It turns out that J.M. Barrie was ahead of his time. The Scottish novelist and playwright who created the illustrious character, Peter Pan — a boy who refuses to grow up and flies about in a magical land followed by a rag tag group of “lost boys” — has been getting a lot of air time lately. Not because Hollywood is releasing another incarnation of Peter Pan starring Toby Maguire, but because it seems that our generation is filled with Peter Pans. They are armed with Budweisers and the popped collars of Polo shirts instead of the ability to fly and green tights, but their defining characteristics remain the same; they refuse to grow up and they travel in gaggles of Lost Boys.
The sociologist Michael Kimmel recently released a new book called, Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men, describing this generation of men who are delaying adulthood and the traditional markers of settling down and starting a family and choosing instead to “bro it out” in the Hamptons and “take ‘er easy, and if she’s easy, take ‘er twice.” These men actually see “growing up” in the traditional sense — marriage, family, responsibility — as a loss and as forfeiting the greatness of their youth for the mundane ennui of adulthood.
In last week’s Newsweek, Tony Dokoupil, a 27 year-old non-Pan, on his way to the alter, gave his fellow males a good slap on the wrist. Though Tony makes forays into “Guyland”, he is proud to get married, proud to have found a woman that makes him happy and proud to be heading into traditional adulthood. His friends, on the other hand, think homeboy is bat-s–t crazy.
But Tony points out some interesting facts about his friends’ bromances — not the least of which being that they are fundamentally unhappy. That as a group, they are the first downwardly mobile generation of men in US history. They are more likely to commit suicide, less likely to read the paper, vote for a president, or believe that people are trustworthy, helpful and fair. They feel redundant because women, especially in urban cities, are catching — women are earning large salaries and are beginning to be able to — well, compete.
What Tony, and Kimmel, don’t address is where all of this never never land, leaves women of this generation.
These statistics about my male peers scare me. A lot. Mostly because they are true, and mostly because I have encountered them firsthand.
I dated a man well into his thirties who had spent the last fifteen years living the good life in “Guyland”. The irony of it all, was that I at 24, and he at 37 — were experiencing the same crisis. I was wondering where my career would take me, what my place in the world was, and how I was to get there. I worried about finding love and whether I would end up alone. Oddly, he was going through the same things, nearly 15 years my senior. He was just as lost as I was — but his predicament was far scarier – as he was much further into the game of life — with hardly anything to show for it. I looked at him not as a man, but as a little boy — and got out of the relationship once I felt that I was mothering and mentoring him through his belated quarter-life crisis.
What irks me about this generation is also how these Peter Pans view their counterparts — us women.
As these men have sunk deep into never never land, they have distanced themselves from the women of our generation — they see us as “Wendys” — people who are there to hold them back, make them follow the rules, mother them, and above all tie them down and bore them to death with things like “conversation” and “commitment.”
I have wondered what has caused this phenomenon. After all, this generation of men is the first one that has been raised by women who were both heads of households and heads of companies. Working mothers who defied the odds, and did it all. I wonder if deep down there is some resentment of that – that as men saw women become more powerful, they felt, on some level, less powerful.
Moreover, we are a generation that is getting married later, that is lingering in urban centers longer, and that ultimately gets to languish in its youth for an extended period of time. We have more time than any generation before us to think about “what we want” and “who we really are” and of course, “what makes us happy.” Perhaps men are taking advantage of that — perhaps “Guyland” is a necessary “evil,” perhaps a pit stop there allows these men to guzzle all the beer they want, sing “Sweet Home Alabama” to a cover band in a bar, sleep around — and then ultimately settle down. Perhaps they are finding themselves in a different way than we are.
Then again, it’s tough theory for me to get behind.
What I do know, is that the men of “Guyland” define what is “manly” in terms of getting laid, grilling steaks and funneling beers. Of course, the truth is, that this view point is quite the opposite of what women see as “manly.” The men in “Guyland” want to get laid — that is after all, the crowning jewel of their evening. The thing that validates the seventeen beers and the high fives and the party mentality.
Well, guess what — “manhood” in America has got a serious image problem. Being a man is not watching football all day, a mild porn addiction, and the number of beers you can stomach before vomiting. It’s not found in Jackass or in your bong water. These things are what make you a boy.
Take it from me — what women find sexy — accountability, intelligence, a sense of humor and a respect for the opposite sex – those are the things that are manly. And those are things, boys, that will ultimately get you laid.
To the men of my generation — I have two little words of advice: Man Up.