If you have made it this far,
you are in the stage of young adulthood, which lasts from about 18 to about 30. The ages in the adult stages are much fuzzier
than in the childhood stages, and people may differ dramatically. The task is to achieve some degree of intimacy, as opposed
to remaining in isolation.
Intimacy is the ability to
be close to others, as a lover, a friend, and as a participant in society. Because you have a clear sense of who you are,
you no longer need to fear "losing" yourself, as many adolescents do. The "fear of commitment" some people seem to exhibit
is an example of immaturity in this stage. This fear isn't always so obvious. Many people today are always putting off the
progress of their relationships: I'll get married (or have a family, or get involved in important social issues) as soon as
I finish school, as soon as I have a job, as soon as I have a house, as soon as.... If you've been engaged for the last ten
years, what's holding you back?
Neither should the young adult
need to prove him- or herself anymore. A teenage relationship is often a matter of trying to establish identity through "couple-hood."
Who am I? I'm her boy-friend. The young adult relationship should be a matter of two independent egos wanting to create something
larger than themselves. We intuitively recognize this when we frown on a relationship between a young adult and a teenager:
We see the potential for manipulation of the younger member of the party by the older.
Our society hasn't done much
for young adults, either. The emphasis on careers, the isolation of urban living, the splitting apart of relationships because
of our need for mobility, and the general impersonal nature of modern life prevent people from naturally developing their
intimate relationships. I am typical of many people in having moved dozens of times in my life. I haven't the faintest idea
what has happened to the kids I grew up with, or even my college buddies. My oldest friend lives a thousand miles away. I
live where I do out of career necessity and, until recently, have felt no real sense of community.
Before I get too depressing,
let me mention that many of you may not have had these experiences. If you grew up and stayed in your community, and especially
if your community is a rural one, you are much more likely to have deep, long-lasting friendships, to have married your high
school sweetheart, and to feel a great love for your community. But this style of life is quickly becoming an anachronism.
Erikson calls the maladaptive
form promiscuity, refering particularly to the tendency to become intimate too freely, too easily, and without any depth to
your intimacy. This can be true of your relationships with friends and neighbors and your whole community as well as with
The malignancy he calls exclusion,
which refers to the tendency to isolate oneself from love, friendship, and community, and to develop a certain hatefulness
in compensation for one's loneliness.
If you successfully negotiate
this stage, you will instead carry with you for the rest of your life the virtue or psychosocial strength Erikson calls love.
Love, in the context of his theory, means being able to put aside differences and antagonisms through "mutuality of devotion."
It includes not only the love we find in a good marriage, but the love between friends and the love of one's neighbor, co-worker,
and compatriot as well.