Are you Stuck In Adolescent Love?

IMG_3808It seems that our culture is perpetually stuck in the stage of life called adolescence, and the corresponding mindset seems to be accelerating at an alarming rate. Like toddlerhood, adolescence is a developmental stage characterized by an all-consuming focus on me, which is certainly appropriate when you’re trying to figure out who you are. Adolescents, like toddlers, aren’t typically concerned with others, they believe that the world is their oyster, that they can have their cake and eat it, too, and their orientation is focused on getting instead of giving. 

That’s fine when you’re actually a toddler or a teenager. The problem arises when these attitudes and behaviors continue into adulthood, and it becomes especially limiting when this mindset overflows into love relationships. You know you’re stuck in adolescent love when your experiences of love are informed by the following beliefs:

1. Adolescent love often begins with an all-consuming experience of falling in love. When you’re a teenager, you know you’re in love because you can’t eat, sleep, or think about anything or anyone else other than your beloved. Belief: If I don’t feel butterflies all the time then I’m not really in love and I’m with the wrong person.

2. Adolescent lovers often spend 24/7 together and pine with longing if one of them has to be away. Belief: If I don’t miss my partner when he/she is away, I don’t really love him/her and I’m with the wrong person.

3. Most adolescent lovers are glued at the hip, which is proof to yourself and others that you’re truly in love. Belief: If I want to spend time alone, it means we’re not really close and I’m with the wrong person.

Again, all of this is fine if you’re actually an adolescent. The problem is that this is the message we disseminate about love to full-fledged adults. 

We’re stuck in an adolescent mindset in so many areas of the culture, but it could be said that none is so damaging is our view of love. For when we latch on to these childish beliefs, we run the risk of walking away from loving, well-matched partners because they fail to fit into our image of how love is supposed to be. As you can see above, all of the beliefs end with the conclusion that if your relationship doesn’t measure up to the expectation, you’re with the wrong person.

When are we going to grow up? When are we going to realize that love isn’t about living your life in someone else’s back pocket, that it’s okay, even healthy, to enjoy your separateness and not to be climbing the walls with longing every time your partner goes out of town? When is mainstream media going to start portraying adult, realistic relationships on the big screen and magazine covers instead of images that are more akin to teenage romance novels? Is it okay to base your philosophy about love and relationships on the characters of Sweet Valley High when you’re in your twenties, thirties, and beyond? I don’t think so.

I don’t blame individuals or families for our skewed belief systems and models of love; I blame our culture completely. And by culture I mean the philosophical foundation on which the notion of romantic love is predicated, a foundation that is then reflected in fairy tales, Western myths, and the media. (For an in-depth analysis of Western culture’s dysfunctional perspective on love and romance, please read “We” by Robert Johnson.) For I have plenty of clients who grew up witnessing firsthand through their parents what a healthy marriage looks like and they still fall prey to the pernicious and pervasive adolescent messages about love. These messages create wildly unrealistic expectations, which, when a real relationship fails to measure up, incite the thought, “There must be something wrong.”

This is so sad for everyone involved. It’s time to start telling our young people the truth. It’s time to present realistic images of healthy love on the big screen, in digital media, in novels, and in magazines. It’s time for our culture to grow up and recognize that real love isn’t about butterflies or two halves becoming whole together. It’s about two whole people who connect through shared values and vision choosing to commit to learning about what it means to give and receive love. It’s more about giving then getting; more about honoring each others’ separateness than merging into a symbiotic state of codependence; more about learning to fill your own well and from that place of fullness, offering your love to your partner.

24 comments to Are You Stuck In Adolescent Love?

  • Thank you for another beautifully written peace. I keep pinning the “good ones” to Pinterest…but just end up pinning every single one!

  • Andy

    Does this also include being fixed on a particular ‘type’? Or even a few types?

  • kendra custer

    Thank you so much for these articles 🙂 I’m recovering from this type of anxiety on my own and they really help.

  • Lynn

    Love this article. I am engaged to my high school sweetheart and have these thoughts that our love has faded because I’m not attached to him at the hip like I was when I was 17. I still love him, it is just our love has grown through out the years into something that is much deeper than what had when we fist started dating. Your articles have helped me understand what true love this, thank you!

  • Teri

    Sheryl, this is exactly where my problem is with my boyfriend. He has immature ideas of what love is and I do not. He is co-dependent and I am independent. I’m not a therapist so I don’t feel equipped to help him, and after hours of trying to explain my perspective, I give up. I am, sadly, throwing in the towel because I am too tired from trying. Thank you for your post. It has helped me understand the gap between he and I.

  • AshleyDevon

    Sheryl,

    Thank you so much for writing this. It was wonderful to read and actually gave me the warm fuzzies because it reminded me that I do have healthy love with my partner!

  • Katie

    Very well said as always Sheryl! This reminds me of a beautiful quote from the book ‘Letters to a Young Poet’ by Rainer Maria Rilke when the author tells the young men about the true nature of marriage: ‘But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvellous living side by side can grow up from them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an inmense sky’.

  • Rpeli

    This is such an excellent article, and again comes at such an important time for me. I’m more and more realising how immature alot of my beliefs, not just about love but about so much- are impacting my life. At the moment, it’s work and career, and I’m getting a sense that social media like Facebook and Instagram is really feeding into what I believe to be true. My eyes are starting to be opened, and it’s pretty disorienting for now

  • MIS84

    I absolutely adore this article, Sheryl. Dealing with my own anxiety has really helped/forced me to grow up quite a bit, and I am happy to report that my adult relationship with my loving partner is a LOT more enjoyable than the adolescent one I started off with and thought I wanted back. Thank you for this poignant reminder of how we come to believe what we do about love, and how we can start the process of maturation.

  • Samson

    What happens when your relationship is based on this false idea of love? If a couples relationship has been based on the infactuation, is it possible to make the switch to feel real love? Sometimes I beleive this infactuation allowed me to ignore issues and problem in my relationship, mostly fault of my partner that really upset/bothered me. He had no idea anything was wrong unless I broke out in terrifed anxiety and left. I just wondering how to start orginizing the crazy thoughts in my head so I know what im really feeling.

  • Jonathan

    I get all of what you are saying and it feels true….
    But I have to say it is sometimes difficult to believe when your partner DID fall in love in a very infatuated way, DOES say how much they miss you when you’re apart, WOULD happily be together most all the time and feels you DO in fact fit their “archetype” physically…etc., etc.
    I realize two people will likely never feel exactly the same way about each other all of the time and that people love differently,but it is tough to continuously tell yourself this narrative of adolescent vs. adult love when your partner is having the experience we all pine for.
    just my .02 🙂

  • lynne

    I’ve suffered relationship anxiety all my adult life but am now happier and less anxious than I’ve ever been. I’m so glad I found your site Sheryl and cant thank you enough. I kept my feelings to myself till they made me very ill and I needed counselling – now I realise I’m normal and wish I’d found your site years ago.

  • Angela

    Sheryl, I second Lynne.. Why is it when u get to your 40’s you actually get relationships. Wait, Let me rephrase that it’s because someone as intelligent with a beautiful heart as you that explains it like it really is.. Your a special person.. Like a star from the sky. Xx

  • Samson

    Jonathan really made me think. I agree that it sounds like a distance/pressure relationship. Is this something can go away? Can this sort of push and pull relationship be turned into something good? Or does this mean that one partner isn’t available enough and it’s time to leave?

  • Jonathan

    @ Sheryl Paul

    I’m familiar with the distancer, pursuer dynamic and yes, this is a classic case. It has been going on for the majority of our relationship. I have been on both sides of this coin in other relationships, neither has been comfortable. I had hoped that with time we would simply move out of the infatuation phase and into a committed love relationship, and things we “equalize”. Unfortunately that really hasn’t happened.

    So how do you fix this?

    • You might want to consider the Open Your Heart program. Next round starts in September. If you read through all of my posts under the Open Your Heart category tab you’ll learn a lot as well.

  • Jonathan

    Ok thank you.

  • Bobby

    Sheryl,

    I posted a comment about this article some weeks ago and apparently it may not have made it on your blog. I have been married for 13 years now and my wife had been or read one of your articles and sent it to me about transitions is life. And she took the it in a manner that seems to contradict this one. This article hits so close to home because I feel she had so many of this same ideas of her adolescence. I believer stongly in bible scripture that our marriage is a covenant to love and honor no matter what. I find myself feeling so convicted that much of the problems are from my alcoholism. I just recently came to this realization however I refuse to allow her to use me as an escape goat for her actions to have an affair. I’m fighting for my marriage by its hard when only one person seems to want and the other doesn’t. I cant change my wife feeling nor can GOD as she says. But I have hope that her spiritual convictions bring her to the realization that she needs to step back and see our marriage a whole not just the past 2-4 yrs that suppose ably she has been unhappy. The affair is so recent that i can understand why she wouldn’t want to try for our childern’s sake for that matter our marriage. I suffered from the alcohol abuse which in turn led me to mistreat and take for granted the special union I had with my wife. It was difficult to stop when I pushed it so much on her to go out and do the same. That now she throws in my face that i was the one who opened the door to that. However the resentment has built up to anger and oppressed feeling of hurt have uprooted. I tried stopping and even asked for her help to stop or to seek marital counseling for our marriage. we would talk about it but never follow through. then it became a challenge when we would go out individually. Stop 1 for drinks #2 #3 and so on, each trying to out do the other. Eventually I came to my whit’s end that one of us had to mature and say this is not going to continue. Then it became a controlling her life and not her father to tell her who or when she needed to be home. there so much that i don’t have time to air out my laundry and expect a response to ultimately my question DO you think that a marriage can be salvaged after infidelity and feeling of resentment linger. I know the cliche with time our wounds heal. IF its GOD’s will you will make it. I have so much hope for the ladder. I want with every fiber of my being to make things work. I have a personality that has a truly forgiving heart, But I believe she uses that to her advantage because she knows I will always be there for her and our 3 children. Almost is if the years you went out drinking and staying out is my turn and if you don’t like it you can leave or move on. LET ME GO! in her words. I told her I would not sign divorce papers because I’m not giving up. I’m trusting in GOD.

    • Bobby: I don’t offer advice on my blog or though email but I just wanted to send you a hug and encourage you to seek support from a local counselor as it sounds like you’re in a very challenging and painful situation.

  • Veronica Miller

    Sheryl, your website has helped me GREATLY!! And today, after reading this article yesterday, I sat there and thought to myself that despite the doubts and everything my anxiety has put me through, I know that my husband is the one because we are not stuck in that adolescent love. We are two people who have come together to share our lives together feeling very comfortable, content, and honest with each other. Neither of us are “clingy” to one another, nor do we feel that “spark” anymore. It’s just something we both know deep down. There are days when we don’t like each other as much and there are days when we love each other to the moon and back. It’s such a work in progress but SO glad that I didn’t let my anxiety get the best of me!! I fought it for almost 5 months!! That’s crazy!! But my husband is the best man for me, hands down!!:) This eased a lot of my anxiety today. I was just married last Thursday, feeling so happy right before and on the day of the wedding. Then I had started to get some anxiety back.

    I do have just one question that I’m still having anxiety issues with. I have someone who I used to call my best guy friend stuck in my head for a few days now, almost since I got married. I’m not sure why. I haven’t talked to him in almost a year now, and I began ignoring him because he seemed to flirt with me even though I had a boyfriend. I USED to (before I met my husband) say that I “HAD” to marry him because our families were sort of close and I’ve been friends with and known him my whole life. That all changed a little before I met my husband and then when my husband and I started dating it REALLY changed once I realized how much of a match Justin and I were. About a year before I met my husband was the first time I had talked to him in a few years. So now I’m wondering: WHY?? My mind is making me feel guilty and telling me I married the wrong person and that I’m more attracted to this other guy. I try to fight it because I feel it’s very wrong to have that thought and I need a little advice on how to kick that from my head because now all I feel like is that MAYBE I did make a wrong choice and it pains me to even have that thought!!:( (I do need to point out that there is WAY more maturity in my husband than this other guy. My husband had a house, stable job, good income and financial situation, and put-together life when I met him and still does with me. This other guy does not have that and sits around and smokes Hooka all day and is just now going back to school after dropping out due to a 1.5 -_-). My life is VERY good right now and I don’t want my head to make me crazy!!:(