I am not your goddamn manic pixie dream girl.

It started with the duck phone.

Eighth grade. Jeff Boseman: awkward, earnest, smart. Slightly tragic in the way that only a junior high drama geek can be. He always seemed so...dejected. I think it had something to do with a mysterious ex-girlfriend (you don't know her - she goes to another school) named Star.

We shared homeroom, English, Social Studies, a loathing of jocks, a similar sense of humor, and, of course, drama classes. He had an enormous crush on me that lasted from sixth grade through high school. Beyond, for all I know (we didn't stay in touch). The most action he ever got off of me, however, was a relatively handsy slow dance at Jason Bachmann's bar mitvah. He just wasn't my type. He was much too nice, and much too sad.

Anyway - eighth grade. My mom used to drive him home after school, since he lived close by. Sometimes, he and I would go walking along the man made lakes between our neighborhoods. That's where we discovered the duck phone.

The lakes were populated by various species of duck, geese, and swan, who clustered in groups at points along the water. There was a section where the water pooled tightly into a narrow, picturesque stream. Tall, willowy reeds, smooth river rocks. In an otherwise perfectly manicured setting, it came close to feeling wild. And it was private.

Jeff and I would amble to this spot, skipping stones along the way and spinning for one another our respective tales of eighth grade injustice. There is no victimhood like junior high victimhood. Once arrived, we'd sit on the grass and shoot the adolescent shit.

One day, I did something funny. Truth be told, I don't even remember exactly what happened. I think we were rehearsing a scene for class, and the stage directions called for a phone to ring. Cue, with perfect timing, a duck quacking near us. I must have deadpanned a response, or maybe I jumped up and ran to answer the duck. Sadly, the memory is hazy. But whatever I did, I know it was playful and silly and charmed Jeff like the dickens. Fits of giggles for both of us. Significant not to me, but to boy who spent such long, eighth grade days with a long, eighth grader face.

I think I became, that day, his manic pixie dream girl.

If you haven't heard of the MPDG trope, here's a good primer. In sum: a manic pixie dream girl is a winsome, whimsical, lighthearted and carefree young woman who exists for the sole purpose of bringing joy, spontaneity, and laughter to the life of a dark-hearted/minded, depressed, or emotionally tortured boy. With little of substance to fill her own life, she is there to teach him how to love. How to embrace life and live in the moment.

And since my pre-teenage, I have, I suspect, been unknowingly - and unwillingly - cast into that role repeatedly, by various men. Edging up on forty, I'm finally starting to see it.

So, first of all, fuck you, Hollywood, for normalizing and romanticizing such malformed female characters. For setting men up to fail in relationships by suggesting that all their problems can be solved with a twee, spunky, Free People-wearing girl. For setting women up to fail in relationships by downplaying for those men, to a point of near-deletion, their complex, complicated, and messy inner lives.

Lest I run out of fingers to point, I should, however, own my part in the tragicomedy that is my romantic life. When rewarded for manic pixie dream girl behavior, I repeated it. Peck the bar. Get a treat. Peck the bar. Get a treat. I loved to make boys laugh with self-effacing humor and goofiness. I loved their faces when I'd challenge them to be spontaneous. "Let's ditch work and class and drive to Disneyland." "Let's hike up to the mountains at four am and go spelunking." And when I finally - finally - bloomed in my early twenties, I added girly and sexy to my repertoire of playful whimsy. "I'm going to get naked and run into the ocean, in the pitch black night. Are you coming?"

I started to hear the same things from men, over and over - a decades-long pattern I wouldn't identify until, well, now. "You're so good for me - you teach me how to relax." "I love being with you. You really know how to be in the moment." "I'm so jealous - you have so much fun." "You're so free-spirited."

These men fit their molds, too: dissatisfied with their lives in some way, creatively stymied, baggage-ridden. In fairness, who isn't all of these things at some point in their life? But many of the men I've been with didn't have the tools to get past these emotional hurdles. I became that tool.

The problem was - is - that I have my own goddamn issues, too. My own dissatisfactions. I'm creatively stymied, much of the time. And baggage? Oh, honey. I've got a storage unit at Union Station just to house mes valises.

Not of all of my relationships see me playing the manic pixie dream girl. But those that do tend to break down around the same fault line: the point at which I start revealing, bit by bit, that I'm just as broken and needy and damaged as the Andrew Largemans of this world. And manic pixie dream girls aren't supposed to be broken or needy or damaged. They're supposed to twist a lock of hair, bite their lips, and suggest an impromptu gelato on the fire escape. Anything heavier than that is alarming and alienating.

The obvious objection would be my age, but I'd argue that being a MPDG is less about years and more about mindset. And my mind has pretty much always been set to Child. I'm thirty-seven, and for all intents and purposes, living the life of a twenty-seven year old. I'm single and childfree. I go out several nights a week. I sleep in. I don't have a career, and have been flying by the seat of my pants, financially, for several years. I dress youthfully. I act youthfully. I do this because I can, because it's fun, because I'm an irresponsible, reckless hedonist, and because so far, I've been able to outpace reality.

But maybe it's time I clue my partners in, before the third act, to the fact that I'm a fully developed female character in this movie.

So guys? I'm just as fucked up as you are. Deal with it.