One of the most striking features of relationships
is that, after a while, if things are going well,
one or both partners will almost naturally
start to refer to the other as ‘baby’.
They might, alternatively or in addition,
stick a diminutive on to the end of their name
(‘-ie’), buy them a teddy (or
show them their own from way back)
and late at night speak to them in an unusually
high pitched, soothing and sing-songy way.
We all invest a considerable part of our energy
and our pride in growing up, in ensuring that we
no longer need help in tying up our shoelaces,
don’t need to be reminded to wrap up warm on
cold days and can take care of combing our own
hair. In short, we try very hard to be adults.
But successful grown up relationships
demand something rather peculiar of us:
while we are rewarded for the overall maturity
of our characters and way of life, we are also
invited – when striving properly to be close to
someone – to access the less developed, and more
puerile sides of us. It belongs to authentic
adulthood to be able, at points in an intimate
relationship, to curl up like a small child and
seek to be ‘babied’ as one might have been many
decades before, when we wore pyjamas with elephant
prints on them and had a lisp and a small gap in
our front teeth. It belongs to health, rather
than pathology, to realise how much one might
at difficult moments want to be ‘mummied’ or
‘daddied’ by a partner and to connect for a time
with the helpless, frightened, dependent child
one once was and at some level always remain.
Sadly though, this selective regression is no easy
or charming journey back for those whose childhood
involved them in scenes of petrifying suffering
and humiliation. For them, growing up has
involved a superhuman effort never again to place
themselves at the mercy of those who might take
advantage of their vulnerabilities. Returning into
imaginative contact with ‘mummies’ and ‘daddies’
therefore holds no particular charm; their
teddies will not be having a picnic any time soon.
These bulletproof characters are likely to walk
through the world with defiance and strength.
They will have built a heavy shield
of irony around their hearts.
Sarcasm may be their favorite mode of defence
- and they will have ensured in a thousand ways
that no one would ever attempt to
ask them, even in the briefest,
most lighthearted and humorous way,
to ‘come to mummy or daddy’ for a hug.
The defensiveness is hugely understandable,
but it is not necessarily aligned with the
real requirements of maturity. True health would
mean recovering an easy and informal contact
with one’s less robust dimensions; it
would mean being able to play the child
because one knew one was resolutely the adult,
it would mean being able to be ‘baby’ because
one was in no doubt that one had safely overcome
the fears and traumas of the defenceless past.
The more difficult the early years have been, the
more of our undeveloped self must be disavowed,
the more we must appear grandiose,
impregnable and daunting. Nevertheless,
we will know we have acceded to genuine adulthood
when we can hold out a protective hand to our
frail younger self – and reassure them that we
will from now on be their reliable guardians and
protectors and allow them to visit us for
a cuddle and a play whenever they need to.