My Daughter was in a production of Peter Pan this week at our local community center. It was good and she was really fun to watch. Having not seen this play or film since childhood, I was strangely surprised by my lack of emotional connection to the Peter Pan character, or really the spirit of the play. Why? I always wanted to grow up. I always wanted to go to school. I have never uttered, “Oh, I wish I could be a kid again.” When people talk about their inner child, I picture mine trying to get a job already. I always loved the sound of high heels clicking on the sidewalk and I developed to-do lists from age 10. I think I was born serious.
*My “inner child”. Age 4
As I found my mind wandering during the shows slower moments, I thought about how each character in Peter Pan represented an Archetype in modern romance. For a story that was written in 1901, the story line remains relevant. I wondered, does the ongoing celebration of this 100+ year-old fairytale perpetuate underdeveloped emotional lives?
If you have not seen the play or movie since you were a kid, allow me to refresh your memory. Alas, if you don’t want your love of Peter Pan tainted, I suggest you stop reading RIGHT NOW. I am a fairytale buzzkill from this point on. I should also state that I am not touching issues of ethnicity in this exploration. Just gender. An analysis of genocide deserves it’s own space for certain.
Let’s start with the central figure, Peter Pan. A man-child who just wants to play play play. Peter refuses adulthood and insists on nothing but fun all the time. And the woman-child who loves him, Wendy. When they first meet, Peter has lost his shadow (is this where Carl Jung got his theories?) and sneaks into her bedroom to steal it back.
Having attempted to adhere his shadow back onto himself and fail, Peter asks for help and Wendy obliges. In her stitching, she unintentionally hurts him thereby fracturing his facade of impenetrability. Shadow intact, Peter appeals to Wendy to come to Neverland and be a Mother. She obliges, leaving behind her duties to her own Mother and Father.
Wendy’s Mother and Father are the classic male/female of days bygone (one would hope). The Father is bossy and grouchy from working all the time and wants nothing but “a little less noise”. The Mother is busy abiding and scuttling around making sure the house is clean and the kids are quiet for him. We see that what is expected is for kids to “grow up” and become just like them. And that really doesn’t look like a lot of “fun”.
*My Daughter as a Lost Kid on the right
In her new role as a Mother in Neverland, we see Wendy taking care of kids and falling in love with Peter. Both she and Tinkerbell indirectly express their feelings for him (often competing with each other) and he misses their coy attempts entirely. Peter is confused, clueless and disinterested. Oy-unrequited Love.
We then meet Captain Hook. The original Bad Boy? He doesn’t give a shit. He is totally fine being “the creepiest of creeps” and laughs at death. Though his one weakness is his fear of a crocodile who once ate his hand. His fear ends up being his downfall. Captain Hook is supposed to represent evil in the good versus evil dilemma but I end up wishing he would win because he is far more entertaining than anyone else. What this says about me probably isn’t so good….
*My Daughter with Captain Hook
Peter feeds Hook to the crocodile winning the good versus evil battle. He then flies Wendy and the Lost Kids back home.
Time passes and Peter returns to Wendy to take her back again (for Spring Cleaning!!!!!) yet to his and her dismay, she has grown up and had a child. He cries on the ground at his discovery that she broke her promise to never grow up. When she exits the room to attend to her grouchy new Husband, he is met by Wendy’s Daughter Jane. Jane has been waiting for him! She has all the same qualities he loved about Wendy. She knows how to tell stories and stitch pockets and is willing to travel. So the man-child finds a replacement in a YOUNGER WOMAN. Shocking…
“Peter Pan Syndrome” has inspired many a self-help book and magazine article helping women try and avoid him. No woman wants to have “Wendy Syndrome”.
I am going to go out on a limb and say that a high percentage of Bay Area men well into their 40s and 50s could be considered Peter Pans. Some even call Northern California a “playground”. Home of Burning Man, the Mountain Bike and Polyamory. I have met CFO’s who wear hiking boots to work. There was an article in the Wall Street Journal earlier this year which named San Francisco as the number one city LEAST likely for love!!!
When I told my daughter about “Peter Pan Syndrome”, she asked if that was a real thing. We had a nice discussion about growing up and what it means to different people. I told her how I always wanted to be a grown up and asked her if she likes being a kid or wants to grow up?
She said that she likes being a kid but that growing up means being closer to death. That, I understand.
*Me and my shadow