Immaturity is possibly the most common complaint young women make about their partner. Thankfully, there are warning signs you can look out for.

The Nature of Immaturity

First, a distinction needs to be made between immaturity and a childlike love of life. A 50-year-old man who buys a Harley Davidson, or gets a tattoo, is not necessarily immature. Equally, a sober suit, a pipe and a steady career do not make you mature. Plenty of serious and sensible individuals have the emotional intelligence of a 12-year-old!

So what does it mean to be mature? A mature person has separated from the crowd. That does not mean they lack empathy or feel themselves to be superior. On the contrary, believing you are superior is itself childish. But mature people can think for themselves. They have their own opinions and their own code of honor, which they compromise for no one. And they have worked these out for themselves.

Mature people like to belong, but immature people need something to hide behind. Nationalism offers a good example. A mature person may have an affection for his country and even a certain pride in its history and culture. But he or she is also realistic and willing to acknowledge its failings. Immature people are more likely to be nationalists. The nationalist can acknowledge no wrongs because he has sunk his entire self into the nation. And he has done so because he isn’t mature enough to stand alone.

Signs of Immaturity in a Man

Perhaps the single most common sign of immaturity is a refusal to take responsibility. Mature men recognize their social responsibilities. They don’t throw candy wrappers on the street, for example, or park in disabled parking spaces. And they are aware of the suffering or injustice that takes place in their neighborhood. So, for example, they will be sorry for the elderly widow down the street, or will be outraged at the sight of an abused dog.

In particular, an immature man refuses to take responsibility for those who depend on him. When his girlfriend is ill, he will be irritated rather than sympathetic. And watch how he behaves around his family. If his sister loses her job, for example, or breaks up with her boyfriend, he will be hopeless. Immature men haven’t the language to deal with such things and tend to run away. When his grandmother dies, does he say “poor granddad, he’s going to be so lonely”? Or does this not occur to him? An immature man has yet to move on from his childhood. When he was eight, everyone took care of him. He hasn’t realized that there will soon be times when he has to take care of them.

How men treat, and speak about, women is another classic sign. Mature men have respect for women. That does not mean they marry their childhood sweetheart and live happily ever after. They make mistakes, but the basic respect is there. This is an increasingly controversial area since many find such ideas patronizing. For some feminists, the idea of “gentlemanly behavior” suggests that women cannot take care of themselves. And yet certain biological facts remain. In general, men are physically stronger than women, and so the threat of violence, especially sexual violence, is always there. Mature men renounce that sort of power.

They also recognize women as individuals, with inner lives of their own. Immature men are still caught in the so-called “angel or whore” delusion, dividing women into the perfect, angelic goddess, or the worthless, slutty sex object. Most men grow out of this, but not all. A mature man neither idealizes nor despises women. He recognizes them as individuals, as varied and flawed as men. Immature men see women as extensions of themselves. In other words, their girlfriend is like an expensive car or piece of jewellery: something that will impress their friends and boost up their ego.

As has already been mentioned, immature men lack adult language. They cannot talk in a deep or serious way and tend to hide behind jokes instead. For many people, jokes are like a defence. For example, your best friend’s father is diagnosed with terminal cancer and it upsets you. You come home in tears and tell your boyfriend what happened. He freezes (some men will literally stand there motionless), then, to escape his discomfort, makes a crass joke. You explain that you don’t find it funny and don’t think it is appropriate. A mature man would reply “yes, you’re right. Sorry, I don’t know why I said that.” An immature man cannot respond in this way. Instead, he gets angry and tells you to lighten up, or sulkily mumbles that “it was only a joke.”

Humor is immensely attractive in someone, but there is a time and place for it. Not everything is funny. Also, note what he laughs at. Immature men still giggle at sex jokes or references to bodily functions. And they do not do so in an ironic, self-mocking way. Instead, they remind you of sniggering boys in your class at school.

Immature men cannot admit when they are wrong either. Some will literally sulk or throw tantrums when found out. A mature man takes responsibility for the wrong he does. If he upsets you, he will cool off and then apologize. And he will admit to trivial mistakes, like accidentally breaking something in a shop. Again, he takes responsibility. He is an adult, and he understands that civilization depends on responsible behavior.

They also find it impossible to hold a civilized conversation. Watch him the next time you throw a dinner party. Mature adults listen to one another. And they do so respectfully. They may not agree, but they do listen. And when they disagree, they are polite and graceful. Immature men treat everything as a challenge. To them, conversations are like battles they have to win. Some will disagree with everything, and they cannot let it go. They bully and ridicule their ‘opponent’ until he agrees that, yes, the Rolling Stones were better than the Beatles, or, yes, Robert de Niro is a better actor than Marlon Brando. Usually, the other person will agree just to make them shut up. But watch their face when this happens. If you see a smug look of triumph, you are looking at a silly little boy.

And when they aren’t disagreeing they are showing off. This is another classic sign. One minute he is arguing and disagreeing with everyone, the next he is dragging the conversation back to himself. Immature men are often, frankly, boring. Like all bores they are self-obsessed – especially those spoilt as children (in particular, those raised in a family of adoring women). The little boy goes out into the world expecting the same adulation. But he doesn’t find it. And some men never get over this. Indeed, they often spend the rest of their lives searching for it.

Also, note what he talks about. And note the opinions he holds. Are they sensible and moderate? Or does he always veer to the extreme? Extremist, black and white thinking is often a sign of immaturity. Immature men take an extreme and often violent position and then stick to it no matter what counter-argument one puts forward. When talking about global politics, for example, he will be in favor of military action. To an immature man, war is exciting and cool, rather like a video game. A mature man knows it involves terrible suffering and usually triggers off spirals of hatred and revenge.

Immature men are also self-centered and talk about themselves all the time. When they are not talking about themselves, however, they are talking about something tedious or silly. Immature men have no interest in life’s deep questions. Mature men are drawn to philosophy, for example, or popular science. And they tend to be interested in lots of different things. Their mind ranges about because they have outgrown childhood obsessions. Immature men focus on one thing, often the same thing they obsessed over when aged nine: sports cars, baseball, etc. There is nothing wrong with this of course; many mature men are interested in them. But they are also interested in much else.

It is also important not to confuse intelligence with maturity. Plenty of men never go to college, indeed never leave the town they were born in, yet develop into very impressive, mature adults. On the other hand, there are college professors who behave like adolescents.

Then there is the inability to deal with disappointment or failure. When things go wrong, mature men calmly analyze the situation and look for a solution. Immature men look for someone or something to blame. Some will literally throw a tantrum, stamping their feet and folding their arms. Above all, they waste huge amounts of time ranting, moaning and sulking.

A mature man knows who he is, and so he does not need other people’s approval. Neither does he need other people to define him. Immature men have an inner weakness. They don’t know who they are, or they have a fragile sense of self. When confronted by loud, strong, domineering people, they either seek to oppose or placate them. Mature men accept them for what they are and continue doing their own thing. They do not adjust their personality to suit those around them. Immature men are like the kid at school who hangs around with the bully and laughs at his jokes.

Another sign is joining in bullying or gossip. Mature men consider this beneath them. They are strong enough not to take part, which would conflict with their principles. Immature men cannot resist peer pressure. This is forgivable in a 12-year-old, but not in a 40-something!

If you suspect your partner or boyfriend of immaturity, there is little you can do. Immature people rarely recognize the problem (indeed, a failure to acknowledge one’s faults is itself a sign of immaturity). Sometimes, fatherhood, bereavement, or the simple passing of time will mature them. Unfortunately, some never grow up.

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Mark Goddard, Ph.D.

Mark Goddard, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist and a consultant specializing in the social-personality psychology. His publications include magazine chapters, articles and self-improvement books on CBT for anxiety, stress and depression. In his spare time, he enjoys reading about political and social history.

*The views expressed by Mr. Goddard in this column are his own, are not made in any official capacity, and do not represent the opinions of his employers.

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