I didn’t mean to listen. But it was a Starbucks conversation, easily overheard. The young woman was cute, twenty-something, dressed with hip, young professional style. Her companion was older, perhaps mid-thirties, sharply and expensively dressed. A boss? Older co-worker? Too young to be her dad and, from the conversation, clearly not her boyfriend.
They were talking about plans for the weekend, that comfortable staple of Friday lunchtime conversations. And it was in that conversation that her lament broke through, interrupting my concentration on an article in process.
“Well, I don’t think we’re going out this weekend. I’d love to, actually. But my boyfriend, all he really likes to do when he gets home from work is play video games. His work is so stressful, you know?” (Something in the financial services industry, I gathered. So he was no slouch. Some brains, anyway.)
“It used to make me really mad,” she continued. “But he’s really into it. Even on Saturday mornings, it’s get out of bed and grab something to eat in front of the TV, so he can play a video game.” (She puts up with this? I bet she takes the trash out, and walks the dog too, so he doesn’t have to interrupt his game.)
“I really don’t like it, but what can I do? He says it’s what he likes to do to relax, so I guess I should support that. In fact, his birthday’s coming up and I broke down and got him the latest version of one of his favorite games.”
I felt sorry for her. She was such a cute, together-looking young girl. Clearly living with her boyfriend, she shared sex, an address, and expenses (as her conversation went on to reveal). But it was just as clear that they shared not much else. Companionship? Only if she counted time spent sitting on the same sofa while he exercised his thumbs. Mutual friends? Only other guys interested in the same things.
His video game obsession, while a problem in itself, was but a symptom of a much bigger relationship-killer: self-absorption, bordering on narcissism. Self-absorption, as a temporary way-station on the adolescent’s journey, is nothing new. Self-absorption, as a character trait carried to the destination of adulthood, is disturbingly new.
In my own single years, we wouldn’t have hesitated to dub this perpetual adolescent a “loser.” Not so, for this generation of women. Maybe some women are willing to put up with boys-who-refuse-to-grow-up because they have their own version of perpetual adolescence (see Skyla Freeman’s insightful commentary over at American Maggie.) And others, like the sweet young woman at Starbucks, have been snookered into believing that adolescent self-absorption is all that can be expected of young men. From the metrosexual obsession with male muscles, clothes, and hair to the self-indulgent pursuit of video game victories, Internet porn, and sex without commitment, the common denominator is that these young men live for themselves. And the young women who live with them, usually in the blind hope that an engagement ring will appear “soon,” often waste years trying to make the child-man grow up.
But perhaps the tide is turning. An interesting website, The Art of Manliness, has quickly garnered over 65,000 subscribers by opining on and celebrating “manliness.” It highlights both the responsibilities and satisfactions of real manhood—a life lived for others: “[I]t is boys that live only for themselves; men fully enjoy life’s pleasure but also live for a higher purpose. Boys try to find themselves in what they buy; men find themselves in what they do. Boys base their identity on what they consume; men base their identity on what they create.”
Young women need to expect—and demand—that the young men in their lives aspire to maturity. They have to want to grow up, to be willing to assume responsibility for others, to build relationships based on depth, self-sacrifice, and self-giving. For their own sakes, these young men need to find a love stronger than their own self-love—and I feel fairly certain they won’t find it by working their video game controllers.
My advice to the lovely young woman at Starbucks? Dump him, fast. (You might want to unplug the Play Station first, so you’ve got his attention.)
Find a man who “lives for a higher purpose”….Now that’s a guy to go home to.