Saying Goodbye to Neverland

When do you say goodbye to childhood and begin adulthood?

It’s Sunday morning and I’m racing on my mountain bike in the verdant trails of Long Island with my significant other – forgetting the past and future, living for the unadulterated thrill of the moment.

The statement, “I live for the weekends” is an understatement. The weekend is the only break in the mundanity of the 9 to 5, a respite when I can cast aside adult responsibilities and spoil my inner child. Because at sundown on Sunday, paradise is over and adulthood resumes – bills, student loans, financial concerns, and the unfulfilling job that I dread every morning.

Many people consider adulthood as a collection of life events such as moving away from your parents, getting a job, having kids, etc. So I guess I’m an adult now, even though I feel like a confused child lumbering around in grown up shoes.

I’m Wendy Darling and the gates to Neverland are closing.

People say that the twenties are a difficult time. Hell yeah, it is difficult – emerging from the sheltered foliage of teenagedom into the uncertain terrain of adulthood, who wouldn’t be stressed and confused? The twenties is a high stakes period in which every mistake or indecision could culminate in a mediocre life trajectory that our parents warned us about. All the while, we are poor (well, many of us), unfulfilled, angsty, lonely, stressed, confused, and lost.

The twenties are also when dreams begin to die, settling like dust within the sad cubicles or in the darkness of unemployment. I have many sleepless nights wondering if this is all I’ll ever be in the span of my life; my worth measured by the trite triumphs in a tiny niche role at a big, faceless organization. At this point, I don’t give a shit about cupcake birthdays at the office – my life, as aptly put by Palahniuk, is “ending one minute at a time”, surrounded by people I don’t like, doing things I don’t want to do, and killing dreams one bite at a time.

No wonder we are drunk little shits. Here we are, straight out of college, with our roaring aspirations stomped to the gutter like crushed cigarettes, wondering if our  mediocre lives are temporary stepping stones to the wild success that our generation was promised. Because we were raised with the notion that we are special; the twinkling stars in the tepid night. Ah the pains of budding adulthood, of leaving Neverland. So I drink my solace in a bottle. May cheap inebriation deliver us from the bleakness of reality, amen.

Maybe we don’t want to leave Neverland.

Eternal boy, eternal girl. Puer aeternus; the twenty-something-year-old children with back pains and dark circles under their eyes frolicking in the pastures of juvenescence.

Picture this: a 29-year-old drinking expensive coffee and attending meetings during the day, then coming home to watch “Naruto” and read comic books in bed. This would have been strange decades ago, but recent generations reshaped the significance of adulthood into something more fluid.

We are the Peter Pan generation.

This modern culture of immaturity is pervasive in the media, from the caricatural man-child on the big screens (Mark Wahlberg, Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler), to the marketing pitches (Casper, Thinx, Uber) that utilize simplified and internet-ified lingo to reach Millennials. “Harry Potter” and “Divergent” line our bookshelves, the gaming industry heavily targets Millennials, and popular comic book heroes dominate the theaters; giving dimension to our juvenescent fantasies, allowing us to relive and immortalize childhood. Even Faber-Castell, the popular coloring pencil manufacturer, experienced a boom in sales and shortage of pencils during the adult coloring book craze worldwide.

Today’s 25-year-old is basically an 18-year-old. Compared to the same age in our parents’ generation, the modern 25-year-old is significantly more likely to still be in school, living at home, getting financial support from parents, and playing video games. Maybe our socioeconomic dynamic, the college-debt-underemployment-housing-bubble situation, played a role in our delayed adulthood. So maybe it’s not entirely our fault that we want to stay at home and watch “Adventure Time” instead of buying a house or having kids.

“There was this thing called Peter Pan complex, where you know Peter Pan never grows up. This was a very attractive thing to English and American men (and women too) who found themselves in often long boring jobs, working in offices and feeling sort of unfulfilled by the sort of the forced maturity that they were put in. So, it has been around a lot and for long time that it’s kind of quest for childhood or retaining it or it’s kind of a secret pleasure.” – Dr Gary Cross, The Art of Manliness Podcast Episode 14.

So I live for the weekend where I can pack some youthful pleasures within the cracks of my adult routine. I gallivant in the virtual pastures of Skyrim (thanks, Bethesda), watch cartoons in bed, collect Magic the Gathering cards, and go on biking adventures with my boyfriend on the weekends, coming home muddy and hungry at sundown like ten-year-olds.

It’s not a cultural regression. It’s not an act of rebellion; it’s an act of self discovery. It’s arguably an extended period of growth.

If brain plasticity is maintained by staying engaged in new, demanding and cognitively stimulating activity, and if entering into the repetitive and less exciting roles of worker and spouse helps close the window of plasticity, delaying adulthood is not only O.K.; it can be a boon. – Laurence Steinberg, “The Case for Delayed Adulthood”

Maybe watching teen flicks isn’t exactly a demanding and cognitively stimulating activity, but perhaps the act of seeking novelty is connected to our continued development. It’s also an assertion that maybe, age is just a number and the responsibilities forced unto us don’t necessarily kill dreams or change who we are. Perhaps we never truly leave Neverland – we just learn to accept how things are and claim responsibility for things that we can change.

So with my mountain bike hanging over the peak of a muddy hill, the ride bumpy and uncertain below, I grip the handles and push off. Within the precious minutes is an infinity of youth and freedom.