfelt apology.
4. Your partner wears the role of the victim like a comfortable old coat.
You may find yourself impressed with how often the victim role crops up in your relationship with the TIAAB. He or she ends up being a victim of co-workers, extended family, and on occasion the neighbor’s cat.
Because your partner is a victim, he or she requires your sole attention and unlimited support. Conveniently, the victim mantel can also be used as a means to forego normal adult obligations.
By the way, you must never complain about how the “victim status” makes it difficult for you to relate to one another on equal footing like two adults. If you make the mistake of voicing these concerns, you will be labeled as intentionally hurtful.
5. Feelings are everything.
In the world of the TIAAB, if it feels good, “Go for it!” Emotions drive behavior. When the tendency to blindly follow feelings leads to heartache the TIAAB laments, “No one could possibly have seen how it would all turn out this way.”
You may think that this would be a terrific time for your partner to take responsibility and learn from a mistake. If that turns out to be your reaction I must conclude that you’ve not been paying attention.
6. Just wanting something is tantamount to deserving the thing that is desired.
This has some interesting consequences: cars, clothing, electronics, jewelry, vacations, and much else are purchased because they are deserved. The precise basis upon which these items are “deserved” is seldom spelled out.
On those rare occasions when one does hear the rationale, it boils down to, “You only live once, and I’ve been through so much pain, surely I am owed a little happiness.” That reasoning pretty much takes the dogs off the leash. It means if a credit card is within easy reach the lack of money for purchasing these much-deserved items is not a concern.
As a result, debt rises exponentially. Because no one purchase can “scratch the itch” sufficiently, a cascade of chronic spending occurs. Eventually, debt rises to crisis levels, anxiety surges, tears are shed, and you are called upon to comfort your TIAAB.
Once again, you might be tempted to think that this could be a great learning experience. But the TIAAB wants comfort, support, and absolution, not the painful growth that comes from taking responsibility.
Even so, there is a silver lining. The conflict and stress of the moment may lead to growth after all: yours.
This might be that pivotal moment that you realize there is no way to have a mature relationship with this person.
Unlike the adolescent who struggles with such problems due to the natural course of social/emotional development, the TIAAB has no strong desire to mature. Consequently, unlike real adolescents who grow into healthy adults, the person you are with is most likely to stay in his or her present state for a very long time.
The bottom line: It’s nearly impossible to nurture growth when motivation is absent. The future of your relationship, in all probability, looks a lot like the present state of that relationship.
What’s the solution? A fresh start, a clean break, a new beginning.
If your future plans include having children then you can count on raising a teen or two, maybe more. Although this may be challenging at times, it is also a very rewarding phase of parenting life.
But trying to raise a teen who is already an adult, and is expected to be an equal partner rather than a child, is a witch’s brew for heartache. Think carefully before signing on for this responsibility.
Forrest Talley is a clinical psychologist with a focus on mental health and wellness. He has been featured in Psychology Today, Verywell Family, LifeHhck!, and more. Visit his website for more.
This article was originally published at The Mind’s Journal. Reprinted with permission from the author.