The Peter Pan Complex

I’ve often been told, as a compliment or accusation, that I was born into the entitlement generation. From this label I’ve inferred that I’m expected to expect, well, everything, while expecting to give as little as possible.

For instance I should expect to be entitled to the best opportunities, jobs, and materials while remaining as free from commitment as is physically possible. While our grandparents committed to their families straight from high school, and our parents straight from college, we can and should satisfy our desires with no marriage, no family, no ties, no 9-5 job.

I’ve watched this individualistic, self-fulfillment doctrine thrive in the attitudes of my contemporaries, and have sensed a subtle disconnection, an unacknowledged dissonance I could best describe as the Peter Pan Effect.

For instance, I sometimes see my generation, with our simple hedonism sans responsibility, stare at responsibility itself with conflicted yearning. We are certain that our libertinism is superior, but cannot account for our longing for what we’ve escaped.

Let me reference a scene from Peter Pan itself.

Peter is watching the Darling family reunion, and Mrs. Darling offers Peter a place in her family if he will give up his entitled freedom.

“‘Would you send me to school?’ He inquired craftily.

‘Yes.’

‘And then to an office?’

‘I suppose so.’

‘Soon I would be a man?’

‘Very soon.’

‘ . . . Keep back, lady, no one is going to catch me and make me a man.’”

But Peter Pan himself, that icon of eternal youth, could not entirely escape the regret I see written on faces all around me. I suppose this final paragraph describing the happiness of the Darling family may summarize all:

“There could not have been a lovelier sight; but there was none to see it except a little boy who was staring in at the window. He had had ecstasies innumerable that other children can never know; but he was looking through the window at the one joy from which he must be forever barred.”

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