Maturity is the ability to engage reality.
When we are young, we spend most of our time in fantasy. Fantasy is an imaginative representation of the world. It is a world I create to serve my needs.
Children spend most of their time in fantasy because they have little or no capacity to perceive the world as it really is. To engage reality requires higher order functions. It involves exploration, awareness of biases, forming a provisional assessment (hypothesis), testing provisional assessments, revising initial perceptions and finally making a statement about a reality potential that may or may not be sustainable over time.
Children just don’t do this. Nor should they. Their lives are all about discovery. The monster in the closet is just a real as, well, the stuffed animal on the bed. Santa Clause lives side by side with the Easter Bunny and the Crossing Guard at school who has the miraculous ability to bring traffic to a halt by the mere raising of a sign.
Ever so slowly the child’s fantasy world gives way to increasing engagement with reality. These are stumbling steps indeed. In Jr. High School (or Middle School) the worlds of fantasy and reality become a confusing mass of energies.
Puberty strikes and suddenly a whole new world of discovery breaks in on one’s imagination. Sexual fantasy breaks into a world that had once been populated by Tooth Fairies and Christmas Elves.
Teenage boys walk on a high school campus and what they see of teenage girls is formed more by TV, movies, music and internet porn than by the reality of what a young woman is emerging to become.
Teenage girls walk on a high school campus and have already been assaulted by idealized fantasy images of the idealized woman. This cultural construct stokes fantasies of body image, fashion, and behavior that feeds eating disorders, irresistible, unconscious urges to conform to male expectation, and, for some, a persistent sense of shame that she just does not measure up.
Long before we are ready to engage reality – the reality of life’s real challenges, and the reality of a relationship with a real person — we get married.
Marriage becomes a battleground where the adversaries are not husband and wife, but persisting infantile fantasy and the still emerging ability to engage reality. The fight is between Fantasy and Reality.
The marriage is the battleground upon which conflict is joined.
The suffering we see is the failure of couple-intimacy that includes sexual addiction, serial affairs. and internet pornography.
The deeper struggle is the genuinely difficult task of growing up. Will the mature adult — with the emotional skills needed to engage reality — finally come off the playground of childhood?
Of course he will. Of course she will. Its a journey we all make seeking the support we need along the way.
Image by maf04