Four Lies Movies Taught Us About Dating

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I’m a big believer that when it comes to love,  you can learn a lot from movies. The problem, of course, is making sure that you learn the right things from movies. As inspiring as it can be to see the nerdy kid finally win the heart of the most popular girl in school through following her around until he’s learned everything about her, then covering the entire campus with his declaration of love for her, when these lessons are applied to real life… yeah, they never really go so well. In fact, most of these lessons will end up blowing up in your face.

Before you decide that the key to love is to follow John Cusack’s example in Say Anything or find your own Manic Pixie, you need to understand a few things about the lies movies teach us about love and dating.

Things like…

The Grand Gesture

Bigger is always better, isn’t it? How better can you show your love for someone by making a giant production out of it? Are you too late? Is your girl already dating someone else? Or worse, is she about to get married? Well, the Grand Gesture can help you here too! So whether it’s secretly filling her office with roses, standing in the rain with a boombox or infiltrating her wedding in order to proclaim your love in front of God, her family and everybody,  your inventiveness, creativity and passion can’t help but melt her frosty heart.

Famous Movie Examples: Wedding Crashers, Bed of Roses, Love Actually, The Graduate, Big Fish

The Problem Is:

You’re not coming off as romantic and clever. You’re coming off as desperate  and pathetic…if you’re lucky. If you’re not, you’re coming off as actively deranged.

The underlying idea is that if your crush could only see you for how you much you care for her, she would surely realize that deep down, she loves you too. The problem, of course, is that if she’s not actually attracted to you in the first place, then all you’re doing is wasting your money and  making it clear that you don’t understand how relationships work in the real world. The depth of your sincerity isn’t the issue. The issue is that she doesn’t like you. I’ve personally seen people attempt this in the real world, including one guy who tried to woo his crush by buying giant plush toys to be delivered to her house. Then, when that didn’t work, he filled the back seat of her car with yellow roses.

She had to be talked out of filing a restraining order against him.

(Interesting side note: despite being the first thing that comes to mind, Say Anything isn’t an example of this trope; Lloyd’s holding the boombox up over his head doesn’t win him Diane’s love back… in fact, it’s the event that makes him realize that it’s time to move on.)

Crashing her big event isn’t going to make things better either. In the movies, the audience sees the depth of your  love and actively encourages her to come back to you. In real life, you’re looking like an obnoxious asshole who’s ruining things for everyone and embarrassing her in front of all of her friends and her family. And depending on where you are, you’re also staring down the barrel of trespassing charges if someone decides to call the cops on you.

Image from Improv Everywhere

Generally, objections to weddings aren't terribly well received.

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl Is Here To Save You

Let’s face it: you’re a geek. You’re a little introverted and reclusive. You’re on the passive side. You’d love to grab life by the horns and chase down the adventures of the day and break out of your shell… if only there were someone who could help.

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl to the rescue! She’s a quirky free spirit who comes whirling into your life like a tornado with dyed bangs and and striped stockings. Her bubbly – if a little off-beat – personality and casual disregard for social norms are what allows her to see the potential raging within you and inspires her to drag you into a world of wonder and teaches you embrace life like a giant smorgasbord of magic and experiences.

Oh, and there’s sex too. Y’know. As a bonus.

Famous Movie Examples: Enchanted, Bringing Up Baby, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Girl Next Door, Sweet November, 500 Days of Summer

The Problem is:

This is just an excuse for not actually taking control of your own damn life. If you’re dissatisfied with who you are or you have some deep longing for a life that you don’t actually have, you need to man up and find it for yourself. Waiting for someone else to come around to “inspire” you to it is just another convenient excuse for not making the effort.

It’s understandable, really. Change can be scary and sometimes you don’t know where to begin. When you’re trying to make substantial lifestyle changes, especially ones that run counter to how you’ve been living for years – if not decades – you’ll have that little voice in your head telling you that you’re an idiot and that you’re just doomed to failure. Breaking the habits of a lifetime takes a lot of effort and determination, and you will feel like you’re a fraud and everybody can tell. But putting up roadblocks in your own way isn’t going to help.

The appeal of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is that she’s there to do all the heavy lifting for you, and be your cheerleader at the same time. In the real world, most women have their hands full managing their own lives. Expecting them to be responsible for yours as well is an absurd amount of pressure to put on a relationship. And falling for this quirky hipster girl… well, you’d better make sure that there’s more to your attraction to her than just her cats-eye glasses and thrift-store fashion – otherwise, it’s no different for dating women strictly because they’re Asian. Or geeks.


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  • Chris

    Seriously dude, you should try submitting one of these movie articles of yours on Cracked. You'll be able to net a whole new slew of nerds looking for incredibly helpful advice

  • room temp

    "My Big Fat Greek Wedding drives home that the Greek Orthodox Portokalos and the WASP-y Millers are going to have a lot of adjustments to make and the drastic differences between the two protagonists’ backgrounds is always going to be a source of conflict, just on a family level."

    They made a TV show about it and no one wanted to see it so yeah Love Conquers all and no one wants to see the hard times. Or maybe the show was just crappy.

    Loves Conquers all one went against me freakin insane mom.

  • Arnold.J.R

    I don't know if i'd class Ramona from Scott Pilgrim as a "Manic Pixie dream girl", she's not bubbly and seems to be just as bad as scott, but i'm being nitpicky….good article

    • Czar

      In the comics at least, Ramona is a deconstruction of said trope. Scott is blatantly shown there as a pathetic loser who switches girlfriends, has no job, and mooches off of his roomate.

  • george

    hey i love your columns and am a long time reader but i find my self attracted to the magic pixie dream girl and i am wondering if i like these girls because they fit that model or because i like them for them. ps you really hit home with this one because even the movies you gave examples of are some of my fav rom coms

  • Tibbs

    DNL, there is no "continue reading" link in the front page post for this article.

    • Dr. NerdLove

      How odd. OK, should be fixed now.

  • Scott

    I agree with Chris, because I saw a Cracked article on a similar subject. I can really easily see some cross-up here. But while I think Cracked's article is very specific, yours is very general on many idealistic romantic lessons of Love > Everything, which gives it bonus points.

  • Someone

    Spot on the Manic Pixie Dream girl. I, sometimes, may look like a "quirky" girl, but am not. I'm actually usually very shy, which has come off as snobbery since preschool (I'm working on it). A couple of guys have been disappointed that I'm not the type to spontaneously take them them to some unknown dive bar to sing drunken karaoke. Sorry dudes, I can't save anyone from their social awkwardness because I'm trying to fix my own. Sometimes I wish I could, but really, like you said Doc, it'd more of a disservice by enabling them in a way.

  • Rictor

    Movies are trying to entertain not teach life lessons. The reason these things are in films is because they produce drama, comedy, etc. They aren't meant to reflect what happens in real life. Life isn't grad school, relax and enjoy the show.

    • Dr. NerdLove

      You know, I'm beginning to be fairly certain you've managed to miss the point of just about everything I've written…

    • Aurelia Verity

      Yea, I'm sure that's exactly what Spielberg said when he decided to film "Schindler's list"

      Entertainment, not some shitty moral lessons highlighting fragility and cruelty of human life

      Amirite guys?


  • Stripes

    Another interesting thing about Pixie Girl: even if you do meet your Manic Pixie (Girl or Guy), their dragging you around to places you don't want to go or do things that make you uncomfortable will either get annoying real fast or you'll be too resistant to change for Pixie to do any of their imagined good. Not that they're annoying because change is bad, but you're being forced to do things you know you won't enjoy. For example, my boyfriend taught me to shoot and we had a fun afternoon hitting targets that I did not expect to enjoy as much as I did (not that I thought I wouldn't like it, I just had a ton of fun shooting cans 😛 ). However, I do not intend to ever go hunting and if he had tried to drag me into that, I would have been very irritated.

    Speaking of the boyfriend, he is going to haaate you :p He had a hard time getting me to watch Rom Coms before, it will be impossible now XD

  • One single thing I disagree with in this article: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. While I admit Kate Winslet's character seems like the manic pixie dream girl stereotype (and she sometimes fits that role), the movie is very clear that she can not save Jim Carrey's protagonist. When we see him tell her he wants her, she warns him that she can't be a goddess to him and can't be his saving grace… that she's just as messed up as anyone else and she's trying to figure herself out. The fact that their relationship crumbles eventually just establishes that fact. Yes, they got back together again, but she even tells him that she isn't sure they can survive because they are both very imperfect people. This revelation is one of the things I love about this movie.

    OK, rant over.

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  • Jay

    Spot on the Manic Pixie Dream girl. I, sometimes, may look like a “quirky” girl, but am not. I’m actually usually very shy, which has come off as snobbery since preschool (I’m working on it). A couple of guys have been disappointed that I’m not the type to spontaneously take them them to some unknown dive bar to sing drunken karaoke. Sorry dudes, I can’t save anyone from their social awkwardness because I’m trying to fix my own. Sometimes I wish I could, but really, like you said Doc, it’d more of a disservice by enabling them in a way.

    "Me, me, me.."

    Shut up you self-centered narcissist. Geez…

  • jdbobblehead

    About the Manic Pixie Dream Girl: definitely file that under "Be careful what you wish for."

    I had a MPDG come into my life, although I never asked for one. She was a desirable flirty girl who happen to have a thing for nerds. She took an interest in finding out why I was so reserved and prying me out of my shell.

    The relationship started exciting but after a couple of months became painful and disastrous. Today I would rate her as my second best friend.

    If you are looking for a MPDG, understand that she will take you in a completely different direction from where you want to go. And also, as much as she is pulled into your life, *you* will be pulled into *hers.* That includes the dark ugliness in her life that she had to bear, you willl help bear it too.

    • Mental Mouse

      There's also the matter of making a connection — they say "opposites attract", but that's not quite right. True opposites can't have a relationship. It's complements who can do well — people who are opposites in many ways, but have some shared core in common.

      I fell for a MPDG just after college — way too besotted to realize that we literally had nothing in common (except the social group where we'd met). We had no common ground, and were pretty much aliens to each other. Obviously, that didn't go anywhere…

  • Ivan Y

    I agree with a commenter who said that Scott Pilgrim is probably not a best example and goes against in the grain when it comes to Magic Pixie Dream Girls (especially, in the comic books).

    However, don't you think that (500 Days of) Summer is actually an example of a character learning from his obsession with MPDG and seeing the light of day?

  • FilledeMarius

    This was a very good article, but I have one minor nitpick about using 500 Days of Summer in your MPDG examples. While it does have Zooey Deschanel in her trademark quirky hipster role, much like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, it's made very clear that the protagonist is weak and idolizing her when she's just trying to live her life and they don't end up together at the end; she marries someone we never see and is completely happy with her new love interest. So, it's a deconstruction of the trope; they don't play it straight.

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  • Bug Report

    The "Or geeks" link at the bottom of the first page is broken.

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  • Uguu

    I tell you man, a "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" gets close to me, she's getting a facefull of Mace.

    • eselle28

      Uh, what? I'm not fond of the trope either, but conforming to social pressures in an irritating way doesn't quite seems like it warrants assaulting someone to me.

      • Uguu

        Not wanting to wake up in a bathtub full of ice with a fresh surgery scar on my lower back surely warrants it.

  • iliketowalk

    This. THIS!

  • THE FIRST ONE IS INDESCRIBABLY TRUE. A recent (unwanted) suitor from work convinced me to take him to my local comic shop because I'd made comics sound so interesting and he liked the ones I'd loaned him. Then when we were about to leave he revealed that it was all a ruse so he could buy me a ridiculously expensive art book I'd been planning on buying for myself. We ended up causing a scene because I was trying to refuse the book and leave the shop, but felt like I had to accept it when he threatened to buy the book for me anyway and present it to me at work in front of our co-workers. Seeing as I'd already told him I wasn't interested, don't date younger men (11 years is too much for me) and he'd already awkwardly given me a $100 gift voucher, this actively drove me away from him as he now seemed crazy. I'm planning to auction off both the gift card and the art book to raise funds for charity.