After a week off, I’m back at the Atlantic. Today’s column looks at The Real-World Consequences of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl Cliché. An excerpt:
Rabin defined the Manic Pixie Dream Girl as a muse whose primary role is to teach and transform a young man. As contemporary a trope as it feels, it’s as old as Dante with his vision of being guided through paradise by his saintly Beatrice. Bettina was my guide, and as much as my adolescent self thought it adored her, I thought less about her and more about how it was she made me feel. Though I questioned whether I was good enough for her, and I felt lucky that she’d chosen me, I didn’t question her role as change agent in my life. It was a one-sided relationship not because I was any more selfish than your average teen boy, but because I took it for granted that this brilliant young woman knew the world better than I did. As unstable as she may be, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl not only senses a young man’s potential in a way he can’t, she intuitively knows how to lead him to his destiny. She knows him better than he knows himself, or so he believes. That convenient assumption allows the young man both to adore the MPDG and to avoid any responsibility for reciprocity. How can he be expected to give anything back when she has this magical intuition about the world that so vastly exceeds his own?
Not long after we both started at university in our respective countries, Bettina’s letters stopped coming. I was in love with someone else, but I missed my exchanges with her. My notes went without reply; I only had an address; no phone number, and in the mid-1980s, of course no Internet through which to follow up. I asked my grandmother, who said she’d also lost touch with Bettina. Finally, one day in 1987, a black-bordered card came in the mail. It was a Todesanzeige, a death announcement. Just 20, Bettina had committed suicide by jumping out a fifth-floor window. I later learned from my grandmother that Bettina had suffered from depression for years, something she’d never told me. Something, of course, about which I’d never asked. I’d taken her self-sufficiency for granted.