When it comes to love stories, I really believe we’re in a vicious circle. There are a small handful of “love stories” that we see played out over and over again, in the movies, in pop songs, on television, in books, and most of them, if you step away from your ingrained expectations of what a fictional love story should look like, aren’t actually about love. Imagine that!

One of the most infuriating romantic tropes is, of course, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, so called by The Onion and written about ceaselessly this past year (often paired with the word “scourge”, imagine that). John Green wrote about it when his latest book, Paper Towns, was released. That book is specifically about a boy learning to really see his dream girl for who she is, not what he thinks she is or wants her to be. Which, you know, thank God, but not only do we need books about people realizing that their romantic object is a person with an internal life, but we need books who just won’t engage with the trope at all.

I saw 500 Days of Summer recently, and while I loved it dearly, it has a Manic Pixie Dream Girl infestation, which was one of my main problems with it. You spend so much time with Tom (Joseph Gordon Levitt) and his friends–you even learn a bit about the internal life of his boss, who isn’t even that many scenes!–but you never really know anything about Summer. The movie has an odd message, and I don’t think it’s completely unaware of its MPDG problem, because part of Tom’s journey is learning how not to idealize Summer or try to transform her, just using the powers of his imagination, into someone he should really be with. But still. I left the theater saying to my friend Nikki, “For once I’d just like to see a romantic comedy about two normal people.” And Summer doesn’t really fit the bill.

So of course Nikki sent me this Daily Beast article today. In it, Doree Shafrir (formerly of Gawker, currently of the New York Observer, whose work is always interesting–she broke the Hipster Grifter story, after all!) says:

[M]en find these women utterly bewitching. And why wouldn’t they? They’re the ultimate unattainable muses. They never make any demands; they never nag; they keep everything operating on a level of fantasy. It’s like they’re women who read The Rules while listening to Elliott Smith. (See also: the girl in the band, who is often the ultimate ingenue.) And of course, it’s not difficult to see the appeal…She’s always just out of reach, making herself scarce at crucial moments and artfully dodging any…questions about whether they’re boyfriend and girlfriend.

Maybe it’s because I’m not a guy, but I don’t have any interest in the darling young ingenue type of character, or any character who doesn’t have an internal life outside of her significant other.  The girls and women I write are the exact opposite of characters like Summer, or Natalie Portman’s Garden State character (Sam–and I had to look that up, which isn’t a good sign), or Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown.

I’m working on a book right now where my main character is extremely cranky (for good reason, although she could stand to bring it down a few notches, and she will) and uncompromising, and her love interest, while a good guy who truly cares about her, isn’t at all perfect or handling the situation in a perfect way. That’s what interests me–not “perfect” characters who break each other’s beautiful, ineffable hearts in devastating but inspirational ways, but flawed characters who make each other miserable but also make each other laugh, who take things out on each other but who also take up each others’ causes. Ideal love objects are for people who can’t grow up and refuse to give up their fantasies, or erroneously believe that they can make their fantasies a reality.

That’s what I loved about Paper Towns. Q spends many years pining over Margo, taking her physical reality and turning her into some paragon of perfection. And she plays into that a little, I won’t say that she doesn’t. People like to be admired and doted on to an extent. But what Q and Margo both learn is that sustaining the illusion is comes at the cost of engaging with real people on a real level, and it doesn’t sit right with either of them.

Nobody who has read All Unquiet Things has, as yet, told me that Carly is a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but I’m sure that day will come, because there is a point, at the very beginning of Neily and Carly’s relationship, where she seems to be. By being comfortable in her own skin, she gives him courage and strength and reassurance, and he needs that, but things get real fast and Neily gains and learns more from Carly after the scales fall from his eyes than he ever would have if he’d always seen her as this perfect girl.

Like I said, this happens fairly early in the story; I think there’s a period in all relationships when you only see the stuff about the person that you like, because that’s all they’ll show you, but eventually truth will out and people, unless they’re sociopaths doing an excellent job of hiding their nature from you (which some people are), prove themselves to be flawed creatures. Sometimes you still like them, sometimes you don’t.

The problem with the proliferation of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope is that seeing it over and over again on screen and in literature reinforces it in our mind, so that not only do we look for that in our real lives, we also feed it back into our art, which continues the cycle. I, for one, am done with all that noise. Give me real people over ideal people any day.

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