My very first childhood crush was on Danny Zuko.
Yes, Danny Zuko: specifically the one played by 23-year-old John Travolta in the movie musical Grease.
I don’t remember how old I was when I first fell for Danny, but my love for him was a fairly innocent fantasy. I memorized all the songs from the movie and wished I could be the one breaking out in spontaneous song with him in the halls of Rydell High. He gave me my first “stirrings,” shall we say.
I’ve seen Grease a bazillion times, but it wasn’t until I watched a live production recently that I realized my crush on Danny Zuko set me up for disappointment in the real-life dating department. I hate to reduce my floundering love life to the allure of a fictional character in a musical, but just come with me on this strange journey of blame, ok?
Danny is a rebel, but he’s pretty — a bad boy with a good heart. He’s cool, but he’s secretly sensitive. He’s the dangerous choice, but he’s warm and charming. Do you see where I’m going with this?
From a young age, I’ve fantasized about a boy with a rough exterior who’s soft in the middle — a bad boy who might be willing to change for the love of his life: me, of course.
I’ll call this boy The Unicorn: no one in recorded history has ever encountered him, but I still kind of believe deep down in the glittery, magical forest of my heart, that he may actually exist. Why? Why do I do this to myself? WHY, DANNY?
My sister and I have joked for years about our differing tastes in men. All of her love interests were adorably predictable: classic, clean cut, well groomed, nice outfit, quarterback smile, athletic, probably wearing cologne.
I, on the other hand, seem to gravitate toward the type of guy who is more than likely some combination of dirty, broke, artistic, tatooed, bearded, moody, in a band (UGHHHH), and either doesn’t know I exist or doesn’t care. Now cue “I Knew You Were Trouble” by Taylor Swift and imagine me lying on the cold, hard ground. That’s what chasing The Unicorn looks like.
But to quote Emily Dickinson (or Selena Gomez, depending on your tolerance for poetry and/or pop music): The heart wants what it wants. Or maybe the brain wants what it’s been conditioned to want. I recently read an article that used some big science words to explain that emotions are actually partially controlled by cognition. There’s a song title for you! “My brain’s cognitive control is causing me to physiologically perceive that I want to be near you.” So romantic.
A few years ago I met my dear friends Jeff and Brooke. They were set up by one of their mutual friends — a friend who developed this sort of match-making questionnaire system called Mandate (which, yes, in my brain is “man date,” obviously). It’s basically a series of questions that forces you to make lists of the qualities you must have in your future mate and also the qualities that completely disqualify him or her from eligibility.
In a cafe in Cambodia 3 summers ago, Brooke administered the Mandate to a group of 6 of us. I worked my way through the pages of 10 characteristics ranging from physical appearance to faith & spirituality to intellect, education, finances, and a few others. I can’t remember all of what I wrote, but I do remember a handful of criteria that will stand the test of time.
The man of my dreams must:
have nice teeth
be funny and think I’m funny
have good taste in music
not be materialistic
not be interested in anime
That’s the very, very short list to my heart, folks. (I’m serious about the anime. No, thank you.)
Brooke later explained to me that the real purpose behind the Mandate isn’t to create your fantasy partner. It’s so that someone who’s involved in the process with you can look at your list and say, “Hey, I know someone just like that!” and potentially introduce you to said person. That’s what happened with Jeff and Brooke. They got engaged one year after their first date, and they’re the most perfect-for-each-other couple I’ve ever met. Dreams DO come true, you guys.
Here’s the thing, though. If I actually focused on my list, I’d
probably definitely be a lot better off. But I tend to roam toward the fringe stuff, like he has to be a good speller, he can’t like sports too much, and he absolutely cannot wear cargo shorts. Top it all off with my penchant for semi-dangerous heartbreakers who don’t know I exist, and I’m back where I started, which is where I am now: alone.
So how does a person my age re-learn how to fall in love — with whom to fall in love? Surely, if love is partially cognitive, my brain should be able to reassign my hope in finding The Unicorn to someone a tad more sensible. I read somewhere that you are more likely to fall in love with someone if you maintain deep, uninterrupted eye contact for a significant period of time. Like minutes upon minutes. Maybe I just need to round up some dudes and, one by one, gaze into their eyes to see if this tactic works. TAKE A NUMBER, BOYS.
Or maybe, just maybe, there is a Unicorn out there waiting for HIS Unicorn. Maybe he’s holding out for a girl with the hobbies of a grandmother and a pre-teen, but he just hasn’t found her yet. Maybe he’s been waiting for a girl who avoids eye contact with him because she’s terrified and weird but also a little bit adorkable. Maybe he’s looking for a girl who laughs at commercials and has terrible aim no matter the occasion and has tattoos & a nose ring but is actually not rebellious whatsoever. A girl with a psycho dog and hangs out with teenagers and loves Jesus and votes Democrat and has two windows in her bedroom, each with a different set of curtains. Maybe.
The heart wants what it wants. You can call me closed-minded, judgmental, picky, or a whole slew of similar descriptors that I have no right to be, and you may be at least partially correct. I hope and pray that I can engage in some painfully lengthy eye contact with someone who breaks the mold of my long-held hopes and dreams. I really do.
I may be single for a long time, and I may be single forever. Who can really say? But whatever happens, I think we can all agree that this whole situation is Danny Zuko’s fault. After all, Sandy showed up with spandex pants and a cigarette at the end for him. She couldn’t deny him either.