I was sharing with Prince Considerate that many midlife women complain that the men they date are lacking emotional availability.
“Do you mean emotional availability or emotional maturity?” he asked.
“Hmm,” I responded, “I’m not sure I can define the difference. From the brief research I did on the ‘Net, it seems emotional unavailability is being too busy, sick, tired or preoccupied with other things. Energy, time and focus are all taken with other priorities.” (See “Emotional unavailability.”)
“Yes, I think that is a good definition of emotional unavailability and I think that can be true for both genders. It’s a way of protecting yourself from potential hurt, as you don’t allow anyone to get near you.”
“That makes sense. Let’s define emotional maturity.”
“My definition is someone who takes very few things personally. Whatever happens doesn’t necessarily reflect on them. For example, if someone cuts them off on the freeway, the other driver isn’t out to get them.”
“Or their boss’ bad mood isn’t caused by them. They are grounded, centered and able to give others the benefit of the doubt. They aren’t paranoid.”
“Yes, and they are conscious of how others’ behaviors that trigger them are a chance to look at their old hurts, not to make the other person wrong.”
“Do you know how rare that is? Most of my friends are like that, but I find many of the people I interact with in my profession want to blame others for their problems. I catch myself doing it sometimes.”
“Yes, I know that is a common response to challenges. Most people don’t want to look at their responsibility in reacting the way they do. But you have a lot of emotional maturity. How do you think you got it?”
“By lots of personal work, therapy and personal growth workshops. It isn’t easy facing your demons and seeing how you are the orchestrator of your own problems. How do you think you’ve gained your emotional maturity?”
“Similarly. I was in pain for a long time during and after my marriage. Finally, a good friend suggested I get some help, and when I did I saw how I contributed to the downfall of my marriage, when I’d just blamed my ex before. I began to get new skills and it changed my relationships with friends, coworkers and my kids, so I wanted more.”
How do you know where you are on an emotional maturity continuum? I don’t know that we could accurately assess ourselves. I think we’d need to ask those who are closest to us, and be willing to hear their answers, even if the scores are low. After all, if you get upset, that validates their score! Paradoxically, an emotionally mature person would be able to deal with low scores.
Just as importantly, how do you assess your date’s score? By watching how he reacts to others, especially when something hasn’t gone well. If the waiter brings the wrong order, is slow, or spills something, is your date aggressively confrontational? If something needs to be said, is he professional and not overly emotional? How does he respond if someone cuts him off on the freeway? Does he ignore it, or curse loudly? Watch for signs of emotional immaturity in the beginning, when he is theoretically on his best behavior, as it will only increase as he lets his guard down.
Since we know it is very difficult to change another, (see “Ignore dating rule #1 at your peril“) and, in my experience, nearly impossible to get someone to increase their maturity level unless they are internally motivated to do so, best to let someone go who isn’t at the level you desire. And if you find out you are lower on the continuum than you’d like, decide how you can help yourself move up the scale and begin now. You’ll then attract those who are also higher on the ladder.
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