Manic Pixie Dream Girl Trope

We all know this trope, right? And can agree that it’s tired, hopefully.

If you’ve been living under a lovely rock for the last couple of decades, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a girl who basically exists to help make sure that the male main character can continue to develop his character in better ways.

She’s different and quirky. She is somewhat naïve and youthful, while also being deep and thoughtful. She is blissfully in her own world and above all of the tragic makings of standard youthful life. Sound familiar? Yeah, it does, because a whole lot of autistic women also fall into this kind of category.

Sweet! Right? Positive association with autistic women and all? Nah, not really. The problem is that this character is a half-assed character that never actually exists as anything except to make the dude better. She’s a fantasy as much as pretty much any other trope commonly seen in the media is a fantasy.

On top of that, she is completely unrealistic, since, you know, she isn’t a full person and pretty much only exists to act as a counterpart to the male lead.

While this trope is, thankfully, mostly dead, the damage has still been done to autistic women everywhere. So many of our peers saw these films with these dream girls and as a result, so many of our male peers began to see these traits as desirable in partners. Doesn’t sound too bad, overall, until you remember that the dream girl isn’t real. She has all of the fun-loving “quirks” of an autistic woman with none of the reality of an autistic woman.

It put so much of a responsibility on the autistic woman to be the magic key that fixes everything that was wrong with the jaded boy without paying any attention at all to the fact that the Manic Pixie has her own issues, and her own troubles and she can’t really afford to be some dude’s everything that pieces him back together.

Hell, I fit this mold so well in my younger life that even I embraced it, despite how much harm it was doing for me. I helped inspire and be the muse for past lovers, pushing them to better themselves and embrace their dreams, all while I was doing drudging crap like working at a Starbucks (which, no shade, I honestly enjoyed) instead of following my own dreams.

It was what I was supposed to do, right? Help my lovers grow into better people?

The problem is that at the end of the day, after helping change view points or follow their dreams, there was hardly any energy left for me. And that’s typically why so many of those relationships were so short lived.. Just like this trope is portrayed on screen. She flits in to make things better and then peaces out when the man can handle things on his own — just the ideal way to make her something worth missing.

Perhaps, it’s why that one line from Rent came to mean something to me:

Life’s too short, babe, time is flying. I’m looking for baggage that goes with mine

I spent so long being “forced” by my lovers into a role that was impossible to play, that I struggled so hard to play, that I had forgotten to take care of my own shit.

Eventually I learned to put up some boundaries, to remember that it’s not possible to be the Manic Pixie because she’s not real. And that my role in life is not to stand quietly (albeit in my own quirky way) behind a man empowering him, but to empower myself and find a love that will be empowered through my own power.

Perception and Intent

With (very late) respect to Autism Awareness month, and also with a lens cast on my own personal history, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on a sentence that I read on reddit quite recently.

“I learned to take people at their intent rather than their words”

The context was heartbreaking in and of itself, but the sentence itself hit me like a freight train. I have learned to live my life by an entirely different motto.

Perception matters more than intent

I spent nearly every waking moment of my life thinking about all of the ways that my words or actions might be perceived differently than I intended them to, and that it matters much more than my intent did. I have basically gaslit myself into believing that the neurotypical world is right and I have to adjust.

So hearing someone say something that basically just shows that people actually can sit there and show the leniency to understand each other?

The context, by the way? Her daughter died. So she had to deal with people saying ignorant things like “I know how you feel, I lost my dog” and the like. So instead of being angry she chose to understand that they likely knew that they couldn’t truly relate to her immense grief, but the closest they could come to it was losing a pet. So they were trying to relate to her. They were showing a kindness in a pretty ignorant and rude way, but still a kindness.

I still, in a lot of ways, agree with my life motto. If I hurt your feelings, it really doesn’t matter what my intentions were, your feelings are hurt and no amount of me doubling down on my intentions is going to make this situation better. The best solution is a heartfelt apology, deep communication, and finding ourselves a new common ground.

But I didn’t learn to live by this phrase because of having difficult arguments with loved ones, or needing to remind myself to put myself in others shoes (I’m overly empathetic and compassionate — but don’t worry, I still show the very stereotypical autistic lack of skills at showing the empathy and compassion the way the “normal” humans expect). I taught myself to live by this motto because of the number of times I had people react to my statements of fact as though I were being bitchy and rude.

Because of the number of times I’ve had people tell me that I’m “sassy” and “feisty” and “don’t care what other people think about you”. Which was just not even close to the truth. I said what I thought or felt as I thought it or felt it. It usually ran through my filters, I tried to imagine a way to make it neutral. And I still came out like a bitch to so very many people.

Even recently, my husband revealed mine (and my child’s) diagnosis to his sister – a teacher. She had a lightbulb go off and said “Oh, that makes sense. She is super smart but not very friendly”. We’ll sidestep the stereotypes there just for the sentiment of the statement.

I am now a fairly well-oiled machine. I have been living this motto for nearly a decade. I have practice and years of phone and chat customer support under my belt to give me the practice of at least sounding friendly and approachable in short bursts as needed. I can quickly run through options of phrases and think about all the potential ways that my statement could be misinterpreted.

But… Imagine if I hadn’t had to spend so much time and energy learning how to fit into a world that wasn’t meant for me? If there were social ramps for those of us sitting in a social wheel chair who really can’t take the stairs.

Friendship Break-Ups can be so Rough

I recently had a situation with a friend unexpected blow up in my face and she basically told me that I was no longer welcome in her presence. The details aren’t particularly important in the context of this post, it’s pretty standard life stuff. Conversation (in text, of course, because it always is) on a topic that we weren’t necessarily seeing eye to eye on. It was already pretty tense for me because I felt I probably offended her because I had started the entire thing in a pretty judgmental voice and she apparently disagreed with me and I respect her and didn’t want to insult her.

Conversation continued and was slamming against me in wave against wave and before I even knew it, I was in waters too deep for me to handle. So, I did the rational thing.

“It seems I may have hit a nerve here and you may potentially be upset and it doesn’t seem like this conversation is going to be productive, so I think it’s better if we just stop here”.

And here is where I got the bomb that I never expected (and probably should have).

“I thought we were just having a friendly conversation but now you’re saying that I’m angry”

No, that’s literally not what I said. You can read it, it’s right there in writing. I said what I meant, I meant what I said. I don’t feel that I can productively partake in this conversation if we continue so I need to stop. I am out of my depth and need to stop.

But now I’m the bad guy again. For things I never said.

So I try to make it right, right? Because I’m autistic and that is my curse, I do not know when to stop even when I already said I need to stop. And you just said that I said something that I didn’t say.

So here I am correcting you on what you said that I just said. And here I go doing that thing that ends friendships because people don’t understand it.

“No, I didn’t say you were angry, that’s why I intentionally used the word potentially. I did not feel that this was a friendly conversation and I respect you and wanted to leave this in good feelings and as such I wanted to leave this conversation because I’m out of my depth. Go figure that the autistic lady has no idea what the other person in this is feeling”

“Not interested”

“Go chat with <other people> somewhere I’m not”

So there I was, thirty something years old, immediately crushed and sobbing like I was 10 years old in elementary school again. I don’t understand what happened. I can analyze it and begin to see what she felt but I really don’t understand what happened and why me literally telling her what I meant is bad.

It’s a huge reminder that this is the first time I’ve broached making close friends in a long time. And why I haven’t really. It makes you vulnerable. And when shit like this happens, it makes you feel lost and worthless. It reminds you that you really aren’t “normal” whatever in the fuck that means.

And everyone just listens to me and can’t tell me what I did wrong. They just tell me that they understand both sides. I sobbed for 2 hours over a friend rejection over something absurdly dumb that should have been resolved as a miscommunication. Instead, I’ll think about this for weeks and probably never be able to really be myself around this person ever again, even if she ever speaks to me again, because I will not be the one reaching out. She made it clear that she does not want me in her space.