Monday, February 14, 2011

Real Love

“Barbie, we may be plastic, but our love is real.” Ken

It’s Valentine’s Day. The day Ken finds out if Barbie’s going to take him back.

No, I’m not making this up. According to various media sources, Ken has mounted quite a campaign to win her heart. A total makeover revealed during New York’s Fashion Week (plastic helmet hair no more!). A lead role in the Oscar-nominated “Toy Story 3.” A special cupcake created by the famed Magnolia Bakery (who knew Barbie had a sweet tooth?) There’s even a website where you can cast your vote—should Babs acquiesce or carry on as the iconic single gal?

I doubt I’d have given any of this a second thought if it weren’t for this quote about real love. Allegedly it’s one of many Ken posted on billboards in Manhattan and L.A. True or not, the idea that love can be real or fake is what got my attention.

Barbie came on the scene when I was five, so I am one of the zillions of girls who helped fuel her penchant for epic romances. I pinned my hopes and dreams onto several generations of Barbies, playing out my obsessions with everything from pink satin ball gowns to a beach house in Malibu. Personally I thought Ken was a dork from day one, so I fancied Barbie falling for my heart throbs—guys like Paul McCartney and, later, Jim Morrison.

It’s been decades since I thought about any of this, so I missed the memo in 2004 when Barbie threw Ken over for an Aussie surfer. And it’s come as quite a shock to read that this iconic couple has known each other for 50 years—especially since they haven’t aged one bit. But what sort of love do they have if, after all this time, he’s still trying to win her over?

Real love is exactly that: real. You either love someone or you don’t. Love is intrinsic. There’s no wondering where it came from or worrying if it will last. It settles in and doesn’t leave—no matter what. When Jim asks “Do you still love me?” I’m always taken by surprise. Why wouldn’t I? Love is forever. It’s that simple.

One of the newspaper stories contained a footnote that said Barbie and Ken have never married. This doesn’t mean their love isn’t real—but it certainly points to a lack of willingness to do the heavy lifting required to have a real relationship.
Sadly, real love has little to do with forging a successful relationship. This takes skill and selflessness. Courage and compassion. Patience and politics. It requires a willingness to give in and the strength to not give up.

I have friends who say that as long as the benefits of staying outweigh those of going, the relationship is worthwhile. But sometimes all the good intentions in the world can’t stem the rising tide of disappointment, anger, and resentment.

Love and longevity don’t always walk hand-in-hand. But over time I’ve learned plenty about the value of doing the work required to keep a good thing going. For 50 years, Barbie and Ken’s relationship has been fueled by the powerful imaginations of kids all over the world—and yet, as of this morning, they are still living separate lives.

Maybe it’s high time they roll up their sleeves and stop relying on others to make it happen for them. Enough with the billboards and cupcakes. I hope the years have taught her that independence doesn’t keep you warm at night. And that he’s come to realize he can’t get by on looks alone.

Have they got what it takes? Well, I went on that website and voted “Yes.” Because in the rock-paper-scissors game of life, real love beats plastic every time.

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