It’s been a while. I’m going to try to ease back into writing by tackling a topic that’s light–or maybe not so light.
The Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
I saw a post on the MPDG on Medium recently, and it piqued my interest. I know the term because one night, looking for something to watch, I came across Ruby Sparks, which contains the ultimate the MPDG, and was interested enough in the concept that I clicked on IMDB. In that film, the MPDG is literally the creation of a sad male.
Sad males are key to the notion of MPDGs. Here’s a list of a few MPDGs:
The latter two are a fascinating comment on the 1960s, the first having been released in 1961, wherein the MPDG’s neediness finally drives her into the arms of her wanna-be lover, the last in 1969, where the lovers part ways forever. There are, of course, hundreds more (see: 500 Days of Summer, a film that includes at least two MPDGs).
What defines an MPDG? She’s outrageous. She is winsome. She’ll challenge you to steal something small; she’ll drink and party wildly (but in almost all cases, remain romantically faithful to you). She’s usually younger than you are and strikingly–though often unconventionally–attractive (but not always–see, e.g., Maude in Harold and Maude). She’s quirky. She’s Suzanne by Leonard Cohen (“she is wearing rags and feathers from Salvation Army counters”). She is sometimes doomed, usually by some hidden disease that will never disfigure her or waste her body. She is an ideal. She’s needy. She’s fun. And she doesn’t exist.
You might think she exists. As a male (or, I suppose, as someone who loves women) you might try to make her exist. Don’t. It’s not healthy for her and it’s not healthy for you.
When I was in high school, I knew some real life MPDGs. One in particular I longed for. She was most of the things in the definition above (though not doomed). It was a couple of years before I figured out that she was an actual person, not the image I had created. In college, I fell hard for another MPDG. With her, I felt totally liberated–I remember dashing up to a tank outside a military base with her and stuffing flowers into its muzzle. Something I would never have done otherwise. Graduate school, again.
Why do we fall in love with MPDGs? Part of it has to do with how we see ourselves. If you’re a sad male–even if you’re physically strong, like the Beast–you want to be rescued. You want an MPDG to find you and pull you out of your shell. The MPDG who showed up at my apartment unannounced one night with a bottle of red wine pulled me out of a long dry spell of depression (the male who creates MPDGs will readily identify with this Simon & Garfunkel song). So there’s that.
But more than that, MPDGs are the people with whom we become infatuated. And in that infatuation, we feel we have permission to act in ways that we want to act, but have never had the nerve to act. Stuffing flowers in that gun? It wasn’t so far from my beliefs. But that particular infatuation gave me–and perhaps her–permission to drop the dignity act. Like alcohol, it removes inhibitions.
In graduate school, I knew a guy who had a reputation for sexual conquests (confirmed by many of his partners, who I also knew). He was in many respects an ultimate Alpha Male, and people loved him. He was unable to sustain any other relationship for more than about two weeks. He’s a professor at a major university now. But what drove his search for conquest was that the MPDG he had created had broken up with him. Years later, he was looking for someone to replace her, and trying to get back together with her at the same time.
She was tired of being an MPDG. So she left him. Happens a lot. Because being quirky and fun all the time is hard and tiring and not a hell of a lot of fun.
Some women will go along with it for a while. Some make it a lifestyle. (And I suppose that there may also be Manic Pixie Dream Guys (I would anticipate the same problem).) But it’s ultimately destructive. You can’t be real if your entire life is based around serving someone else’s need for affirmation.
Real women weigh something, and sometimes weight more. They burp, they fart, they shit, sometimes their hair is greasy. Sometimes they have stubble. Sometimes they get depressed. Sometimes they don’t smell good. They age. Some of them snore. Not all of them float in and out of thrift stores. They have jobs. They have children. When they’re drunk, sometimes they throw up (which is not terribly cute). They get tired. They don’t like cleaning bathrooms or washing dishes. They can be conventional.
In other words, they’re exactly like real men, in all of the ways that matter for this discussion. And I submit that part of growing up is accepting people for what they are, rather than for what we want them to be.
When I was a child, I thought like a child.
When I grew up, I found the love of my life–who wasn’t an MPDG.
She wasn’t an MPDG because I didn’t treat her like one. I learned to treat her like a person.
It’s a relationship that’s lasted for more than 32 years now, rather than two weeks or 500 days. And it’s real.