In the Name of Love

A philosopher looks at our deepest emotions

Darling, Would You Like Me To Remain Immature?

Adulterers are often accused of being immature.

"I never hated a man enough to give him his diamonds back." (Zsa Zsa Gabor)

"Married, eight children; prefer frequent travel." (Appeared in a resume for a job application)

There are many cases when people (women more so than men) say to their lovers: "I'm such a baby; I shouldn't behave this way", to which the lover often replies: "But darling, I love it that you are such a baby." Do we prefer our lovers to be children or mature adults?

Maturity seems to act in counter to novelty and excitement. No wonder young people are considered to be more emotional than mature people. "Mature" may mean: "based on slow careful consideration"; "having attained a final or desired state"; "relating to a condition of full development." These meanings refer to a state different from that of emotional experiences: emotions are an urgent and fast response which is typically not based upon careful considerations, and emotions are of the nature of unfinished business rather than the arrival at a final stage or achieving full development. Emotions are generated by change, while maturity involves getting used to changes and perceiving them as less significant. In maturity, we enjoy familiarity rather than novelty.

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Immature people are similar to children in being more emotional and giving more weight to a partial and immediate perspective. For immature people, or for all of us while being highly emotional, our immediate situation, no matter how grave or insignificant it is, is the only thing that concerns us. No intellectual explanations concerning broader perspectives are relevant here. A young child will promise to jump off a tower tomorrow if you give her a cake today, not only because the child does not understand the concepts of tomorrow and promise, but mainly because the child's interest is focused on the immediate partial situation.

Emotional maturity is related to the ability to be satisfied with one's lot, which is crucial to our long-term happiness. Maturity means accommodating and accepting compromises. Mature people assign less weight to uncompromising emotional attitudes while allocating greater weight to their limitations and to long term considerations. As Naomi, a widow in her early fifties says, "I must accept that there always will be a woman who is younger, smarter and more beautiful than I am. Losing a boyfriend or not getting the one I want is inevitable."

Due to the partial nature of emotions, emotional perspectives are often distorted. In intense emotional states, we resemble children insofar that we have trouble distinguishing fantasy from reality. Imagination, and hence illusions, play a greater role in emotions than in intellectual deliberations. However, children are more optimistic than mature adults; this is possibly one of the reasons why we find children so appealing. Moreover, because children's behavior is based more on spontaneous emotional attitudes, they tend to be more sincere than mature adults.

In light of the above considerations, do we prefer our lovers to be mature or immature? There are various aspects to this question.

Adulterers are often accused of being immature-that is, failing to demonstrate the requisite degree of self-control and civilized repression. Like habituation, maturation often kills desire and as such may be lethal to romantic relationships. Maturation reduces both positive and negative emotional experiences. In maturity, expectations are reduced, though not eliminated, and the desired object is often replaced by the feasible and the reasonable. Accordingly, it has been suggested that natural seducers are people who retain some of their childish traits; they retain the spirit of children and remain as powerfully seductive as any child. As people become mature, they protect themselves against painful experiences by closing themselves off. Their concern is not with having more, but with losing less.

Mature love is typically morally good, but it is often not what passionate romantic love is all about. Hence many people may say that they never want to become mature, because settling for what is feasible while ignoring the desirable is an obvious sign of decay.

We want children to be more mature and to give more weight to long-term intellectual considerations, while we want mature adults to worry less about long-term threats and to give their emotions greater expression. The optimal combination of emotions and intellectual considerations is called emotional intelligence.

In a similar manner, we want our lovers to have a great deal of emotional intelligence. We do not want them to be like children as the different circumstances of adult life requires a level of maturity, but at the same time we do not want them to lose the characteristics that we associate with children. We want them to be optimistic and sincere, and to love us passionately. We want them to adore us despite our obvious flaws. We want them to know us well, while at the same time we would like their view of us to be somewhat rosy so they can harbor some positive illusions about us.

We want our lovers to maintain the optimism, sincerity, and passion that we associate with immature children, and to be mature adults that can guide or accompany us through the difficult circumstances that can arise during long-term romantic relationships. Is that too much to ask of a lover?

Adapted from The Subtlety of Emotions, and In the Name of Love

 

 

Aaron Ben-Zeév, Ph.D., former President of the University of Haifa, is Professor of Philosophy. His books include: In the Name of Love: Romantic Ideology and its Victims.

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