Peter Pan never does grow up, physically or emotionally. He remains a child forever. He is the only character who will never be an adult. Everyone else, including the Lost Boys, grow up eventually.
In 1983, psychologist Dan Kiley wrote a book called “The Peter Pan Syndrome: Men Who Have Never Grown Up.” Kiley says a real-life Peter Pan is a physically grown man who is unwilling to become an adult. He doesn’t want responsibility or commitment of any kind to get in the way of his continuous adventures, usually shared with his like-minded and similarly situated friends. He probably resides with his parents, who keep things just the way he likes them.
Peter Pan is charming and fun. He’s very attractive, especially to women. He needs a Wendy to take care of him, and that taps into the feminine nurturing instinct. Wendy will find his boyish, carefree nature amusing and exciting at first, until there comes something that he has to be man-ish and careful about when he’s not capable of being either.
Then there is the Lost Boy syndrome. In Barrie’s book, Peter Pan is the leader of a gang of boys called the Lost Boys. In the real world, a Lost Boy is just like a Peter Pan, except that a Lost Boy is aware of the consequences of his actions while Peter is not. A Lost Boy would never consider them consequences, however.
I bring all of this up because it occurs to me that I am a Wendy. In contemplating the failure of past relationships, I realize a pattern of choosing Lost Boys and Peter Pans for boyfriends.
“Perry” was five years my senior. He looked older. He had a thin, receding hairline and glasses with Coke-bottle lenses. To my innocent eyes, he looked distinguished and wise.
He drove a fire-hydrant red Camaro. That should’ve been my first clue. He talked to the younger staff more than the people his age. Missed clue No. 2.
When we weren’t riding his motorcycle, we were hanging out at his apartment watching movies. He showed me pictures of his adventures bungee jumping and skydiving. He repeatedly asked, “Do you believe that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?”
I dislike hearing that phrase when I’m in pain. I feel as if my hurt is being dismissed. And I certainly don’t think it’s a license to behave recklessly. We’re all going to die someday, but why rush it?
Perry never took me out to dinner. He never took me out anywhere except on his motorcycle, and then I had a helmet on my head. I soon found out he was taking other women motorcycle riding.
When my feelings were hurt, he did what Peter Pans/Lost Boys always do: denied responsibility. He insisted that because he never promised an exclusive relationship, he had done nothing wrong. He knew I was seeing only him. He knew I thought I was the only girl he was seeing. But Neverland Boys are incapable of accountability. If you challenge them, they show you the door, and none too nicely.
Another Neverland Boy repeatedly took money from my purse without asking. He took my credit card without asking and didn’t make payments on it, damaging my credit. Then he applied for a new credit card in my name without my knowledge. When I opened the mail and found the card, he told me it was a “surprise.”
I was surprised all right. Especially when he again took it without asking and maxed it out, then failed to make payments on it. In this case, a Neverland Boy managed a committed relationship, but only because he needed my perfect credit score to finance his smoking, gambling and eating at restaurants every day.
He lives with his parents now.
Another Neverland Boy asked me to drive him to the store for beer after he’d been drinking all day. I refused. He went outside the apartment building for a smoke. Several pages in my book later, Boy hadn’t returned. How many cigarettes was he smoking?
I went out to look for him. I circled the building a few times. He was nowhere in sight. I tried to stay calm, but I was worried. The sky darkened every second. I jog-walked to the parking lot and there he was next to my car, drinking from a 40-ouncer and talking on the phone — to another girlfriend, I later found out. He had taken my keys and driven my car to the store without my permission.
Neverland Boys have no tolerance for boundaries or limits. Freedom is all. Instant gratification is the name of the game. Modern-day Neverland Boys prefer texting to conversation, hooking up to dating. Relationships are superficial rather than substantial. Life is about instant gratification and the endless pursuit of pleasure.
Neverland Girls exist, too.
A grown man balances fun with responsibility. If he needs occasional nurturing, he returns the favor. He is the Neverland Boy’s opposite.
Give me that man. Wendy is grown up.
— By Kelly O’Toole, Tribune community columnist