I Was A Manic Pixie Dream Girl

freshly-pressed-circle*This post was featured on WordPress Freshly Pressed picks on March 27, 2015.

Remember when I wrote that I felt like a character in someone else’s coming-of-age story? I was only scratching the surface with that. I’ve been long intrigued by a stock character in popular fiction – the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. For the non-literary of mind, this is a female character that is quirky, bubbly and helps the male protagonist grow from his limited state to a more liberated, mature place. She is immensely likeable and for awhile, it’s easy to confuse her for independent. It’s just that she is such a PERSONALITY, you tend to think of it as a strong one.

*Image via Reluctant Femme

It turns out I’ve been a Manic Pixie Dream Girl in many of my relationships with men in the past 10-odd years. No man who has been around me in this time would accuse me of being boring. Even the most hostile of them will admit that things tend to be exciting, in flux and unpredictable when I’m around. I’ve challenged their beliefs, railed against their ways of being and blurred more boundaries than most people do in their turbulent teen years. The nicer ones among them will admit to being charmed and even changed for the better because of my presence in their lives. The others would probably roll their eyes and thank their stars its over. I don’t tend to get moderate reactions. Collage Who I am draws from and defines who I draw to me. I thought I was breaking a pattern by moving to younger men, these past four years. But it turns out, I’ve stayed true to the pattern. Twenty-something men have had enough experiences to know the worries of the world. They are also not wise enough to have made their peace with them or found ways to address them in a way that doesn’t disrupt other things in their lives (health, family, society etc). That’s the exact target audience for a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She intrigues them because she is quirky (and not just pretty in that shiny object way) and unpredictable. Plus she is flawed enough to not intimidate their still fragile sense of masculinity. I suppose the other choice I had among the pop culture/fiction archetype pantheon was the Child-Woman. MPDG seems like a more nuanced character with only a few flecks of the immature, broken child-woman. So it was Manic Pixie Dream Girl then. I still like how colourful and vibrant that title sounds (not to mention verbose). So what’s the problem? I thought I was a boring kid and if there was a way to send a message back to that depressed little girl I was, I’d say,

“Mission accomplished! Boringness slayed. Achievement unlocked!”

Men talk
*Image via SparkNotes

But I’m not a little girl anymore desperately needing to prove something. And there is something terribly limiting about a stock character, especially a supporting one. Because Manic Pixie Dream Girl, make no mistake, is a supporting character in a man’s story. She is boxed and she has no real story of her own. She exists in a permanent state of desperate chaos, which draws men like flies to her but doesn’t do her many favours in the form of stability or happiness. Men eventually tire of her or grow away from her (Here’s a man who tells his tale using the MPDG lexicon: ‘Uh honey, that’s not your line‘). Even the creator of this title, Nathan Rabin, has tired of her (here’s his apology to the world for coining the phrase Manic Pixie Dream Girl). It occurred to me over a sandwich today (yes, how random, how MPDG of me) that perhaps the reason I was drawing exclusively younger men these days was not only because they were the only single ones around. Perhaps it was because I was being exactly one kind of girl that twenty-something men found themselves drawn to. There’s nothing wrong with twenty-something men, of course. The MPDG character draws a very specific kind of man and story. The men can think but they’re yet to gain mastery over emotion. They are also at a peculiarly specific kind of self-centered place in their lives, having gotten ahead of themselves and tasting responsibility for the first time. They do not have the ability to deal with a complex human being over a length of time, especially what MPDG would be, if she was a real person (which I am). The story that plays out – inevitably – is the same one. The sudden struck-by-lightening style attraction, the broad gestures and lavish promises, the unimaginably magical conversations, the sudden crashes, the melodramatic outbursts and the inevitable sugar crashes. Been there, so much done that. I so hope I’m over it.

*Image via TheFrisky

Before you go all people-don’t-change on me, let me tell you, yes, they do. We are constantly evolving creatures and this is extremely superficial, social behaviour that I’m talking about. That doesn’t determine me anymore than the colour of the pyjamas I wear to bed. I do have control over the kind of character I project. I can modify this without curbing any of my  natural spontaneity. I’m pretty sure it’s possible to express who I am fully, without limiting it to bite-sized quirk pieces that equally limited men can digest. I just have to figure out how to do this, especially considering the men and I are both so used to the familiar storyline, we fall into it by default.

*Image via HVNG

I am not terribly alarmed at discovering that I’ve been unconsciously mirroring a fiction character type. After all, I am woefully short of role models. Besides, I’d rather follow ideas than real people with their limitations and flaws. Ideas can be modified or discarded more easily. Sigh, yes, that’s another very Manic Pixie Dream Girl thing to say. But MPDG is as limiting in real life as it is in fiction. I don’t want to be only seen that way. And I’d like to be seen by more people than the ones that this character was created to make happy. I have very little idea who I am going to be beyond my MPDG persona but identifying the box should be the first way out of it. Besides 2015 is a bare few days away. What better new year resolution than to be a different, new ME? Me I found several other pieces by women about throwing off Manic Pixie Dream Girldom:

*Image via Salon

Note: If you are intrigued by how stock characters can mirror our ways of being, go to TV Tropes to find others. If you find yourself relating to one of them, post a comment here telling me which one. It’ll make for a fun conversation!

Update: A reader took this thought and drew a more comprehensive parallel between her life and other TV Tropes. Here’s Rae M.Meadows’ post.

Update 2: Here’s an excellent spoken word piece on Manic Pixie Dream Girl


If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

91 thoughts on “I Was A Manic Pixie Dream Girl

  1. A very honest post. Unfortunately, the universe of female characters is not populated with many actual heroines, most are, like you say, supporting roles.
    Writing to you from beyond the age of 40, I can just say that you will keep evolving as a woman and as a true heroine of your life, and you will love it. Of this, I am sure.

    1. @Ana: I do hope so! At 35, I’m just taking stock of who I’ve been all this while and where I’m headed. Thank you for that and for commenting. πŸ™‚

    1. @Poulomi.M: I don’t remember the character but an internet search shows her to be a minor one. The point my post was making was that even major female characters in fiction are limiting and serving only to men. I’m breaking free of one of those. You might want to consider what life looks like if you were to do the same, too.

  2. All through college I was a manic pixie dream girl, after I was more of a woman-child. But I feel I’m maturing past that (only having graduated 2 years ago now). That said, it all depends on who I’m around. I’m a vaguely different version of myself in every social setting. Granted, until this post I never saw it that way – I blamed the way I was/am on my conservative christian upbringing, depression and recently discovered/ previously very confused asexuality. All that said, I am heavily influenced by film (more than I like to be) – maybe more than I realized.

    Thanks for the interesting post and for a great blog altogether. (sorry for the over-share)

    1. @Jennifer Nichole Wells: Please don’t apologise. A blog is a conversation, a mutual sharing, so thank you for telling your story. The point you’re making is interesting. I grew up in urban India with conflicting values and confusing messages about sexuality. It didn’t occur to me that those would be inputs into MPDGness too. Overall, I do believe that fiction like most other things on popular media is driven by and targeted at men. Women are just as nuanced and layered as men are. We are different in different situations. We should have the freedom to be all of that without restricting ourselves to a simplistic trope whose only function is to make an insecure man happy.

      All the best to you and thank you very much for commenting! I hope we can speak about other such things on urban womanhood too.

      1. Thank you. I completely agree with your take on media being targeted at men. And I think so many things can attribute to MPDGness. While it is something that has been portrayed through media, I think it may have existed before then- in at least some similar version. Women learn to act a certain way in order to get the attention and acceptance of men. I think this character in media only helps perpetuate this. Long story short, thank you for being so understanding and once again, for sharing this insightful post. ’til next time.

    1. @fivefold: Sigh. Complicated. It’s so easy to keep falling back into patterns. Manic Pixie Dream Girl does get attention and it’s easy to mistake that for affection. This post was written last year and the conversations that sprung up now after it got featured on WordPress Freshly Pressed, reminded me that I may have lapsed back into MPDGness. Thank you for asking. It serves as a reminder that transformation is an arduous journey and it’s okay to stumble.

  3. Funny coincidence that I just watched ‘500 Days of Summer’ the other night! It got me thinking about the person I’ve been/am in different relationships. When I was younger and had a more carefree lifestyle it was easy to be the MPDR. Looking back I put a lot of work into maintaining it, and with one long-term boyfriend when I ran out of energy to keep it going, the relationship crumbled. Now I’m older I realise I tried (kind of halfheartedly) MPDR for just the first few months of dating my life partner. Eight years later, we’re still together and I’m pretty much just me, all the time. Normal. Not that fascinating. Not that adventurous. Not willing to put that much energy into getting someone to like me.

    1. @36viewsofblackmountain: Thank you so much for this comment. The last sentence especially, was inspiring. MPDR really is too much work and nobody should have to work so much to get another person to like them. I’m keeping that in mind as I go on.

  4. I think I’m very confused now. I’m starting to think that even though I have very little dating experience and have been single for over three years, perhaps I have unconsciously been a MPDG myself. Looking back at my “creative” ideas and published blogposts, they do show how bubbly I try to be, and my self-proclaimed spontaneity and creativity might actually just be pure madness. But my Facebook shows a completely different side of me as being a bit less immature and occasionally grumpy. Sometimes I wonder which one is the real me, yet I know I’m more honest on my blog. So if the real me is the one typing up this comment and publishing posts, am I spending too much effort to try to be liked, all the while being oblivious that I’m just a MPDG that is quirky mistaken as unique, shallow misinterpreted as carefree? I’m doubting myself now, unsure of if my way of living will eventually allow me to evolve, to grow up. Perhaps this is why I’m always causing troubles and disappointing others.

    1. @Christy: Don’t fall into that trap of self-doubt. MPDG is a limiting model imposed on women. It keeps us contained and fighting with ourselves, instead of going out and living fully. If you read the other articles on Manic Pixie Dream Girl, you’ll see how the trope is the only way a weak, needy man can accept women. There is more to a human being than how well they fit another person’s needs.

      My post was about realising this and breaking free of such labels as Manic Pixie Dream Girl. This doesn’t mean that I’ll give up my natural spontaneity or creativity. These are not bad things so don’t buy into anybody who tells you that they are. Good luck!

      1. Ohh I see what you mean now! We don’t need to be a damsel in distress or a MPDG to be liked by others, and we shouldn’t let others’ opinions limit us from becoming who we want to be, may it be a strong and independent woman or a kid at heart! <3

        1. @Christy: It’s partly that. Also, the conversations resulting from this post made me realise something else. I don’t need to feel apologetic for my natural spontaneity. If a man decides to see only that and slot me as an MPDG in his head, that’s his problem. I don’t need to buy into his limited opinion of me. There’s more to me than the parts that a man like that finds convenient.

          1. There are times when I’m confused of whether I’m being spontaneous or just immature and childish, and it makes me feel inadequate. But you’re right, if a person doesn’t even bother to get to know the other sides of me, he isn’t the right kind of people to hang out with anyway. Perhaps we should just ditch the MPDG or any other labels and live our lives the way we want while staying true to ourselves.

    1. @Eilidh: Thank you! Please do leave your thoughts on this post and any other that you choose to read on the blog. I’m looking for conversations. These are the topics that interest me so if they do you too, please speak up.

  5. Oh, how I wanted to be a MPDG when I was in my teens and twenties. 90s cinema has a lot to answer for. Unfortunately, I wasn’t petite and pretty enough – I have yet to see an overweight accountant type playing the role.

    1. @muddlingthroughmarlborough: From the other side of the fence, the grass is neither green nor palatable. Popular media does have a lot to answer for. And you’re right, come to think of it, I can’t recollect any MPDGs who weren’t petite/lean either.

    1. @thelamart: Thank you! Do leave your opinion on this post or any others here that catch your interest. I’m always up for a good discussion. πŸ™‚

  6. Very interesting. I’m old now, thank goodness, but when I was young I was withdrawn, definitely not bubbly or cute. But I can identify with young women I know. They are toooo energetic for my old, laid back, things go wrong a lot, easy going attitude. But when I was that young shy awkward withdrawn loner, I soooooo wanted to be a MPDG. But no, I was in the corner watching. Sometimes when we are changing our ways, the pendulum swings far to the other side, then settles in the middle. You will find your comfort zone. Best wishes.

    1. @Silverwing Band: I’m actually protesting the limiting label of Manic Pixie Dream Girl, not shedding my natural exuberance and energy. These last two are a part of who I am in addition to a whole lot of other things. By dropping MPDGness, I’m saying, world, there’s more to me than cutesy entertainment value for needy men. Thank you for commenting and I hope you’ll be back soon!

    1. @jeswanisumeet: The post is neither fiction nor is it about an imagined girl. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a kind of character used in fiction. See the links in the article to understand that description better. I think my post will make a lot more sense after you do that.

  7. Hey, I am sort of addicted to TV tropes, too! If I had to describe myself as a stock character I’d probably be The Smart Guy (Girl) along with a Hollywood Nerd. That leads to me being a Badass Bookworm with a Motor Mouth who can be Little Miss Snarker at times.
    Greetings from Germany!

    1. @teilzeitanarchistin: And hello from Mumbai! Thank you for giving me one more reason to dip back into TVTropes. πŸ˜€ This was easily one of the best named character tropes. Even before I got to the end I thought of Hermione Granger and Gandalf the Grey and look, they both turned up in the examples!

      That’s often the kind of guy I end up going for. Interesting isn’t it, that the male tropes are not as well known? And the male tropes that are there are usually for side characters, not main ones like MPDG is supposed to be?

  8. I know people like this in real life. They’re fun, and seem to grow up to be quite interesting-not dull- people πŸ™‚ Mostly writers…

  9. I don’t know if this is true for everyone, but I have been a decidedly manic pixie dream girl for my whole life and am only now realising it. Would you say there is a significant difference between those who inadvertently take on the role of the exciting roller-coaster lady and those who deliberately invest in it?

    1. @Sketchpacker: I’m not sure there is a difference in the two types. I am naturally spontaneous, extroverted and cheerful. But quirkiness may be learnt behaviour as I discovered it got me attention of the kind I liked.

  10. The MPDG concept is new to me by name, this is the first I’m hearing of this personality with a title.

    I liked this article because it introduced the idea of the MPDG and I saw myself in her, then when you transitioned into this character only being a sidekick to a man, it makes me want to write my own story and be a stronger, more independent person.

    1. @thirstyforlemonade: I’m very glad to hear that! Being a writer, I’ve been intrigued by human archetypes. MPDG is one of the more popular ones for female characters right now and it struck me, how limited it was and yet how many of us toe the line to it because it’s so popular. All the best in your personal journey and thank you very much for visiting my blog and commenting!

  11. I think in some ways, we all go through a period of mirroring one character type or another. It is our journey to maturity and self-discovery (and self-love) that gives us the strength to leave the mirrored lifestyle behind. So many people wander through life without ever taking the time to look inward and recognize that they aren’t being fully true to themselves. You are way ahead of the masses, the sheep falling in line with media’s portrayal of life. Cheers to the journey!

  12. I very much appreciate this peice. I have always liked to think of it as an invisible control. Although from the outside it looks as though the men are the heroes, I think that the female supporting roles have an invisible and superceding control, we just don’t need the recognition for it as men do. I think we create the outcome by silently puppeting the men in our lives. Thank you so much for this peice, it truly did make me take an outside look at my own personality!

  13. OMG. This is an actual thing. I thought it was just me. I’m Nigerian; growing up I was that girl who was always buried in a book. I’ve always known my personality was a mash-up of all my favourite heroines and only recently I reflected and asked myself who I would be if I hadn’t read so much, if I had read different books. I don’t think I’m ready for the answer now. But look, my favourite characters: Jo March, Darrell Rivers, Scout Finch. And this is who I am now: tomboyish, pixie-like, often sarcastic, hot-tempered. I need new heroines. πŸ˜’

  14. It’s been my dream to be one that I actually altered who I really was to be. Now with this post that called it out, I want to be more than a type of character who is merely a sidekick and is a bit stuck in her problems. Thanks for this post. :-))))

  15. My daughter who is 27 seems to be strongly relate to mpdg and I think I was like that at her age as well. As I have traveled to the over 50 crowd I can’t even remember why I would want to be that way. I guess it was the same reason birds spread their wings and strut. I’m in the dating world again after 30 years of marriage and have vowed to be myself-whatever that may be. It works for me.

  16. I always hated the MPDG trope. I guess because I’m the guy who’d need one (An overy-serious guy drowning in his music and books), but these stories are so out of touch with reality. All these brooding young men only get these girls if they’re extremely hot. That personality of ‘i’m really sad and think a lot about life’ is as attractive as an old shovel.

  17. I am confused but I do think I’m somewhat like this too but I don’t know if I’ve got the answers or even is on the right track. I’ve only just started WordPress here today and I want to learn many things.
    I need a lot of time to think heh. Thank you.

  18. Never had heard of this name for the archetype before (I always referred to these characters as the quirky girl… but it all makes so much sense!) Taking a look through the various tropes I find that I’ve embodied a few in my life, including the MPDG… but also more the broken bird and the stoic

  19. Actually, and firstly, I am very confused that you said that a MPDG is only a supporting character in stories. I always thought of them as the star of the story whose male main character was an antihero. And if we’re not talking about supporting roles, a starring role I can think of off the top of my head is Shopaholic This may be because I, in many ways, relate to the MPDG–in my self-centered ways, of course (haha). BUT! What I envision a Manic Pixie Dream Girl to be is the stereotype of an INFP personality type, which is hard to fake and impossible to keep up as a persona -ie, a character used solely to attract the opposite sex. If INFP and MPDG are one in the same, why all the judgements? I guess it’s because the assumption is that they are not, and that MPDG is simply a role that some women adopt to create intrigue in others (as a tool of seduction). Or perhaps, as some comments have implied, just an immature phase a woman may go through.

    I’m either not fully understanding how this “character” is perceived and why it’s perceived so negatively (from what you’re saying in your blog), or I simply don’t agree with the verdict. I’ll read the rest of the blogs you linked to educate myself and let you know!

  20. WOW, JUST FOUND YOU!! I have blogged six years and don’t seem to get “it.” Congrats on being Freshly Pressed, your writing shows. I hope to see you stop by as I am an avid blogger and reader of books…

  21. The problem, I feel, with this memetic fetish of the manic pixie girl lies not with the girl, but the guy, who seems to think he can somehow be the solution to every spoken and undiscovered problem in the girl’s life. How gratifying it would be for them, to point to their lover and say, “look, I have cured her! She is my creation and owes all to me!” Hardly healthy.

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