As a tall busty blonde girl with glasses I was quickly slotted into a very specific female archetype, nothing like the Manic Pixie Dream Girls. Honestly, I always assumed that these cutesy women with vintage records addictions, bipolar tendencies and erratically adventurous stories were a thing that society created when they were too lazy to imagine and create a woman with actual personality. And to a certain point, that is totally true.
The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a pop-culture cliché coined by critic Nathan Rabin in his review of the 2005 film, Elizabethtown. His description of the bubbly and cheerful flight attendant played by Kirsten Dunst stuck, and has been used to define women cinematically (Natalie Portman, Audrey Hepburn, ) and more recently (and tragically) to define (gasp.WTF!) real life women like Zooey Deschanel. No, not the characters played by ZD, which undeniably fall square in the MPDG camp, but her real life personality. or lack there of according to the definition.
Rabin claimed that the MPDG “exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries.” Is this starting to sound familiar? Maybe you’ve got a friend, or ex that sounds like this lovely girl. or is it you?
I think Matteson Perry sums her up most concisely. “Though often perky, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl will be troubled as well. She straddles the narrow line between quirky and crazy, mysterious and strange, sexy and slutty; she is perfectly imperfect. And that imperfection is the key, because a Manic Pixie Dream Girl must be messed up enough to need saving, so the powerless guy can do something heroic in the third act.” And of course he knows more than any woman could, what she looks like, because the MPDG exists mostly in the fantasy-life of these boring-ass men.
She is not a person, but a collection of ironic quirks, and inevitably an opportunity for a man-child to prove he is capable of love. Even just for a moment. And then, cut to the credits.
But where things get really messy for me is where this cinematic archetype meets real fucking life.
One of my new fave people, Laurie Penny, argued that the ubiquity of this generic character in mainstream movies has real-world implications. “Men grow up expecting to be the hero of their own story,” Penny writes. “Women grow up expecting to be the supporting actress in somebody else’s.”
The reason I am writing this story is because I have talked to a dozen women over the last few months, all of whom self identify as Manic Pixie Dream Girls and are seeking advice on how to break the habits that come with this stereotype being thrust on you. These are some of my best friends, women with depth and value, who define themselves by the few surface quirks that make them MPDGs. They always seem to find boring, handsome men and take them on long unexpected adventures. Then things fall apart. Literally – like clockwork.
I’m writing this for those girls. Girls who in their teens fit the general physical profile; small, attractive, bookish and sexually charged. Naturally, as they looked around searching for self identity as a high school artsy outcast, the characteristics of the MPDG just fit. At first the role is a fun one, constant road trips, late night dance parties, the power of being able to order a drink immediately at even the busiest bar, being able to captivate a group of guys with amazing stories, keeping them on the edge of their seats while their girlfriends wait jealously to take them home. Living this life is exciting and there is constant dreaminess and awe in the chase of the ultimate “good time”.
But MPDG relationships thrive in a 120 minute movie, and fail in anything longer, mostly because these hilarious quirks have dangerous counterparts. There is a wildly addictive quality in knowing that you can have any man that you want. Even the ones that are taken. The fact that adventure and stability are often at odds in reality. That mysteriousness is not sustainable in a longterm relationship. In order to keep the balance of a relationship you must constantly be creating and resolving drama just to save each other and maintain status quo.
Laurie Penny speaks from the heart as a recovering MPDG “No one ever really gets to know the MPDG – she is speculated about and brooded upon, but never explored, its the mystery and irony that makes her….her. I’m fascinated by this character and what she means to people, because the experience of being her – of playing her – is so wildly different than it seems to appear from the outside.”
I wish there was a quick fix. As if it was as simple as shouting to the world “Stop here. Stop now. You are not a character in a Mark Webb movie, you are not defined by your record collection or what books you read. You are a human with amazing personality and some flaws. Not ironic flaws, but real, actual flaws. You have a history and more importantly, you have a future. Something most MPDG’s never get in the movies.”
It doesn’t work that way, believe me, I’ve screamed those words to a friend.
I am not going to go into the real life longterm implications of dating a MPDG’s. Matteson Perry does a perfect job of telling that story in the Times. But I worry because that inevitable struggle to overcome the MPDG character and allow yourself to be a person is not an easy one.
The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is just that. A girl. And in order to be a grown woman capable of emotional and sexual intelligence you have to create a path out of the character and into real life. Here are the things you can do to embrace your external MPDG and your internal grown woman.
Write Your Own Story – Even if It’s a Boring One
Being a grown woman means choosing long-lasting happiness over having a flash in the pan moment of bliss. Choosing what is healthy over what is exciting. It doesn’t replace it all together, but priorities change, especially regarding relationships. The complaint I hear most often from MPDG is they continue to fall for men in relationships. They have a connection that supercedes practicality and faithfulness. They follow passion and end up hurt. No shit. That is something we all feel, but a grown woman follows her conscious above your libido.
There is one familiar thread tying together every MPDG relationship. And I hear it constantly. “We fell hard and fast. Everything moved so quickly and naturally and when we’re together it feels electric.” That feeling makes for great TV, but in normal life is a huge red flag. It means you’ve ditched the idea that closeness and intimacy come from getting to know each other for who you really are, and a sign that you both have simple put your most appealing cards on the table and assumed the best. Slow your roll kids.
You’re not a grab bag of quirks
You don’t get to pick and choose which characteristics make up YOU. Get to know your partner as a person beyond their likes and dislikes. Their favorite band and ability to cook great waffles are a great topic of conversation, but not the goo that holds a relationship together. And more importantly, let them get to know you beyond your cute wardrobe and the 10 things you posted on your online profile. You’ll never know if they truly know or love you unless you give them the chance, and this happens over time.
Change your opening line
The MPDG knows the script by heart. The exact words to get a man’s attention and the monologue that gets a guy to shed his inhibitions and follow her on a life changing adventure. You will no doubt change his world, but what do you get? Lead with a new line and tell your story the way it is actually happening, not the way it would sound in a movie. Be open and vulnerable and share your quirks along with your reality. Share your incredible music tastes, but also the journey you took to find that music.
Relationships are NOT entertainment
Before you get into a relationship with anyone, (and yes, perhaps taking 5 minutes between relationships is the best thing for you) ask yourself “Why?”. Women tend to focus on “what” they want in a man. But never ask themselves “Why”, It’s the most important question. Are you looking for someone to have fun with? Who will share in your adventure? Who you can teach to have fun? Who you can lean on as a partner? The MPDG’s I have helped work through this issue, often say they become addicted to the feeling of changing someone or they secretly love the feeling of seeing someone truly enjoy life after (or during) a hard relationship. But really the relationship they want for themselves is almost the complete opposite.
They say they want a relationship with a man who can help support them through depression, anxiety and insecurity that comes with being an MPDG, but they never give their partners a chance to see their vulnerability. A relationship is not entertainment. It’s a powerful and emotionally invested partnership. You are a valuable and vulnerable being. Own that! You need to ask for the things you need along with offering the wonders of your exciting lifestyle. Expect a great partner in return, not someone who merely benefits from your awesomeness.
Change your ending
Have you actually watched the last 30 minutes of most of these movies? But they rarely end well for the MPDG, although they always end for the men. Some die, some vanish into the ether, continuing on their path of adventure and sex. Some are saved by the men that they saved and settle down to live their life as a quirky housewife. But you don’t need saving.
Although the pairing in the movie makes sense in the first 90 minutes, the boring nerdy male protagonist and the Manic Pixie Dream Girl aren’t right for each other. Go find someone who is more interesting than you. Who understands that listening to you tell a great story is only half as fun as creating a new story WITH you. Who likes their own music and challenges you on yours. Who reads books by people you’ve never heard of and doesn’t make you feel bad about it.
Find someone who speaks your language and lives your kind of life. A person who brings you stability but is a source of creativity and excitement. You don’t need to leave the country (or the house) to find a thrill with these men. They exist everywhere and are probably dating a boring girl, showing her how to build her own off-the-grid cabin and taking her to an underground concert that she’ll never appreciate.
Opposites attract in the movies. But if it hasn’t worked for you. Maybe you need a Manic Pixie Dream Boy.
image source: Tumblr