I am a romantic: completely, hopelessly, and wistfully. As such I, along with others like me, began dreaming of “my perfect love story” at an early age.
Growing up, many of us in this generation were raised on Disney. We wanted to be princesses and have a magical fairy godmother to solve our problems. Then we grew up a bit, and reality hit; and man, did it hit hard. As that happened we started watching love stories better suited to our age-range, less pixie dust and more….manic. We no longer wanted to be dainty princesses waiting for prince charming; we wanted to be the fiery girl saving our prince charming from himself. We had a new goal: the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (or MPDG).
Writer, Nathan Rabin, who created the term, defined the MPDG as the female archetype that “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.” You may remember this character more familiarly as Kirsten Dunst’s character in Elizabethtown or Natalie Portman’s character in Garden State. (Some also consider Zooey Deschanel’s character in 500 Days of Summer to be a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but I disagree, and consider her an anti-MPDG if anything.)
The MPDG is spontaneous, cool, thoughtful and weird, but in all the right ways. Her existence itself is fevered, and she’s the type that, in the words of Neil Young would prefer “to burn out [rather] than fade away.” We have crushes on her, want to be her. But maybe what we strive for most in reference to her is the ability she has to fix the broken boy.
We’ve all come across that guy, the one with his issues, guarded personality. Maybe he’s even a complete jerk, but underneath that is a heart of gold; we just know it. In the movies and books, the manic pixie dream girl teases that good heart out of him, teaches him to trust the universe again. And, boy, do we want that magical ability, especially in today’s world of cynicism and mundanity.
I mean just imagine how amazing a romance that would be, how fulfilling. Not only would we get the guy to open up, but we’d do it in style: spontaneous road trips halfway across the country, breaking into an amusement park after closing, spending the day pretending to be royalty from another country. It would be….well, like the movies.
Because it’s a fantasy. Yes, we may have one or two moments like that, and that’s what some of us live for. There’s nothing wrong with living for the movie perfect moments. However, we can’t let ourselves get completely wrapped up in that either. We can’t go about acting like we can fix a person as if it’s a movie plot. That’s not the way it works in the real world.
This idea of sacrificing ourselves in our devotion for love, especially such a selfless kind, is so utterly caustic and detrimental. We have to pay as much care to ourselves, as we do the guy we consider the broody protagonist in the story of our romance. Hell, we should at least be sharing that role with him; it should be just as much our story as his. And that’s one of the issues with the MPDG; she lacks her own story. She’s all mystery, and no substance. We must strive for more!
Another thing we forget is that the manic pixie dream girl rarely gets the guy, because she has a higher purpose: to fix more people. So we don’t really want to be her, to never settle down with our dream boy. We don’t want to know what happens to them after the credits, let alone live it.
So next time you find yourself trying to be someone’s manic pixie dream girl, remember this: she’s an archetype for a reason. Don’t be her. Be you! Don’t try to fix the guy, just be there for him, show him who you are, and the rest should fall into place. If it doesn’t, well then maybe he wasn’t your dream guy after all. (Because, spoiler alert, you deserve someone who likes you for who you are, not who you’re trying to be.)