November 9, 2021

Don't be afraid to play the Manic Pixie Dream Guy role

With the news that Aimee Terese has gotten an IRL bf, that concludes my role as her online Manic Pixie Dream Guy (a term that sounds dumb in the masculine, but just for consistency). I'll use this occasion to reflect on the role, personally and in the broader culture, as well as advise other guys who fit the profile to play the role themselves.

Much like the MPDGs from the movies, I haphazardly ran into someone who was full of promise but was a bit down in the dumps. Through the power of my quirked-up free-spirited charm, over a series of adventures together, I picked up her mood and helped her find the resolve to achieve as much as she could in her ordinary business, but also to find the confidence to put herself out there romantically, once she truly sees how lovable she is.

And how else can you convince someone else of that, without taking part in a quasi-relationship with them first? Not just random compliments that can be batted away, but a persistent infatuation that lets them know they're irresistible long-term material who you can't help but want to bond with socially and emotionally.

I serenaded her a lot during the lonely lockdown period, but I think the turning point was portraying her as the "Girl All the Banned Guys Want". She really melted over that one. After awhile, there comes a moment when she realizes, "Jeez, this guy's really serious -- I truly must be that lovable, or else he wouldn't have hung around for so long and invested in me". It's giving her the whirlwind tour of convincing her that she's waifu material, without actually wifing her up.

Which is not to say the MPDG's role is a disinterested social worker, as though they saw someone starving and gave them food because everyone deserves to be fed. That is not even a quasi-relationship. The MPDG really is infatuated with the protag, and attaches to them rather than any number of other potential recipients.

And yet both of you can sense that this isn't a long-term prospect, that it's just a little too comically off-the-wall to last. But that's fine -- it's more of a preparation, for when they face the real test. Kind of like sparring with a partner before a scheduled match-up, or going to physical rehab after an injury but before navigating real-world environments again.

Just like in the movies, the MPDG and the reinvigorated protagonist usually do not end up together, but that's the point. The MPDG is fundamentally an earthly guardian angel for the protag, meant to be with them long enough to nurse them back to health, not destined to be their eternal soulmate, who they just might find after the proper social-emotional recuperation.

Their parting may be bittersweet, but it's not marred by regrets, jealousy, or hard feelings. They shared a special, quirky quasi-relationship that most people will never have the fun of taking part in.

* * *

Partly this post is to reiterate what the MPDG role is within the larger narrative and character development of those movies (it's not just individual personality traits, but a relational role). But it should also encourage other guys out there to give this role a try, when you find yourself in the right opportunity. I don't think many pay it much mind, or shy away from it if they do. It's deeply rewarding and fulfilling, and creates some of the most fondly remembered relationships of your entire life.

As it so happens, the last time I played this role -- IRL, before the lockdown / everyone's-online era -- was during a restless warm-up phase of the 15-year excitement cycle (naturally, that's when the MPDG role emerges). Instead of the early 2020s, it was the late 2000s -- but she reminds me a lot of Aimee in key ways.

Half-Levantine and half-European, short, skinny, boob girl rather than butt girl, ADHD, given to mischievous grinning, born in the late '80s (a vulnerable phase, when sad girls are born), good-looking yet also insecure, an outward intensity disguising an inner tender-heartedness... an uncanny resemblance, even if they're not quite twins.

I still remember when she'd found her first real boyfriend -- who she ended up marrying and having a kid with later on -- she was eager to get my blessing, or stamp of approval. Now that her training / quasi-relationship had completed, on to the real test -- well, coach, how did I do?!

Just like how the female MPDG has a maternal, nursing quality, the male MPDG has a fatherly, coach-like quality. I think that's what allows for the training / sparring / mock / quasi relationship to flourish -- if it were a straight-up dating-and-mating context, then the MPDG would only love the protag conditionally, as long as they were together. But if the MPDG has a maternal or father-figure aspect to them, the protag can expect more of an unconditional love and support. That gives their quasi-relationship a safer feel while they're recuperating and preparing, before the protag engages in an actually risky real-deal relationship later.

And they won't expect to end up together for real, for the long-term -- that would feel incestuous. The MPDG will, at some point, give the protag away to their new-found true love, just as a parent gives away their daughter during a wedding.

* * *

Is this role for everyone? Well, probably not, just like with the female MPDG. I think that, like the female MPDGs, you have to have been born during a manic phase of the excitement cycle, to have a sense of resilience or even invincibility, to be the leader or guide for someone who is a bit wary about coming out of their shell. That means if you're born in the first half of the '50s, second half of the '60s, first half of the '80s, or second half of the '90s.

The girl will not be born during the same phase -- those girls are already probably resilient and confident, being born in the same manic phase you were. Looking back on the late 2000s, I think it was mainly the late '80s-born girls (the sad girls) who were drawn to me as an MPDG, whereas the early '90s-born girls were the wild-child type and just felt like me being older than them added transgressive value to the random hot guy value.

So in the current restless warm-up phase, that means the girls most in need of an MPDG will be born during the first half of the 2000s, a vulnerable phase that created the generation of sad girls looking for an encouraging daddy figure on TikTok. Those born in the second half of the 2000s are going to be another wild-child cohort, who would be interested in you more for taboo-pressing value.

While the early 2020s could feature the occasional older-people version like me and Aimee, the scenario will most likely be a guy born from '95-'99 and a girl born from '00-'04, and only during this '20-'24 window (a restless phase of the cycle, when people come out of their vulnerable-phase refractory states, but some are more wary of doing so and need coaxing).

Also like the female MPDGs, I think you need the typical shape of your gender -- hourglass waist-hip ratio for females, but inverted triangle torso for males. And attractive to seriously hot. But part of the MPDG quirk is being atypical of their gender in just a few ways, with the female ones having a bit of a tomboy streak, and therefore the male ones being more empathetic than the average guy. I think both male and female MPDGs are corporeal rather than cerebral, and therefore butt people rather than boob people. You're an *earthly* guardian angel.

The degree of physical intimacy is not set in stone, it could involve only flirtatious touchy-feely behavior, or go all the way. You're not a purely Platonic friend looking to boost their self-esteem, and you really will be infatuated with them. But just know that it's not meant to last, and it will be more of an intense unique adventure, not a stable and thankfully-boring marriage.

This isn't because it's a fling or summer romance, but because you're partly a father-figure or coach to them, and that restoring or building their confidence is a temporary role. Once they've found it, they've found it. There's not a whole lot more for you to do in that role. They're capable of flying on their own now, thanks in part to you, and they're meant to find someone else, somewhere else, for the long-term.

You won't feel so much "single" (angry, depressed, etc.), as much as an empty-nester (bittersweet).

Still, just as the bittersweet feeling of being an empty-nesting parent should not prevent you from getting married and raising children in the first place, neither should it keep you from playing an MPDG role for a sad girl who catches your attention, who's full of potential, lovable, and deserving, but needs to be won over and convinced of it.


  1. Good on you both. It is weird and wonderful watching amor cortese and Jane Austen recapitulated in young moderns.

    Now get out of your head and find a pleasant young woman of good family with no debts and tats and make a family. Offspring optional.

  2. I doubt the shrews will like that once Men open up again. Its going to be severe punishment time in the next cool down phase.

  3. Everything goes in cycles, but why let that stop you from enjoying things when they're available?

    There was an evolution of the MPDGs to being more independent and self-tending during the early 2010s (manic phase, no longer needed to coax wary guys out of their shell during restless phase), and an outright backlash against them in the late 2010s (vulnerable phase, no contact sought with others).

    But now it's back with another restless phase. If you're a manic-phase birth, you can play the role, or if you're a sad sack who needs coaxing out of your shell, you can find a girl to play the role for you.

    These relationships (or quasi-relationships) will leave a positive impression on you for the rest of your life, in a way that one-night stands, or even standard "serial monogamy" will not.

    I think it reflects the unconditional vs. conditional nature of your love. With the MPDG scenario, there's a maternal or father-figure *aspect* to their role (not a straight-up surrogate). You're preparing them, helping, nursing, guiding, etc., knowing that eventually they're going to move on to other people, *similar to* (but not the same as) a parent or guardian. An earthly guardian angel. It taps into the unconditional love between a parent and child.

    With one-night stands, the love or lust could not be more conditional. Same with serial monogamy, though. You largely put them out of your mind after the relationship is over, and they were mainly a placeholder along the way until you get married and raise kids together.

    Only at that stage of marriage and child-rearing do you start feeling more unconditional love -- your fates are intertwined with each other's at that point. Not really before then, though.

    I can't over-emphasize how unique and enriching the quasi-relationship is when one of the two is an MPDG. It's intense and not long-lasting, similar to a whirlwind romance or summertime fling or passionate affair. But no one is left with hard feelings, regret, hatred, eternal pining to hook-up again, etc.

    And both sides grow and develop over the course of the quasi-relationship, unlike a fling or affair, more similar to getting married and raising kids (though to a lesser degree).

    And the unconditional nature of your feelings means they'll last forever. Not the same as pining for an ex, or despising an ex, or whatever. More like enduring love for your family members who you grew up with, although not marred by the incest taboo.

    Not sure how else to convey the feeling, other than what you would expect from one of the pair being an earthly guardian angel. There's a permanent purity to it, but not ethereal or transcendental -- corporeal, fun, funny, bawdy at times, down-to-earth and all-too-human.

    Because you're not in a LTR or fling situation, you can never be replaced -- except by another MPDG, but that's unlikely to happen, after the first one helped you find your confidence. It's more of a parallel track running separate from the "fling / steady dating" track.

    I won't feel jealous when she finds a steady IRL bf, as she has, and she won't feel like it's emotional adultery to fondly remember what we've shared over the past year or so. Unlike if she were pining for an ex IRL bf.

    I'll be snuggled up in a cozy nook within the back of her mind forever, and she within mine as well. Not competing for mental real estate with the coming-and-going flings or steadies, but protected in a special guest-house of our own that we will never get kicked out of.

  4. Makes me miss the days of social *network* sites, before parasocial *media* sites. She would've simply updated her relationship status on her profile from "imaginary bf-haver" to "IRL bf-haver".

    But in the parasocial era, none of this info is readily displayed, without prompting, as it was during the MySpace / early Facebook era, which was the peak of online.

    Now everything is an account, whose bio is just branding. So if the info would maximize the brand's value, it's displayed. If not, then not.

    E.g., a trad mommy blogger can't succeed as a brand without mentioning that she's married with kids. And if an e-girl has an IRL bf / husband, she'd better keep that a secret, since it would ruin her brand as the "cute girl you have a chance with" for her male audience. For that matter, if the branding is incel or volcel, they'd better keep their IRL bf/gf a secret, if they in fact have one.

    But Aimee's relationship status is orthogonal to her branding, neither helps nor hinders it. Her account is a prophetess. Maybe the audience for her takes is expecting a Cassandra figure to be celibate or unattached, akin to an oracle or priestess. But maybe they just think she's really intense, which doesn't prevent a woman from being in an IRL relationship, getting married, having kids, etc. So her relationship status might come up, but only randomly.

    I'm just glad she posted about it on Twitter, since the podcast has been paywalled for awhile. Just checked, and the last one I heard was with Leila Mechoui 10 months ago. No wait, someone from the Red Scare subreddit was naughty and posted the one with Anna, on parenting, from a few months ago. But Aimee didn't get to say much, as the non-parent of the group.

    I don't have anything against her or the podcast, since I listened way back when she was on Dead Pundits Society. It's a general principle that I won't take part in online persona commodification, which means no paying to hear someone's voice in conversation.

    It's not paying to hear their takes, since their takes are freely disseminated on Twitter, blogs, or wherever else. It's the illusion of social intimacy that comes from hearing the IRL voices in back-and-forth conversation, that the subscribers of any podcast are paying for.

    I won't budge from the pre-social-media era of online, when online was a supplement to reality, not a substitute for it. I know I'm in the vanishing minority, and you all are free to pay for the parasocial connections.

    In this case, I had an extra reason not to pay for illusion of intimacy -- we were imaginary bf & gf, and paying to hear her voice would've been a market transaction, ruining our organic social bond (albeit a ghostly one, rather than an IRL one).

    I'm sure she preferred being "paid" in tribute songs instead of $5 monthly user fees anyway. :)

  5. Will there be a paparazzi for online personas, to alert their fandoms of any new IRL relationships -- or their newly single status? Hard to figure out, but somehow the IRL paparazzi had ways of hearing gossip through the grapevine.

    I don't mean specifically about Aimee. I hope her new IRL bf turns out to be the right one, and if so, that they get married, have kids, and settle down. (Well, settle down as much as a deranged prophetess can, hehe.)

    I mean with the whole cast of online characters who have large(-ish) fandoms, both sides of which have only exploded during the parasocial media era. Is the trad mommy blogger actually married? Is the e-girl already taken? Who wants to know? Are they willing to pay?

    So far, I only see ad hoc attempts to spread such gossip, within a fandom itself. One fan finds an old post of the persona, shares it within the fandom, and it goes however far it goes within their circumscribed network of fans.

    What I mean is a central clearinghouse like TMZ or Us magazine or Entertainment Tonight, which covered the entire industries of TV, movies, recorded music, and socialites -- not just any one actress or singer.

    I could imagine it -- so many people are flocking to online personas as their entertainment figures, mixed with parasocial attachment figures, that they must be dying to know. That demand tempts a supplier to get in business.

    But how much would it cost to collect the info, vs. how much would the fans be willing to pay for it (or how much ad revenue could they bring in)? Beats me.

    Not something I care much about, just wondering how dystopian the online world is going to get in the future...


You MUST enter a nickname with the "Name/URL" option if you're not signed in. We can't follow who is saying what if everyone is "Anonymous."