Main character energy, or MCE, has been popularized by TikTok users worldwide and has been #trending since 2021—with no signs of subsiding in 2022.
Though it may seem like this term is everywhere all of a sudden, it’s actually been percolating since the release of The Holiday in 2006. In the movie, Arthur Abbott (played by Eli Wallach) tells Iris (played by Kate Winslet):
“In the movies, we have leading ladies, and we have the best friend. You, I can tell, are a leading lady, but for some reason, you’re behaving like the best friend.”
If that quote resonates, it might be time for you to shift out of “sidekick mode” and into a “main character energy” mindset. So what does it look like to take the lead role in your own life? It means that you’re in control of your life and happiness, and are saying “no” for the first time in your life to the things you don’t want. You’re in charge of your narrative. (Think full-on Iris in The Holiday, when she finally tells Jasper, played by Rufus Sewell, that, “This twisted, toxic thing between us is finally finished!”)
MCE can also mean saying “yes” to desires you might normally shame or suppress, rather than allowing yourself the pleasure of them. (Think Elizabeth, played by Julia Roberts, at the end of Eat, Pray, Love declaring “Let’s cross over” to Felipe, played by Javier Bardem, finally allowing herself to embrace her desires and sail off with him into the sunset.) Embodying main character energy prioritizes the important aspects of you—your needs, your wants, and your values.
Mapping out your happy ending
So, you might be wondering: How can I bring this vibe into my dating life? And how can I do it in a way that doesn’t make me, well, a jerk?
Here’s the thing: society (and yes, even some beloved rom-coms) has conditioned us to believe that sacrificing oneself in the name of making a relationship work is romantic. That putting someone else’s needs before your own is the definition of true love. (Sorry, Frozen fans, but Olaf got it wrong.) Or that aggressively fighting most of the time—but loving each other through it all—makes for a passionate, long-lasting marriage (à la Noah and Allie in The Notebook).
Here’s what the aforementioned actually breeds when the Hollywood cameras aren’t rolling: resentment. And resentment is not a road you want to travel down when starting a new relationship.
So does that mean embodying main character energy when dating is one of the most selfless acts you can do for both yourself and the people you date? Yes.
The more you’re in tune with your values, dealbreakers, and what you’re seeking from a partnership, the fairer you are to prospective dates. For example, let’s say one of your dealbreakers is smoking and you decide to go on a date with someone knowing they’re a smoker because you “feel bad” and “shouldn’t be so judgmental.” If you’re bothered and angry when they show up smelling like smoke, that’s not being true to yourself or your date. In reality, you are purposely setting yourself up for resentment to build by not honoring the truth of your dealbreaker.
Ultimately, people have the right to self-determination; it’s not up to you to judge someone’s lifestyle, beliefs, values, or even lack of motivation to better themselves. Rather, it’s your responsibility to own what’s important to you, pursue someone who aligns well with the truest essence of who you are, and kindly redirect anyone who doesn’t. Remember: You aren’t meant to be compatible with all seven billion people on the planet.
Keeping main character energy in check
Is there a line where main character energy can cross over into being a jerk? Absolutely. Here are the top two ways that badass MCE can morph into its evil twin villain, the ego.
1. Thinking main character energy means being better than everyone else.
The essence of MCE is rooted in kindness and empathy toward everyone you encounter in the dating world, while still maintaining your boundaries. Consider this example: you match up with someone on a dating app who you realize is emotionally immature and a people pleaser—the exact work you’ve already done on yourself and are in a much more secure place now. The fact that you’ve done the work and they haven’t doesn’t make you any “better” or “above” this person; it just means you’re further down the path from them, and they’re not a match for you at this time.
Real talk: The average person hasn’t been taught or modeled emotional maturity, conscious dating, or even personal development work. When you encounter matches who are either not walking the same path or are further behind you on the road, show them just as much kindness and respect as you would to someone who is a match for you. And just because you show them kindness and respect, doesn’t mean you are sacrificing your own boundaries, needs, wants, and desires in a relationship. It just means that you can honor what you’re looking for and turn someone down in a loving way.
2. Rejecting matches who aren’t for you instead of redirecting them.
What’s the difference between rejecting someone and kindly redirecting them? Rejecting someone means having a lack of awareness around the other person’s feelings, and only considering yours.
Let’s return to the smoking dealbreaker as an example: What if they were to reveal they’re a smoker after you match with them?
Rejection might look like saying, “Sorry, I don’t date people who don’t take care of themselves,” or simply ghosting them. Redirection, on the other hand, states your boundaries in a clear, kind way, and doesn’t leave any conversations on read. When redirecting, you might say, “I respect your decision to be a smoker, but smoking is a dealbreaker for me. I wish you all the best!” This phrasing makes it clear that their lifestyle choice isn’t personal, and you are stating kindly what you are or aren’t available for in a relationship.
Main character energy doesn’t just relate to dating; it’s about being the living, breathing embodiment of the truth of who you are, and adjusting your boundaries accordingly. When you put yourself first in this way, this energy naturally carries over into dating—and is the true key to making you magnetic, expediting the timeline to finding your person, and making dating a hell of a lot more fun.
Craving true connection? If you’re ready to date like a human again, sign up for early access to the forthcoming Keepler dating app here.