Last year I experienced a strange phenomenon: I began receiving an influx in digital male callers. This had absolutely nothing to do with online dating; these love letters were coming from a trusted place I’d been frequenting for years, Facebook. The messages were all from boys who played forgettable roles in my past, mostly vague college acquaintances who earned their spot in my network early on in Facebook’s infancy, when you basically “friended” every person you met.
Obviously, I was flattered. What girl doesn’t like free attention, especially in such a non-threatening environment? However, I found it odd that I inadvertently managed to craft an online persona worthy of unsolicited (sometimes creepy) Internet lust, and here’s why:
I don’t believe myself to be a super social media user; I don’t use status updates in lieu of a day planner, or my Instagram as a headshot service. But, I will admit I am a dynamic user. I tweet, post status updates, and maintain a blog on a daily basis. It makes perfect sense that strangers could genuinely feel like they know me personally, but it’s still weird that these boys projected their manic pixie dream girl fantasies on me based on my social media persona. And, believe it or not, it could be happening to you, too. Right now.
Here’s the thing: if a person is moderate to very active on social media platforms, chances are he or she has created a specific online persona by self-editing artfully filtered photos and updates. Whether it’s intentional or not, anyone who participates in social media is guilty. Even those voyeuristic social lurkers who only post every couple months have established some sort of virtual personality -- creeper. JUST KIDDING. But seriously, if someone pieced together the limited patchwork of information provided about a stranger’s life, he or she will make assumptions, accurate or not.
It’s just like that Season Three episode of "Dawson’s Creek" when Dawson discovers that Joey and Pacey have been making out on the DL for weeks. You know the one. The story of how Dawson finds out about this major Capeside scandal is repeated several times, each through a different character’s perspective, a la The Usual Suspects. What if we had only heard Jen Lindley’s side? We would have missed the important detail about how Joey was planning on telling Dawson the whole day. Does my pathetic excuse to drop a Creek analogy make sense?
Look, I’m fully aware of my online persona. I’ve definitely cultivated an “adorkable” digital self by consistently Instagramming photos of me wearing hipster glasses, making funny faces, and pointing to an endearing spaghetti stain on my boobs. I tweet about having a love affair with my heater, the odd things found in my hair, eating food with my hands, and other social blunders. I make sure everyone knows just how adorably “hopeless” I am as I navigate growing up in the world, armed with bright red lipstick and sass. It’s actually painfully embarrassing to spell it out, and even more so to admit that it’s how I want to be perceived. It was never a conscious character development, but it’s clearly the picture I’ve painted for the world.
Despite feeling a little ashamed of this superficial weirdo, I don’t want to reject this person I have created because she IS me. In addition to being a loveable hapless soul, she is also cynical, relatable, honest, and authentic. Good or bad, she’s my archetype. And isn’t that all a manic pixie dream girl is, an exaggerated fantasy personality type?
A true MPDG is a static, unabashedly girly character with eccentric personality quirks. An MPDG’s sole purpose is to use her shallow, free spirited nature to teach brooding young creative men to embrace life. The term was coined by film critic Nathan Rabin after seeing Kirsten Dunst in "Elizabethtown," but you can also think Zooey Deschanel in "500 Days of Summer" or even Holly Golightly in "Breakfast at Tiffany’s."
Broken down, it’s totally easy to see why guys would look at my silly photos, read my twenty-something blog posts, see my witty 140 character quips, and project that I am their quirky dream girl fantasy. They see this fun girl full of endearing imperfections, who isn’t particularly serious about life, because that’s who I’ve told them I am. I couldn’t have constructed a better character in an indie romantic screenwriting class.
Let’s not be mistaken, every action I take on social media is genuine, but it’s only the parts of my life I choose to share. I don’t tweet, blog, or post about my difficult relationship with my mother, the creative pressure I put on myself, my stubborn streaks, how I struggle with empathy, or the constant nagging that I’m not doing my life right.
Why? That’s not what I want just anyone to know about me. Rightfully so, I get to choose who’s allowed access into this side of my personality. I suppose I should revise what I said earlier. I am open and honest on social media to a point. Those who are close to me in real life know about all these and many other character flaws, in addition to the adorkable archetype. I bet if asked, they’d say they prefer the former.
Social media provides a very strange alternate world where we can be who we want by editing our lives like a documentary in real time. Technology and connectivity allow us the freedom to tell the world whatever we want about ourselves, but most of us are still a little wary of letting it all hang out. Even celebrity personalities perceived as being publicly transparent, probably really aren’t at all. They’re doing the same thing, but in larger doses, giving the illusion that they sharing deeper parts of their lives.
Whether you’re calculating your every social move, or posting based on how you feel in the moment, you’re contributing to your online persona. We all do it, and it’s totally OK. And as much as you might think it’s not a possibility, the story you’re currently telling through social media could be someone’s fantasy. Maybe not, but it’s nice to think about someone wanting you, even if it’s only a carefully curated version of yourself.