When Do Guys Grow Up?

Q: When do 20-something men grow up?

My girlfriends and I are recently single and have found the dating scene, well, interesting. Do 40-something men act the same? Why do 20-something men run for the hills when they hear the word “commitment” (not necessarily meaning marriage)? Why are they intimidated by strong career-focused women? Why are they unable to pick up the phone and call you, but will eagerly send you a text?   We aren’t chasing after these boys, but would love to know if there is hope down the road. We are also wondering if it would be possible to field this question to some 40-something men for help?
— From, the 20-something girls out there who want to find some 20-something mature [and normal] men.

A. Wow. There are several questions woven into this question. As I see it, the questions are:

1. When do men grow up?

2. Why are men afraid of commitment?

3. Why do men text instead of call?

4.Why are they intimidated by strong, career-focused women?

5. How the hell do 20-something women who want to date find 20-something guys to date?


Let’s start when a guy grows up (which is directly related to why they don’t commit).

Short answer: not before 30, hopefully by 50 but for some, never.


“This is tough. It so depends on the man. I would say the habits and values don’t really change; if your man is lazy or unathletic, he’ll probably always be that way. But most men do grow up and decide to get married and some (a rare few) can even make real philosophical growth/changes. Then on the other hand there are plenty of 50 year old men still hitting on 20 year olds at bars. Yuck.  The most important thing is to find someone who shares your values and interests. The rest should be a natural evolution, not a wrestling match.” – 40-something, divorced mom, ad exec, in a relationship, NYC


It depends on the guy, but it also depends on how you react. Society gives men more permission than ever to avoid growing up today (and women too). You can’t make a guy grow up, but can control how you react. It’s about recognizing the immature guys that don’t want to date (faster) and moving on if that’s what you want (rather than enabling the immature behavior or thinking that you are somehow lacking).


From a 40-something woman:

“If you want more and a guy doesn’t want to give it to you, it’s time to move on. You might not date or marry the next guy you meet but you will get closer to finding what you want.” – 40-something woman, married in late 30’s, San Francisco

From a 40-something guy:

“Do 40-something men behave the same way? I’d say all 40-49 year-old men are different; some mature, others not; some have commitment issues, others not; some are well-mannered and communicative, others not; and so on!  The same can be said for 40-49 year-old women.  An extremely important (and not appreciated) skill is being able to quickly (i.e. within 3-5 dates) discern what type of individual you are really dating?  One has to be able to make a realistic assessment of the guy and ignore your dreams of the man you wish you were dating!  Then, one needs to determine if you can accept the guy as he is (as small change are possible, big changes most likely not)?  If you have refined this skill, then you will be much better at quickly discarding the commitment-phobesm texters and jealous career types.  If not, you only have yourself to blame for continuing to make poor choices!” – 40-something male, in a relationship, NYC

There are a lot of points of view on this question. I will share the good the bad and the funny over the next week or two,  from 40-sometthing men and 40-something women alike.

Today I’m sharing an essay / answer from a 40-something man who is a 20-something by heart and by trade. Scott Hess is the Vice President of Insights at TRU, a global leader in youth research and insights  focusing on tweens, teens and twenty-somethings. Herewith he provides some great cultural perspective and brings it all down to the ground with his own personal experience:

“Today’s twenty-something men grow up…when they have to. In our work we find the greatest predictor of “growing up” for both genders – if by growing up you mean shifting from a very “me-centric”, variety and adventure-positive, in-the-moment mindset to something that’s more we-centric, loyalty-positive, and practical – is when parental underwriting is removed (Mom and Dad stop paying the bills) and Junior is on his/her own. Any guy or girl that’s still being subsidized is less likely to seem grown up, regardless of age.


Interestingly, although guys can seem “grown up” at work, they often meander through a period of extended adolescence when it comes to relationships. From my observation, twenty-something guys feel complete in the company of other guys – playing and watching sports, playing video games, drinking, etc. – in a way that’s different than how girls feel about being with other girls. Guys want girls around when they’re done with their guy friends, often late at night, and for the obvious reason(s).


In addition, guys’ role in society today is far different than it used to be. While we see more women engaging in behavior traditionally considered masculine  (e.g. binge drink, steroid/performance-enhancing drug use, physical fights), guys are becoming less overtly masculine, more feminine, more metro. Millennial guys look up to Justin Timberlake, an ex-boy-bander who wears tight pants, dances, sings falsetto, and wears nerd-glasses.  They look up to Ashton Kutcher, who could be seen as the boy-toy of his older, perhaps more powerful bride. At the same time they see Angelina Jolie’s power, Hillary Clinton’s power, even Michelle Obama’s power (and her muscular arms). Lady Gaga is perhaps a more convincing “bad boy” these days than all but Charlie Sheen!


So guys are increasingly (perhaps) threatened by strong women. Or at least uncertain of what it means to “be a man” when many women are so convincingly delivering on that role in our culture. Last weekend we saw the first pro-feminist, raunchy comic blockbuster in BRIDESMAIDS.  Look at ballsy Chelsea Handler and brassy Kristin Wiig and wickedly smart Tina Fey. These women are not just smart and funny, but also very pretty.  Guys are outmatched.


That said, I opened with saying guys grow up when they have to, and in the marriage/relationship work we do with 20-something men at TRU, we’ve seen more interest among young guys in “having a family” than among young girls. Guys do want to be dads. They do want to be husbands. To quote my Mom, coming of age in a time when it’s easy to “get the milk for free,” and when the cows are so confident and tough, if you will, there are fewer guys in any hurry to “buy the cow”.


Also, cultural norms around “growing up” are shifting in a big way. In the ‘60s, nearly ¾ of Americans had completed their education, started a career, achieved financial independence, gotten married, and had a child by the age of 30. Now just 10% of Americans do so! So the hesitation and fear of commitment you sense from guys in their twenties is actually part of a much broader trend where it’s okay to try on jobs and relationships until you’re in your 30s, and nobody (except maybe Grandma) is going to judge you.


So what should 20something women do? In my opinion, you need to have a sense of what you want and when you want it.  You have to recognize that many of the guys you’re coming into contact with are doing nothing to help you meet your goals. Dare I say, stop trying to pretend otherwise? Your job is not to lower your standards or alter your goals. Your job is to find the place/time where guys that align with your goals are likely to appear. This may mean finding older guys. This may mean leaving your typical post-college crowd for a while or forever. But in my experience, thinking you’re going to change these twenty-something guys is wrong-headed.


Granted, I got married in my mid-twenties. But as a GenXer, that’s what we did. That me and my guy friends didn’t turn into good husbands until our early thirties is pretty much true. We were still guys’ guys, hanging out with each other, and doing booty calls with our wives. What’s different? Millennials, both guys and girls, are delaying marriage a bit more, perhaps waiting until they both are higher up the personal maturity scale. To me, many Millennial women are faced with a choice: marry an older guy, or perhaps get married a bit later when your peers grow up. (Or get married to one of these yahoos now, and hope that he grows up in the marriage, as me and my friends did.) — Scott Hess, Vice President of Insights, TRU


Thank you Scott!

So I guess rule number one is don’t date a guy who lives at home or is supported by parents. As one 40-something woman from Cleveland put it: “Failure to launch…forget it.”  In the meantime, do what you can to mature and grow so when the yahoos grow up…you can decide who you can grow with and what is important to you.

Tune in later this week for another 40-something guys eye view from Tom Matlack of the Good Men Project. And his perspective on getting away from gender stereotypes and getting into living your own life…it will all come together.


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