Women are always complaining that the men in their lives suffer from “Peter Pan Syndrome.” It’s a standard, catchall criticism that chicks levy willy-nilly on dudes for any number of relationship misdemeanors or faux pas. It refers to the title character in J.M. Barrie’s classic, turn-of-last-century play and novel about a precocious young boy who refuses to grow up. And modern ladies love to slap this armchair diagnosis on any male behavior that is inconvenient to their self-interest.
If a guy chooses to play Assassin’s Creed II on his day off instead of strolling through the farmers’ market with his sustainable-food activist girlfriend and molesting squash, is he suffering from “Peter Pan Syndrome”? That same dude could have dreams, but they’re probably dismissed as a symptom of “Peter Pan Syndrome.” Real dreams, like being a parapsychologist, or a shark hunter, or a strip club DJ. Whatever, mock away. It’s not like “locavore” is ever going to be an actual word that normal people use. And personally, I think it’s very mature for a grown man to note that having a child can totally harsh a buzz. I’d like to add that not folding one’s clothes is an aesthetic choice. Same with dishes.
It is a very modern point of contention between the genders that men aren’t growing up, or at least, growing up according to the standards and expectations of the women in their lives, that men are lazy, hairy toddlers who want to retreat to their man caves, drink beer, and watch “Iron Man” Blu-ray extras. This is an unfair stereotype. There are plenty of men out there who make a living, dote on their families, and shoulder more than their share of responsibility, while at the same time being lazy, hairy toddlers who want to retreat to their man caves, drink beer, and watch “Iron Man” Blu-ray extras. It’s called “complexity.” Men have more layers than you suspect. We’re like pancakes that way.
I don’t think men with so-called “Peter Pan Syndrome” are the problem. I think many women, especially those who use the term “Peter Pan Syndrome” and pronounce the word “mature” as “matoooor,” suffer from “Wendy Syndrome.” That’s right. I’m referring to the girl who accompanies Peter Pan to Never-Never Land, not to The Frisky’s Dear Wendy, or even my older sister, Wendy. In the famous story, Wendy and her brothers join Peter Pan and his Lost Boys in their epic fight against Captain Hook. At the end of the story, Wendy chooses to return to England, and to grow up. Pan refuses.
Why would Wendy want to leave Never-Never Land? I mean, Peter has a great job — fighting pirates. Adoring co-workers. A nice tribe of natives as neighbors. The real estate is fantastic: There are beaches, mountains, tree houses. And the commute isn’t bad, just the second star to the left and on till morning. Peter Pan is free, passionate, and just wants to have fun, like ’90s-era Sheryl Crow. Why would Wendy give that up? Seriously. Why would she want to return to nasty old Victorian London? The city that gave us Mary Poppins, the barren, black-magic nanny with the chimney sweep boyfriend who eventually dies of emphysema? Or Oliver Twist, an orphan who barely escapes the white slave trade? What is so special about that industrial soot-choked metropolis of misery? What’s the downside to an enchanted island, besides the fairy infestation?
If Wendy wanted children, she couldn’t have done better than staying in Never-Never Land. It’s. An. Island. Of. Little. Kids. Wendy returns because she’s not comfortable with the abandon Peter Pan offers. She prefers the comforting shackles of social norms. To Wendy, exchanging soaring through the clouds for croquet with The Joneses is a fair trade. Clearly, she settled for settling down. It’s an ageless place – she could have grown up any time. But Wendy set a limit to the adventures she allowed herself. Wendy broke Peter’s heart, because she wouldn’t fly with him one more time. Wendy put her foot down and grew up, leaving Peter with Tinker Bell, a thimble-sized badass who never shirked a pirate hunt. Poor Tink, if only Peter loved her back.
Next time you bemoan men behaving like Peter Pans, desperately holding on to an idealized, recent youth, take a moment for self-reflection. It won’t hurt. Could it be that you’re suffering from a mild case of “Wendy Syndrome”? Should you be in a hell-bent rush to act a certain way? Is it possible to have adventures and still be responsible? To waste time giggling and playing video games one night, and the next night engaging in captivating dinner conversation with people who keep back issues of The New Yorker by the toilet? According to some versions of Barrie’s story, Peter returns every spring until Wendy grows up, and then Peter starts sprinkling his dust on her daughter. At the very least, Wendy recognizes that Peter Pan can teach some important and enduring life lessons. The airborne imp isn’t so bad.