Is Peter Pan Syndrome unique to mountain and ski towns, or is it a modern, generational phenomenon?
I recently dated a park employee who would disappear for a week to go backpacking in the Wind Rivers and then return and text, “Sorry, I probably should have said something.” Then I met a Jon Snowesque construction manager at a bar who wooed me with facts about Game of Thrones and then left in the morning without even a goodbye or a number. After I spent another week lured in by an old high school crush only to be told that he had recently broken up with a long-term girlfriend and was emotionally unavailable but down to have sex, I started thinking maybe there was something going on in this small ski town involving commitment-phobia that was unique to the men here.
My friend, also a smart editor and Renaissance Woman, had a suitcase-full of comparable experiences, all of which we dissected over whiskey cocktails and avant-garde appetizers. The conclusion was that there was something specifically wrong with the men of Jackson, but what was it?
Was it the transience? The inability to deal with responsibilities and complications? The predominant lack among twenty- and thirty-somethings of a solid education or college degree in place of ongoing adventures and travel?
I’d spent a few months in Thailand watching middle-aged gringos drink cocktails and woo Lady Boys in Phuket, I wasn’t about to pretend that this was the only type of environment that thrived on Peter Pan eccentrics, but maybe it was an environment where you could build a connection with someone on your level who still, regardless of similarities in hobbies, passions, backgrounds and Netflix top picks, would never, ever choose to commit to a serious relationship.
There was something uniquely childish about the ski world that could counteract the overall equality between the sexes in general population. Was it the plethora of young single men from California and Texas here to figure out the Wild West experience or learn how to surf powder and zigzag through trees?
“So come with me, where dreams are born, and time is never planned. Just think of happy things, and your heart will fly on wings, forever, in Never Never Land.”
Remember Peter Pan? In the Disney version Wendy is aching for carefree adventure. She wants to fly and explore and just be free, until she wants more that is. Wendy’s dream makes room for commitment and responsibility. She wants love and support and will then only find complete freedom. This sudden ache for more commitment makes Peter Pan frightened out of his mind. Peter doesn’t get that there is a freedom to growing up. Instead he is the eternal child- emotionally unavailable.
As the story develops, Peter and Wendy drift apart. Instead of being Peter Pan’s lover, Wendy becomes more like his mother. She communicates a desire to leave Never Never Land and go home and be an adult and Peter resists and runs away into the arms of beautiful and thoughtless mermaids and the unattainable and exotic Tiger Lily.
According to a 2007 study from University of Granada shared in ScienceDaily: “The ‘Peter Pan Syndrome’ affects people who do not want or feel unable to grow up, people with the body of an adult but the mind of a child. They don’t know how to or don’t want to stop being children and start being mothers or fathers.
The syndrome is not currently considered a psychopathology, given the World Health Organization has not recognized it as a psychological disorder. However, an increasingly larger number of adults are presenting emotionally immature behaviors in Western society. They are unable to grow up and take on adult responsibilities, and even dress up and enjoy themselves as teenagers when they are over 30 years old.
Ski Towns and Peter Pan Syndrome.
“Never say goodbye, because saying goodbye means going away, and going away means nothing.”
Ski towns are the modern, real-life equivalent of Never Never Land. The powder, the rides up the mountain, the countless days surfing down slopes, drinking beer, getting dirty, and disappearing in the mountains under a wide sky and moon glow.
Even in a town like Jackson, full of millionaires and posh, seasonal traffic, there are pockets of hardcore athletes and ski bums. In these pockets, class structure dissipates and identities reliant on resumes and profiles break away to make room for outdoor adventures. Whether living in a million-dollar Teton Village mansion or in an apartment with five guys, everyone is exploring the mountains and that’s what matters. That’s how people connect.
But snowboarding is better than sex.
Charley Turner, 27, is a snowboarder who has spent the last two winters in Jackson, working the slopes and “f*&%ing the mountain.” He loves to drink. He loves women. He loves novelty and adventure, but nothing compares to snowboarding.
Is it possible that he hasn’t met the right woman? Had the best sex. No, “snowboarding is better than sex.” This might be a matter of priorities.
But there’s a better ratio of men to women in ski towns.
Jon Birger, author of “DATE-ONOMICS: How Dating Became a Lopsided Numbers Game,” hired the Census numbers-cruncher that the New York Times uses (a researcher at Queens College) to create custom Census data sets with more traditional age groupings (i.e. age 30-39 instead of age 25-34, for instance). According to my custom data sets, Wyoming has 7576 college grad men age 22-29 vs. 7766 women (that’s 3% more women than men versus 33% more women nationally). For college grads age 30-39, it’s 7968 men vs 9609 women (20% more women than men vs 23% more women than men nationally). Among college grads age 25-34, Teton County has more men than women. Nationally, it’s about 30% more women than men.
Birger said the dating demographics in Wyoming generally, and Teton County in particular, are much more woman-friendly than the norm. “Ski towns tend to be disproportionately male because the skiing industry is so male. If you buy the book, you’ll find an anecdote about a woman who left NYC for Aspen after years of NYC dating hell. Two weeks after arriving in Aspen, she met her future husband.”
Official Jackson Census.
As of the census of 2010, there were 9,577 people, 3,964 households, and 1,858 families residing in the town. The population density was 3,291.1 inhabitants per square mile. The median age in the town was 31.9 years. 18% of residents were under the age of 18; 11.6% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 43.8% were from 25 to 44; 20.5% were from 45 to 64; and 6.2% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the town was 54.1% male and 45.9% female.
So who wants to build a life together?
So why do so many women complain about the challenge of finding a man who is willing to make a commitment?
Leah Tiscione, a 30-something cartoonist from LA who lived in Whistler for a year says “It’s because the towns are full of transients, they’re there for just the season or two. They’re there to party, not to get serious. LA is just full of mental cases and rampant narcissism, but I think there are more people in LA willing to commit because people are there for work and build lives.”
But when he’s ready to commit the ski town guy is the best.
According to Kim Kircher, a writer and skier from Crystal Mountain, Washington, there are lots of Peter Pans, but when you meet a guy who is ready to commit, he’s better than the average guy.
“In my experience, and that of my friends, many women in ski towns find themselves with underachievers. Or, there’s plenty of single guys, but they don’t want to date them. That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of great guys out there. I found one myself. But I’ve also noticed women who’d rather be single than be with a guy that doesn’t bring much to the table–either emotionally, physically or financially. There’s the old saying, ‘the odds are good, but the goods are odd.’ I still think that might be true in some places.
“On the other hand, there are lots of great guys at ski areas too. They just don’t seem to stay single for very long. That’s just been my experience in my small corner of the ski industry,” Kircher said.
Maybe it’s not Peter Pan but Wendy.
Janessa Nelson is an attractive, red-haired 25-year-old ER medical scribe at PhysAssist Scribes in Eugene, Oregon.
“Let’s give a little history of my dating career to give some background information about myself. I didn’t date a lot when I was younger in middle school/high school, I was nerdy, and weird, and extremely self-conscious,” Nelson said. “Working two jobs, taking large amounts of science classes, being involved in about 4 clubs, etc. I honestly didn’t have time to date anyone.”
And when did you start dating?
“I find myself within a dating pool of older men who don’t shy away as much from an independent, intelligent female. I have seriously dated/had relationships with 3 guys over the last 3 years, but my longest relationship ever lasted 4 months. I have gone on 1 or 2 dates with several different guys in the interim, and had one night stands/flings with several other guys as well.”
Nelson talks about a guy who proclaimed his love for her, followed her around like a puppy dog for months and then up and vanished.
“Other honorable mentions: I’ve been dumped right before Valentine’s Day. I’ve had guys no longer want to date me after we had sex. I’ve had plenty of older men attempt to hit on me, more times than I can count.”
What is causing all of these problems?
“Overall, I have a bad habit of dating assholes. I joke that if he isn’t an asshole, I probably won’t like him. This comes from an underlying problem that is not so much a reflection of the men, but what I am personally attempting to achieve with these relationships. I’ve tried to become better, but it is very subconscious and can be difficult to shed.”
Does it make a difference if he has the same level of education?
In a recent Vice article by Jennifer Schaffer entitled “It’s not your imagination single women: There are literally not enough men out there,” Schaffer addresses the fact that even though there are nationally more women than men, as well as more educated women than men, there are also many women transforming their state of mind regarding relationships. Whether this is because they realize that they don’t need a man to make them happy or because they now in fact have enough external support from their educational backgrounds and professions no tot rely on men for financial security, or a multitude of other reasons, cannot be determined for a whole society. Jon Birger believes “more and more women are deciding to live independent lives and not get married.”
“I have dated all different types of guys,” Nelson said. “The ex-boyfriend from the story above only had a high school education and was working as waiter/bartender. However, I do have a preference for more intelligent, educated guys. Intelligent can come in all shapes and sizes in my opinion, and does not necessarily correlate with education level. But overall, education is a great tool and method to helping weed out the dating pool. A higher level of education does not just illustrate level of intelligence, but also provides a picture of a hardworking, motivated, committed person. If you are able to survive for 4 years studying a difficult subject, it is a great indicator for what kind of person you are.
“The number one thing I am interested in a partner, is someone who will intellectually stimulate me. They do not need to have all of my same hobbies, but they need to be passionate about something. I want a relationship where we push each other to try new things, to think in different ways, to bring interesting ideas and topics to the table.
“Overall, I am really excited and passionate about science, and I want someone who either will share in that passion or will be willing to tolerate my excessive updates/facts about the science world. Overall, I am more likely to find this quality in someone who pursued science in higher education, but that is not always a hard/fast rule.
As for correlation between men and their jobs/interests?
“Sure, there are correlations. I like to think that people attempt to pursue something they are passionate about. Overall, I find the most interesting/fun people are those who are well rounded and are interested in pursuing new, weird things. Currently, I play on a city rec league soccer team with a bunch of Chemistry PhD/grad students. They may like science and typically hole themselves in a lab for most of the week, but they like to be active and social as well.”
Sophia Benoit is a comedian in L.A. working at The Groundlings Theater. She has a degree from the University of Southern California and a sharp, acidic sense of humor.
“The only person I’ve ever dated dropped out of college, partially for financial reasons, but also partially because he didn’t much care one way or another about having a college degree. Which is a death sentence in my family. I told my family that he was older than me by a lot, had a motorcycle, and was a republican WAY BEFORE I told him he didn’t go to college and didn’t plan to go back. I don’t consider myself a snob in most areas– cause who likes to think that about themselves?– but education is probably the biggest area I consider a deal breaker. I just love education as a concept too much. I’m now talking to another guy who didn’t go to college and while I know him to be very intelligent, it still bothers me. I want to date men who can keep up intellectually and honestly, most of them can’t. That’s awful to say. Or at least it sounds awful. But I really don’t think it is.
“I think about one of my sisters saying that to me and I would be like, HELL YEAH! All of my sister’s and I have excelled in school–like valedictorian, high SAT scores, top universities excelled, why should we be ashamed of asking men to keep up? It’s very hard too, in Los Angeles, where some of the “best” jobs require no degree because they’re in creative fields. I know college is an arbitrary measure of intelligence, but there’s a value judgement in it too. My parents are pretty upset that I stopped before grad school– academia runs very deep in my family– and I think at my core I want someone who cares about knowledge too.”
Is Peter Pan Syndrome a side effect of lower education? And if it is does this really present a problem? Jon Birger believes that dating of the future, until more men start getting as many college degrees as women, will be “mixed-collar dating.”
“If there are too many women in the college-educated dating pool, there have to be too many men in the non-college-educated dating pool,” Birger said.
“Indeed, according to American Community Survey data, in 2012 there were 9.4 million single, non-college-educated men age 22-29 in the US versus 7.1 million such women. While research shows that college grads are increasingly unlikely to date and marry non-college grads, I just think it’s inevitable that some of the social bias against dating across educational lines will fade over time. You already see it in the African American community, where the college gender gap is more extreme….
“And for whatever it’s worth, I really hate references to mixed-collar marriages as women ‘lowering their standards,’ ‘compromising,’ ‘dating down,’ etc. My wife and I have a friend from college — an Ivy League-educated teacher — who is married to a working-class guy. They’ve been married 20 years, they’re a great couple, and they’ve raised a great son. The whole notion that she ‘married down’ is offensive. A college degree does not make a guy a better husband (which seems to be the implication of some of the questions I get on this topic from other reporters).”
Where there is hope there is life.
“My experience is a bit unique. I am a long-time ski patroller for 26 years. I was married for the first 7 years or so, then got divorced. I dated a few guys during that time, but not many because I was picky. I dated one guy for a year, then he just left and that was that. After that I was also like, who needs a guy when you have a dog and a pickup truck? I figured I might try to date a weekend warrior, but I was done with guys from the ski area,” Kircher said.
“Then, I met my husband John, who is the GM and owner of Crystal. At first, I didn’t even think we should date because I knew that if it didn’t work out, it would be awkward. But he was everything a girl like me would want–athletic, charming, handsome, adventurous, and most importantly, can hold on an intelligent conversation. I’m not saying that these Peter Pan guys aren’t all that too. But the difference was that John was really into me. He wasn’t afraid of commitment any more than I was. The ski area that I love dearly is his baby. He’s a bit older than me too, and I think that helps. I’m 44 and he’s 57. We just celebrated our 10th anniversary.
“But here’s the thing. Ski areas attract a certain type of person. The women tend to be less conventional in their dreams and desires. Many ski area gals want to break out of long-held expectations. They seem to want to do big things, maybe live the life they’ve always dreamed of but were afraid to try. Patrol gals, for instance, tend to be strong and forthright and badass. Also, in my experience it seems like the women I meet from ski areas are that amazing mix of get-‘er-done efficiency and giddy enthusiasm that draws people to them. Want something done? Ask a ski town gal. She knows how to change a flat, help you file your taxes, work the copy machine in the main office, tune your bike and your skis and she’ll be psyched just to help out. Ski area men, on the other hand, tend to be looking for an escape of a different sort. Many are just looking for a diversion from their lives for a few years and plan to return to “normal life” once they settle down. I’ve seen this a lot, but of course it’s a generalization. I also know quite a few couples that have met at Crystal, gotten married and stayed until at least they had kids and needed to be closer to school, family, community. It just seems that the women who move to a ski town are in it for the long haul, whereas the guys are just looking for a shorter term thing.
“This is why I’m unique, because my husband is even more committed to this ski area than I ever was. He owns it! I know that I’m very lucky to have found such a good one,” Kircher said.
It’s just as bad in the city.
Gagarin Zhao, a psychology and anthropology major at New York University, says NYC is full of career-focused men who want to find the PERFECT one.
“Casual men are usually creative types, or guys in law or finance. I feel like because they’re at two ends of the spectrum, the creative ones are just the way they are and the ones with intense careers would do anything to unwind.. so both end up being the daters who want to keep it casual and smoke weed and overdrink,” Zhao said.
Because everyone is surrounded by so many singles, they always think they can find someone better?
“There’s no commitment, nobody is willing to commit. I have so many guys to booty call but none I could actually date because they don’t even make it seem possible. Like I haven’t been asked out on an actual date in years, it’s just ‘let’s hang,’ ‘let’s chill,’ ‘I’m in the area, wanna grab a drink?’ ”
OK, maybe it’s just our age? Our generation?
This isn’t just men who are interested in pursuing commitment-free relations. “What about intelligent women who choose to have intelligent sex only relationships?
“I feel as though I’m in that stage. I don’t feel the need to date anyone for real right now. I want to have sex with people I enjoy the company of people I like and respect,” Zhao said.
But what if Wendy wants to settle down?
Where should single ladies looking for a traditional, committed relationship go to meet guys?
“Let me preface this by stating the obvious: a 40-year-old single woman with a career, friends and family in Chicago is probably not going to relocate halfway across the country just because the dating demographics may be better some place else. And I am not suggesting that she should. Date-Onomics does not endorse marriage, and I would never, ever suggest that a woman (or a man) cannot live a complete, fulfilling life without ever getting married,” Birger said.
“That said, for a young woman just starting out — about to graduate from college or just starting her career — she might want to make gender ratios a consideration when choosing where to live and work ASSUMING SHE PUTS A VERY HIGH PRIORITY ON HETEROSEXUAL MARRIAGE. By the numbers, far and away the best dating market in the country for young, college-grad women is Santa Clara County, Calif. — better known as Silicon Valley. Santa Clara County (county seat: San Jose) has 38% more never-married men than women among college grads age 22-29.
“One of my arguments in Date-Onomics is that when men are in oversupply, the culture is more likely to emphasize monogamy. You can really see this in the Santa Clara County marriage data from the American Community Survey. In Santa Clara County, among college-educated people age 30 to 39, 78% of the women are married versus 69% nationally, 58% for Chicago and 54% for Los Angeles, 48% in Washington DC, 46% in Boston and 41% for Manhattan. In that same age cohort, only 4% of the Santa Clara County women are divorced or separated versus 9% separated or divorced nationally.”
Ladies need to stick together.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about how women can help each other. We are all part of a sisterhood, and while this is a separate issue, I think we can really help each other. I’m sure in a town where there are few good guys, the gals might get a little jealous and catty. But in the end, it’s your sisters that you’ll bond with the longest,” Kircher said.