13 Signs of Peter Pan Syndrome: How to Spot the Partner Who Refuses to Grow Up

Crystal Jackson

Photo byFlavio Gasperini on Unsplash

Are you with someone who just doesn’t want to grow up? It might have you wondering where you’ve come across this archetype before. It sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

While you won’t see “Peter Pan Syndrome” in any diagnostic manual, the phrase was coined by psychologist Dan Kiley in 1983 about the man who is a forever boy and is based on a character created by author J. M. Barrie in 1902. You might notice that your immature partner might have tell-tale signs of this notable syndrome.

13 Signs He Has Peter Pan Syndrome

He’s Charming and Charismatic

When you first met him, he likely swept you right off your feet. A man with Peter Pan Syndrome is usually charming and charismatic. His dynamic personality is part of the attraction. You laugh a lot when you’re with him, and he’s always a fun person to be around.

These don’t sound like negative traits, so you may be wondering how they connect to this syndrome. The Peter Pan in your life is good at charm and child-like enthusiasm. He’s great at making friends — but maybe not so great at keeping them.

He Loves Novelty and Adventure

The Peter Pan in your life loves novelty and adventure. He loves new things, and you might notice that he’s always on-trend with fashion, music, and technology. He sees life as one big adventure and may be constantly on the move looking for excitement.

This also sounds positive — and it certainly can be, but it can also be exhausting. The downside of someone who loves novelty and adventure is that they can become easily bored with the day-to-day part of being in a relationship. When things begin to feel ordinary, they might begin looking elsewhere for excitement or lose their enthusiasm for the relationship.

He’s Good at Romance but Bad at Conflict

Your Peter Pan is great at romance. The honeymoon phase of any relationship is where he shines. It just so happens that it’s the only phase of the relationship where he shines.

When conflict comes up, the Peter Pan type will deny, avoid, or ignore it. He can’t handle confrontation, and he’s more likely to run from conflict than to face it calmly. Partnering with a Peter Pan type can be frustrating when you can’t talk through problems as they present.

He’s Defensive When Confronted

It’s not just that Peter Pan is bad at conflict. He becomes defensive when confronted with your feelings or his behavior. He may lash out, try to turn the tables on you, or simply walk away. He might even shut down and stonewall you for daring to bring up a subject he’s not comfortable addressing.

It’s likely he feels criticized and attacked even when you bring up problems in a calm and loving way. It’s even possible his defensiveness will result in gaslighting that makes you feel like the problem in the relationship. These issues are rarely resolved in Peter Pan relationships.

He Avoids Commitment

Men with Peter Pan syndrome tend to be commitment-avoidant. They feel smothered and caged when relationships get serious. While they might express it as being freedom-focused, the truth is that they see relationships as captivity and not a loving partnership.

Many men with Peter Pan Syndrome seem to marry later, have children later in life, and even take longer to settle down with a career. While there’s nothing particularly wrong with taking your time to find what works for you, the Peter Pan type tends to take longer getting there because he’s avoidant. He’s the forever boy who often prefers being the forever bachelor or in relationships that don’t require serious commitment.

He Avoids Planning

You might notice that the Peter Pan in your life never wants to plan for the next date or time he’ll see you. He is known for saying that he just wants to live in the moment and doesn’t want to worry about tomorrow. This avoidant behavior is related to his tendency to dodge commitment, but it creates uncertainty in relationships.

His planning can extend to financial and legal issues as well. He may avoid saving for emergencies, balancing his checkbook, or even taking basic precautions to prepare for his future. He might run up debt without thinking about the consequences or make impulse purchases without considering the impact.

He’s Codependent

Even though the forever boy avoids commitment, he’s usually codependent. He likes having a relationship, but he might not want to make it legal. He tends to lean on whatever partner he has at the time for support, advice, and even to help take care of him. He’s happy to let someone else take some of the responsibility off his plate.

In relationships, he’s happy to give up his identity to be in the couple as long as there are no demands being made of him. He’s happy to have a plus-one and to enjoy relationship benefits, but he doesn’t tend to carry his weight in relationships and may overly rely on his partner to meet his emotional needs.

He Struggles to Express His Emotions

A man who doesn’t want to grow up may lack the emotional intelligence to express his emotions. Even if he is emotionally intelligent, he may struggle to share how he’s feeling or what he’s thinking. For the partner who wants to strengthen the relationship and get closer to him, it may feel impossible.

It’s hard to build intimacy with someone who can’t talk to you about their struggles. Peter Pan types avoid vulnerability at all costs. He doesn’t truly know how to open up in the way that’s needed to maintain healthy relationships.

He Blames Everyone Else

It can be surprising when the attractive, charming, and charismatic person you fall in love with suddenly starts blaming you and everyone else for his problems. He’s a known faultfinder because it’s easier to deflect the blame than to take responsibility for his choices and their consequences. It can be painful to become the scapegoat of all his problems, but it’s a natural extension of the immaturity and stunted emotional growth of the forever child.

He Struggles to Cope with Stress

You might also notice that the forever child isn’t great with stress. His coping skills aren’t strong, and he tends to have a low tolerance for stressful situations. Interestingly enough, he may be good in a crisis at work as a part of his identity but struggle to manage stress in his personal life.

He Procrastinates

The Peter Pan type is an epic procrastinator. He’ll put off today what he can deal with tomorrow, and yet tomorrow sometimes never comes for him. He’ll keep delaying, and you’ll notice this tendency if you ask him to do something and then have to keep reminding him that he said he’d do it, which will likely frustrate you both.

He Ghosts You

Peter Pan can woo you. He can make you fall in love with him. He can also completely ghost you when the relationship gets a little too real. It can leave you haunted.

You’ll be left wondering what you did and how you could have prevented the end. You may be hurt by his lack of consideration and wonder how someone so charming could be so immature. It could leave you struggling with your own self-worth if you forget that this action has everything to do with him and nothing at all to do with you as a person.

He Doesn’t Think He Needs to Change

One of the most frustrating parts of Peter Pan Syndrome is that he’s happy enough with himself. He doesn’t think he needs to make any adjustments in his life. He feels like the right partner will adjust around him, but he ignores the fact that relationships require a compromise between both partners.

It’s not impossible to be in a relationship with someone with Peter Pan syndrome, but it does have challenges and may require infinite patience. He doesn’t think he’s the problem. But, if you’re honest with yourself, is it possible you’re the problem, too? You just might be his Wendy.

How to Identify if You’re His Wendy

Wendy is another iconic J. M. Barrie character. She’s considered the partner to the forever boy although — spoiler alert — she does decide in the end that she wants to grow up. You might be a Wendy if the following are true:

You’re Empathetic

It’s true that Peter Pan types have narcissistic traits, and Wendy types tend to be empaths who attract them. At first, it seems like the perfect bond. You understand exactly why he developed his forever-child tendencies. You know enough about his upbringing to see links to childhood or relational trauma. You understand and empathize with how his behavior formed as a coping mechanism that he doesn’t know how to shake.

Your empathy for how he became that way could allow you to make excuses for him and not hold him accountable for his behavior. While it’s important to be empathetic and allow room for human error, you can’t maintain a healthy relationship if you give him all the leniency at your own expense.

You’re a Strong Nurturer

The Wendy type tends to be a strong nurturer. You naturally take care of other people, so when Peter Pan flies into your life with his whimsy and charm, you’re more than happy to cater to him. In the beginning, when his romantic gestures are coming hot and heavy, you feel like it’s an equitable arrangement. He showers you with affection and attention, and you turn your nurturing tendencies to taking care of him. Everything is great — until it’s not.

Eventually, Wendy keeps nurturing, but Peter stops trying when the novelty wears off. He doesn’t want to grow up, commit, or change. He just wants to keep living with a minimum level of responsibility while those around him take care of everything.

You’re His Number One Fan

If there was a Peter Pan fan club, you’d be the founder and President. Wendys always are. You’re his biggest supporter — the first to cheer him on in whatever new endeavor or adventure he’s excited about now.

This is a wonderful thing about you, but when is the last time he supported you? Is he leading your fan club or undermining your success by emphasizing his own? Does he have to be better than everyone — even you?

You Tend to Self-Sacrifice

Wendy types are self-sacrificing. You’ll put other people first and often lose yourself in relationships. You’re used to accommodating other people in relationships and making sure their needs are met before you attend to your own.

This is codependent behavior, and it creates imbalances in the relationship. Compromise is important in relationships, but self-sacrifice shouldn’t be necessary. Peter Pan types tend to be attracted to a Wendy type willing to sacrifice everything for their happiness.

You Tend to Give More Than You Get in Relationships

If you’re honest with yourself, you tend to give more than you get in relationships. Wendy types have a lot to give, but when you partner with a Peter Pan type, you’ll notice that they’re happy to let you keep giving without giving much back. Your investment in the relationship outweighs the benefits you receive from it.

The good news is that Wendy types often choose to grow up. You decide that you need more than a relationship with a forever child. You want a full partner in good times and bad, not just a partner for adventures.

How to Break the Peter and Wendy Mold

Breaking out of the Peter and Wendy mold is possible. Take gender out of it. Any gender can find themselves as the forever child or the forever caretaker. What’s important is recognizing the pattern and doing your level best to grow up — even though it might feel easier to stay in the familiar pattern.

Find Balance

To stop being the forever child or forever caretaker, it’s important to evaluate your relationship for balance. Is it equitable? Do you get as much as you give? Do you feel like you both make compromises? Decide which areas feel balanced and which need more attention.


You’ll also need to learn to communicate better. Individuals with Peter Pan Syndrome need to learn to confront problems without defensiveness or stonewalling. Learning to respectfully communicate in arguments and to face problems in real time will be an ongoing challenge. Individuals with Wendy syndrome will need to be able to speak up to advocate for their needs and to set boundaries in the relationship.


If you want the relationship to work, something has to change. You need to decide if you’re both willing to do what it takes to resolve the issues. If you’re not both on board with this plan, you won’t get anywhere. Choose if this is the relationship you want or if you’re better off letting it go and moving on.

Life After Peter Pan

The problem with Peter Pan types is that they often let go too quickly thinking that there will be someone else to come along who will be happy to put up with their bullshit. They leave and don’t look back because it’s too uncomfortable to consider that they might have made a big mistake.

The problem with Wendy types is that they stay too long in unsatisfying relationships because they genuinely love the one they’re with and hope they’re loved enough in return that they can work out their differences. Wendy types tend to have a hard time letting go — even once the relationship is over. They may see Peter Pan as the one who got away and wonder what might have been.

You might have realized that some of this comes directly from experience. I’ve been a Wendy who just wanted to grow up. I’ve partnered with a Peter Pan type who never wanted to grow up. I’ve lived this relationship scenario more than once until I decided that Neverland wasn’t a place I wanted to visit any longer.

The signs of Peter Pan syndrome appear as red flags to me now. When we grow as people and as partners, we’re no longer attracted to the types who are happy for the honeymoon phase but balk at the real work of choosing to wake up every day and love the one they’re with.

I lived for a long time wondering what might have been. I spent years of my life partnering men who would never grow up if they could help it. Then, I realized that I was the one who needed to decide to grow up and break the cycle. I returned home to myself.

I know that the Peter Pan type formed because of hurt and attachment issues. As a former therapist, I understand how they can outgrow a coping skill and still not know how to change it. I hold so much space and compassion for the Peter Pans out there. I just don’t choose to hold their hands when they ask me to fly away with them. I know I could easily fall, so I wish them well and keep my feet firmly on the ground.

Originally published on Medium

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Crystal Jackson is a former therapist turned writer. She is the author of the Heart of Madison series and a volume of poetry entitled My Words Are Whiskey. Her work has been featured on Medium, Elite Daily, Thought Catalog, The Good Men Project, and Elephant Journal. When she's not writing, you can find her traveling, paddle boarding, cycling, throwing axes badly but with terrifying enthusiasm, hiking, or curled up with her nose in a book in Madison, Georgia, where she lives with one puppy and two wild and wonderful children. Crystal writes about relationships, mental health, parenting, social justice, and more. Never miss an update. Subscribe to emails: https://crystaljacksonwriter.substack.com/

Madison, GA

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