that's my Barbie. I'm always her."
then I get the new Ken."
As my sister and I brushed our Barbie's ratted,
mesmerizing blonde hair, we contemplated how they
would find love. As a four-year-old, my ideas about love
were limited, albeit paramount to every other detail in our
imaginary game. The scenario always played out the
same way: Barbie (mine was always named "Sara") goes
to the gym and is picked up by Ken, the hawker-debonair
who is waiting outside in his convertible. She is whisked
away by his charm, but not without a fight- she knows how
to play hard-to-get. After the perfect push-pull exchange,
Sara agrees to meet him later that night at a ball. The rest
of the day is spent is joyous obsession over the perfect
dress and the fantasy of love at first sight. As she enters
the elaborate, fated gala, time stops to give patronage to
her devastating beauty. Ken falls over himself in adoration.
They dance, sing (Sara always puts on a surprise
performance with the vocal accommodations of En Vogue
or Mariah Carey), and they share a magical, moonlight
kiss that seals their destiny. The next morning brings with
it two beautiful, twin children and a full grown-up life for
Sara. After a day or so of driving around with the family in
the convertible, I become bored with their perfect little lives
and want to start over.
This was my idea of love as a child, and sadly, I didn't
outgrow this story until my thirties. Maximizing external
beauty, minimizing my feelings and playing games, falling
in "love" without knowing someone, becoming restless
with intimacy and chasing the newness and excitement of
infatuation- these were all the tools with which I "got" men.
Like that four-year-old with doll in hand, love was never
about a mutual exchange of sentiment and affection, but
about "getting" love.
I bring up this story because recent events have called
into question the integrity of some friends in the dating
scene. An experienced, sloppy, trial and error, former
single woman myself, I assign no judgment to these brave
souls cast out at sea. It’s not my place to label them sex
and love addicts nor do I gain any authority on the matter
by being married. Conversely, as the aforementioned
calamitous stag, it’s my obligation to offer compassion to
those who are grievously trying to find love in the 21st
century. Even for the healthy ones, dating is a puzzling,
often humiliating experience of bargaining with others,
negotiating one’s needs, and coming face to face with
“dating is like putting Miracle-Grow on all of your
This is not to say that all dating is bad. Getting to know
someone on an intimate level is one of the most beautiful,
rewarding experiences. I think we can agree that some are
better at this intimacy thing than others. A friend of mine
experiences hyperactive intimacy. He is sadly wriggling
himself out of our wolf pack because he has perpetually
asserted his love from one woman in our group to the
next. Another friend of mine evades intimacy by continuing
to return to the same toxic relationship that hasn’t served
her for years. When I was at my worst, I consistently lied
about my whereabouts and parked my car down the
street from my boyfriend’s house, fearing the panic of
being too far from him.
Whether you are ready for love, or just think you are
ready for love, consider how your ideas about intimacy
have shaped you. How was love demonstrated to you
when you were a child? What expectations do you have
associated with partnership? What stories do you tell
yourself (i.e.: “A boyfriend/girlfriend will complete me.”)?
Are you prepared to be seen- good and bad? Can you
identify any patterns in your relationships? Have you, in
any way, shaped yourself (i.e.: your goals and aspirations,
your hobbies, your appearance) to attract others? Most
importantly, what actions do you take to love yourself?
After all, love is a verb.
These were the types of questions I had to address to
become a healthy, datable person. But my love life is still
messy. From time to time, I care more about being right
than living in harmony with my husband. I absolutely insist
on controlling certain things. I am guilty of shutting my
partner out and staying in bed all day. I compare and
criticize. But thanks to the relentless soul searching of
regular inventories, most days I can show up as an equal
–free from the expectation of him to fix me or make me
happy or pick up his clothes, relieved of my role in mind
games and endless pursuit, pardoned from acquiescing to
his every demand in the hopes of receiving love, and
discharged from the fantasy of what love looks like.
What I’ve learned is love is not something you wear, it’s
not a challenge to be conquered or a weapon to be
wielded in the face of adversity; it’s not keeping score or
picture-perfect Christmas cards or long-stemmed roses.
Love is what remains in spite of being perfect. It’s a
bubble bath at the end of a long day. It’s taking yourself
out for ice cream. It’s making your partner breakfast in
bed or wearing that ridiculous lingerie he bought you. It’s
fighting for each other, boredom, stress, burnt dinner, lulls,
laughter, and morning breath. It’s independence and it’s
togetherness. It’s a journey that begins with rewriting your