herald

Saturday 21 April 2018

The search for that manic pixie dream girl

SHE'S beautiful, hyper-intelligent, kooky and loves a man who's not afraid to cry. But does she even exist? One person thinks not

Craigslist – the popular US classified ad site – is always a treasure trove of the weird and wonderful. One recent advertisement is gaining traction worldwide for possibly all the wrong reasons. In the US, one plucky young man posted an eye-catching post in the site's Missed Connections section and, boy, does it ever get attention for the wrong reasons.

Entitled 'Imaginary Girlfriend: Do You Exist?', the poster in question sets out to paint a portrait of his ideal girl. Like a quirky rom-com come to life, the anonymous poster is attempting a spot of cosmic ordering and, putting his faith in the powers of the Internet, is willing his perfect lady into existence.

Chief among the highlights are: "You are about six foot tall ... (with) short black hair with a bit of a fringe. You dress well but you don't let 'hipster culture' define anything you do. You don't mind that I cry. You are infinitely deep and love to discuss the nature of the universe late into the night just as much as I do. Your name is Zoe in my day and night dreams. Do you exist?"

Interestingly enough, the image he carves of his dream girl isn't in the mould of a sultry Kim Kardashian, a busty Kelly Brook, or a luscious Rihanna. And his dream girl certainly reads a tad more substantial than your average pneumatic beauty. Still, something about this post doesn't sit right with many people.

Is it because this new female ideal – a hipster Amazonian who does culture and thinking on top of her baseline ornamental duties – is every bit as unattainable as her FHM covergirl counterpart? And, despite pretending to be anything but, is every bit as shallow?

The Zoe of the post is obviously based on something more real than Hef's Playboy Mansion, but when you create a checklist of specifics, as our lovestruck poster has, you're bound to fail.

This Craigslist post does hint at another possibility, however – that the girl next door has now become the dream girl. Joe.ie editor Mike Sheridan is in full agreement with this theory: "The girl- next-door thing has been around since the '80s, with girls like Molly Ringwald. That's why actresses such as Anne Hathaway or Julia Roberts are so popular – they are almost obtainably attractive.

Attractive

"The vast majority of guys I speak to would like someone like Rachel McAdams or Emma Stone. They're sparky, funny and a bit dry."

And then there are, of course, the other guys. In September, a man in Texas – the intriguingly named Romeo Rose – made a similar splash after offering $1,500 on his website sleeplessinaustin.com to anyone who could help him find a girlfriend.

So far, so OK, but his checklist grinded many a reader's gears: "I will not date a black girl," he wrote.

"I don't care if she looks like Halle Berry. I will date any other race – Hispanic, Mexican, Spanish, Russian, Italian, French, European, white, whatever, anything except black. I will not date any girl that has ever had a threesome, or a large number of past sexual partners.

"I do not want a promiscuous slut, I want a normal, decent, good-hearted girlfriend. I want the girl to be attractive. I will not date an overweight or fat girl."

Responding to the barrage of criticism – 2,000 daily emails at one point – Rose was moved to comment: "There's a standard for men, and then there's a standard for women."

Granted, having standards when looking for a potential partner is one thing. Besides, harbouring those sort of romantic delusions are part and parcel of growing up. Most people, after all, have an image of their perfect partner. However, it's quite another to still think like this well into your late twenties, or even your thirties.

Back in the real world, I know of one such gentleman. He is positively run ragged on various dating websites, exhausted from his search for a life partner. Adding insult to injury he is – on the cusp of 40 – nowhere even close to realising that his fantasy isn't ever likely to happen.

Romantic

"I think we all have friends where you need to sit them down and say, 'If you're complaining all the time about being lonely, you need to lower those lofty expectations'," Sheridan tells me.

"Some guys need to be realistic. Not many people have Rebecca Hall living next door – and even if you do, who's to say that she's going to fall for you?"

Clearly, this cuts both ways – women are every bit as picky when it comes to finding a partner. We prescribe to cultural and media ideals just as readily.

Why do you think the male ideal that is Bridget Jones's Mark D'Arcy – tall, handsome, romantic, successful –still holds such appeal? The thing is, we get away with being picky. Culture has permitted us to be exacting.

Yet ask a woman in her thirties for a checklist of her ideal man and she's likely to note values such as kindness, reliability, and not being a serial murderer. Fringes don't really come into it, do they?

This new quirky female ideal – the anti-Playmate – has even been given her own title. Such is her prevalence in Hollywood, that she has become a stock character in films: The Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

Think Zooey Deschanel in 500 Days Of Summer, Scarlett Johansson in Lost In Translation, Natalie Portman in Garden State, Kate Hudson in Almost Famous (rather conveniently, and for all their quirks, they are attractive). Without fail, the MPDG is kooky and delightfully girlish and her job is it to teach the film's brooding male protagonist how to live a better life.

Coined by AV Club writer Neal Rabin, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl "exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures".

They are written invariably by male screenwriters, who never managed to get that six-foot-with-a-fringe female ideal out of their system and who probably wish that more women would order their dessert before their starter, rather than going on about work and grocery shopping and other boring, everyday things.

Aspirations

All very well and good for Friday night at the movies, but the ideal has trickled into everyday society and is causing problems for those of us who aren't Manic Pixie Dream Girls.

Women who do their taxes, who snark at the television, who clean their own bathrooms and who have their own goals and aspirations are the anti-Manic Pixie Dream Girls. You can probably see where I'm going with this.

Ultimately, it boils down to this. Just as the vast majority of men aren't Mark Darcy, an overwhelming amount of women will never live up to that quirky, 2D ideal.

As a man, you may think you come across as cerebral and not particularly shallow when you hark after a woman with legs that run as long as her vinyl collection, but you don't.

Incidentally, our aforementioned Craigslist poster mentioned that his ideal lady harbour a love of math-rock. This has never once helped me find a partner in my life. Very few men are lucky enough to get the girl ... and those who are, often need to wake up to a new realisation – they're real women, too.

"The vast majority of the population are aware that you have to make a real connection and that they don't necessarily have their pick of women," says Sheridan.

"Some guys, if when they have found someone, still wait for that perfect girl, and believe that she still could be coming next. You really need to be careful, and be content with what you have."

No doubt our Craigslist dreamer, the unfathomably shallow Romeo Rose and my unlucky-in-love friend will eventually find someone lovely if they keep looking.

Once they realise that she will be lovely in her own way, they'll be off to a flying start.

 

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