When it comes to certain types of people to avoid—at least when it comes to pursuing serious relationships—my favorite cautionary tales are those I dub “the Peter Pans”.
When most people hear those words, they immediately think of the beloved children’s character who refused to grow up and hung around Neverland with the Lost Boys. While the story is pure fantasy, there are real Peter Pans amongst us, trust me.
However, unlike their fictional counterpart, they don’t have magical powers and generally aren’t a lot of fun to be around in the long term. I am referring specifically to those men (and women) who refuse to grow up.
Having known a few Peter Pans of both genders, I can attest to the fact that many of them tend to be charming. They tend to be fun. They often have a sense of childlike wonder at the world that is captivating. However, unlike others who often view the world with a sense of awe and wonder, these sorts do not or rather chose not to be adults even when it is required of them. While this may not a problem for superficial relationships, serious ones—be them friendship or romantic partnerships—seldom turn out well.
Even more challenging is when a Peter Pan decides to become a parent. In extreme cases, they may completely remove themselves from their child’s life because the responsibilities and realities of parenthood are too hard to handle. Or they may view the son or daughter as more of a peer or confidant than their child. While the latter may be fun for a very young child, often the child or children can end up taking on the role of the adult as they mature.
While the fictional Peter Pan could be easily identified by his distinctive green outfit and hat, real life ones aren’t always so easily identifiable. However experience has taught me that one or more of the following may be a red flag:
1. No sense of direction or long-term goals.
2. A tendency to abruptly leave jobs and/or relationships without closure.
3. Avoidance or hostility to discuss the future.
4. Tendency to always blame others whenever anything goes wrong.
In any case, those who are in a relationship and are wanting to make it work may wish to seek the help of a professional sooner rather than later. Also, before even considering that option, it’s imperative to make sure that our Peter Pan wants to change—not for us or anyone else but because they are serious about changing their behavior for themselves. If they aren’t self-motivated to do so, then it’s best to save our energy for someone else because no one can ever successfully change for anyone except themselves.
To paraphrase my late grandmother, it takes all sorts of people to make up the world—including Peter Pans. However, that doesn’t mean that we necessarily need or want to have them in our own worlds. If we chose to keep them around, then at the very least we need to be prepared for the possible challenges of having such people in our lives—especially if we falsely assume that eventually they will one day grow out of it and grow up.
The fictional Peter Pan never did.
Author: Kimberly Lo
Editor: Alli Sarazen
Photo: Loren Javier/Flickr