Author | Illustration Mariel Kelly

Adult Learning: How to break the pattern of dating Man-babies

Dear Audra,

I have dated a series of dudes that wanted me to take care of them. Not in a “I’m going through a rough time, can I lean on you?” sort of way, but in a constant, “I’m fine in public but want you to do so much for me in private, and then I’ll be a jerk when you need something” way. And miraculously, when they were with someone else they managed to take care of themselves much better.

At the time, my self-esteem was pretty shitty so I was ok with that. Now I’m doing much better (hooray!) but my relationship history has me really nervous about dating anyone. These “please take care of me so I can resent you for it” dudes still seem to be into me.

How do I shoo those types away and ensure I only get men who want to be equal partners? Is there a phrase I can inject into conversation, or some kind of elaborate dance move?


Over Man-babies Forever


First of all, good for you for noticing and then wanting to break the pattern of dating man-babies. I have been despairing a lot lately over the number of incredible feminist women I know who are partnered with men they are trying to coax, cajole, and carry into adulthood. You deserve better!

It’s a pattern I know really well. More than once I have met someone and then, as Jill Barber once sang, loved him for the man that he could be. So I don’t want to sound like a smug ex-smoker about this issue, but I do want to shine a light on it. Because how much of our brain power are we are spending on making space for men to figure out their shit?

I see so many women slogging away at day jobs they don’t love that leave little space for their own creative work, while making excuses for their male partners’ stagnation and lack of productivity. It hurts my heart for all of us. Can we please stop propping up these dud(e)s who aren’t propping us up back? Can we please expect our partners to be partners? Think of all the great art we could make!!! Or at least naps we could take.

Some men will download everything onto the women in their lives because they feel entitled to, even if we are crumbling under that weight. I am talking about men who demand so much space and time and energy and resources to figure their shit out, even while we are drowning. I am talking about the tightening in our guts when we are listening to the next set of conditions we have to meet before these men will start sharing the load.

You know all this already, because you have already sworn off of man-babies. But how do you avoid them in the future? Let’s outline the basic traits of a man-baby, and then some possible red flags.

To start off with, I feel like the man-baby formula looks a bit like this:

Fatalism + Entitlement + Grandiosity – Strategy – Empathy = Man-baby

That is to say, man-babies function as if every aspect of the world is outside of their control, while at the same time expecting those around them to make sure their needs get met. They often have big hopes or dreams, but don’t seem to have any willingness to take the steps required to make those dreams come true. To top it all off, they seem to have either no awareness or feel no responsibility about how much everyone around them is taking on in order to keep them afloat.

Here are some questions to ask yourself to help develop Man-baby warning bells:

  1. Does this dude talk as if all of his problems originate outside of himself?

It’s important to keep in mind that some people genuinely are victims of circumstance or oppression. But with some dudes, everything from getting a cavity to getting fired is someone else’s fault. It’s fine to make mistakes, and we’ve all had days (or weeks or months) where no matter how hard we tried, things kept falling apart around us. But if you are seeing a dude who frames every mishap as having external causes, you might want to proceed with caution (if at all).

  1. Does he also talk as if all of the solutions to his problems originate outside himself?

When he is talking about a problem he is having, and you say, “Yikes, that sounds tough. What do you think you are going to do?” does he have some strategies to fix it, or at least acknowledge that he needs some strategies to fix it? A man-baby will either give you a list of things other people need to do in order for a problem to be fixed, or he’ll look at you like a confused baby bird at the notion that there are steps he could be taking himself to resolve the issue.

  1. Does he display an active resistance to decision making?

Man-babies often make their choices passively, rather than actively, often letting inertia and outside forces combine to determine everything from what they eat for dinner to where they live. This saves a man-baby from ever having to assess a situation and/or learn from past mistakes. This also has the added bonus side effect of removing responsibility from him for whatever outcome happens next, because it’s not like it was his choice that was to blame.

  1. Does he seem to be surrounded by a gaggle of women who do things for him?

Here’s an uncomfortable truth about man-babies: They are often pretty charming and charismatic dudes. So a man-baby has probably dated a lot of amazing women, and some of these women might still feel guilty for having broken up with him or just never gotten out of the habit of trying to solve his problems. When he is having a crisis, see who he asks for help. If it’s all women, run awayyyy.

  1. What does his apartment look like?

Okay, this is a tricky one, because I am not talking about how big or fancy a guy’s place is or how much his belongings seem to be worth. But living spaces might be one of the first ways to gauge a dude’s ability to make decisions and solve problems. If a dude seems to have the same bed-in-a-bag his parents bought him when he was 18, has no toilet paper in his house, and “doesn’t know what to do” about the fact that his cat pees on his bed at least once a week…you might not want to make a second visit to his apartment.

These aren’t 100% guaranteed screening questions, OMF, but I think they are a good place to start. I really hope your letter helps start some difficult conversations about this stuff. One of the things that enrages me most about man-babies is how much PR the women in their lives take on to try to hide their man-baby-ness from the world. Let’s all stop doing that!

Women are raised to be caretakers, so I’m really glad for you that you are working to rejig those instincts. I’m so excited for all the amazing things you will do now that you are focusing those energies on yourself.

All the best to you!


  1. Seth Daniel
    December 22, 2015

    God yes… but ladies beware: your full grown man may not fully buy into your third wave feminist garbage and may have ideas of his own.

  2. Jacquelinee Flaggiello
    December 22, 2015

    Natalie Tuysusian I think I wrote this

  3. Tran Bronstein
    December 23, 2015

    There are women who are like this too. They attract men who want to “rescue” a woman. And if we’re smart, we grow up and then grow out of it too. Bottom line: don’t let anyone treat you like a doormat.

  4. Audra Williams
    December 23, 2015

    Ha I love all the people tagging their friends in this.

  5. KitteLishuss
    December 26, 2015

    If by “third wave feminist garbage” you mean “men need to learn to take care of themselves” and by “have ideas of their own” you mean they might reject me for having that expectationn, well then, GOOD RIDDANCE, because that EXACTLY the kind of man the article is talking about staying away from.

  6. MichaelDZell
    December 27, 2015

    The hallmark of a great, non-sexist article is when you can reverse all the gendered pronouns-and it remains just as valid!

  7. KitteLishuss
    December 27, 2015

    MichaelDZell This would be true if society were equal, and the patriarchy did not control everyone. But that is simply not true.

  8. MichaelDZell
    December 27, 2015

    KitteLishuss MichaelDZell 

    That may be true generally, but it works fine for this article.

  9. KitteLishuss
    December 27, 2015

    The difference is that Women are trained by society to tolerate this behavior longer than men are. WOmen are expected to be the nurturers and caregivers.

  10. veronika
    January 4, 2016

    wtf do you do if you’re a giant woman baby and you’re ruining you (and your partner’s) harmonious buzz?

  11. Madge
    February 9, 2016

    I cannot deal with how accurate this is. This is truly an advice columnist who has been through the trenches of fuckboydom and come out the other side clean. Bless.

  12. Audra Williams
    March 20, 2016

    @Madge Oh!! Thank you! <3

  13. sjaustin
    August 28, 2016

    They can be so tricky though! Sometimes they’ll give all the right answers about what they’re going to do to handle their problems, but they never take action. And for a while I dated a guy who had his very own well-appointed house that he bought, furnished, and cleaned himself. He even did all the yard work and kept everything neat and tidy out there too. But OMG, you hit the nail on the head, because SOMEHOW, he didn’t know what to do about his cat shitting on his bed. And somehow, didn’t know what to do about his employees (he somehow managed to be promoted to a team lead?) not respecting him. And constantly whined to me about how he hated the way his body looked because his belly was big and his arms and legs were skinny, but every time I suggested he join a gym he came up with a litany of absurd excuses about why he couldn’t. I seriously didn’t give a damn that he had skinny arms, but the whining and the silly excuses, OMG, adult up and either make it a priority or shut up about it!

  14. Hitchslap86
    September 1, 2016

    To play devils advocate……

    Seriously, replace the term “man baby” for “feminist” and all the above points apply: 

    For example: “It’s not my fault, it’s the patriarchy”.

    “We need more women engineers”
    “Less women chose STEM subjects than men”
    “That’s because outside forces make them do that”
    “Well, what can we do to change that?”

    And such and such……

  15. so and so
    September 6, 2016

    wow it’s like you’ve been tapped into my brain about my soon to be over relationship!  add borderline personality disorder, projection, passive aggressing, and gas lighting to the mix and it’s a wonder I have two brain cells left to rub together and see my ex in your words.  thank you!!

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