I need a road map

I just want to be with him and make sure he doesn't leave, but how do I learn how to love in a more adult way?

By Cary Tennis
June 27, 2003 11:32PM (UTC)
main article image

Dear Cary,

It would seem I'm in a pickle. I'm a smart, cute and funny 25-year-old girl. I am finishing up my Ph.D. in psychology and heading straight for corporate America. On paper I look like a grown woman but I'm really just a child.

I grew up in small-town Ohio and lived with my controlling parents until I was 22 and moved to New York to start graduate school. And it has been one hell of a ride since. I went from not being allowed to make any independent decisions to having to take care of myself in an adult world. I never dated in college. And the first few experiences I had while in grad school were none too pleasant.


Until I met this man. I'd known him for two years before we started dating. I always liked talking to him, so when the chance came to ask him out I did. We've been together for almost nine months. And sometimes it's wonderful. It's like a big scary experience. So many things to feel. But love isn't like it is in the movies. It's not perfect. The dashingly handsome man isn't always going to do or say the right thing. He isn't going to understand what you need implicitly, and then give it to you.

And here is the pickle. I think I love this man, but I don't know how to do it. I don't know how to grapple with the disappointment of less-than-perfect love. I don't know how to hold on to myself and my identity when all I want to do is just be with him and cling to him to keep him from walking away. Everything I've tried so far has had disastrous consequences. All of my inexperience has come falling down on top of my head -- and his, too. I find myself feeling suddenly needy and insecure. Even though I have virtually no relationship experience, my behavior still belies my age. How do I love someone like an adult? Even if it is my first relationship. How do I make that transition of insecure attachment into full-blown adult affection? When does love stop feeling like scary adolescence?

Babes in Boyland


Dear Babes,

The way you grapple with the disappointment of less-than-perfect love is that you don't grapple with it at all. Disappointment is not something you grapple with; if anything, it grapples with you and you lie very still on the carpet hoping it doesn't smother you out of sheer bored whimsy.

My father, who is now 80 and mainly plays tennis and goes dancing, supervised psychology Ph.D.s during his professional life and was always talking about experimental design and methodology. He doesn't talk about methodology now. He just goes dancing and plays tennis. All that jargon was just a way of making a living, I have a feeling -- but nonetheless the word "methodology," in its heyday, came to have a kind of totemic power around the house. If there was a sink that needed unclogging, we needed a methodology. It created chronic impatience in the rest of us, who tended to think what was needed was something more along the lines of a wrench. Or, if we needed expert competency in the field, portability as well as methodology, maybe that meant a plumber with a wrench and a truck.


So I am just guessing that you are not really asking "How do I do this?" since you're already doing it; maybe you are really asking if perhaps there is a standard methodology, a road map to competency in the area of love.

I would say that there is not. I would say that the standard methodology is you just get on and ride. Even if there were a road map, you'd need to find the road first, wouldn't you? And then you'd have to develop the skill to stay on the road, which, if there were a road of love, would be very curvy, very crowded, full of blind turns at dizzying heights being taken clumsily by too many people going too fast for the conditions. Look at the Israelis and the Palestinians. Does anyone believe having a road map is going to make the road materialize out of the acrid air of history, still redolent of burnt flesh and cordite? They've got it backward if you ask me: First you build the road, then you make a road map. But that could be just me, impatient with methodology, wanting to grab a wrench and start unscrewing the pipes.


So how you make that transition to adult love is you just keep going; it's the same way you make the transition to California: You just keep going west and eventually you're in California. You should see all the people here! They all got here via different conveyances, but they all got here by heading toward California. Adult love is like California -- you just keep going in that general direction until a guy in a uniform asks to look at your fruits and vegetables.

It's bumpy, OK? That's the conditions. That's like the turbulence. If you can get through graduate school in psychology, you can get through being in love. It's just, there isn't, you're not going to find, somebody misplaced, nobody here has, um, it isn't in the syllabus.

Want more advice from Cary? Read the Since You Asked Directory

Cary Tennis

MORE FROM Cary TennisFOLLOW @carytennisLIKE Cary Tennis

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Love And Sex Sex Since You Asked