"What The Manic Pixie Dream Girl Fantasy Does To Men"
CREDIT: Flickr user Colin Fahrion
One perk of writing a dating advice blog, especially one for geeky guys is that my readers will send me links to various interesting dating related blog posts, news stories and the occasional random meme or YouTube video. Like a normal person, I’m always amused by the cultural experiment that is the Craigslist Missed Connections section, so I was doubly intrigued when one of my regular readers sent me a link to a Brooklyn man’s post titled “Imaginary Girlfreind (sic). Do you exist? – m4w – 25 – m4w – 25”
According to the anonymous gentlemen, he and his imaginary girlfriend have been together since he was 12. She’s six feet tall with her black hair cropped into a a pixie cut with sallow skin (…um, I don’t think that means what you think it means sir. Or your imaginary girlfriend has Hep B.) and friendly eyes. She’s into Japanese Math Rock (bwuh?) AND the Goo Goo Dolls and photography (sure), dresses well but “doesn’t let hipster culture define anything she does” (Er… ok). She’s looks like Shannyn Sossamon, loves to make him salmon and melon, and her name is Zoe (because of course it is).
I have to admit that this is a first for me: I don’t think I’ve ever seen somebody try to create a Tulpa via Craigslist before. Which I’m going to have to use in a story at some point, so nobody steal this. But when it comes right down to it, what lover boy is looking for is the quintessential Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
Now it’s tempting to make fun of the guy, to pick apart the fantasy, to point out that this isn’t a person so much as a collection of fetishes. But to be perfectly honest, I find it kind of sad. Not because of his oddly specific fantasy woman (no, seriously, what’s with the sallow skin?), but because of what she represents.
When you’re a lonely, socially awkward guy who wasn’t blessed with natural charisma or an instinctual grasp of the intricacies of social dynamics, you tend to feel lost and confused trying to navigate the world of romance and dating. You define yourself as a “hopeless romantic” because what you’re in love with the idea of love — you have so little experience in it that the idea of a relationship becomes fetishized.
At the same time, you begin to believe that you can only relate to a very particular kind of woman. Someone who loves you, not despite your quirks or your non-mainstream interests but because of them. Someone who retroactively justifies all of society’s scorn because she’s proof that they’re just jealous of your specialness. She sees the potential within you and unlocks it, dragging you through a veritable smorgasborg of new and wonderful experiences.
Oh. And there’s sex too.
Enter the Manic Pixie Dream Girl: the quirky gamine with a charming disregard for social norms and obscure interests who’s there to make you cooler by being the supporting actress in the movie of your life. She’s Gisele from Enchanted. She’s Monique in Better Off Dead, Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly and Zooey Deschanel as damn near everyone she’s ever played.
Now here’s why I find the whole thing somewhat sad: A lot of virtual ink has been spilled about how the MPDG is a fantasy figure who makes men better. But for men who long for a real one like our Brooklyn friend here, what she represents is surrender.
The flesh and blood men who long for a real-life MPDG of their very own want her because they believe they have no agency in their own lives. They know at some level that they’re bored and drab and ordinary. They long to be more interesting and dynamic, but they can’t do it themselves. They have essentially given up all hope of self-improvement. They’re looking for someone else to give them permission to be the guy they’ve always wanted to be because they can’t accomplish it on their own. They’re praying to find somebody whose boldness counteracts their repression, who can break through their suppressed emotions and bring the drama that he feels is lacking in his life.
In the movies, all of this would be accomplished over a series of cutesy montages set to a She and Him song. He would resist at first but be won over by her charm and innocent-yet-worldly sex appeal. As he slowly comes around to her way of thinking and seeing the world in a new way, the story would culminate with a completely manufactured and easily resolved conflict and end in quirky connubial bliss. Cue credits, fade to black, and never another thought would be paid to their lives over the years.
In the real world…well, frankly it wouldn’t happen at all.
There would be no reason for her to be attracted to him in the first place: despite what we have been told over and over again, opposites don’t attract. But if the stars happened to align just right, then it would be a firework in the night sky — short and explosive. At best, the guy would resent being dragged out of his comfort zone and forced to endure increasingly awkward and uncomfortable interactions with people he has nothing in common with. He would roll his eyes at her “quirky” interests. He would get exasperated at the constant drama that makes up her every day. There would be fights. Things would be said — deep, cutting things that he would regret as soon as he said them but could never take back — and he would be back exactly where he was before. A little sadder, but no wiser and certainly no cooler.
This is the problem with the writer’s “Imaginary Girlfreind [sic]”: she’s supposed to make him better via the transitive properties of coolness because he believes he can’t accomplish it himself.
There’s a saying in dating advice circles: be the person you want to date. This means that if you want to find the quirky indie sylph of your dreams, you have to be someone who fits into her world, not expecting her to magically transform you out of the goodness of her heart. The first step for a man who wants to find someone who could even come close to the noise-rock loving Shannyn Sossamon clone of his dreams would be to quit looking for somebody else to do the heavy lifting for him. Most people have a hard enough time managing their own lives. Expecting them to be responsible for yours as well is an insane and absurd level of pressure to put on a person.
Take charge of your own life, learn how to fill the void on your own instead of needing someone else to do it for you and you’ll find that you don’t need some ideal quirky dream girl; you’ll find one who’s wonderfully imperfect and delightfully real.