Dating in your early twenties is anything but simple. Complications of fuck buddies, falling in love with your friends, trying to figure out who the fuck you even are… it’s no walk in the park. As a 22-year-old woman, I’ve had an especially difficult go at it.
I keep finding myself in a box, playing out versions of the same scenarios time and time again with every person I date. It feels as though I am continuously auditioning for the tired role of Manic Pixie Dream Girl in these men’s lives.
What is a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, you ask?
It’s a title you may not be familiar with, but I’m sure you’ve seen it in most of your favorite indie films. Most commonly known as the one-dimensional female protagonist, the MPDG’s main plot device is to help the “lonely boy” lead character rediscover his love for life and love itself.
The term was first coined by film critic Nathan Rabin, in which he stated that a Manic Pixie Dream Girl is the female character who “exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.”
For example, consider Sam from Garden State, Summer from 500 Days of Summer, Ramona from Scott Pilgrim vs World, and Claire from Elizabethtown. All of these women have, in some way, helped their respective male leads through their respective hardships by finding their purpose in life and the true meaning of love. These women are the catalysts to the character development of their male counterparts.
The men in my past relationships have made me feel the same — as though I exist only to advance their personal ambitions, with little to no regard of the fact that I might even have my own.
In my past relationships, whether we ended up dating or not, I found myself constantly taking on the role of teacher. My outspoken personality, openness in my sexual explorations, ambitious goals, and inappropriate kind of humor has peaked interest and garnered attention.
So, what usually happens is that I spend a few weeks on dates with these men and I can genuinely say I teach and share with them experiences about love, life, travel, relationships and sex. I’m not saying I teach them how to do these things, but I do provide a different perspective on these topics. Not only that, but as someone who studies and works within the art world, I spend a lot of my time exposing these men to the deeper connections we have with art, music, politics and people. Despite these interactions, I’m always left feeling empty-handed and overworked. I feel like a toolbox used exclusively to teach and to educate, to better these men so that they can move on to serious relationships. After all, a Manic Pixie Dream Girl doesn’t stay around for long.
MPDGs have an expiration date based on their tolerability and by the level of how much “help” the man needs. They function as the mechanism which allows the men to reach their goals of heroism. This, of course, is based off of all that they now “know” and have experienced. Despite taking on this laborious role, seldom is credit given when it’s due for the development in the man’s character. Because of this one-dimensional skew in the MPDG complex, the viewer is invited to forget about these women’s (extremely understated) relevance.
The worst part is that at the end of the relationship or dates, it was THEIR love story, not yours. The MPDG doesn’t get to talk about her experience in the relationship because she isn’t considered a part of the relationship. It’s as if our perceived fundamental purpose is to care solely about others. I am putting myself in this box not because I believe that I belong there, but because I have been placed there. I’m not guessing that I am this character; I’ve been told.
One person in particular comes to mind who treated me this way: T******.
We had talked for a few months and I quickly started to really enjoy all the time we spent together. However, I could tell that he had projected the MPDG complex onto me and looked at me the way Tom looked at Summer.
He admired all that I was and all that I did. He loved my art and the way I spoke. However, things ended very soon after they started because I was “too much” for him. A week after we stopped talking, he got back into a relationship with his ex that he had complained about during the entirety of our relationship. I ran into him a few months later at a bar, only for him to pull me aside and thank me for all I had shown him. Although the gesture was sweet, all I could think about was how despite everything I was and wanted to be for him, he decided to be with someone who was nothing like me. He got a taste of me before fleeing back to his comfort zone of predictability.
There was also J***.
J*** and I saw each other on and off for the first few weeks. Things didn’t really work out, but we ended up staying friends. One time while we were out, I bluntly asked him why he thought it didn’t work between us. He told me that “although I am very unique, no one wants to date a girl who seems wavering in her actions.” In other words, because I was constantly working, trying to meet new people, going out — adventuring, one might say — it didn’t make for a dependable or serious partner.
People think that if you use copious amounts of glitter on your eyelids, dye your hair pink, and unironically listen to The Smiths — you shouldn’t be taken seriously. Audiences see these types of women as “a good time” but not “a long time.” Because just as easily as hair dye fades, so does the Manic Pixie Dream Girl complex. After a few weeks, these men will realize that it isn’t a show; this is who you are. Yeah, you’re weird — but you’re also so much more, but they aren’t willing to dig deeper. They have already experienced as much as they could handle, not knowing how much more you had to give.
We must stop the perpetuation and idolization of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl in films. I am not going to change who I am, but I will be more aware of the roles I audition for. I will redefine my strong female character, not as the stepping stone of men, but instead, as an intricate and evolving lead character.
I am not an accessory. I am not a muse. I am my own artist.
Gif via Giphy/Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Photos (in order of appearance) by Francesca Lacono and Dariana Portes.