Are You Married to a ‘Peter Pan?’

Published July 19, 1984. I’ve been reading an interesting book the past few weeks. It was written by Dr. Dan Kiley, a psychologist, and is titled “The Peter Pan Syndrome – Men Who Have Never Grown Up.”

We all remember the story of the happy-go-lucky Peter Pan, who symbolizes the essence of youthfulness in his experiences with Captain Hook. As Peter Pan cavorts with Tinkerbell and captures the ship the Jolly Roger, he awakens the child in all of us. We are drawn to him and allow ourselves to be nourished by his exuberant youth.

But according to Dr. Kiley, there is another side of the classic character created by J.M. Barrie. He states “Have you stopped to consider why Peter wanted to stay young? Sure, it’s tough to grow up, but Peter Pan avoided it vehemently. What made him reject all things adult? What was he really after? Was it as simple as it sounded? Was not Peter’s desire to stay young actually a militant refusal to grow up? If so, what was his problem? Or problems?”

From this well-known story Kiley draws the analogy between contemporary adult males who will not grow up and the youthful Peter Pan. Hence the term the Peter Pan Syndrome. What are some of its characteristics? According to the psychologist there are seven: irresponsibility, anxiety, loneliness, sex role conflict, narcissism, chauvinism and social impotence.

And, according to Dr. Kiley, there are two kinds of women who interact with men who won’t grow up. He calls them “Wendy’s” and “Tinkerbells.”

He notes one of these women is willing to take the back seat and assume the role of a protective mother figure. “She is insecure herself,” the psychologist notes, “and the victim’s dependency makes her feel needed. It gives her a distorted sense of strength. Her sex with the Peter Pan Syndrome victim is ritualistic and predictable; it’s also very quickly over with. She doesn’t recognize that the victim is immature, and she persuades herself to believe that his problems are normal. She sticks with this mate, figuring her love life will improve. It doesn’t. I call this type of woman a ‘Wendy.’”

“The other type of woman,” according to Dr. Kiley, “wants spontaneity, growth and mutual adaptation in her relationship with a man. She recognizes the Peter Pan Syndrome victim’s immaturity but is drawn to his devil-may-care attitude. She, too, figures the guy will outgrow some of his juvenile behavior . . . I call this woman a ‘Tinker.’”

If you are a woman who thinks you are married to a “Peter Pan,” Dr. Kiley first suggests that you determine whether or not you are a Wendy or a Tinkerbell. If you are the former, you should stop doing Wendy-like things. Kiley has an interesting section titled “On Becoming a Tinker” with several suggestions on what to stop and start doing to make your husband less dependent on you.

But I have a simpler suggestion. Ask your husband if he is a Peter Pan who is, among other things, irresponsible, chauvinistic, and overly dependent on women. If he says no, ask him to prove it. For just one day ask him to take over running the house while you take the day off. We have declared July 29 as Mom’s Day Off, so this might be the ideal time to approach him.

If he agrees to participate, fine. Hand him your apron and find your favorite book.

But if he refuses to take over, you might go buy him a copy of Dr. Dan Kiley’s book, “The Peter Pan Syndrome.” And, if he asks why you did it, just tell him it was the Tinkerbell coming out in you.

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