Alas, blaming my drought on the complexities of women is only half of the coin. The root of the problem is that I’m not a kid anymore. No matter how many huge jumps I take on my mountain bike to make my inner child squeal with joy, Red Bull and vodkas I do at the bar with my bros to set my inner party animal on fire, and exotic trips I take to explore new worlds satisfying my inner Magellan, I can’t escape the gray hairs and sore muscles. I have epitomized the Peter Pan Syndrome to it’s fullest and the thought of true reality is something I’ve never been able to fully accept.
“Puer aeternus* is Latin for eternal boy, used in mythology to designate a child-god who is forever young; psychologically it refers to an older man whose emotional life has remained at an adolescent level. The puer typically leads a provisional life, due to the fear of being caught in a situation from which it might not be possible to escape. He covets independence and freedom, chafes at boundaries and limits, and tends to find any restriction intolerable.”
Being a Lost Boy at this age has taken a tremendous toll on my social maturity. I seem to grasp the concept of what I am “supposed” to be doing as a male in our society, yet I have fiercely fought it at every turn. I have completely and unabashedly avoided any true responsibility and commitment and that seems to be the only way life makes sense to me.
“Like all archetypes**, the puer is bi-polar, exhibiting both a "positive" and a "negative" aspect. The "positive" side of the puer appears as the Divine Child who symbolizes newness, potential for growth, hope for the future. He also foreshadows the hero that he sometimes becomes (e.g. Heracles). The "negative" side is the child-man who refuses to grow up and meet the challenges of life face on, waiting instead for his ship to come in and solve all his problems.”
I can’t tell you how incredibly true that is when I step back and analyze my life. I have always been under the impression that a tour bus would roll up outside and whisk me away to rockstar land or Daddy Warbucks would show up and hand over his empire. I’ve held onto this belief that if I don’t compromise and continue to satisfy my inner child that everything would work out. I have no idea how, it just would.
I’m not sure if I was born this way or if I’m a product of being surrounded by so many unsatisfied older men. Growing up I was always surrounded by adults. I have no brothers or sisters and by having a calm demeanor I was often allowed to sit at the grownup table where men would talk freely. What to them was normal conversation of a nagging wife, insolent children, and an unsatisfying job was to me utter imprisonment. The exhausted tone in their voice and not a glimmer of hope in their eyes resonated deeply. Still being a child and filled with fantasies and under the belief that being an astronaut was a viable career choice, I vowed to never let my life turn out that way.
“Common symptoms of puer psychology are dreams of imprisonment and similar imagery: chains, bars, cages, entrapment, bondage. Life itself is experienced as a prison."
As I grew older and made my way into the work force, this cycle perpetuated. Always having a somewhat “real” job (meaning not working at a smoothie shop with kids my own age) I was again surround by older males who befriended me. As we became closer they tried to shed wisdom on life, women, and the hardships of growing up. They instilled in me that the world truly was my oyster and not to fuck it up. There would be plenty of time to pay bills and settle down but that I needed to live every moment to its fullest, experience as much as possible, and avoid these societal pitfalls. They often looked at me with envy and by painting such a bleak picture of the White Picket Fence, my direction in life was subconsciously set.
"For the time being one is doing this or that, but whether it is a woman or a job, it is not yet what is really wanted, and there is always the fantasy that sometime in the future the real thing will come about.... The one thing dreaded throughout by such a type of man is to be bound to anything whatever.
There is a terrific fear of being pinned down, of entering space and time completely, and of being the singular human being that one is. There is always the fear of being caught in a situation from which it may be impossible to slip out again. Every just-so situation is hell. At the same time, there is a highly symbolic fascination for dangerous sports—particularly flying and mountaineering—so as to get as high as possible, the symbolism being to get away from reality, from earth, from ordinary life. If this type of complex is very pronounced, many such men die young in airplane crashes and mountaineering accidents.“
Hmm... That might explain my unquenched thrist for adrenaline, facination of skydiving, epic mountain hikes, and dreams of surfing mamoth waves. So here I am. No one depends on me and I depend on no one for anything. Cute.
The problem is, like with so many of our sappy romantic comedies, I was never taught how to move past the fantasy. The movie glamorizes the love story but never teaches us how to live with it once we have it. Joanie loves Chachi but does she still feel that way 20 years later after a couple of kids, a mountain of debt, and a fat ass?
The mythology of puer aeternus eludes to the man-child transforming into Hercules. Maybe I need to reread the tale to see how he did it, but I’m sure accepting that the ship will never come in is my first step. Rather, I need to build the ship myself. I need to educate myself on what is needed, earn the building materials, and find help along the way to erect a seaworthy vessel. In doing so I will learn responsibility, accountability, and the commitment to see a task through to the end.
It was easy in the beginning because girls like boys. However, women don’t like boys. They want a man. In order to satisfy the heart of the simplest woman, I need to grow up.
Understanding this is a huge step forward but implementing it seems insurmountable. Wrapping a child’s brain around a cubicle, mortgage, and partner for life just drives me further to sandy beaches with senortias and margaritas. A hero’s trial has specific challenges placed in front of them, just check things off the list as you conquer. However, life isn’t structured like that. The things that make me tick aren’t found in a portfolio or trophy case.
I think I have quite a bit to digest before I get my mojo back, but I do feel a lot better about relationships, women, and why I’ve arrived at this juncture in life. Regaining a little confidence mixed with direction might just give me that extra bounce needed to catch an eye. And who knows- should an unsuspecting lady actually take a chance on me, a little bit finesse to smooth out my edges might not be such a bad thing. You know, as long as her heart is in the right place…
*The words, puer aeternus, come from Metamorphoses, an epic work by the Roman poet Ovid (43 BCE – c.17 CE) dealing with Greek and Roman myths.
**Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung developed a school of thought called analytical psychology. In analytical psychology (often called "Jungian psychology") the puer aeternus is an example of what Jung called an archetype, one of the "primordial, structural elements of the human psyche."