Wendy and Peter Turn Thirty.
By Lynn Somerstein, PhD, RYT
The magical age thirty scares people. Women especially start hearing their biological clocks ticking louder and louder, the alarm goes off, and they get frantic about establishing family and career.
Men sometimes feel this urgency too, and men and women both need to put down roots about this time, or they may never, instead floating though life, head in the clouds, feet off the ground, then find out when it’s very late in the game that they are alone in space.
Wendy was 28 year old, at a turning point in her life. Would she ever get married and have children? What kind of life would she have, who would love her, and who would she love? Her career hadn’t progressed as well as she had imagined, not with the bankrupt economy. She did have a boyfriend though, but was he the right one?
Wendy thought about breaking up with Peter- a really nice guy but not quite ready to make a commitment. He loved her, he said, but he needed to stay free so he could “make the best choices for himself.” They had been dating for several years. Was it wise to ditch him? They had put in a lot of time together, and a lot of loving too. Would she ever find anyone else? Anyone better?
And what did he mean by “the best choices for himself?” She wanted him to make good choices, of course, but why wasn’t she included? Why didn’t he say “the best choices for us?”
Peter was smart, attractive, with many good qualities, but scared to be close. And he still wasn’t that clear about what he wanted to do when he grew up, either. He was like Peter Pan. Remember Peter Pan and Wendy? Peter Pan never grows up, but his friend Wendy does.
Peter and Wendy didn’t come to therapy for relationship counseling- they could have, but they decided to try a trial break-up instead. Statistically such trials end up permanent- no relationship. Wendy decided to work individually with a therapist, and discovered that it wasn’t only Peter who was scared to be close, she was too. She needs to “show up and grow up.” Maybe Peter will find other ways to speed growing up, or maybe he’ll start therapy.
Lots of people need help negotiating the space between twenty and thirty something- the choices that you make at this time in your life can have permanent, life altering consequences, and you should make them with all the heart, soul and brain power that you can muster. A therapist can’t make these choices for you, but can help you find the best ways to make them.
People can be so afraid of making mistakes, making the wrong choice, that they don’t make any choices at all- which is still a choice, but of an inferior variety. It’s just a passive going along with the flow. Polling your friends to see what they would do, waiting to see what happens, wanting the decisions to be out of your hands- it’s just too scary to make up your mind, but it’s your life, and only you can decide.
Sometimes the smarter you think you are, the harder it is to decide, to know what’s right for you, to look inside your deepest self and go with what you find- those treasures can be deeply hidden.
Wendy and Peter are both decent, smart, good people, but they were raised by demanding parents who insisted that they perform to certain standards to be acceptable. Wendy mainly knew how to please others. Peter was scared of being trapped in a relationship with no room for himself.
They were both stuck in the fear of making a mistake, which kept them from finding and being their true selves.
How can you find your true self?
There are many roads- individual or group therapy, creative arts therapy- but they all include a connection with a skilled therapist who is able to help you negotiate the give and take empathy and honesty that is the bedrock of deep connections.
Sometimes I recommend books that illustrate what I’m trying to say lots better than I can say it. Want to know what it’s like to grow up? Recently, Rafael Yglesias wrote a book, called A Happy Marriage, about his life with his beloved wife. They married when they were young, and they brought each other up; then she died. The book shines with honesty, love and tenderness. Read it.