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Are You Dating a ‘Peter Pan’?

by Eharmony Editorial Team - September 2, 2011

Guys who don’t want to grow up can be fun—but can they be The One?

Guys who don’t want to grow up can be fun—but can they be The One?

Danielle voiced a concern that seems prevalent among single women these days: “I’ve been dating Rick for a year, and he’s lots of fun. You might say his life is devoted to fun. He’s always playing laser tag, poker, and video games with his friends. He’s got a go-kart, ATV, and jet-skis. He loves a good time. The problem is that Rick’s 30 and has never been serious about a career. He’s had three low-level jobs since I’ve known him. Life is one big party. And unreliable? The only kind of follow-through he knows about involves his golf swing. Is it too much to ask for a guy who is both fun to be with and a responsible human being?”

Do you know a guy like Rick? Or dated someone like him? It’s highly possible, since there are plenty of Guys Who Won’t Grow Up roaming the land. Lest you think this is a male-bashing article that lumps all men together as immature and irresponsible, hold on. The truth is that lots of men work hard, answer the call of duty, and fulfill their obligations. A good many of these men have achieved a healthy balance between work and play, seriousness and silliness. 

But rounding out the batting order are those for whom adult pursuits (a steady job, healthy lifestyle, punctuality) are theoretical concepts rather than daily concerns. Back in 1983, psychologist Dan Kiley wrote a book called “The Peter Pan Syndrome: Men Who Have Never Grown Up.” He must have struck a nerve, because the book became an international best-seller. 

In the intervening years, the syndrome seems to have spread. Recently, the Wall Street Journal ran a lengthy article titled, “Where Have the Good Men Gone?” It began: “Not so long ago, the average American man in his 20s had achieved most of the milestones of adulthood: a high-school diploma, financial independence, marriage and children. Today, most men in their 20s hang out in a novel sort of limbo, a hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance.”1

It seems that Peter Pan is very much alive and well. If you are a single woman looking for a stable relationship with a stable man, watch out for guys who communicate (through words or actions) the following: 

Fun is my middle name—reliability ain’t.” There’s nothing wrong with having fun, of course. No woman wants to be with someone who is perpetually uptight. But when fun-loving and lighthearted cross over into unreliable and irresponsible, the teeter-totter lands on the ground with a painful thud. And you’re the one left with bruises.  

Forget tomorrow–live for the day!” Who can criticize someone for wanting to live fully in the present moment? Isn’t that the Zen, enlightened thing to do? Sure, but once again there can be too much of a good thing. Being alive and alert in the present doesn’t mean disregarding the future. Prudent preparation and planning for tomorrow may help a person savor today.

Rules are made to be broken.” Our society champions and applauds nonconformists—artists, entrepreneurs, inventors. These are the people who challenge assumptions and kick down doors for the sake of progress and innovation. Less admirable are those who break rules or thumb their noses at convention just for the heck of it. There’s nothing particularly praiseworthy about subverting societal norms out of laziness, childishness, or disrespect for others.

My way or the highway.” Guys who haven’t grown up tend to be selfish, if not flat-out narcissistic. They want things done their way, on their terms, or forget it. As any psychologist will tell you, chronic self-centeredness is a big pool of quicksand on the road of love. Watch your step. You can stay afloat in it for a while, but sooner or later you’ll submerge and suffocate.

Whatever!” That innocent little word has become a part of our cultural vernacular, for better or worse. It’s another way of saying, “So what? Big deal. I don’t care. Doesn’t matter.” There’s a time and place for that attitude, but some guys have adopted “whatever” as a life motto. The fact is that some things do matter, and some things are a big deal. 

In the movie version of ‘Peter Pan’, the iconic man-child tells his new lady friend, “Forget about them, Wendy. Forget them all, and come with me where you’ll never, never have to worry about grown-up things again.” If a charming, fun-loving man-child says something like that to you, think twice about becoming a resident of Never-Neverland.

1. Kay S. Hymowitz, “Where Have The Good Men Gone,” Wall Street Journal, February 19, 2011.