12 Signs You're Dating a Man Child

Oh and FYI, marriage tends to only make his behavior worse.

A bearded person leaning back in a chair with their eyes closed
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I was drawn to my boyfriend, Oliver, because of his fun-loving spirit and great sense of humor. I tend to be a pretty serious Type A personality. We have been living together for a year, and he is starting to drive me crazy. He spends a lot of time on the couch playing video games and constantly leaves his clothes on the floor. No matter how often I show him how to do the laundry, he can never remember. Lately, he has also needed help with his share of the rent. I feel like he has done an age regression since we started dating. I feel like I am dating a child. Am I alone on this? —Picking Up My Man Child's Underwear Off the Floor


I hear more and more women making similar complaints. Being in a relationship with a man-child can be exhausting. In the early '80s, the term "Peter Pan Syndrome" was used to describe men who refused to grow up. (This came from the 1983 book The Peter Pan Syndrome: Men Who Have Never Grown Up.) These men are emotionally immature, unreliable, and often messy.

Here are a few telltale signs you're in a relationship with a man child:

1. His home is a mess.

Much like the Charlie Brown character Pig-Pen, he leaves a trail of messes and dirt in his wake. My friend Megan once dated a man whose apartment was so messy that the first time she saw it, she screamed out loud cause she thought he had been burglarized.

2. He behaves like a frat boy.

He knows his way around a beer keg all too well, even though he is no longer college age. He loves to party. He behaves like an out-of-control adolescent around his friends and loves playing practical jokes on people.

3. He always has an excuse.

There is always a reason why he wasn't on time, can't pay his bills, or didn't keep his commitment — and it's never his fault. Always the victim, he can never see that he is the common denominator in his problems.

4. He has constant financial problems.

I'm not talking about student loans or a medical crisis — this is typically someone who is under-employed or chronically unemployed. He may go from job to job leaving his résumé (if he even has one) looking like a game of hopscotch. He spends impulsively, doesn't pay his credit cards on time, and may not be organized enough to pay his taxes.

5. He spends excessive time partaking in the 'toxic trio'.

The toxic trio, as I call it, are weed, video games, and porn. He's not someone who dabbles in any one of these three activities, he uses them to zone out for many hours at a time. They are also used to avoid intimacy — emotionally and sexually.

6. He is unreliable.

Need a ride to the airport? Hoping to have him hold your hand at the doctor's office? Want to make sure that he sees you getting that award at work? Don't count on it. He has great difficulty keeping his commitments. And, when he lets you down he doesn't understand what the big deal is.

7. He can't handle criticism.

He is overly sensitive and lacks the ability to self-reflect. He sees simple suggestions or feedback as an assault and gets very defensive when confronted with his shortcomings.

8. He does not handle stress well.

Healthy adults develop coping mechanisms to help them deal with stress. A man child thinks his stress is worse than anyone else's. It entitles him to lash out at people. Or else, he finds escapist avoidant activities and makes them his all-consuming hobby (See #5).

9. He freaks out when you talk about milestone events.

Talks about where the relationship is going, marriage, or children are greeted with deafening silence or complete avoidance. You can see the fear in his eyes when these topics come up.

10. He does not know how to do age-appropriate tasks.

He is incapable of basic grown-up tasks — setting a table, tying a tie, or making a doctor's appointment. (In fact, actual kids are probably better at basic household chores than he is.) When you point out that doesn't know how to do something, he either avoids it completely, or he tries to get you to do it for him. This can put you in a position to enable his poor behavior.

11. He uses weaponized incompetence to get you to do things for him.

Weaponized incompetence is when a man pretends like he does not know how to do something, does it really badly, or asks a million questions about how to do the task in order to get his partner to do it for him. This is particularly prevalent in couples with children. Here's what that looks like: Zoe has a ton of work to do so she asks Jack to make dinner for her and the kids. Jack asks so many questions about what he should make and how to do it that Zoe thinks to herself, "it would be quicker and easier for me to just do it myself." Or, he makes dinner but burns the food to the point that it's inedible, complains the whole time, and leaves the kitchen a mess — so she doesn't even ask next time.

12. You find yourself nagging.

You constantly have to prep him on appropriate behavior when you go out. You are frequently disappointed because you can't count on him. You see him making bad choices in his career or finances and can't stop yourself from advising him on what to do. You're tired of picking up his underwear off the floor and cleaning his dirty dishes. You hear the words coming out of your mouth, and you're annoyed at yourself. Nobody likes nagging, but it becomes a way of life when no matter how many times you ask someone to do something they do not follow through.

The Bottom Line

If you're dating a man like this and are thinking about getting married, think again. Marriage does not make a man child grow up. On the contrary, they tend to feel more entitled to do what they want and not develop themselves any further. If you like providing maid service and childcare to adults, this is a great option. If not, run for the hills!

In Hump Day, award-winning psychotherapist and TV host Dr. Jenn Mann answers your sex and relationship questions — unjudged and unfiltered.

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