Peter Pan Syndrome: Do you have it?

by Michael Kimmel, Psychotherapist

The longer I practice psychotherapy, the more I hear phrases like, “Only young guys turn me on”, “Men my age aren’t attractive to me” or “Being with someone older and more successful than I am terrifies me.” 

These phrases typically fall from the lips of mid-life gay men; I rarely hear them from guys in their 20’s or 30’s.  I wonder if all successful gay/bi/trans guys are destined to be like those rich, narcissistic gay celebrities who - when they find another wrinkle or gray hair or saggy pec - get rid of boyfriend #1 and take up with someone who’s barely legal?  Is how we handle getting older?

Remember Peter Pan?  His theme song was, “I won’t grow up”.  Sound familiar? 

While this may be charming in an animated Disney character, it’s pretty sad in a gay man.  So many mid-life gay men lament:  “I can’t find anyone to date who’s relationship material”.  Is it such a big surprise that someone 20 years’ younger than you isn’t as mature as you are?  Let’s put the puzzle pieces together:  unless you relish the role of perpetual daddy/mentor/teacher, you need a partner who’s a peer, an equal…someone who’s been “around the block” like you have and has comparable life experience.  This is unlikely to be someone 20 years’ younger than you. 

Some mid-life gay or bisexual men say that men like them “do nothing for me”. This is a form of self-hatred.  Why would we reject potential partners who are our age?  Must we hate growing older?  Aging is inevitable…we can fight it (like Joan Rivers or Phyllis Diller) or we can accept it like Paul Newman, Robert Redford and other elder men who were once amazingly beautiful and still are, albeit in a 60- to-80-year-old way. 

Peter Pan never had an adult relationship; adult relationships are hard work.  There’s no botox shot or liposuction procedure to make you or your lover happy all the time.  Real intimacy forces us to look at ourselves and see all of our unresolved shit, not just the carefully-maintained image we show to the world.  One way to avoid real intimacy is by choosing men who are unavailable (emotionally or mentally) or a bad fit psychologically and maturity-wise.  This kind of relationship would please Peter Pan immensely:  he’d never have to deal with grown up problems like the boredom, anger, frustration and impatience that come with adult, long-term relationships.

Almost all of us, myself included, like looking at the youthful bodies of handsome young men: they are aesthetically beautiful, like living works of art.  But what about the beauty of 40-year-old men, 50-year-old men...even 60- and 70-year-old men?  Youth is a wonderful thing, but all too often it’s used to sell us things we really don’t need and, if unexamined, can destroy our self-esteem if we don’t fit the picture of Youthful Gay Perfection.  There’s nothing wrong with finding young guys attractive, but if it prevents us from hooking up with someone hot, handsome and around our own age - someone who could potentially be a good boyfriend/lover/long term partner – than this Peter Pan side of ourselves is not really our friend, after all.  He’s the face of self-sabotage.

Michael Kimmel Psychotherapist


An Ohio native, Michael Kimmel earned a B.A. in personnel and group development from the University of Cincinnati and a Master's Degree in developmental psychology from Sarah Lawrence College.

After moving to San Francisco in the 1980's, he was Clinical Director for the Homeless Children's Network and Clinical Consultant to Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere (aka "COLLAGE") while earning a second Master's Degree from San Francisco State University.  He now resides in San Diego, Cali., where he maintains a private psychotherapy practice and offer workshops for the Southern Californian LGBT community.

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