By Delilah S. Dawson
Author of The Mysterious Madame Morpho
The pretty girl in the dork glasses walked into the bar wearing an oversized shirt, tights, and ballet flats. She smiled and made a beeline for the most dangerous-looking guy in the room. He bought her a drink. I watched, transfixed. It was liked I’d read—or watched—this story dozens of times before. Because of course I have. From Annie Hall to Ramona Flowers, there’s a certain kind of girl who shows up in the story to change a man’s life forever, and she’s popularly known as the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Right now, she’s embodied by Zooey Deschanel on The New Girl, a character so adorable, dorky, and quirky that they actually coined a new term just for her: adorkable.
After reading this article on Cracked breaking down the reasons that Zooey is neither awkward or dorky, I couldn’t help contemplating how the trope of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is reflected in men sold to us as romantic heroes.
As I see it, the MPDG is the 21st century version of a muse. She’s gorgeous but quirky, insightful but childlike, and never, ever sticks around for the happily ever after—a.k.a. long enough to get boring/quotidian. She appears in the life of a guy who’s either mid-crisis or floundering or half-asleep and shakes him out of his doldrums with her beautiful eccentricity. She leaves him changed and bittersweet in a way that allows the real, true Woman to walk in the door at just the right time.
In short, she’s an object, a creature of male fantasy, a vehicle to something better. Her function is to awaken the sleeper. What I want to know is: what is the male version of the MPDG? Because I’m pretty sure that a dude with all of these qualities would not have the same appeal to women. Remember Duckie from Pretty in Pink? He was cute, quirky, intelligent, fearless, filled with love and possibility and tenacity. And although women everywhere swore he was adorable, no one ever called him sexy. Or swoony. Or handsome.
He was fun. Sweet. Cute. These words are romance doom. No one gets a fire in their loins for “cute.” Even Molly Ringwald chose the smoldering, standoffish rich dude. No matter what they say, I don’t think that subconsciously women want to be worshiped like that. They want to be chased like wobbly dibatags by lions with soft paws hidden under extendable claws.
Although your mileage my vary, I believe that the male equivalent of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is the Stoic Warrior Poet, sometimes known as the Sparkly Vampire Manboy. If the idea of this trope is to shake up a person’s status quo and make them feel more alive so that they’re more open to leveling up as a human being, a woman’s biology simply isn’t programmed to swoon for a Manic Elfin Dream Boy, a skinny little Ducky or Doctor Who. In her churning cesspit of pheromones, a woman craves a cave man, a beast, a man who will protect her and be entirely competent when it comes to helping her and her offspring survive. But in our world, when any doof in flip-flops can go to Wal-Mart for a steak, our brains tend to forget about that part and lead us to guys who make great friends and loving fathers. And thence, I believe, many women are missing something they crave, deep down, but aren’t always aware of.
Our hormones and instincts want a cave man. Fine. But our hearts want romance and pretty words and soulful eyes, not being raped from behind in an alley. So these two basic desires are really difficult to come by—because they’re entirely opposite. When a man’s dinosaur brain wants a fertile woman, that need is expressed by eyes that rove to boobs and butts and facial symmetry—things that the Manic Pixie Dream Girl has, because she’s always gorgeous. Add in some intelligence, quirk, and an ability to swig beer and make insightful comments on whatever game or band the guy also likes and you’ve got your MPDG.
But while a woman’s dinosaur brain wants to be protected and produce viable offspring, she doesn’t actually *want* to be an object of lust solely for her body. She wants to be respected, understood, adored. She wants power and equality in the relationship. Or so she thinks. Because if there’s one thing the men of romance books and movies show, it’s that women really dig 100 percent confident guys who kill things. And that’s where Edward Cullen, Christian Grey, James Bond, Tony Stark, Khal Drogo, and the dude from Desperado come in. They’ll kill something that’s trying to hurt you, throw you against the wall for a smoldering interlude, and then write a song about it.
Boom. All your needs, met. And they always have the money and resources to take care of you, should that interlude actually satisfy nature’s urge and produce the children his dinosaur brain wants but his dude-groin fears. Stoic Warrior Poet always comes with built-in monetary security. Don’t worry your pretty little head.
And yet all these characters have an unnatural sensitivity that goes against their forceful nature and allows women to accept all the bad things they do. Edward and Christian (whom some posit are the same person, really) are creepy-ass, super-rich stalkers with man-boy issues, but they play the piano and express their tenderness through twisted acts of physical and emotional tenderness. Khal Drogo, Desperado, and James Bond are basically murderous savages who draw their women into their worlds, hardening them and strengthening them like an annealed blade. Tony Stark is a billionaire genius playboy philanthropist, and yet one woman is able to cancel out the playboy part. Because she’s simply that special. Go Pepper!
The point is that… these guys? They change in one way only: by loving a sensitive woman, they open like barbed-wire flowers in one small area of tenderness, but on the whole, they stay the same. Their stability as a trope allows their women to change, to become strong and fearless in a way that your average stay-at-home-mom can’t. These dudes are a springboard to awaken women to the passion they’ve forgotten, repressed, or lost. Basically, the Stoic Warrior Poet awakens the woman with near-forceful passion that rides the line between rape and acceptance with a precision that’s hard to duplicate in real life.
If you sit in a bar and watch human behavior as the flaneur, Wild Kingdom style, the dance is beautiful and fascinating. In that bar last weekend, I simply couldn’t figure out why so many pretty, dude-seeking girls were wearing dork glasses, tights, flats, high-waisted pants, or tent-shaped dresses, which seems like the equivalent of trying to catch fish with packets of used cat litter. Simply put, these styles are not created to invoke lust by highlighting a woman’s curves. And then I read the Cracked article and realized that women are actively trying to emulate the Manic Pixie Dream Girl style. That they want to be that muse, that adorkable fawn of a girl who dances in and garners every eye, but not because she’s a vapid bitch in a skin-tight dress, but because she has some interior magic that makes her special.
Some guys do it, too. Acting tough, beefing up their biceps, having their pants tailored. You can see the misguided attempts at Stoic Warrior Poet in a dude wearing a Tap Out shirt. Everyone walking into a bar specifically chose the image they’re projecting, hoping to attract their own dreams. The fun part is to watch what happens when they’re using the wrong bait.
The few lucky people who function as Stoic Warrior Poets or Manic Pixie Dream Girls in real life naturally attract the opposite sex with a fearful magnetism. You can’t fake this shit, to be honest. Zooey Deschanel isn’t adorkable; she’s beautiful and knows exactly what she’s doing, as does her team of stylists. In the movies, it’s easy to craft a character who serves as a journey instead of a destination, a conveyance instead of a living, breathing person. Every aspect of the character is perfectly controlled. But in real life, each angle of the trope must be met 100 percent, or the approach will appear disingenuous and lopsided. And, honestly, kind of lame. I giggled when the girl at the bar had to take off her fake glasses to read her phone.
Either you’ve got it, or you don’t, and halfway only counts in horse shoes and NaNoWriMo.
Instead of dreaming of these fairy-tale concoctions of impossible people waking us up from our everyday lives, let’s just set our damn alarms and put in the work. Sitting in a bar, watching people chat with eyes ablaze, all I could think was that finding a real-life MPDG or SWP is a lot like standing at the edge of a cliff. It’s exciting. It’s dizzying. You get a trill in the pit of your stomach. And right after you jump off the cliff, it would be really, super-awesome-fun for the first five seconds. But, eventually, you’re going to splatter against the rocks far below. What you think you want isn’t always what you need, and the real, messy human being behind that cultivated facade is just as damaged as everyone else.
There’s a reason that the story ends when the Stoic Warrior Poet commits and the Manic Pixie Dream Girl dances right back out of your life.
Because that’s when real life starts.
Get relationship tips. Find help with your love life. Have a happy marriage. Sign up for our newsletter!
Photo courtesy of FOX