In this section I will explain the development of the Peter Pan Syndrome. Parents will find implications for possible changes in child-rearing strategies. Wives and lovers will better understand why the man they love is both frustrating and fulfilling. Friends will discover empathy and more readily offer a helping hand. T h e victims themselves may gain the insight and courage to escape their trap.
The bulk of my explanation centers on the second decade of life, give or take a few years. Struggling to help young people grow up has taught me that this period starts at puberty—say, age eleven or twelve—and ends at or near age twenty-four, a time when most young people have settled into an adult life. I call this period of life the "Coming of Age" age.
As indicated earlier, six major symptoms comprise the Peter Pan Syndrome. I will review one of them in each of the next six chap-ters. I've arranged the chapters and symptoms chronologically according to "peak ages." I'm suggesting that the symptom under investigation flourishes during a two-year time period and domi-nates the other five symptoms during that peak age.
The best way to study the Peter Pan Syndrome is to visualize a three-dimensional construction of seven blocks. First, imagine that you place four blocks together on a table to form a square.
Each of these blocks represents one of four fundamental symptoms of the PPS—four cornerstones, if you will. This is the foundation upon which the PPS is built.
The key to the foundation is the sex role conflict. Once it is firmly in place, a continuation of the affliction is assured.
THE PETER PAN SYNDROME 41
Now, imagine that you set two blocks on top of the four corner-stones. These blocks represent two more symptoms of the PPS and are to be considered "intermediaries" between the cornerstones
and the final crisis period. These intermediate symptoms flow from the foundation and, in turn, form the basis for the final stage in the development of the PPS.
Finally, place one block on top of the two intermediaries. This represents the crisis period of the Peter Pan Syndrome. It is a time when the six symptoms converge to cause the victim the social impotence that is so damaging to future happiness.
42 THE PETER PAN SYNDROME
This approach might give you the idea that each of these symp-toms develops in a predictable fashion; however, this is not the case. Though you can expect the four cornerstones to surface during ages 11 through 18, they may develop in different children at different times. They may even flourish in a sequence different from the one I outline.
You might also get the idea that all four symptoms must be present before the intermediate symptoms can develop. This is also untrue. My experience suggests that narcissism and chauvin-ism can develop in the absence of one or two of the cornerstones.
If this occurs, the devastation embodied in the crisis period is substantially less, and remediation of the social impotence more likely.
The crisis period of the Peter Pan Syndrome reflects different degrees of incapacity. Some young men might simply wander into a marriage or career that promises years of nagging but manage-able frustration. Other victims suffer such overwhelming impo-tence that satisfactory work adjustment and a fulfilling love rela-tionship are beyond their capabilities. The degree of incapacity is directly related to the quantity and quality of the six symptoms contained in the block construction.
In Chapter 10 I will personalize the crisis stage of the PPS by spotlighting the story of Randy, a twenty-three-year-old young man whose life painfully demonstrates the convergence of all six symptoms. You will see how the Peter Pan Syndrome results in a pervasive social impotence, severely curtailing the quality of the young man's life.
The last chapter of this section takes a look at men who have never grown up. You'll see how the sex role conflict has invaded every significant aspect of their lives. You'll see what happens when the crisis subsides and despondency becomes the very tex-ture of life itself.
PETER: "I'm youth, I'm joy, I'm a little bird that has broken out of the egg."
WENDY: "Ran away, why?"
PETER: "Because I heard Father and Mother talking of what I was to be when I became a man. I want always to be a little boy and have fun."
Could manhood be that bad? Whatever Peter heard his parents say must have frightened him badly. I can just imagine him creeping down the stairs to get a glass of milk and accidentally hearing his parents talking of his future.
"Poor Peter," Father might say. "He'll have to work crazy hours, put up with the hassles of corporate insen-sitivities, worry about job security, hold his temper when he sees what taxes do to his paycheck, and then submit to the legal thievery that comes with paying utility bills. I sure don't envy him growing up."
"And I worry about his family," Mother chimes in.
"Peter is the kind of boy who'll worry sick about his wife and kids. And the way the economy is going, I imagine his wife will have to work. Then his children will grow up 43
THE PETER PAN SYNDROME
without any parents around. Oh, it's a shame. Poor boy!"
Put yourself in Peter's shoes. If you heard a horror story about growing up, wouldn't you consider staying right where you were? All you'd have to do is concentrate on being a child. That wouldn't be so difficult.
You'd have to play all the time, have fun no matter what happened, and pretend that reality was a joke. Most of all, you'd have to work really hard day-by-day, year-by-year, to become as irresponsible as possible.
It makes sense, doesn't it? Irresponsibility is a key to staying young. T h e script sounds simple enough: be a total, complete, irresponsible goof-off; do everything in your power to resist such civilized habits as picking up your clothes, feeding the dog, getting good grades, and helping around the house.
To maximize your irresponsibility, you'd have to de-velop disruptive habits: leave the bathroom a mess; create a war zone in your bedroom; scatter empty milk glasses, decaying pizza cartons, and dirty socks around the family room; and by all means be abrupt and indifferent when adults come to visit. And under no circumstances should you say "Please" or "Thank you" to your mom for giving you and your friends a ride to the video arcade.
Once you thought you'd achieved some degree of irre-sponsibility, you'd want to compare notes with your con-temporaries. H o w big are the dust bunnies under your buddies' beds? H o w long since the kid down the block brushed his teeth? What's the record for consecutive days of eating only junk food?
T h e antics of your peers set the pace. With a little study and even less effort, you could become the best at goofing off. Then you'd have a legitimate right to stake a claim on being a kid who won't grow up.
Once you'd gotten a foothold on irresponsibility, you could employ laziness to forestall the development of any significant maturity. Heaven knows you don't want your
IRRESPONSIBILITY 45 mom saying to your friend's mom, "Gosh, my Pete is becoming so responsible. He does what I tell him and never gives me a moment of trouble." If this happens, your pro-gram is shot. You're growing up.
Your friends can help you maintain your irresponsibil-ity. From a classmate you learn the art and science of pro-crastination. "In a minute" and "At the next commercial"
are mainstays. From the boy next door you learn how to forget. "Wow, Mom, I forgot!" or "You can't expect me to remember all my chores, can you?" And when these fail, you can always learn new techniques of arguing or com-plaining. "It isn't fair," "You're always picking on me,"
and "Nobody else I know has to do all this" are excellent maneuvers.
You don't have to be Peter Pan to resist adulthood. Irre-sponsibility isn't automatically a sign of future maladjust-ment. It's natural for children to rebel against maturation.
Growing up is scary, more so now than ever before. Just thinking about the realities of adulthood is enough to send you into a state of regression in which you curl up with your thumb and your blanket, wishing for a time when the toughest decision was which toy to take into your sandbox.
We all had times of irresponsibility. That's part of being a child. But most of us outgrew immaturity, and now our responsibility is so habitual that we must even schedule our goof-off time. We reach a point where we can't escape re-sponsibility.
Victims of the Peter Pan Syndrome have the opposite problem. They can't escape irresponsibility. This trap begins as innocent, typical rebellion, but mushrooms into an adult lifestyle. A fundamental piece of the puzzle of the Peter Pan Syndrome is gross irresponsibility that spawns inept-ness in basic self-care skills.
46 THE PETER PAN SYNDROME