I have a confession. One prompted by this article, “I was a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.”
Even standing at 5′ 11 3/4 “, I too have been a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. In fact, I have to actively try not to go into that mode when I get interested in someone new.
Let’s do bookends. For my first long-term relationship, it was less that I was trying to be the whimsical, quirky, somehow perfect girlfriend, and more that my boyfriend couldn’t see me as anything else. He’d cast me in the role of His Perfect Girl, which pretty tidily erased Who I Actually Am. And I knew it. I knew I was playing the saint role, the one without serious problems of her own, the one who never fought, the “fixer” who was there to bring him fully into himself. I couldn’t help but play along. No one wants to shove their faults in someone else’s face. No matter what I did, though, no matter the secrets I confessed to him and the time I took to try to be real, it never really got through. In the end, my boyfriend was so convinced that he was not Leading Man material that the relationship imploded.
With my last boyfriend, on the other hand, I was the one doing the casting. Actively.
For example, on our first date, we went to a cafe. We talked for a few hours, decided to go for a walk, and started telling ghost stories. We walked past a cemetery, and I decided that I would be impetuous and bold and exciting, so I insisted that we sneak in through a gap in the fence.
Or one day, a few weeks later, when we realized that there weren’t any Doctor Who board games readily available at the local game stores, I decided we would create our own, using wine corks as game pieces and writing out complicated trivia cards for ourselves, competing over who could make the most references.
I want to make an important distinction here: There is nothing wrong with wanting to have adventures or to explore a dark graveyard or to make your own games if you can’t find what you want.
The thing I find problematic is feeling like you have to do so in order to be worth dating. Or like you can’t do or be anything else.
In my latest relationship, like in my first, I felt pushed to be–or to at least present myself as–more than ordinary. I saw it as “showing how great/creative/fun/cute/interesting I really am inside.” What a lot of it really was was “showing how I can be that girl that guys like you stay interested in.”
You know. Quirky. Adventurous. Fun. Not clingy. Really into some obscure thing that you’re also really into. Pretty and desirable, but not threatening.
What gets me is that, while in the first case, this projection was coming from the other person (and to be fair, this was in college–who has any idea what a nonfictional relationship really looks like in college?), in the second case, it was all coming from me.
I wanted to be the Zoey Deschanel. I thought that was what he was looking for. I was afraid, above all, of being boring. When I might have realized that, personally, I don’t ever find people I’m interested in dating to be boring, even when they’re just hanging out and not doing much. I wouldn’t want to date them if they were.
When I was a little girl I memorized fairy tales, trying to figure out how to become a heroine so that I, too, would find my happy ending, tied to someone else. It’s daunting to realize that I still use–that lots of people use–other kinds of cultural scripts that can be just as stiff and confining in the end.
It’s so easy to want to be that Impossible Girl.
The trick, I think, is what the author of the piece above says about the stories we tell, and about allowing for heroines for whom the journey, and not the fantasy wedding, is the goal. To really embrace this picaresque life I’ve already been living for 26 years.
When new characters come into the mix, we can have adventures together, of course. We can sneak into graveyards and create our own entertainment and be as silly and as strange as we are.
As long as we also feel free to be as mopey and impatient and lazy and ordinary as we are, too.