Wandering through the National Mall in Washington D.C. last month, I was struck by how many adult men were wearing Captain America t-shirts. I counted five or six in at least a day and a half, and it got me thinking a lot. Was this a phenomenon that I was unaware of previously? Then, I got back home, and saw three more of them at the gym. What was going on here?
Of course, what’s obvious is that Marvel Comics, and their uber-popular films making billions, generates this trend. But, the more I thought about it, it came to me: are adult men trying to recapture their youth through this expression? Was there something about childhood that people missed and wanted to hold onto by wearing these shirts?
What I think is that we’re losing the sense of what it means to be a boy again, and we’re trying to live through it using all of these social channels like superheroes, video games and the like. Life is hard, and the stressors of adulthood are often suffocating. Harkening back to a better time when we were children, when we were free and irresponsible (and often stupid in our ignorance), it makes sense to me.
Do you create that sense of boyhood in your life now? In what ways? Do you recognize the little boy in you who needs attention?
For the thinker types, I know it can be really difficult to “lose” yourself. I’ve dealt with this myself for years. To lose yourself with abandon is difficult, when it’s not during sex, or when you’re drinking. Video games and comic book movies serve the same job to help us lose ourselves in our everyday surroundings. I think sports or other outlets also create that sense of “flow” that mimics the experience of being a boy again.
Sometimes, the need to be a boy again comes out in dysfunctional ways. When we don’t allow ourselves downtime, or the rest of relaxation we need, our behaviors becomes stuck and problematic because the “kid impulse” is trying to break through.
I see this happen in men who are stuck in their lives, or who lack motivation to do the “adult” things expected of them. They fixate on behaviors, like not taking care of themselves, eating poorly, abusing alcohol or marijuana, or expecting others to take care of them (parents, relationship partners).
Some men who constantly “don’t want to grow up,” end up falling victim to neurotic behaviors, like staying unemployed for long stretches, not getting into relationships because grown up intimacy is too scary, or the like. Many long so much for their growing up, that they unconsciously prefer to live in the fantasy of the past, and stay stuck in the present in their real lives today.
Recognizing that little boy (they used to call it “inner child,” but the connotations are negative for me) inside of you, and attending to him in creative, healthy ways is essential. Making sure he doesn’t get swept up in the demands of your day-to-day adult responsibilities is important to creating healthy balance in your life. Without that balance, his need for expression will come out in ways that might undermine you, your relationships and your mental health.