We all know him: Peter Pan, the boy in green tights who flies around and never grows up.
He makes for an interesting main character in a fiction story, but what happens when someone becomes a “Peter Pan” in real-life?
I’m talking about a problem that’s become known as Peter Pan Syndrome, a real-life condition where a man avoids doing adult things and “growing up”.
Well, to be fair Peter Pan Syndrome can affect women too, but seems to affect mostly men.
There are even extreme cases where the man goes as far as literally dressing up as Peter Pan, with pointy shoes and all. But more common cases of Peter Pan Syndrome are adult-aged guys who desperately do everything they can to stay forever children.
Chances are, you’ve known at least one or two Peter Pans.
I’m talking about that guy who goes waaay out of his way to avoid adult responsibilities.
During his early adult years people might say, “Oh he’s just emotionally immature and will catch up eventually.”
But over time it becomes obvious that the Peter Pan is actively avoiding “growing up”. He will spend 100x more energy to avoid doing even a simple adult behavior, rather than do it and give up the feeling of being a child.
WHAT IS *NOT* PETER PAN SYNDROME?
I want to take a second here to clear up what is NOT Peter Pan Syndrome.
Just because someone likes “childish” things does not make them a Peter Pan.
Plenty of adults out there have a mega awesome Marvel superheroes collection that they tend to lovingly …and still take care of the responsibilities in their life. That is perfectly normal.
Whereas a person with actual Peter Pan Syndrome would have the mega awesome Marvel superheroes collection …and skip days of work to play with them and then go shopping to add to the collection (all on credit cards), and end up getting fired for missing too many work days.
And then this Peter Pan would expect someone (usually someone with Wendy Syndrome, more on that later) to cover their bills.
Rinse and repeat for the rest of their lives.
WHERE DID THE IDEA OF PETER PAN SYNDROME COME FROM?
Back in the 1970’s a psychologist named Dr. Dan Kiley noticed a troubling problem amongst certain of the older teenage boys he was helping:
They were having trouble moving on to the next stage in life because they avoided all responsibilities.
After a while he realized that these teenagers indeed never did move on to the next stage in life, no matter how much time you gave them. They simply became legal adults who still were childish by choice.
This problem made him think of the famous character of Peter Pan, the boy who refused to grow up and spent eternity playing in a place called Neverland.
And as Dr. Kiley looked around him he felt that in modern society there were a steadily rising number of Peter Pans.
He eventually wrote a book called The Peter Pan Syndrome: Men Who Have Never Grown Up where he discusses the problem, and the term Peter Pan Syndrome stuck.
Okay so if these Peter Pans go to extreme measures to avoid adult responsibilities, how do they even survive in life?
Like in the situation I wrote about earlier where the guy with Peter Pan Syndrome skips work so much that he gets fired…how is he not constantly being evicted from apartments and ending up on the streets from lack of money to pay his bills?
Enter in the woman with Wendy Syndrome.
Here is a woman, who is either some sort of spouse or even his mother, who swoops in and does the adulting that Peter Pan so desperately avoids.
Peter Pan has lost his job yet again and the electric company shut off the lights in his apartment? Wendy will come over with a bunch of money in her purse to cover the bill (and will probably end up physically going over to the electric company to pay it for him as well).
Or in the case of a real-life Peter Pan and Wendy that I knew:
“Peter Pan” went out and randomly bought an expensive truck, even though he was “between jobs” and money was so tight his daughter didn’t have a bedroom to sleep in.
When I asked him why he did something like that he just laughed and said, “Hey if you got it, flaunt it.” “Wendy”, his wife, then did the work each month of somehow scraping up the money to put food in the cupboards and to keep the electricity on (mostly), despite this huge new monthly truck bill. And she never even got so much as a ‘thank you’, it was just expected.
If you look closely enough at the life of a Peter Pan, there will be at least one Wendy in the background.
And if this Wendy happens to finally leave his life, he will quickly find another. He has to, or else risk actually having to take care of some adult responsibilities himself.
PETER PAN SYNDROME STORIES
As somebody who loves stories, I think it’s fascinating that a story character created in 1902 has in a twisted way become this symbol for a problem in modern society.
No doubt a person who has Peter Pan Syndrome would view himself like the fun-loving Peter Pan character of the J.M. Barrie book and Disney movie. An innocent, if mischievous, seeker of fun.
But in real-life the Peter Pan Syndrome lifestyle is not possible without constantly being abusive to others and leaving behind a trail of destruction.
The best thing to do if you have a Peter Pan affecting your life, or if you are a Peter Pan yourself, is to get help from a therapist to learn how to deal with the situation in a healthy way. Otherwise Neverland turns out to be a pretty miserable place, no matter what role you play in the story.
Have you known anyone with Peter Pan Syndrome? Write your stories in the comments below!