At this point in my life, I think I’m pretty good at adulting. I care for myself, run a small business, and work towards long-term goals. So I feel very comfortable being my age and think I’m doing what I should be doing.
But like everyone else, I have been called immature or refusing to grow up more than a few times throughout my life so far. However, I also feel a lot of times those words were said just to get a rise in an argument that had otherwise gone cold.
It’s not that uncommon.
Complaining about someone’s immaturity is nothing new, we all do it. We all wished at some point for someone to be just a bit more grown-up than us and act more mature, like us (who are always perfectly mature).
We might even accuse someone of suffering from the Peter Pan syndrome—a psychological condition affecting men in their mid to late twenties where their minds literally refuse to grow up.
Except, it isn’t medically approved or even a real thing at all.
Who came up with the Peter Pan syndrome?
The Peter Pan syndrome was popularized by a pop-science book whose entire thesis was that men are like the Disney character Peter Pan if they do not “grow up” by a certain age.
If only they “grew up” and “became a man”, their lives would magically become better and all their problems will be solved. It did not provide any medical diagnosis or data, it did not provide any solution except that men need to “grow up”. The book and its late author are a joke to the scientific community.
Yet, the way the concept is discussed today makes it seem like it’s almost a real thing. And I feel that’s more damaging than most people realize.
Peter Pan syndrome is a derogatory phrase, nothing more
The popular origin of the Peter Pan Syndrome comes from the book “The Peter Pan Syndrome: Men Who Have Never Grown Up” by Dr. Dan Kiley.
“It is true that the threshold for being considered an adult is lower than ever, and that the world is being inherited by a generation of childish twits who evade responsibility and act like teenagers well into their 40s. While the author was the first to call attention to an important sociological phenomenon, this book is mostly unscientific pop-psychology garbage. Every page drips with the author’s narcissistic douchebaggery…”https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1340512863?book_show_action=true&from_review_page=1
While the Dr. in his name and his superficial experience as a psychologist might impress you, other books written by the author include “What To Do When He Won’t Change: Getting What You Need from The Man You Love” and “The Wendy Dilemma: When Women Stop Mothering Their Men.” As the titles might have given away, none of them have a lot of academic merits and were mostly targeted toward the self-help audience consisting predominantly of women.
His book on the “Peter Pan syndrome” was published in 1983 and became an instant bestseller. For some reason, the idea of a psychological condition affecting only men and making them conveniently immature for whatever reason you felt like spread very quickly among his audience. He would spawn several copycats who would write tons of garbage self-help books promoting the idea.
Dr. Dan Kiley became a popular television guest for a while, spreading his pseudo-science better than ever. Yet his fame wouldn’t last for long.
In his second book, “The Wendy Problem”, he blamed women for smothering men in their life (again, the book was just as garage as his initial book), but as you might have noticed, the Wendy Syndrome isn’t a thing.
There are not countless articles on legit medical sites written about the Wendy Syndrome. It is not considered a real thing because it’s made up by a pop-science writer, just like the Peter Pan syndrome.
For his third book, Dr. Kiley wrote about his beliefs on the incestuous relationships men share with their mothers while growing up, but he failed to find a publisher for that one as his readership was fading by that time. They were already too alienated from the Wendy book.
What’s Huxley got to do with it?
Another popular example of using Peter Pan as a metaphor for immature men comes from the Brave New World writer and mescaline-enjoyer Aldous Huxley (who also had zero experience in psychology fyi).
He writes the following in his novel Island (1962):
“A Peter Pan if ever there was one. Hopeless at school. Incapable either of competing or co-operating. Envying all the normally successful boys—and, because he envied, hating them and, to make himself feel better, despising them as inferior beings. Then came the time for puberty. But Adolf was sexually backward. Other boys made advances to girls, and the girls responded. Adolf was too shy, too uncertain of his manhood. And all the time incapable of steady work, at home only in the compensatory Other World of his fancy. There, at the very least, he was Michelangelo. Here, unfortunately, he couldn’t draw. His only gifts were hatred, low cunning, a set of indefatigable vocal cords and a talent for nonstop talking at the top of his voice from the depths of his Peter-Panic paranoia. Thirty or forty million deaths and heaven knows how many billions of dollars—that was the price the world had to pay for little Adolf’s retarded maturation.”
TL;DR: Hitler was a nerd and couldn’t get laid so he killed “thirty or forty” million people. IF ONLY he was a popular kid, he wouldn’t be a racist evil man! If only he made advances to girls and they responded, he would have suddenly developed into a completely good man incapable of any evil. A lack of sex was the cause of World War 2. Only introverts become genocidal dictators.
It wasn’t someone who played video games a bit longer than usual, it wasn’t someone who was having a hard time adjusting to a new environment and getting out of a rut, and it wasn’t someone who failed at some aspect of their life.
No, the first Peter Pan metaphor was used to define pure evil. Attributing Hitler’s nature to a lack of “growing up” and not embracing “manhood” is frankly stupid. Hitler wasn’t a baby and neither are most people, and that’s why the idea of Peter Pan syndrome having any merit is also stupid.
Thinking of all life problems as a simple overall arrested development problem is bananas. “Grow up” isn’t advice or a fix, it’s more or less a mockery.
Nobody has Peter Pan syndrome
Healthline.com writes “If your partner has Peter Pan syndrome, you might get the impression they’d have a hard time making it in the world alone.” Even though the article admits that the syndrome isn’t a real medical thing, the website still hosts the article and writes about the symptoms, causes, and effects of a fake disease.
It is not alone. There are countless articles written over the years on the Peter Pan syndrome and how to deal with it. Most of it contains pop-science knowledge and a lot of toxic masculinity. Most of them blame the victim instead of trying to understand the problem and most of them are written with a congratulatory pat on their backs.
The beauty of the Peter Pan syndrome is that it can be extended to any type of problem: your husband is not listening to your 9th story about your childhood friend, he’s a Peter Pan!; the intern is slacking off at work (because you’re a shit boss), he’s a Peter Pan! If only they grew up and became more mature like us while we keep on ignoring the real causes… because that would require real effort.
Maybe we should ask ourselves if we’re being Wendy sometimes.