The Manic Pixie Dream Girl—an elusive fairy of a woman, whose quirky personality traits help pull the dull and jaded male out from his boring 9-5 cubicle and out into a colourful world of glitter and indie rock concerts. She is a dream made reality; made out of the pages of beat poetry anthologies and adventurous notions. But above all, she is a plot device.
There are staple Manic Pixie Dream Girls in film and fiction. Amongst the most notable are Natalie Portman’s character in Garden State, Penny Lane from Almost Famous and Belle, from Beauty and the Beast. They are one-dimensional, shallow and only serve to further the male protagonists development—and I was one in real life.
First I’ll clarify: I was not actually a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. That would be impossible since we’re all humans with individual human experiences. No, I was a Manic Pixie Dream Girl in the minds of a few unhappy and naïve boys. They saw me as a vessel for which they could pour all their hopes and dreams into and deny me my own character development. It was never obvious at the time, but looking back I feel rather silly seeing as one of the boys even went so far as to call me “his Penny Lane”… that should have been a red flag.
None of these relationships, if you could even call them that, ended up particularly well. In fact, some ended up pretty damn bad. But they make for good stories, so here we go.
I was 18 and feeling pretty angsty about myself, men and life. At the time I felt it to be incredibly depressing that I hadn’t had a boyfriend since I was 15, although in retrospect it’s actually pretty normal and probably healthy. My band and I were packing up after a regional RockQuest show and chatting to some of the other bands about afterparties, and places to go as we were all high on adrenaline with bass drums still pounding in our ears.
I was talking to a guy I had known since the first RockQuest we entered and the conversation was drawing to a close. I chose my last sentence and it hung in the air for a moment before he blurted out: “I’ve had a crush on you since the first RockQuest.”
Suffice to say, it was a little out of the blue, especially since it wasn’t like we ever saw each other.
“Uh...I’ve always thought you were pretty cool, too…” I countered, trying to decide whether or not I was attracted to this boy enough to engage him in courtship (like birds on Animal Planet, I thought—I was bad at boys). I decided it was worth it and for months we played a really horrible and absolutely not fun game of Excuses Not To Get Together. I don’t recommend it.
Adult Me looks at this game and shakes her head. She is ashamed of Younger Me and tells her she should have broken it off straight away the first couple of times he made excuses. But I was sad and naïve and thought he’d come around eventually, even when I moved out of town. He’d send me texts explaining all the things he liked about me and I thought that was nice. When I was in town he would invite me around and force me to watch Final Fantasy movies because of that one time I mentioned I had played Final Fantasy 12. Then he’d get out the giant FF handbooks he had and read to me which was awesome-- wait, no it wasn't. I was nearly 19 at this point and all I wanted to do was hang out and drink and fool around. But that wasn't all—when he found out I was half-Thai he would constantly bring up how much he thought Asian women were beautiful and—get this—how he was still in love with his Japanese ex-girlfriend that spoke no English.
So I cut it off, right? Wrong (I am so embarrassed). I let him continue to fetishize my race, and send me updates on how he was doing whilst playing through all of the Final Fantasy games for the millionth time, or telling me how cool it was for a girl to play Pokémon (let’s be serious here, women are probably the majority of the sales). It wasn't until he told me he’d be angry at me if I did burlesque and let other men see me “in that way” that I thought, “NO. NOPE. NO ONE TELLS ME WHAT TO DO.”
That was that. Maybe he was sad, I don’t know. All I know is every so often he’d text me, presumably whilst drunk, and tell me that playing Pokémon reminded him of me. Uh, thanks, good for you.
He had very obviously made me into an entirely different person. One that was exclusive to him, and him only. That shared all of his interests and never did anything he didn't approve of. I was his shiny Pokémon.
The next guy was a mess. I had been friends with him for years, and we’d often go on road trips and adventures together in the summer. It was cool, and nothing was weird. Then he started showing up at my house unannounced. All the time.
At first I thought it was okay; totally spontaneous and cool. But then it started to get annoying, because I am a human and enjoy being told when I’m not going to have the space I thought I was getting. I started being the only one he could depend on, as he’d show up to my house with a bottle of spirits and we’d get drunk and he’d rant and rant about how victimized he was by so-and-so and how cool I was “for a girl” because other girls are so mean and all that other completely untrue stuff. I’d just drink deeper and nod my head because there was absolutely no getting through to him.
One day he text me to ask me to be his girlfriend. I text back asking if it was a joke… it wasn't. So I politely declined and then poof! He disappeared from my life for about 3 months only to return in the form of a drunken Facebook message about how he can’t get over me and he loves me and we should be friends again. Yes I was annoyed our friendship seemed to be only on his terms but I’m stupidly really nice and was just happy to have one less bridge burned.
So the unannounced visits started again. This time I had moved out of home and I was able to shrug him off onto other flatmates when he started his ranting. He would leave me presents in my letterbox, and once he hid an entire box full of stuff in my house for me to find (bottle of spirits, chocolates, a copy of Brave New World because he lost my other copy). I told him I couldn't accept it out of courtesy even though I really deep down wanted all of those things and fortunately for me he told me to keep them, and I owed him nothing. HOW SILLY I WAS.
At a New Year’s rave I hooked up with some guy I had met on the first night. He was cute and mature and perfect for a 3 day hook-up with no strings attached. I felt things were looking up for me and I was looking forward to having my New Year’s be full of fun, dancing and forgetting all the troubles of the past year. But my ranty little friend decided this wasn't to be the case. Why, you ask? Oh, only because he saw me cuddling with my festival hook-up and decided that getting angry at me was a cool and adorable thing to do. I was sharing a bottle of whiskey with him and another friend when Cute Festival Guy came over and was obviously affectionate towards me. My friend suddenly got quiet, then he took off with my booze (which I am still angry about). My brain went uh oh but I decided not to go after him because I was here to have fun, dammit, so instead I made out with Cute Festival Guy a bit. Later on in the night my-- now very drunk-- friend pulled me aside and started slurring angrily at my face.
Things like, “I thought we had something!” and “but I’ve been so nice to you!” got tossed around. He even called me a slut once or twice, which was definitely not nice, contrary to his previous evaluation of his behaviour. I calmly kept trying to explain that we were just friends, we've had this talk before, and how this was not a conversation to be having in his state. He yelled profanities at me for a bit longer before stumbling off and passing out in a bush.
Turns out he did regret it the next morning and he apologized. Then I didn't see him for a couple of months. This kept on happening until he finally got over me a year and a half later and I still even now get messages from him listing all the qualities he thinks I have and why that makes me so awesome to him.
The main thing here was that every time I did something that went against his image of me, it was (in his mind) to hurt him and it always made him angry. That is not normal and it is not nice and he was most definitely thinking of me as his Manic Pixie Dream Girl who would take him by the hand and save him from himself. I hate to say that although he moved on from me, it wasn't into a happier state of mind—it was to another girl; his behaviour so erratic, delusional and obsessive that she had a restraining order put on him.
Yet, writers and film makers everywhere are still encouraging the trope of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl like it's no big deal and men everywhere are buying into it and taking it at face value. These weren't my only experiences with being an illusion to desperate boys (I use the word ‘boy’ intentionally) but they were the ones I let go on for too long because I thought they catered to my insecurities. Trust me, they didn't, not in the long run at least. In order to help you figure out if you’re somebody’s Manic Pixie Dream Girl, I've compiled a short list:
- They always are keen to talk about their feelings but never yours. They boil this down to you being the only one that understands, and because you’re a good listener. Even if you aren’t, and even if you don’t really understand.
- They always tell you how cool you are and list off qualities that are only relevant to them. Your opinions and feelings usually never get mentioned in this list.
- They actually seem to worship you, not just admire you. This is not endearing, this is obsessive and creepy.
- They get angry when you do something you find totally normal and within your character but that they personally don’t like. They didn’t list that, remember? Stop doing that (don’t stop doing that).
- You actually feel like you have to live up to the person they’ve created. At this point, you already know, so stop denying it and cut their lifeline. You deserve to be treated way better.
It’s a learning curve, and will probably happen to you at least once in your life but remember: you don’t have to be someone’s Manic Pixie Dream Girl because there is someone out there that will love most of you and tolerate the rest (seriously, that’s what a good relationship is).
If you're after films where a man's Manic Pixie Dream Girl turns out to be a real person much to the dismay of the protagonist, I suggest 500 Days of Summer and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.▼