Growing up, my vision of the type of woman I’d become was heavily influenced by my favorite characters from film. They were these breathtakingly gorgeous women who seemed to float when they walked. Not a head stayed screwed on straight when women like this entered a room. Every eye was on her, always. This type of woman was the kind men searched high and low for, the kind of gal who would accept him just as he is. She would never ask him to change a single thing—scratch that, she would never need him to change a single thing. She wasn’t needy. She wasn’t clingy. She just lets him be himself. This woman is a little crazy but it’s the cute kind! The kind the proverbial man refers to as “quirky.” She wants ice cream when it’s 10 degrees outside. She has a favorite hat and it’s red. She makes it all ok. Debt? Who cares, he has her love. Health? What’s that, she bakes him cookies every day and they’re made with fairy dust. Responsibility? Nonsense, the ethereal princess has no bedtime or day job. This woman, the one who I figured I would become, would be all things. She would be a dream girl. A manic pixie dream girl, to be specific.
The term was coined back in 2007, attributed to Nathan Rabin after viewing Cameron Crowe’s “Elizabethtown.” Incidentally, “Elizabethtown” is one of my favorite romantic comedies. It’s simple and it’s contrived but, at the time, it felt honest. It felt honest for my heart and mind that had been cultivated to believe that I would be this type of woman—the type to pull a handsome man from his life of simple existence and infuse him with my particular brand of vibrancy and passion. I dreamt of myself as the ultimate manic pixie dream girl.
Then, I woke up. At 26, I woke up and realized that I am not a dream girl. Nor am I manic. Nor am I a pixie. Nope.
I am a real girl. I am a man-up, pick-your-own-adventure, real girl.
I don’t want a man who needs my neurosis to help him figure his life out while I wait in the corner for him to throw me some attention. I do not need his attention the way an MPDG does. As a real girl, in the real world, I need his affection. Dream girls want to be noticed; real girls want to known. Dream girls are surprising but never complex; real girls are exciting, messy, boring, unusual, typical, and so complex it makes your brain hurt. Dream girls are your purpose; real girls encourage you to find purpose in yourself. Dream girls challenge you to be Peter Pan; real girls challenge you to be yourself.
A dream girl needs a man.
A real girl wants one.
Dream girls are built around the men in their lives.
Real girls build their lives with the people they choose.
Letting go of the idea that I’m meant to be a dream girl is scary. But realizing that I am a real girl, the one who isn’t afraid to ask more of men than just they’re attention, the one who stands firmly in all of her messy complexities, the one who is her own hero… Realizing that I am that girl is so freeing. The dream girl is just that—she’s a dream. But she isn’t the awesome kind of dream where you’re flying or eating dinner with a drug-free Led Zeppelin. No. She’s the kind of dream where you wake up knowing that you dreamt but you’re unable to remember what about. She’s the girl you only see between sleeping and waking.
But what you want is the girl you can know between waking and sleeping. And realizing that I am the type of girl worth knowing in the sunlight, with all of my flaws, faults, and goodness on full display, is what makes it ok for me to let go of dream girl. Real girl is so much better.
I wasn’t made in a dream.
I can only be found in reality.
I’m not the beauty who will coax you out of your shell.
I’m the beauty who is having the adventure that challenges you to have one of your own.
I don’t want Peter Pan.
I want the guy who is ready to man-up and make life beautiful with me. Not for me.
To every girl I know: Let go of your dream girl, whoever she is. Let go of her and just be you. Be the real girl. The real girl is worth knowing, she’s worth being, and I would love to be friends with her. Pursue your dreams, fall in love with some one who challenges you and likes that you challenge him. Perfection is not your endgame.
To every guy I know: Let go of your dream girl, whoever she is. Let go of her and look at the real girls around you. They are worth knowing, they are worth finding, and you would love to have them in your life. You don’t need to be convinced that life is worth living and you don’t need to suffer through ice cream when it’s freezing outside. That’s ridiculous. You get to be yourself, too. But please understand that “being yourself” around a real girl doesn’t mean that you’re never going to change. The same goes for us. Don’t be Peter Pan. Don’t refuse to grow up. Be a man. And be a good one. Real girls look at the world with wide-eyed wonder and the ability to explore it. Dream girls just point at things and say, “If only.” Choose wisely.
So, rest in peace, Manic Pixie Dream Katie. I’ll fight you out of my dreams, once again, when I see your trope in some blockbuster that is sure to be terrible. Or when I watch another Cameron Crowe movie. Because I’m sure I will. I just really love his movies.
Man-Up, Pick-Your-Own-Adventure, Real-Girl Katie